Saturday, April 11, 2009

Black Spots on the Map; The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World by Trevor Paglen

This study began at the geography department at U.C. Berkeley in the basement of McCone Hall where the earth science library collection makes available the aerial images of the United States Geological Survey. Originally the author was researching California's prison system which, since the 1980's, had been undergoing the largest expansion in the history of the world. The State had built thirty-three prisons in just a few decades whereas in the previous 132 years they had only built twelve. Soon he expanded his investigation to include the 'next generation' of prisons all over the Southwest.

'As I worked my way through the archive, I noticed that vast swaths of land were missing from the imagery collections. I assumed that my own ineptitude with the archive's antiquated filing system was to blame. I expanded my search to the entire USGS archive, plugging longitudes and latitudes into a government search engine to retrieve image previews'.

'When I did that I stumbled across a series of images that left me flabbergasted: black plates with stenciled white letters reading simply FRAMES EDITED FROM ORIGINAL NEGATIVE. Someone, somewhere, in some official capacity had deliberately removed these plates from the archives.'

Thus the author discovered the location of all the top-secret U.S. government installations- weapons testing , manufacturing and communications centers, intelligence facilities, bases and satellite launch sites etc.- not only in America but through-out the world. A similar investigation into the 'black holes' of the official budget statements of the U.S. Government- all undertaken in complete disregard of of Section I, Article 9, Clause 7 ('receipts and expenditures') of the Constitution- provided the author with a general outline of our spending on secret defense or 'intelligence' operations. This amounts to approximately $60 billion dollars annually.

Considering what we now know about the occupation of Iraq and the generally preferred direction of appropriations by Congress it is not surprising that nearly 70% of this classified Intelligence spending is outsourced to private industry, at as much as three times the cost using regular government employees.

One of the most interesting parts of Trevor Paglen's book is the coverage he gives to the network of independent professional and amateur astronomers who track the objects the U.S. puts into space most of which are highly classified and often remain that way for years, even decades.

But where there is a will there is a way. Success can be achieved with the simplest instruments and commonly available software. The shape and size of satellites can be determined by their reflective properties or by the non-reflective, anti-spy properties that the government often builds into them, for example.

Variations in the motions of the orbiting material caused by consistent environmental factors-like rays emanating from the sun- tell a lot. Observations can be correlated with known launch dates and information derived from de-classified programs. Rough and sometimes even very accurate estimates of the costs of the governments projects can be inferred. A very elaborate taxonomic system has been established in order to avoid the confusion of the government's system of identifying codes but, at the same time, uses information gleaned from efforts to crack those codes.

Of course a lot of what the government does remains out of the reach of these modern-day Galileos. But they are a determined bunch and very committed to the axioms of experimental science. Their attempts to unravel some of the "mysteries" of the black-op universe sometimes takes years but they persist and cooperate on a world-wide basis.

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