Archive for the ‘Art’ Category
Secret state: Trevor Paglen documents the hidden world of governmental surveillance, from drone bases to "black sites"
Sunday 15 June 2014
Since he was a postgraduate geography student at UCLA 10 years ago, Paglen has dedicated himself to a very 21st-century challenge: seeing and recording what our political masters do everything in their power to render secret and invisible.
Above our heads more than 200 secret American surveillance satellites constantly orbit the Earth: with the help of fanatical amateur astronomers who track their courses, Paglen has photographed them. A secret air force base deep in the desert outside Las Vegas is the control centre for the US’s huge fleet of drones: Paglen has photographed these tiny dots hurtling through the Nevada skies. To carry out the extraordinary rendition programme which was one of President George W Bush’s answers to the 9/11 attacks, seizing suspects from the streets and spiriting them off to countries relaxed about torture, the CIA created numerous front companies: grinding through flight records and using the methods of a private detective, Paglen identified them, visiting and covertly photographing their offices and managers. The men and women who carried out the rendition programme were equipped with fake identities: Paglen has made a collection of these people’s unconvincing and fluctuating signatures, "people," as he puts it, "who don’t exist because they’re in the business of disappearing other people".
"The war on terror was getting started and I very early on got the sense that these blank spots on the map were somehow paradigmatic of something that was happening politically." As the World Trade Center smouldered, Vice-President Dick Cheney announced that the nation would have to engage its "dark side" to find the culprits. "We’ve got to spend time in the shadows," he said. "It’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective." Paglen had his cue.
In his quest to unveil a world committed to staying hidden, his most bizarre discovery was that America’s secret soldiers and airmen wear distinctive uniform patches like regular servicemen, and many of them give broad hints about their work. In his tireless fashion, he tracked them down. Later he was amused to discover that I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World, the book in which he collected the images, had become a bestseller among the special forces themselves. "Apparently all of them have that book in their office now," he laughs.
In contrast to the dreary world of the secret bases and prisons, here the secret forces let rip. The images on the patches include a wizard shooting lightning bolts from his staff, dragons dropping bombs, and skunks firing laser beams. One of the more sinister has the Latin tag Oderint Dum Metuant: "Let them hate as long as they fear".