Lieutenant Colonel (USA, Ret) Alexander Braszko served the country for 22 years as a Military Intelligence and Space Operations officer. He has extensive experience integrating space, cyberspace and information operations capabilities into Army and Joint operations. He deployed to South Korea, Kosovo, and Iraq during his career. After leaving the Army, he became Kansas City, Missouri’s Chief Innovation Officer, where he used his insights into emerging technologies to improve municipal operations. He helped create an Emerging Technology Board in the city, charged with fostering a system of collaboration between city departments, law enforcement, and community representatives on controversial emerging technology initiatives including ShotSpotter, facial recognition software, autonomous drones, and autonomous vehicles.
In other words, the man knows what he’s talking about. He’s also a practicing Orthodox Christian, husband and father to 5 children, and describes himself as “an ardent supporter of data privacy and preserving our Constitutional freedoms.”
Alex Braszko agreed to do a written interview with me, via e-mail. The following responses are his personal answers and in no way reflect official policies of any organization. The emphases in the text below are all in the original text.
Rod Dreher: Thanks for your kind words about my book. Given your background and expertise, what are its most important lessons for Christians?
Alex Braszko: Rod, the most important lessons I garnered from your book are:
1. That we need to remain vigilant to the academic, corporate, and political efforts within our country seeking to fundamentally change and inhibit our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
2. That there are very real machinations ongoing in our country that mimic some of what we saw in Eastern European and Asian countries prior to their falling under the yoke of Communism.
3. That there are specific things we can be doing as Christians to preserve our faith, our traditions, and our values as individuals attempt to take away the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Christian Americans.
4. That we need to be willing to live a life apart from the crowd, but that there are many, many individuals and families like ours, sharing the same sets of values and beliefs we cherish.
5. Finally, we need to be willing to, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong!” (1 Cor 16:13) We need to support our brothers and sisters in Christ as they struggle with persecution from today’s secular world.
It is clear that after the January 6 assault on the Capitol, we will all be living in a very different security environment. I don’t want to put you in the position of saying whether that is good, bad, or otherwise. What I would like to know is what specifically should political and religious conservatives be doing now to accommodate ourselves to this new reality?
First, we must understand that the witch hunt we see taking place today against conservative Americans by politicians and mainstream media will continue for the foreseeable future. Dealing with doxing and public criticism for ascribing to our beliefs is something we should all expect. Hacks into our online accounts, monitoring of our online activities are all realities of the world we live in today. If we have been guilty in the past of sinning against our brother or sister, expressing hate or discord ourselves, we need to repent of those sins and ask God and others for forgiveness of our transgressions and then do them no more.
We need to prepare now for how we will respond when politically motivated and unpleasant events occur in our lives. An important part of that preparation comes from praying beforehand for God’s guidance, patience, and wisdom in dealing with those that literally hate us, want to publicly ridicule us, and physically injure us for our faith. Acknowledge that persecution is coming, begin praying for God’s strength to endure now.
We also need to commit to speaking and living in Truth. Not being bullied into compliance or intimidated for believing what we believe. The next few years will really separate the wheat from the chaff in our churches, and we need to resolve to remain strong in our faith.
From a technology perspective, from a practical perspective, we need to realize we lived without social media platforms in the past, and we can live happily without them in the future. Anything we post on social media must be something we are willing to account for publicly, as if it was getting printed for public record, because that’s exactly what our online and social media comments, posts, blogs are: Public Record. As we witnessed with Parler, no platform or app should be considered private — not Signal, not ProtonMail, despite them being advertised as encrypted. Again, if there’s something you need to say that you don’t want a public record of, you should not be using any means of technology to communicate it.
Also, if we haven’t learned it by now, our smartphones, their cameras and microphones, are windows into our most private spaces, into our very personal lives. While I personally believe my posts, my pictures and videos should be my data, even when posted in a public facing forum, that’s obviously not the case. If I take a picture and hold it up in the middle of a city, that picture in my hand is still my personal property. I believe the same should hold true in our online forums, but that’s not the case.
If your computer, or Smart TV, occupies a central part of your house where you have honest and potentially controversial conversations, you may look at moving it to a more remote location. If you don’t have a RFID or Faraday box for your phones when you have conversations around the dinner table, you might consider getting one, and practice using it now. If you don’t have a small RFID or Faraday case for your smartphone, for when you’re driving around and shopping, you might consider getting one. But whatever you do, you have to practice something akin to what we in the military call OPSEC, Operational Security, to preserve your data privacy. Don’t go to the wrong or compromising sites, don’t assume your phone can’t be interrogated or collected on… don’t assume your photos are private or secure, because they’re not. Even on airplane mode. Even when you think they’re turned off. You’re still being watched on Privacy Mode. You can never truly erase your search history. If you’ve got kids, teach them the value of cyber anonymity, the dangers of posting political rhetoric online.
Can you live without Facebook? Great, get rid of it! Can you live without Twitter? Great, get rid of it. Do you have to use Amazon or for a little extra inconvenience can you support local businesses? Great, then get rid of or limit your Amazon purchases and buy local. Big Tech has been collecting, selling, and profiting from your personal information for years, and you’re getting nothing for it. Why continue to support them as if your lives depended on it? Why act like an addict that can’t let go of social media platforms? Surveillance Capitalism is alive and well; let’s not play into Big Tech’s hands.
Pay attention to how the 6 January Capitol Hill activities transpired. Pay attention to how those conducting criminal activities were caught. Press reports their phones’ IMEIs and IMSIs were collected and geographically located and attributed to individuals as they connected to nearby cell towers. We saw individual photos, videos and comments were posted online to social media and then captured by hackers. Even after people tried to delete their accounts, that information was already recorded in time and space and attributed to those individuals’ names. Do not assume your phone, your computer, your smart tv, your Fitbit are private and controlled solely by you. They are not.
You are a churchgoing man. What should we be doing spiritually to adjust?
As mentioned above, we need to be repenting for our sins, praying for strength, patience, wisdom and God’s guidance in the challenges we face.We need to be reading our Bible and writing its truths on our heart. We also need to be praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially for our leaders. Church leadership and government leaders. We need to fearlessly teach our children, loved ones, friends the Truth, the Good News, to hold firm to their faith while the world around them feeds them political half-truths and outright lies. We need to be able to practice our faith at home, read the stories of the martyrs, and remind ourselves how the early Church survived persecution. Also, a good friend of mine reminded me recently that we need to “show real love in every instance, every encounter, every scenario we face.” He hit the nail on the head, and that love goes hand in hand with God’s Truth.
What lifestyle changes should we be making? For example, should people head for the hills? What would that even mean in a networked world?
So, the Benedict Option is a viable option in my opinion! As is moving out to the country, as my wife and I did many years ago. It feels safer out here, surrounded on all sides by friends and family, where we know the local government officials, sheriff’s deputies, and highway patrolmen. We feel we can more easily protect ourselves, provide for ourselves from a survival perspective, and our neighbors notice strangers and let us know when they see them! Honestly, there’s a lot to be said for living in the country. If you can live 30-45 minutes outside a major metropolitan area, in my opinion, that’s the sweet spot.
But it can also be lonely out in the country, which is why living around an Orthodox community, church or monastery, in my mind, makes sense. There is strength in numbers, and it’s comforting to live amongst folks that share the same values and beliefs you do. As Orthodox Christians, we have to drive anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to get to an Orthodox Church. It’s worth it, in our opinion, but it takes commitment.
What does it mean when we live in a networked world? Well, when we visited my in-laws roughly two decades ago, the country was a different world. I don’t believe they even had dial up back then. And if they had cell phones, and that was a big “if”, they were dumb phones. Today, folks around here get fed the same propaganda from mainstream media we all do; it’s the same in the country as in the city. The same sort of conversations are taking place in the boonies as they are in the cities, only with a different slant to the responses, of course. Living in the country is no guarantee that you won’t face persecution in your online forums, online posts and interactions — unfortunately. What it does mean is that you can live without that sort of influence in your life if you’d like, if you choose, without so many leftist individuals getting in your face and in your business.
What role does trust play in this new and fast-onrushing world?
Trust? Trust what, who? I trust God. I trust my wife, my family. I trust a few close friends we have developed over the years and a few neighbors around us. I trust my priest. That’s about it. I don’t trust mainstream media. I don’t trust “scientific experts” who have values different from my own. I trust scientific experts that share my philosophies on life and who share my faith. I don’t trust political parties, which is why I’m registered as an Independent. I certainly don’t trust politicians. I definitely don’t trust China or Russia! I also don’t trust my devices, my apps, my computer, my phone, my iPad, my smart TV. I know Big Tech does not have my best interests in mind when they censor my comments, sell my data, and force their political opinions into my online experiences. As Christians, we’ve learned we can’t trust a simple Google Search, or Wikipedia, as they’re redefining things to fit their narratives.
Bottom line, I don’t put my hope and trust in Pharaoh, in men, in princes, in government and political leaders.
What would you say to people who believe the things you and I are talking about here are alarmist?
My grandfather had a typing business in Russia. In 1917, on a dark and rainy night, my grandfather returned home late in the evening from work. Through the rain, he saw the lights on in his house, but noticed men surrounding it and men inside the house. He witnessed some terrible things being done to his family that night by Bolsheviks as he hid in the shadows, the full details of which he discovered much later, and learned that those men were after him, a White Russian, to “give him the bayonet” because of his political leanings and the fact he was a business owner. One of his children was killed that night, and atrocities committed against his wife and daughter. Communists shattered his world. He returned a few years later after escaping Russia with a group of Cossacks to fight the Soviets. People told him he was being alarmist in the beginning, too. Nothing but the grace of God prevents those same things from happening in our own country today. So, no, I don’t think I’m being alarmist. I think we’re being vigilant, I think we’re being observant, thinking critically about what happened historically in many other countries, looking at similarities taking place in our own country today. And it’s really not good what we’re witnessing.
It’s much easier to stick our heads in the sand, to divert our eyes from Truth and turn to the ease and conveniences offered up to us. We like to tell ourselves, “If we just trust our political leaders, buy into mainstream narratives and secular dogma we hear every single day, things will be easier!.” But we know our hope is in our Savior, in Christ Jesus. As much as he suffered for us, buying into the lies the world feeds us is an insult to His sacrifice and love for us. We need to fight the good fight and run the race for our salvation, because in the end, that’s what truly matters.
There’s a lot more in Live Not By Lies. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. Here is a link to a free, downloadable study guide for the book. It meant a lot to me to have a Christian with a career’s worth of experience in the intelligence field tell me that all the material in my book about surveillance capitalism, and surveillance itself, is dead on target.