Edited by Sam Thielman
FIRST, A PLUG. It's one thing to read a newsletter of observations from me about the brand-new second issue of the critical sensation DC Comics/Black Label miniseries WALLER VS. WILDSTORM. But did you know that you can talk to me about it in person? Yes, if you're in Manhattan on Wednesday, June 14—tomorrow!—come to JHU Comics at 481 3rd Avenue, where I'll be signing WVW (and REIGN OF TERROR) from 3pm to 7pm! I'm going to look weirdly formal, because I'll be coming from a talk I'm giving at a law firm, of all things. So I suggest we get loose together? Come through! [And for the record, you can always do worse than stop by JHU. It’s small but it is the best comic store in Manhattan for my money.—Sam.]
HERE SHE IS. Amanda Waller.
I love Amanda Waller, AKA The Wall, the supreme Security State bureaucrat of the DC Comics universe, especially when she's written by John Ostrander and Greg Rucka (and, in her cartoon form, by Dwayne McDuffie). The mission of WALLER VS. WILDSTORM has always been to propose a backstory for her—that is, to explain how the character got to the point where those great writers and their great collaborators told the great Amanda Waller stories that they told. (Although, to be clear, we are an out-of-continuity miniseries.) An early tagline we batted around for the book, if only in our internal discussions, was Build That Wall.
Obviously, Amanda figured heavily in issue 1 of WVW. The issue revolves around her late-Cold War-era machinations. But the Amanda we see in issue 1 is Jackson King's perception of Amanda. Later on, Lois Lane's perception of Amanda is dependent on Jackson's, though not to the degree that Jackson desired. Issue 2 – and I'm not going to spoil the book here – properly introduces Amanda as a point-of-view character. And that means issue 2 will recontextualize issue 1.
A good spy story, to me, doesn't just depend on a clash of interests. It's a clash of perceptions, a clash of narratives. Heightening the stakes for Amanda—building the Wall, if you'll indulge me—required us to show you how astronomically high those stakes are for the other characters. We enter issue 2 filtered through those perceptions. By the time we end it, we'll have a much different understanding of how high the stakes are for Amanda, for Jackson, for the rest of the cast, and for America and the world in the late 20th and early 21st century.
Accordingly, issue 2 is where Amanda explains exactly why she's doing what she's doing. There was a version of this miniseries where we kept her motivations ambiguous until the issue-4 finale. I promise that we're going to have many twists in the finale—and in issue 3!—but I found out that none of them were sufficiently effective unless, at the earliest possible moment, Amanda makes it clear why she considers her course of action to be right. This is a cornerstone of The Wall.
Also, remember what I said in March about issue 2 revealing more about Amanda's relationship with Adeline Kane?
I'm a rookie comic-book writer. On this issue especially, my veteran colleagues lifted me up. Co-writer Evan Narcisse—who also has Static Team-Up: Anansi #1 out this week, so definitely pick that one up—devised a way to tell the central scene of the book through a perspective shift that heightens the drama. Color artist Michael Atiyeh came up with a fantastic visual shorthand for Evan's magic. And artist Jesús Merino, aided by inker Vicente Cifuentes, continues to put on a clinic in both subtle facial expressions and superhero-on-supervillain fight choreography. It's time to do classic WildStorm things! And that makes it all the more meaningful that one of our variant covers is by Tom Raney, who drew the classic StormWatch issues that our miniseries takes as a touchstone.
This is a bleak story and I'm proud of it. I'm very grateful to my collaborators and our editors, Chris Conroy and Marquis Draper, and to the very supportive staff at DC for publishing it. Above all, I can't wait for you to see the Wall we're building.
AND IN SOME REAL-WORLD AMANDA WALLER STUFF, U.S. intelligence confirms that its agencies "can purchase," as a matter of policy, commercially-available data on Americans. That's an admission that they've been violating the Constitution since 2018, at least concerning device location data, although I didn't see many news outlets report it that way. (Shout out to Zach Whittaker of TechCrunch and Dell Cameron of WIRED, who are exceptions.) Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a longtime member of the Senate intelligence committee, correctly characterizes this policy as an "end run" around the Fourth Amendment. They have so many!
Wyden prevailed upon Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to compile and then release a report on this U.S. intelligence practice. The report from an intelligence advisory group, disclosed on Monday afternoon, concedes that this highly detailed personal information, extracted and then arbitraged as a matter of course under surveillance capitalism, can't really be considered the same as open-source data.
We're talking about information like browsing and search history, "credit histories, insurance claims, criminal records, employment histories, incomes, ethnicities, purchase histories, and interests," to say nothing of device-location or location-revealing information, which we'll turn to in a second. "Profound changes in the scope and sensitivity" of the data that's available for purchase renders it "very different in degree and in kind" than traditional publicly available information that the intelligence agencies consider themselves free to collect. And you don't have to be an intelligence agency to de-anonymize that information. [You might even be a hard-right Catholic blog that hates gay people.—Sam.]
What does Wyden mean by data purchases representing an end run around the Fourth Amendment? Years ago, my friend Nate Wessler successfully argued Carpenter v. U.S. before the Supreme Court, establishing that location data from your digital devices is sufficiently privacy-rich that the government needs a warrant to collect it. But as a matter of capitalist course, that same location data is purchasable to whomever can pay for it.
"As such, IC [intelligence community] policies treat the information as PAI [publicly available information] and IC elements can purchase it," the DNI report reads, and recommends further policy analysis leading to privacy safeguards – but not necessarily, like, stopping the practice, as commercially available data is "increasingly significant part of the information environment." In other words, you are funding the government to buy your Constitutionally-protected location data.
Ominously, the report notes that the "IC cannot understand and improve how it deals with CAI [commercially available information] unless and until it knows what it is doing with CAI," suggesting that right now it, uh, doesn't. Or that the agencies aren't being candid with the DNI advisory group.
Indeed, the report confirms that various U.S. intelligence agencies have paid data brokers for your data for years. The Department of Homeland Security's intelligence shop—yeah, that one—buys information from Thomson Reuters' CLEAR database that "often [has] current location and contact information." And here's an admission from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the Government Accountability Office in 2021, three years after Carpenter:
DIA currently provides funding to another agency that purchases commercially available geolocation metadata aggregated from smartphones. The data DIA receives is global in scope and is not identified as “U.S. location data” or “foreign location data” by the vendor at the time it is provisioned to DIA. DIA processes the location data as it arrives to identify U.S. location data points that it segregates in a separate database. DIA personnel can only query the U.S. location database when authorized through a specific process requiring approval from the Office of General Counsel (OGC), Office of Oversight and Compliance (OOC), and DIA senior leadership. Permission to query the U.S. device location data has been granted five times in the past two-and-a-half years for authorized purposes.
The timeline suggests that took place largely after Carpenter. Yet none of this is framed as a constitutional violation by the intelligence agencies. "Our report does not attempt 'an independent legal analysis' of the issues involved," the advisory group says, a convenient elision that would do Amanda Waller proud.