User:Roelroscama/trim2/User:Roelroscama/Trevor Paglen Masterclass
Notes on the Trevor Paglen masterclass
His research strategy comes from a mix of academic scholarship, investigative journalism and amateur research.
TP's methodological approach to a large extent comes from being trained as a geographer. In short geography looks at all the ways in which we change the environments around us and how in turn they change us. This is called the production of space and is in essence a feedback mechanism. You produce the world and the world produces you in turn.
Secrecy exists as a result of political powers and can be seen as a way of organizing space. Secrecy is filled with contradictions because of the inefficiencies of power. It seems that the world has an imminent resistance to power.
In his work he looks at the contradictions that emerge while pursuing secrecy. One of such contradictions is that money doesn't disappear. If a state spends a ton of money on a secret project, rather than to disappear, an infrastructure to support that secrecy appear somewhere physically. Being a geographer Trevor phrased it like this: Money congeals in the surface of the earth. Money produces space. That means that even things that are secret, must be located physically somewhere on the earth's surface. Which means that that it reflects light, which in turn means you can see it.
Everything that exists requires a geography. As an example. If one is to build a secret airplane, one needs a secret factory. Which has secret employees, which require a secret canteen, staffed by secret cooks. Those cooks prepare dinner using secret foodstuffs, that is transported using secret trucks. This is what he calls the geography of secrecy. One of the strategies is to discover where a secret infrastructure intersects with a public one.
Often secret geographies hide in plain sight. The Pentagon's black budget for example can be deduced from the Pentagon's budget report which is public. In the summary it says how big the budget is, by adding all of the listed budgeted projects one finds a number smaller than the one in the summary. So from the difference one can deduce the size of the 'Black Budget'
Another example is the CIA's use of civil aviation to run the Global War on Terror. To have the secret infrastructure necessary for the global war on terror the CIA can't use airplanes that say USAF or CIA. To remain secret the CIA has created fake companies that own and fly civilian planes. Having a civilian infrastructure has it's advantages: 1 your name is not on the plane. 2 you are allowed to do things military planes are not allowed to do. You can fly into any air spaces w/o problem. The disadvantage is that a civilian infrastructure requires public paperwork. Those companies have public listings, cargo lists, flight destinations etc which are all public. Using mainly publicly available documents he has been able to deduce which are the front companies used by the CIA, what they are used for (extraordinary renditions to secret prisons) and where these secret prisons are located.
He made his work on secret program's patches mostly by talking to people on bases. People that work on secret projects are keen to let others know they do. The best part of being in a secret club is letting others realize they aren't. That's the tradition of these patches. Within the US military there is an extensive culture of reflecting and reading one's individuality in an otherwise very uniform environment. Various markings on the uniform tell people who a soldier is, what his rank is, what his skills are, what he's been through. These markings give the bearer respect from his peers. For involvement in secret projects this goes the same.
So through the intersection of public and secret infrastructures, public records and personal pride secrecy reveals itself to be very inefficient. He works mostly with this.
On conspiracy theories he notes that it is really tempting to read a lot into the things one uncovers. It is important to have self-discipline about what one finds and not to fill in the gaps. Thats the difference between a critical researcher and a conspiracy theorist. Always ask what the reasonable conclusions are that one can make.