Category Archives: GEOINT

DNI Clapper: press coverage “inaccurate”

DNI Clapper labeled press coverage of the Snowden affair as “inaccurate, misleading and incomplete” at the GEOINT 2013* meeting today:

He also repeated his position that Snowden is not a whistleblower:

Our new paper on intelligence now online


Very excited to announce our paper “The New Political Economy of Geographical Intelligence” is now online at the publisher’s website for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

The publishers have provided a link for free access to the first 50 people (click here for free access)! (Edit: these have unfortunately all been claimed)

The regular link which will remain after those free accesses are used up is this one


A troubling new political economy of geographical intelligence has emerged in the United States over the last two decades. The contours of this new political economy are difficult to identify due to official policies keeping much relevant information secret. The U.S. intelligence community increasingly relies on private corporations, working as contractors, to undertake intelligence work, including geographical intelligence (formally known as GEOINT). In this article we first describe the geography intelligence “contracting nexus” consisting of tens of thousands of companies (including those in the geographical information systems and mapping sector), universities and nonprofits receiving Department of Defense and intelligence agency funding. Second, we discuss the “knowledge nexus” to conceptualize how geographical knowledge figures in current U.S. intelligence efforts, themselves part of the U.S. war on terror and counterinsurgency (COIN). To analyze the contracting nexus we compiled and examined extensive data on military and intelligence contracts, especially those contracts awarded by the country’s premier geographical intelligence agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), for satellite data. To analyze the knowledge nexus we examined recent changes in the type of geographical knowledges enrolled in and produced by the U.S. intelligence community. We note a shift from an emphasis on
areal and cultural expertise to a focus on calculative predictive spatial analysis in geographical intelligence. Due to a lack of public oversight and accountability, the new political economy of geographical intelligence is not
easy to research, yet there are reasons to be troubled by it and the violent surveillant state it supports.

Key Words:
geographical intelligence, geographical knowledge, GEOINT, government contracting, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Annals paper on Geographical Intelligence

I’m very excited to say that our (myself, Sue Roberts and Ate Poorthuis) paper for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers is now at the proofs stage. The first page is below. I believe it will be out in an early 2014 issue.

Pages from Proofs

PDF of first page

Who are Booz Allen Hamilton?

Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old at the center of the NSA revelations, worked at a company called Booz Allen Hamilton (“Booz Allen”), just before leaving for Hong Kong. Who are they?

Booz Allen are a major, major, intelligence contractor. Put another way, they’ve taken at least $31 billion from the government (at least $19.6B from the Department of Defense; the 25th largest defense contractor). Their market cap is $2.51B. According to their financials, they earn more than 98% of their revenue from the government.

Here are a few links to stories about them of relevance. Wikipedia will give the general background, but I want here to highlight a couple of other sources you might overlook.

The Guardian has a nice run-down on them, pointing out links to DNI Clapper, Mike McConnell (Bush administration DNI) and James Woolsey.

The investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire, has done the most reporting on them. It doesn’t take much when looking at them to find significant links to academic geography, GIS and GEOINT.

2007: Booz Allen Hamilton, Mike McConnell. Shorrock on Democracy Now.

2010: The corporate intelligence community. A photo tour (Shorrock). Northern Virginia, the epicenter of intel contracting.

Joan Dempsey, seen here at one of the many GEOINT conferences for which she has been MC. Dempsey is an Executive Vice President of Booz Allen, and a Board member of the USGIF, the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

The USGIF is  the organization behind the annual GEOINT conferences. Although a non-profit it reported assets of around $5.1m in FY2011. It is mostly run by defense contractors, academics with intel and GEOINT interests (eg., the Chair of the GMU Geography department, Dr. Peggy Agouris) or other interested GIS experts (including Mike Goodchild, heh-hem and Jack Dangermond, CEO of Esri). Even the intel journalist Matthew Aid, who usually takes a fairly mainstream view of the IC, recently remarked that the USGIF had entered into a “sweetheart” contract with the NGA.

Update. The Wall Street Journal has a new piece on Booz Allen including the following nugget: “25,000 people, 76% of whom have government security clearances allowing them to handle sensitive national security information.” This includes 27% at one of the toppest of top levels, Top Secret//SCI. It’s worth studying official figures on security clearances, given here, which indicate 1.4 million people hold a “Top Secret” clearance. Looked at one way, that’s 1.4 million chances of a leak. Just in case you were wondering how a 29-year-old defense contractor got hold of such sensitive documents.

New information on Prism

I didn’t say much about Prism in my post yesterday as it didn’t seem quite as clear as the Verizon court order. (Compare the two here.) Additionally, the complete slideset was not posed by the Guardian, unlike the Verizon court order. We now have some additional information. (Update: The Guardian has now published a single additional slide.)

First, the program obviously exists. See this job ad requiring expertise in it, and this datasheet from Cryptome indicating its use since 2003; and this senior intel officer’s online resume at LinkedIn mentioning Prism expertise.Capture

I did think it odd that it was only funded at $20m. My guess right now based on additional reporting by Declan McCullagh, Chief Political Correspondent at CNET, is that it is software that facilitates data extraction/interface with the named companies. Additionally, Marc Ambinder, who I mentioned in my post, says “PRISM is a kick-ass GUI that allows an analyst to look at, collate, monitor, and cross-check different data types provided to the NSA from internet companies located inside the United States.”

It obviously works within the law, but if we accept tech company pronouncements, does not provide the sort of continuous “direct access” to company servers that has been discussed. The “fact of” Prisms’ existence is not classified, but what it does, is. McCullagh’s argument that “Prism is an unclassified web tool” is completely misleading.

Nevertheless, these are really a technical clarifications. The main points remain, I think:

1. Tech companies work with the government/NSA within the law to provide user data. We should still be concerned , even if this is just one small part of US surveillance. Most immediately, we need to rethink the law, especially FISA and the Patriot Act. Do not pay attention to tech company pronouncements that they operate within the law. No one said otherwise. But that’s the problem.

2. The government can obtain access to user records from these companies. Saying that it is overseen by the FISA Court is irrelevant–who’s going to appeal? The Court’s deliberations are secret. And if you did appeal, good luck: the Supreme Court recently refused to hear an appeal by Amnesty International because they “lack standing” ie don’t know for a fact that they were affected by the law. And as McCullagh concedes “How much oversight and review the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court actually provides is less than clear.”

3. The amount of data collected is still considerable. Consider this scenario laid out by Ambinder:

Under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the NSA and the attorney general apply for an order allowing them to access a slice of the stuff that a company like Facebook keeps on its servers. Maybe this order is for all Facebook accounts opened up in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Maybe there are 50 of them. Facebook gets this order.

Now, these accounts are being updated in real-time. So Facebook somehow creates a mirror of the slice of stuff that only the NSA can access. The selected/court-ordered accounts are updated in real-time on both the Facebook server and the mirrored server. PRISM is the tool that puts this all together. Facebook has no idea what the NSA is doing with the data, and the NSA doesn’t tell them.

The companies came online at different points, according to the documents we’ve seen, maybe because some of them were reluctant to provide their data and others had to find a way to standardize their data in a way that PRISM could understand. Alternatively, perhaps PRISM updates itself regularly and is able to accept more and more types of inputs.

What makes PRISM interesting to us is that it seems to be the ONLY system that the NSA uses to collect/analyze non-telephonic non-analog data stored on American servers but updated and controlled and “owned” by users overseas. It is a domestic collection platform USED for foreign intelligence collection. It is of course hard to view a Facebook account in isolation and not incidentally come into contact with an account that is owned by an American. I assume that a bunch of us have Pakistani Facebook friends. If the NSA is collecting on that account, and I were to initiate a Facebook chat, the NSA would suck up my chat. Supposedly, the PRISM system would flag this as an incidental overcollect and delete it from the analyst’s workspace. Because the internet is a really complicated series of tubes, though, this doesn’t always happen. And so the analyst must sometimes “physically” segregate the U.S. person’s data.

The top 3 myths about the recent surveillance revelations

The recent–and still ongoing–revelations in the Guardian by their columnist Glenn Greenwald and his colleagues have already given rise to a number of dismissive myths.

Here are three of them, and my responses.

1. “It’s nothing new. We’ve known about this for a long time.”

For example, Senator Chambliss, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee: “Everyone’s been aware of it for years.”

This is a common human reaction to any information that is presented as being important. It’s healthy and reflects a critical attitude. You may remember  similar responses to the WikiLeaks cables. But the latter turned out to be incredibly useful. So it’s worth recognizing what is new here, and what we’ve already known. (And there is a difference between “known” in the sense of known as a undisputed fact and “suspected.”)

In 2005 the New York Times revealed (after sitting on the story until George Bush was re-elected) that the NSA had been performing “warrantless wiretaps” in a program known as “Stellar Wind.” The story was reported by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau (see super-useful EFF timeline here) who later won a Pulitzer prize for their reporting. This was–and remains–genuinely new information, not least because it was not something rogue going on, but was done under the full direction of the Bush White House. It was a central plank in liberals’ opposition to Bush’s war on terror as it applied domestically (the Iraq war was the other, as it applied overseas). Risen was subpoenaed twice by the government as part of their still-ongoing investigation into one of his alleged sources (Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA employee) for a separate story (see case files here).

When President Obama took office he reportedly closed down this program. But note that it refers to “warrantless” wiretapping, or interception. What if you could get access without needing a warrant? And do so legally? This is, in large part, what is significant about the recent revelations. Yes, Sens. Udall and Wyden have been trying to publicly put on record information about this, as the latter tweeted yesterday:

But now this is confirmed by the Guardian’s Verizon story, rather than hinted or speculated at. So what is new is that we now know that:

The Guardian for the first time published an actual FISA Court order. This order revealed that the US is collecting information (specifically, metadata) on all communications by customers, both foreign and domestic, of the country’s biggest telecom provider. Specifically, Verizon’s business customers. Senator Feinstein, who is on the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, said in a press conference on June 6, 2013, that as far as she was aware this was a routine 3-month extension of a program going back at least to 2006.

It was previously speculated or thought that this was going on (eg., see this USAToday story from 2006). But now we know.

As recently as March, 2013, DNI Director Clapper, when asked a direct question on whether the US was collecting information on millions of Americans, said “no.” Glenn Greenwald directly called this a “lie” on “Democracy Now” this morning.

Second, the Guardian and the Washington Post both revealed the existence of another program, known as Prism, that collects the actual content of communications from Yahoo, Google, Apple, Facebook and so on, of people (including Americans) overseas. According to the document, which the Guardian has authenticated, the NSA has had “direct access” into the servers of these companies on an ongoing basis since 2007.

2. “It’s just metadata, not content.”

This is a serious misunderstanding. The secret FISA court order published by the Guardian gives the FBI and the NSA access to all “transactional metadata” which defenders of the program immediately characterized as akin to reading the outside of an envelope, rather than your letter inside. But to conclude that your personal privacy has not been violated is to be ignorant of what you can do with metadata. Note that the metadata  includes phone numbers, location, length of the call, and who called who. From this, it is easy enough to build a pretty complete picture of what’s going on (and it may therefore be even more valuable than the actual content!). After all, according to the Wall Street Journal, it was metadata that revealed former CIA Director GEN. David Petraeus’ affair with his Mistress Paula Broadwell. Investigators were able to note her location and contacts in order to build a case against her before reading any of her messages’ content. Investigators then used the metadata as probable cause to obtain a warrant to read her emails, which led them to Petraeus. It is in the nature of “big data” that it can be extensively mined for significant patterns and findings, and can be leveraged against ancillary data (Crampton et al. 2013).

Locational metadata is by itself a critical insight into activity. Indeed there is a whole field of intelligence analysis known as Activity-based Intelligence” or ABI, that is a key part of intelligence, including geographical intelligence (GEOINT) that relies on geolocational data. A recent paper (pdf) by a joint team of investigators from MIT, Harvard and Louvain recently showed that they could uniquely identify an individual 95 percent of the time from a large, anonymized dataset, knowing just four pieces of metadata. So if I know where you are just four times, I can almost certainly uniquely identify you even if personal identifiers are stripped (as there are not in the Verizon order). Then I can track you, see who you interact with, for how long, and build a pretty good picture that will at least get me a subpoena (which, remember, requires less evidence than a warrant).

Also note that metadata are deemed by US law to have been “given” by you to a third party and so are not subject to warrant having probable cause (a la the Fourth Amendment) but only a subpoena, which is much easier to get.

3. “The leaks (and the leakers) threaten legal, approved measures that are designed to ensure the safety of Americans. We should prosecute/investigate/stop leakers.”

For example, during the same press conference yesterday, Sen. Feinstein was asked if the Verizon leak should be investigated. She replied “Yes, I think so” (video).

There are several points to be made here. First, it is part of the problem, not the solution, that these programs (Verizon and PRISM, as well as others we sometimes hear about, such as “Ragtime” a codename revealed in Marc Ambinder’s book, Deep State) operate within the law. It indicates that the laws are wrong, overbroad, and unconstitutional. This includes the Patriot Act.

Second, to say that “Congress in fully briefed” as both President Obama and Sen. Feinstein did, is irrelevant and untrue. Only a very small group of Senators (typically either the “Gang of Four” [CRS pdf], or “Gang of Eight” [CRS pdf]) get anything like regular national security/intel briefings (there was a separate one yesterday, to 27 interested Senators), but, since they can’t tell the public what’s going on, and Intelligence committees rarely hold publicly accessible meetings, this is not much good to US citizens, nor even to other Senators and Congressmen and women not included.

To the point that these leaks damage operational programs and even cost lives, and therefore we need to investigate and prosecute leakers. First, there is a deficit of publicly available information that would provide a basis for a conversation about these matters. Second, according to one (fully briefed) Senator, Ron Wyden, who is on the intelligence committee, he said yesterday regarding this blanket surveillance that “Based on several years of oversight, I believe that its value and effectiveness remain unclear.”

Third, the investigation of leakers is not only wrong but counter-productive. These “leakers” are not acting for financial gain (just think how much money Bradley Manning could have made, or how much Thomas Drake has lost) but as whistleblowers. Whistleblowing, which candidate Obama praised in 2008, is an act carried out to alert to government waste, inefficiencies, or malfeasance.  Prosecutions of these whistleblowers, especially under the World War I-era Espionage Act ( a favorite of the Obama administration) will suppress future whistleblowers and hence the public’s ability to know about government waste, fraud and mismanagement.

These are my top 3 myths. There are others, and feel free to add your own.

Harvard CGA presentation

Last week I was a panelist at the annual Center for Geographic Analysis conference at Harvard University. The panel topic was on privacy and legal aspects of locative media and the geoweb.

My remarks focused on what I’m coming to call “sustainable security” and posited that in many respects we have lost personal privacy and are willing to lose even more for the promise of being safer. Sustainable security seeks a level of security that is sustainable in the long run, and does not accept that all security is good or that it makes us safer.

Are we safer for all the money we spend on security? I suggested three reasons why we might not be (I’ve pasted my ppt below and I believe it was recorded on video).

1. outsourcing is growing the old military-industrial-academic sector, this outsourcing is for-profit, and leads to lack of oversight;

2. geographical research is being enrolled into the securitization agenda, converting “peaceful” research into militaristic purposes;

3. numerous legal provisions which enable the security state undermine civil liberties (not just privacy).

My co-panelists were Kirk Goldsberry (Harvard CGA), David DiBiase (Esri) (my first boss at Penn State) Nicolas Oreskovic, and Sarah Williams (MIT). We might have had some good discussion but unfortunately one of the panelists spoke for at least double the allotted time (we were asked to speak for about 10 minutes).

I would have especially liked to engage more with David, who felt I was being hypocritical in flagging Esri’s government (and DoD) contracting without mentioning the huge sums pulled in by universities (including UKY). This is certainly true–universities like UKY, and George Mason, Penn State and indeed Harvard do take large government contracts (although I was told that Harvard does not allow “secret” research)–but I think the reason to flag Esri is that (along with DigitalGlobe and GeoEye) it is a top ten contractor with the NGA, and as a privately held company does not publish its contracting details with DoD and NGA. (For its part, the NGA has had a special dispensation since 2006 not to report dollar figures it contracts out.) Esri is also a major mover in the GIS/locative space, and government funding of its efforts, and its role in working with DOD combat-support intelligence agencies, is worthy of note.

Nevertheless, as I noted in a tweet reply to David, he is right to wish for a more complete picture of the political economy of the geoweb. This is something I’d like to work on a bit more, and something some colleagues and I have discussed in more length in a paper in submission. 

Data on government spending is available at a couple of different places, eg., and, but for both the source is the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). According to the FPDS the following government awards have been made:

  • Esri $878m ($479m from DoD)
  • University of Kentucky $260m ($23m from DoD; including four awards over $1m, all from the Army)
  • George Mason University (a previous employer), $185m ($78m from DoD)
  • Penn State (David’s previous employer and my alma mater) $2.8b ($2.5b from DoD)
  • Johns Hopkins (top university recipient of federal contracts) $9.7b ($9.1b from DoD)
  • Harvard University $146m ($29m)

Penn State and Johns Hopkins’ size seriously dwarf the other examples given here. Harvard’s relatively tiny numbers (for an institution with a $32b endowment) are presumably a factor of its refusal to do “secret” research.

It would be worth looking at what these institutions are being funded to do, but here we run into problems of accessibility, absent sending in multiple FOIA requests. (If Esri wants to release financial summaries of its government and DoD contracts, I would be obliged, and give it due credit for transparency.)

These flows of money may seem like a lot, but in context of government and DoD funding they are relatively small. (Perennial government consultants Booz Allen Hamilton has absorbed more than $11.3b of tax-payer’s money; the top government contractor of all time is Lockheed Martin at $393b–how’s that for corporate welfare?)

But surely dollars are only part of the story. There’s also personnel and the rotation of government contractors, such that contractors become government  employees with the power to award contracts (and vice versa). This is partly why so many contracts are awarded on an “uncompeted” or if competed then only done so by a single company.

As I allude to in point 2. above, there are also the circulations of knowledge between various parts of the academic-military-intelligence-contractor “nexus.”  These are harder to pin down but potentially more illuminating. In my case, I am interested in how geography gets put to work.

In other words, how does expertise (concepts and methods) get co-opted (advertently, inadvertently) and circulate?

Take this story in The New Republic for instance. They found

at least 49 people who have simultaneously worked as lobbyists for outside entities while serving as top staff, directors or trustees of 20 of the 25 most influential think tanks in the United States.”

The list includes people who worked on national security issues at think tanks, but simultaneously lobbied for military munitions manufacturers:

[Center for American Progress] senior fellow Scott Lilly, whose beat includes national security issues, lobbied for Lockheed between 2005 and late-2011.

Should this reduce the credibility of Lilly or CAP? What if the financial support gained is not disclosed or only partially disclosed? Would transparency completely fix the problem–is it enough?

We also have this:

This should remind us that there is no such thing as the efficacy of pure knowledge–knowledge has a politics. How can we then develop reputable or consensual knowledge about what constitutes sustainable security (rather than security for security’s sake)? And of what do those consensual knowledges consist?

Harvard CGA slides: Sustainable Security

GeoIQ, Esri and NGA

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which is a DoD combat-support mapping and geospatial imagery intelligence agency, recently provided a short update (pdf) on GeoIQ, which was bought by Esri last year. GeoIQ has also received funding from the CIA’s venture-capital company, In-Q-Tel.

Even in an environment bursting with practitioners,  many at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency recognize the need for  geographical analysis tools that can be accessed and enhanced by users across the customer base. 

GeoIQ was one platform that particularly stood out to NGA and In-Q-Tel,  because it allows users to collect massive amounts of information and analyze it through geospatial analysis, said Jay Brennan, deputy program manager for the NGA IQT Program.

“I think a product like GeoIQ fits nicely with the (NGA) director’s desire to get GEOINT into the hands of users,” said Brennan. “It does a good job of making it easier for the non- (Geographic Information System) person to create their own maps, bring in their own data and do some first-level analysis. This frees up NGA analysts to do second-order or third-order analyses.”

In-Q-Tel is a private, independent organization that identifies and partners with companies that produce technologies of interest to the U.S. intelligence community. Since 2003, In-Q-Tel has received more than $17 million in funding from NGA. On average, for every $1 NGA spends, In-Q-Tel leverages an additional $37 from venture capital firms and the larger U.S. intelligence community, allowing NGA to maximize the impact of its investment.
In-Q-Tel made its first investment in GeoIQ in May 2007. Since then, the technology has found a place in the Integrated Work Group-Readiness, Response and Recovery (IWG-R3), where it is used within NGA and by many of its outside customers, such as first responders in the field.

GeoIQ has been employed during the recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, in the wake of hurricanes, and after other natural disasters, said Nathaniel Wolpert, an IWG-R3 geospatial intelligence analyst.

IWG-R3 uses GeoIQ to geospatially visualize and determine areas that are flooded or in need of supplies, and to understand the overall situation on the ground, said Wolpert.

NGA maintains a contract with GeoIQ, which was acquired by California-based Esri in July 2012, to source additional capabilities and tools based on the technology. NGA has provided feedback throughout its development and the company has been and continues to be very responsive, said Wolpert.
“It’s a powerful tool that we want to keep using and make more robust in the future,” said Wolpert.

Geopiracy and the Bowman Expeditions

Geopiracy: Oaxaca, Militant Empiricism, and Geographical Thought. 2013. By Joel Wainwright. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Joel Wainwright’s new book is an indispensable contribution to the Bowman Expeditions controversy.

Geopiracy is an intervention in the “Bowman Expeditions” and the controversy that has arisen around them since 2009. It appears in a new imprint from Palgrave Macmillan designed to provide an outlet for pieces that are longer than an article but shorter than a monograph–according to the publisher targeting texts of about 20-25,000 words. Geopiracy is fewer than 100 pages of text, but it acts like a glove to the face of geography, issuing a challenge.

Wainwright divides his book into 6 short chapters. He begins by discussing the initial objections to the Expeditions and reproducing selections of the letters from Oaxaca and the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) that were issued in January 2009. Although these letters are available online, it is useful to have large portions of them available here. The letters accuse the Bowman Expedition to Oaxaca and their project leader Peter Herlihy, the American Geographical Society (AGS) and the Foreign Military Study Office (FMSO) of the US Army of “geopiracy.” Wainwright glosses this later in the book:

the Bowman geographers were able to proceed expeditiously to [Oaxaca], conduct fieldwork, collect data, and capture this object in a GIS for the US Army (p. 72).

Wainwright states that these letters inspired his book. As he puts it, the question today is “how are we to rethink the question of representing space and place after the postcolonial critique?” (p. 71). This is our “ethical” question today.

Two sets of responses from geographers are discussed in the next two chapters, first from the “accused” geographers (Jerry Dobson, faculty at Kansas University and AGS Director, and Peter Herlihy also at KU). Again Wainwright provides large portions from their articles, including public presentations at conferences, which would not otherwise be available (Wainwright appears to have recorded these and it would be nice to also have them available online). He accepts that Dobson and Herlihy disclosed US Army funding of their research on the web (p. 11). If that were all the controversy were about, the book could end there, but of course it’s not just a question of disclosing military funds, but of accepting them in the first place.

Wainwright  Chapter 3 sets up the geographic discipline’s response, namely an AAG committee to revisit the organization’s ethics statement. Here Wainwright is frankly critical of the then-AAG president, John Agnew, a political geographer at UCLA and his refusal to take on the issue more fully. Wainwright is especially disturbed by Agnew’s comments (which he goes so far as to call an “attack”) about Joe Bryan, Wainwright’s co-author on several pieces about the Bowman Expeditions.

This is the most personal section of the book, and it will be easy for Wainwright’s critics to claim that this is nothing more than a personal riposte to Agnew. (Full disclosure: I have met Agnew a number of times, and admire his writings on political geography.) Wainwright clarifies that “his intent is not to analyze the psyche of Professor Agnew but to read these texts and draw out their lessons for polemos” (p. 29). On the whole, Wainwright succeeds in this. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that in Wainwright’s telling, Agnew does not come out well from the episode.

Wainwright contrasts the AAG’s rather hopeless response to the controversy with the way anthropology handled the Human Terrain System controversy in their discipline. They too re-did their ethical statement, but made it much more muscular and definitive, stating flatly that if work “occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment [...] it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology” (pp. 32-3, ellipsis and emphasis in original). As Wainwright notes, Oaxaca was precisely in wartime conditions when the Expedition visited, meaning it cannot count as scholarly anthropology.

Why did anthropology do so much more, and more thoughtfully, when confronted with its dilemma? Wainwright offers two reasons: self-interest (ie if there are no subjects willing to talk to anthropologists they can’t do their work) and disciplinary politics. Anthropologists have long engaged with the legacy of the discipline’s “imperial roots” (p. 33) and the field has become politicized (Wainwright means this as a good thing). Quoting David Price, an anthropologist who has written extensively about HTS, it is war that “gives anthropology ethics” (p. 34). (This is partly what Wainwright means by polemos, quoted above, a term he deploys from Heidegger.)

Yet has not geography, cartography and GIS been developed to pursue war? Indeed. (As I’ve noted elsewhere, GIS company Esri has taken more than $3/4 billion in government funding, more than half of it from the Department of defense.) Another answer occurs. Anthropologists are trained to approach their work in a more holistic, cross-cultural, and contextual manner, which allows the consequences and linkages of actions to be brought forth. Thus it might not appear to be a big deal for an expedition to receive military funding (“and anyway we declared it on the first slide”) but it has, as we continue to see, consequences.

In other words, there are linkages between knowledge and power. This contrasts with (some of) the geography discipline’s belief in the efficacy of pure knowledge (the classic position of the modern good liberal; just get the right knowledge, or the right people in the room, and the solution will happen. In Wainwright’s view, this is Dobson and Herlihy’s fatal error.) This belief produces what Wainwright calls “militant empiricism” or the tendency to collect data–in the context of a declining US empire–for counterinsurgency and human terrain mapping (see Table 1, p. 58).

While counterinsurgency may have had its heyday, and its primary architect, General Petraeus, has resigned in embarrassment from his position as CIA director, it is true that shall we say GEOINT more generally is still ascendant. Comprising what historian Alfred McCoy calls the “triple canopy” (both the name of a defense contractor, and the idea of a complete ground-to-space vertical security and surveillance capability) the need for both physical and cultural data on populations is paramount (eg for drones to perform “signature strikes” based on “patterns of life” or “activity-based intelligence [ABI]).

It is no surprise however that in Chapter 4 Wainwright finds that the Bowman Expeditions have produced very little of scholarly value (despite taking in what he estimates is some $2.5 million in funding, see p. 54). He argues that the reason for this is not intellectual shortcomings but because of the very involvement of the military.

Here we get to the core of the issue, in my opinion. The involvement of the military is not problematic because Wainwright and his readers may be anti-military, but because 1) the military’s interests shape the research; not a fatal point as no doubt the NSF’s interests shape the grants it gets, as he seems to admit (p. 75), and 2) all labor is social (Marx) and this means “sharing and criticizing ideas openly” (p. 54) which is a huge difference between GEOINT and other funding agencies.

Why is this? On the one hand is an enterprise which seeks to lock down and “secure” knowledge, and on the other is an intellectual tradition of critique which seeks to problematize. This latter issue is the subject of Wainwright’s fifth chapter, which takes up the work more generally of Spivak and Ismail on postcolonial fieldwork. In my 2010 book Mapping, I visualized it this way:

Figure 12.1

It’s a set of differences between attempts to secure formal knowledges (eg., in GIS “ontologies” and make them do certain kinds of work, often for the state). Wainwright has a bit of fun with one of Dobson’s proposals for a a big macroscope for fieldwork, which has the effect of distancing subject and object (cf. Butler’s observation that “subject” has dual connotations; we are both subjects and we subject others to ourselves, subjects are constituted, not a priori). As she points out (in eg., Gender Trouble), following Foucault, it is necessary to trace a genealogy, in this case of mapping, GIS and GEOINT, precisely as technologies that constitute their subjects, rather than to “posit” a fieldwork site “from where we derive data” (p. 76).

Wainwright ends with a summary of his argument, in eight “theses.” These recapitulate and bring together his argument in the earlier chapters. For Wainwright, geography is–but does not have to remain–a reactionary discipline, adopting the empiricist epistemology “in the spirit of Isaiah Bowman” and “keeping our conscience clear” by putting “critical” before geography, and GIS (p. 87). In this way, Wainwright delivers a kind of parallel critique, not just of the Bowman Expeditions themselves, but of geography (Agnew, the AAG) and especially geographies which all too often employ insincere critique.Here Wainwright runs the danger of alienating all sides, although one might also read it as a call for a renewed spirit of inquiry (most detailed in Chapter 5 on postcolonialist geography). Wainwright does not profess to know what that renewed geography looks like; although we are warned away from weaponizing of geography (p. 88) in the service of the military. He reverses the usual dictum that “war is God’s way of teaching geography” to say that “war is a geographer’s excuse for ‘playing God’” (p. 89), a game we should refuse.

Wainwright’s book is not perfect. It is not aimed at the casual reader, but is a kind of cross between say David Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) and Polt and Fried’s Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics (2000). There is also an element of court documents (with accusations and “defense”). It will not settle any debates (indeed problematizing, as here, may require ongoing inquiry). But it is a passionate call for a new geography that refuses militant empiricism. It offers little on methodology except what you could forge from the discussions on subject-object or calls to study not just the dispossessed but “those who can call the cops” in Bernie Neitschmann’s phrase (p. 91), ie., those doing the geopiracy. But it’s a brave little book of a type we are not used to in geography, taking on issues that are usually avoided (will it be reviewed in the Geographical Review?) and showing that the issues are not just academic “controversies.”

Questions for John Brennan

David Cole, a professor of law at Georgetown, poses twelve essential questions for Obama’s nominee for Director of the CIA, John Brennan.

There are a number of great questions here, including a question about the “legal authorities” behind the classified drone program–a topic recently pursued by Senator Wyden (about the only Senator willing to question the administration’s military/intelligence programs). But the one that I’d most like to see an answer to is this one:

5. It has been reported that, in addition to “personality strikes” against particular known individuals, the administration also uses “signature strikes” against unidentified individuals who show patterns of behavior characteristic of a particular militant or terrorist group. In what situations, beyond a traditional battlefield, is it appropriate to use such strikes? What constitutes a sufficient “signature” to warrant a strike?

In other words, what are the specific “patterns of life” that constitute a perceived threat? And how are these patterns surveilled and made knowledgeable? If we had answers to those questions we would advance our understanding of how geographical technologies and concepts were being used or misused.

In this context, check out this poll by Pew Global on attitudes towards the US drone program around the world: