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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Unknown Agency Monitors Thoughts of Military Families

The government is secretly monitoring our minds, as a recent experience shows. I was recently referred to a subcontractor of the global consulting giant Ceridian. On their law compliance page, Ceridian’s motto is, “Be compliant. Be global. Be ready for anything, anywhere. Get what you want.”

The myriad tentacles of this corporation are in many lucrative pots. On behalf of their government subcontract through Military One Source, they also have their fingers on the pulse of military opinion.

My husband is in Iraq. Shortly after he departed to the war zone, I was contacted by our Navy Fleet and Family Support Center. They informed me of my privileges and resources, should I need them during my husband’s absence. I was given a point of contact for this purpose at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida.

After Jon left for Iraq from his two weeks of R&R, he was delayed en route back to his military post. I did not know for several days if he was alive or dead. My sleeplessness was exacerbated by an overload of mental activity. Between Jon and the hard news, I had not slept in days.

It had been our daily custom to touch base via computer or telephone. So until Jon contacted me, I suffered a constant dread of chaplains ringing the doorbell. My husband did contact me and all is well. During the anxious period, however, I went for days without sleep. Because this condition threatened my ability to drive safely, I felt the need to seek help via my official military channels.

It was during my contact with Naval Air Station Key West’s work and family life consultants that I was referred to a subcontractor under the aegis of Ceridian by the name of Military One Source. Their web site boasts confidential, non-medical, free-of-cost counseling spanning many subjects that affect the military.

This seemed like a good place for me to get advice about how to deal with sleep issues since Jon has been gone. After all, these people tooted their horn loudly about being “masters level” experts in their fields. The government was dangling an attractive carrot.

Before sharing any personal information, I ascertained from a non-medical counselor that our phone conversation was not being recorded in any way. He assured me at that time that our talk was strictly confidential and that Military One Source was a non-formal support and referral service.

Due to my state of sleep deprivation I was not myself that night. I thought the talk was therapy in and of itself. I do not recall many of the things we talked about because I was not taking notes. What I do recall, however, is that I relaxed my guard due to the counselor’s assurance that our conversation would not become an official record. With my lance and drawbridge down and my visor up, it never occurred to me that he was the one taking notes.

Later I learned that our conversation had not only become an official record, but apparently an official psychiatric record that is filed under the iron-clad rigors of the U.S. Government’s HIPAA Law.

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is an innocuous label designed to deflect curiosity. This label has little to do with what the law is really about. It hit the streets in 1996 and was forced down everyone’s throat by 2002. After that, anyone who violated the new “Top Secret Codeword” status of medical records was punished severely and run up the flagpole of public example.

In a recent case, a CVS drugstore employee accidentally tossed an empty pill bottle in the trash with a patient’s name on it. The drugstore chain was fined $2.25 million to settle the case. People that I interviewed from the HIPAA community about this case said that CVS “got off easy.” Anyone who is not “HIPAA compliant” faces heavy fines and imprisonment.

Back to my newly acquired mental health stigma. According to another Military One Source counselor that night, I had been entered into their database under the heading of “mental health counseling.” This bothered me some, but I did not pursue it further. Sleep deprivation impedes mental acuity. Sleep was my main concern that night. However, the database entry was nonetheless curious, as I made clear to this non-medical counselor that I was calling only to get advice about sleep.

I learned later, during an energetic research session, that all conversations with military members and their families are documented by Military One Source counselors. This is done via note-taking while military personnel or their loved ones spill their guts about whatever is on their mind. These clandestine notes are then entered into a HIPAA-compliant database as an official record. After that they may as well be in Fort Knox. The HIPAA law bars access to medical records to everyone except need-to-know medical personnel and government investigative bodies. This means that it is unlikely that I will ever know what this guy wrote about me in the secret database.

When I asked his manager what had been written about me in their database, he refused to say. When I asked for the physical location of their offices, they would not say. Thanks to Google Earth, however, it did not take me 20 seconds to locate them. The real reason for the HIPAA law has nothing to do with patient confidentiality. It acts as a cloak for the dagger of privacy invasion.

Covert note taking is almost as bad as secretly recording a conversation. You are, in effect, recording a conversation. In courtrooms they have shorthand typists whom they call court recorders. What this guy did was similar, but he did it covertly. Had he told me that even a sigh of mine would have been documented, I would have ended the call immediately.

I was hoodwinked into a measure of candor for government thought surveillance purposes. They are acutely concerned about military sentiments. These are turbulent times. So offering this free counseling service is a ploy for accessing those sentiments. If they could send a tiny drone into our heads that would report back to them, I’m sure they would do it. But they don’t have that technology yet so they have to depend on Military One Source.

In my case, my words were secretly recorded, assessed, weighed, judged and officially filed all without my knowledge from a man who told me that he would do no such thing.

I wrote to the chief executive officer of this corporation and every man involved under her. I feel my confidence was betrayed not only by this subcontractor, but by my government for commissioning them to do what they do and for how they do it. I feel that I have been mentally violated. No wellness support contractor should act as a thought-spy for the government.

My experience may be of interest to our airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines and their loved ones. It will be a shock to them to learn that secretive subcontractors are keeping covert tabs on the inner sanctums of their minds and those of their spouses while they are off invading the lands of and picking fights with whoever the government deems is our “enemy.”

S.H. Pearson is a freelance writer and the wife of a U.S. serviceman who can be reached at