research and the NSA

Research and information are valuable commodities.

by Renzo Fajardo

by Renzo Fajardo

Just ask the National Security Agency.

And, in the same vein, research and information make nonfiction writing more interesting. They make the reader feel smarter and lend authenticity to a personal story. And so, on occasion, I research Colombia, South America, that troubled and dramatic country.

In writing about my past, I need to know the dates of elections and bombings in the 1990s, I need to get the exact translations for Spanish vernacular I remember, and I want to get the acronyms of various factions spelled out. But lately, in the wake of the NSA spying scandal, I find myself second-guessing my internet research. I wonder if my web-searching activity is being monitored or reported. I wonder about whether a search for “zona roja del narco” is going to get me followed by the CIA. I worry that my keyword searches for ELN and FARC are setting off silent alarms somewhere in the bowels of a government contract office.

Ultimately, I assume (hope?) the NSA has better things to do than monitor the slow and tedious actions of one aspiring writer. Because how do we get the facts right and set the record straight without researching the underbellies and closeted skeletons? How else do we tell a story except by taking the pieces apart and examining them one by one?