Steven Bray (born October 18, 1955)
This is the story of my transformation. My contributions are far more modest than the others but I should tell you a little about myself. I wish to also acknowledge that the risks are far greater for those in government, particularly military or intelligence agencies. Unlike me, most of them also lost their pensions. Other events in my life are sprinkled throughout the website and not repeated here.
In October of 2011 I ended my engineering career the day I read an email from the CEO requesting that employees support the US free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. At the same time, Father Jose Restrepo had just been murdered after posting a video showing the imminent displacement of his community at Marmato in Colombia by a Canadian mining corporation. My employer, Caterpillar is the world’s leading manufacturer of mining machines. I saw blood on my paycheck. I had global responsibility for software technology across the entire product line of Caterpillar machines and engines when I ended my career.
I am the oldest of six boys, one only surviving a week at the hospital. All of my ancestors migrated to the United States from Europe at least three generations back, my grandfather on my fathers side, Bray, from Ireland and the other three grandparents predominantly of German ancestry.
Both of my parents influenced me by example; being hardworking, honest, thrifty, independent, modest, soft-spoken, confident in assuming any task and deeply in love with each other. But I rarely went to my mother for advice and never to my father. My mother was very intelligent but had a struggle with depression and several times attempted suicide. I later learned that when Dad gave up his pharmacy business and our home in Chicago in 1968, when I was 12, and we moved to a farm in rural Illinois, they moved to be close to family which could help care for us when my mom was not able. My father and Irish relatives did not talk seriously. A serious question from me would too often be answered with nonsense and I stopped trying.
Within two weeks of entering first grade at St. Robert Belarmine, a Catholic school in Chicago, I learned why there was a playpen with baby toys in our classroom. The nun put me in the playpen and had the entire class chanting “Baby Bray, Baby Bray …” As I sat there I concluded that teachers, like my parents, have some of their own problems to work out and I better figure things out on my own. Many years later someone asked how my parents reacted to what the nun did and I realized that I had not even considered talking to them about it.
Entering 8th grade in the rural public school of Tonica, Illinois was no better. It was a couple of years behind my Chicago school. Our elderly teacher was herself learning new math. One day when she had mis-taught a math concept I foolishly raised my hand and attempted to correct it, thinking of their education. As you can expect, she did not thank me. She reinforced her incorrect lesson, ridiculing me and getting the class all laughing at me, not knowing the truth. I learned a lesson. Speaking the truth is not effective if delivered in a way that humiliates a person. This was a tiny school. There were only about 32 in my high school graduating class.
From birth through my awakening in 2011, I was figuring everything out on my own. I am still skeptical and ultimately rely on my own judgment but now I seek perspectives from others, either directly or more often through their writings. In retrospect my parents, relatives and teachers had taught me the best lesson, not to blindly follow any advice. Shortly before my mother’s death in 2003, out of the blue one day, she told me “You think everything through very carefully. Trust yourself.” Thanks mom.
Unlike today, when I was young, engineering and science were highly regarded. The race to land on the moon was in the news and the dad’s in TV series were engineers or architects. In sixth grade I happened to stumble on an encyclopedia section on engineering and decided my career that day, an engineer or a scientist. I have worked as an engineer for 36 years, working on sustainable energy from 1977 through 1979 at General Electric Corporate Research in Schenectady NY, then from 1980 through 2012 at Caterpillar, Inc. in Peoria IL, first in engine research then electronic controls.
I have twice been offered interviews in Lawrence Livermore Labs but did not accept because my wife objected to moving to California. In 1976, in addition to GE Corporate R&D, I was offered to join the team designing the jet engine for the B1 bomber. Part of my training would be disassembly and reassembly of the CF6 engine used in DC10 jumbo jets. It was tough to choose between jet engines and corporate research. Carter took office a few months later and canceled the B1 bomber project. Luckily I had accepted the other job at corporate R&D. In 1979, in addition to Caterpillar, I was offered engineering assignments on the Space Shuttle solid booster, nuclear power plant re-heaters and the highest honor was dinner and time with Hal Bovenkirk, the co-inventor of man-made diamonds. He had developed them at GE R&D where I was currently working and I believe he was looking to retire and wanted me to assume his role at GE Specialty Products in Columbus, Ohio. He and GE never patented the process, which would require disclosure and a time limit of exclusive use. The entire process was a carefully guarded secret, none of which could be shown to me on an interview. I only turned it down because the location was neither close to family or to great nature and there was not enough vacation time to give my children adequate exposure to both. A couple years later Sunstrand offered me a job on development of the space station but I declined. They were staffing up just to participate as one member of a multi-corporate team bidding on the contract.
When very young, playing with a classmate next door, his mother exposed us to the horrors of WWII, which she lived through in Poland as a little girl (read more). A few years later, exposed to graphic images of the holocaust, I realized that if this could happen in Germany, with people as kind and intelligent as my mother and her parents, it could happen in the United States. The cultures are not that different and cultures require much more than decades to evolve and have war and holocausts behind us. I respected those who resisted fascism, at great risk for themselves and their families. I wondered if I would be brave enough, and most difficult, creating risk for my own family to defend society.
In 2011, as I finally learned history, that question changed to how could I have been so blind and have not seen that the United States government has been inflicting similar horrors throughout its history and all of my life. You likely do not see this but unless more people wake up very soon, the horrors of climate catastrophe will be a holocaust covering the globe. In briefly starting to talk to my brother Bob last September, I learned that spending his life in the military environment has prepared him to support fascism. This confirms what I suspected, very intelligent and kind people can be trained to give unquestioning support to leaders, even taking us to our deaths (see Forced Toward Extinction by Those Defending Us). Both can exist in the same person.
In myself, I see how easy it was to ignore inconvenient truths and cling to my illusions. I was shocked by “I’m not a crook” Nixon, the Iran-Contra lies through an unbelievable chain of illegal and immoral actions to bypass Congress to fund more illegal and immoral actions and many other events, but I quickly returned to my normal life.
In fall 2002 I was visiting friends in Ann Arbor, Michigan and unexpectedly was in a march in opposition to the pending attack on Iraq. It was by accident but I felt good in my first march. But soon I felt hopelessness when the massively larger crowd arrived for the Michigan homecoming football game and later in the day learning that Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota had died in a plane crash that day.
In March of 2003, a few days before the US launched the Iraq War, I joined a group of about 8 people standing in the rain at the corner of the Federal Courthouse in Peoria, Illinois. I did not accept the lies and joined them insisting that our government not rush to war. Jack Ryan spoke. It was the first time I met him but did not know him or his story. A young couple approached and asked me to sign a petition against Caterpillar over the murder of Rachel Corrie a couple days earlier.
Rachel was a young college student from the US in Rafa Gaza as a member of International Solidarity Movement. On March 16, 2003 she was run over with a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer despite having an extra Israeli military observer on the bulldozer, her wearing a bright vest, with a megaphone, and acting in a known, consistent manner to block the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes within Gaza. The US was going to bomb Iraq and Israel was going to demolish a larger buffer zone inside of Gaza, starting with removing the international observer.
I was like a deer in the headlights. I could not answer them. I was aware and horrified that she was intentionally crushed with a Caterpillar bulldozer to prepare for our war on Iraq. I had also been the lead engineer in developing electronic control of bulldozers from D6 through D11. I had started with the D9 and spent years operating it to develop the system. I know the sounds and movements and could imagine her death. The bulldozers are operated on mountains and other conditions where a slight glitch in the electronic controls could kill the operator or people around the machine. I was not satisfied with the safety regulations and told all of my team to develop this machine as though your own child would be operating it. My devotion to the safety of this machine was the final stress that led to the end of my 19 year marriage to the mother of my three children.
While I put so much into making the bulldozer safe, Caterpillar, the US government and the Israeli government, in their intimate relationships, intentionally killed Rachel Corrie with a bulldozer. They do not coordinate every action, but they are all aware of the many throughout the world who they kill in pursuit of profits. In 2012 I learned that the Israeli military added remote control to the Caterpillar bulldozers so they can demolish Palestinian homes, orchards and crops without risk to an operator. Unlike my brother Bob who directly traveled to Israel to coordinate drone development, I was not aware of these plans. It is possible that some people within Caterpillar were aware because for a few years there was upper management resistance to this development project and then it suddenly became a priority. It was such a priority that during lockout of striking UAW workers for over a year, I was one of the very, very few who was not taken off my project to replace the factory workers, keeping production going and breaking the union. My boss was sent in my place. Israel could not have added remote control without my years of work making the entire machine controlled by computers.
So despite all of these events, opportunities to wake up, where I clearly knew something was wrong, I allowed them to fade from my mind, rationalizing that there are more than enough other good people to fix things. Thinking I’ll focus on doing a good job with my assignments and caring for my family. I later learned that Jack Ryan, Paul Appell and others continued their resistance to the Iraq war every Saturday on the corner of Main Street next to Bradley University from then through at least 2012, nine years.
In 2011 the Arab Spring caught my attention. While following on both main stream media and through twitter directly to people, my illusion of trust in our media was shattered, including National Public Radio, the left fringe with “All Things Considered”. I was compelled to dig deeper (read more).
Social media, books, online articles and lectures have references to other people and their writings, videos and podcasts. Once motivated, through references I rapidly expanded my sources of information.
In September of 2011 I stumbled across an article about the murder that month of a young priest at Marmato Colombia, Father Jose Restrepo. Artisan minors have been mining gold for over 500 years from Marmato mountain but the Colombian government was not renewing their licenses and had given the mining license to a Canadian mining company with plans to level the mountain over 20 years to extract $20 billion worth of gold. The town of Marmato, on the mountain, and its 6000 residents would be relocated to the valley but they would have no work and their water would be contaminated by the chemicals used to leach the gold. A video featuring Father Restrepo was produced in which he explained the situation and also said that he was supporting his parish. The only thing that could stop him is if he is murdered. He was murdered four days after this video was posted on youtube. I have subsequently visited Marmato. There is no memorial or talk about him. He does not exist in the Oscar nominated documentary, “Marmato”, filmed over this time. I am not aware of any investigation, even within the Catholic Church. This had been well documented by the organization “Colombia Support Network” but a few months later someone offered to upgrade their website and many of the articles disappeared. I have subsequently restored them for the organization. (read more)
This same month I received an email from the CEO of Caterpillar, sent to all of the management employees, in favor of pending free-trade agreements. I generally ignore political advice from the company but in early October as I was cleaning my email inbox, I decided to read it before deleting. First he thanked the 10,400 who a few months earlier had clicked on the link in his prior email, sending letters to Illinois congressmen, in the employee’s name, in opposition to raising Illinois corporate tax and also threatening that Caterpillar facilities would move out of Illinois if taxes were raised. I had deleted this prior one without reading it. Seems a little crazy that employees would click and send a political letter from the CEO, in their name, threatening to have their employer move away and loose their jobs while in economic hard times struggling to pay their bills. After all of the outsourcing, I was surprised that we had 10,400 management employees in Illinois. Perhaps this one was also sent to non-management.
In this letter the CEO was asking us to click the link to generate letters in our name to our United States Senators and Congressmen stating our support for the bi-lateral free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. He also bragged that his corporate automation of support for legislation was so successful that other corporations would soon be following his lead.
I knew that this free-trade agreement had been held up for years by actual grass-root pressure over the extreme violation of human rights in Colombia. Of the global murders of union organizers, 60% are in Colombia.
I had no evidence of direct connection between Caterpillar and the murder of Father Restrepo, but Caterpillar would clearly sell mining equipment for this project and somewhere along the line decisions were being made to threaten, displace and kill people to proceed with this and other mining projects. I saw blood on my paycheck.
Within a few hours I realized that I could no longer work for Caterpillar despite greatly enjoying my work and most of the people I worked with. At that point I was the Technical Steward for Embedded Software, essential guiding the software technology globally for the onboard computers in their construction and mining machines and engines. This was an exciting time as we were developing autonomous machines without operators and heading toward integrated computer control of entire mine sites. I had been asked to represent Caterpillar in Cyber Physical Systems, a government/military initiative for global integration of observations and automated actions/responses. This is frightening and I did not accept.
Until that evening, I had never started thinking of or planning for retirement. Most of my co-workers were counting the days. I enjoyed my work. That night I read the retirement plan for the first time and learned that I just barely qualified, but with significantly reduced pension. I was leaving in any case and this was a relief.
I was also going to do everything I could to expose the CEO’s fabrication of grass root support for these trade agreements. I was frightened because I was confronting a system that had just murdered a priest, that would not want me talking about this or their actions to pass this legislation.
I wrote all of this up on paper, sealed it in an envelope, walked to hand delivered it to a friend, and asked them to open the letter and follow my instructions if they lost contact with me. I am aware that nearly everything is being observed. Years earlier I did not take advantage of corporate cell phone service discounts or free anti-virus software for our home computers because I actually read the contracts, compared them to direct versions not from Caterpillar and noted that I would be agreeing to share call meta data and data on my home computer with Caterpillar. Why do they need this personal information?
By roughly midnight I sent an email to my boss informing him that I was initiating retirement. I wanted to have at least some documentation in case they chose to immediately fire me. I then started blasting this out on twitter to all of my relevant contacts for activists and news organizations. I knew that it was possible that I might soon have visitors.
Twitter is useful but can be dangerous. This became very clear earlier in 2011 as I followed people during the Arab Spring. Many of the twitter feeds from people speaking out would just end. The likely cause was evident from other tweets reporting the masked men arriving at night who intimidated or more often took family members away to be imprisoned, tortured, raped and sometimes killed by the government.
For people in the United States, it is important to understand that many of the government forces brutally attacking their own people are trained, armed and often coordinated by our government, our military, and our city police forces. It happens here but so far is greatly restricted, at least for white people, to maintaining the illusion of democracy. As this illusion can not be sustained through the impacts of climate changes, unless we create democracy, we will face the large scale brutality that our leaders use in other countries.
With twitter, if they can not physically get to you, they can arrange for trouble. In one twitter exchange where someone supporting the royal family in Bahrain was intimidating a social media expert with Electronic Freedom Foundation, a young woman, I interjected that his reality of conditions in Bahrain, that he insisted she should convey, could be more credibly supported by allowing foreign journalists to enter the country, rather than through anonymous tweets from him. He angrily replied to me, opening with “Mr Steve, if that is your real name”.
I thought that brief exchange was the end of our interaction but in a clever way he most likely got me added to FBI and CIA lists of people requiring surveillance and almost certainly triggered a manual review of me. Shortly after our twitter exchange, I read the May 30, 2011 McClatchy DC news article “US Yanks Diplomat from Bahrain” and tweeted a link to it. The details of the article are not critical but the fact that I tweeted a link to this article created a permanent record of connection between me and this article. It was late and I went to bed. The next morning I reread the article and found that shortly after I tweeted a link to it, someone using the name ibsteve2u (I be Steve to you) posted a bizarre sequence of 16 comments to that article, starting at 1:47 AM and ending at 2:44 AM. None were relevant to the article. The comments alternated between first person and third person ridicule of steve with glasses and very explicit violence to Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), John Boehner (Speaker of the House), the Koch Brothers and their children. To share a little, the following are the three which ridiculed steve.
- My REAL name is…lolll…I wear glasses?
- my real name is steve. when it comes down to it, i MAKE war good. really good.
- I kill…is what I do best…hey, is that bespectacled guy steve?
I have omitted the other extremely violent comments because they would be detected on scanning this website and also when you read it.
The violent words and names involved would definitely have been detected by automatic scanning of internet traffic and site content and, because of the people named, would have certainly received a high priority for human analysis. Because I created an electronic record in twitter connecting me to this article, particularly in the same time frame as the comments, the analyst would be given my name and twitter account. He would see my history of support for the protesters against a US ally regime and port of the US 5th fleet. It was likely clear that I did not make the threats but I would be added to lists for careful observation. I suspect this is a result of my earlier twitter exchange with the person in Bahrain because “real name steve” is repeated in both, he would have seen I was wearing glasses in my twitter picture, it is tied to an article about Bahrain, and the comments were made right after my tweet linking me to the article. I have subsequently reviewed my interpretation with an ex-FBI and ex-CIA and they believe my analysis is likely correct.
Even if not correct, twitter is dangerous, and I was concerned using it directly to expose the actions of Caterpillar.
I believe it was October 10, 2011, a couple days later, that these three free-trade agreements were voted on in Congress. I watched live as they passed with a large majority. Since for several years they were short votes, the CEO of Caterpillar with his automated letters may been the deciding influence. With this second success, other corporations are likely now generating grass-root support for legislation. I was not successful but I would have regretted not trying even though I probably got myself added to more lists.
At this point my transformation was certain but my retraining was just starting. I went from being an accomplished expert in my field to an entry level beginner in a context far more expansive, complex and dangerous.
A few years later someone asked me if this was a difficult decision. I paused and could not recall making a decision. I can recall that several times that evening I had attempted to start a decision process, which seemed logical and necessary, but each time was immediately blocked by a great force within me. It had felt like my whole body had changed and told me not to even attempt to rationalize a way to stay in my past life and career.