Category Archives: NSA

Papers from “Where’s the Value? Emerging Digital Economies of Geolocation” session

The written texts from the AAG panel session I co-organized with Agnieszka Lesczczynski entitled “Where’s the Value? Emerging Digital Economies of Geolocation” are now available. The panelists were Elvin Wyly (UBC), Rob Kitchin (National University of Ireland at Maynooth), Agnieszka Leszczynksi (University of Birmingham) and Julie Cupples (University of Edinburgh).

Two were posted to blogs (linked below) and two are reproduced below. Although I posted links to a couple of these previously, this blog entry collects them all. (Two panelists, Sam Kinsley and David Murakami Wood, were regrettably unable to attend.)

Thanks again to all!

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Elvin Wyly: “Capitalizing the Records of Life” (see below)

Rob Kitchin “Towards geographies of and produced by data brokers

Agnieszka Leszczynski “What makes location valuable? Geolocation as evidence, meaning, & identity” (see below)

Julie Cupples “Coloniality, masculinity and big data economies

And here again is the audio from the session.

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“Capitalizing the Records of Life”
Elvin Wyly, UBC

Let me begin with a confession.  I did some homework reading the cv’s of my colleagues on this panel, and this is where I found the answer to our central question, “Where’s the value in the emerging digital economies of geolocation?”  I.  Am.  In.  Awe.  It’s here, right here, right now, in the intersecting life-paths of extraordinary human geographers coming together to share the results of labor, creativity, critical insight and commitment.  Julie Cupples’ work on decolonizing education and geographies of media convergence intersects with Agnieszka Lesczynski’s inquiry into the gendered dimensions of the erosion of locational privacy and the “new digital spatial mediations of everyday life,” and Sam Kinsley’s ‘Contagion’ project on the movement of ideas through technologically mediated assemblages of people, devices, and algorithms.  David Murakami Wood’s Smart Cities project and editorial assemblage in the journal Surveillance and Society respond directly to the challenges and opportunities in Rob Kitchin’s (2014) call in The Data Revolution for “a more critical and philosophical framing” of the ontology, epistemology, ideology, and methodology” of the “assemblage surrounding” the production and deployment of geolocational data.  And many of these connections have been the subject of wise anticipatory reflections on Jeremy Crampton’s Open Geography, where the adjective and the verb of ‘open’ in the New Mappings Collaborative give us a dynamic critical cartography of the overwhelming political and knowledge economies of spatialized information.

As I read the cv’s of my panelists, it became obvious that the value of a record of a life — that’s the Latin curriculum vitae — is the new frontier of what James Blaut (1993) once called The Colonizer’s Model of the World, and what Kinsley (2014) has diagnosed as “the industrial retention of collective life.”  Smart cities, the social graph, the Internet of Things, the Quantified Self, the Zettabyte (270 bytes) Age analyzed by Kitchin:  all of this signifies a new quantitative revolution defined by the paradox of life in the age of post-humanist human geography.  In the closing lines of Explanation in Geography, David Harvey announced “by our models they shall know us” — a new generation of human geographers bearing the models and data of modern science; today, it’s the algorithms, models, and corporations that arrive bearing humans — millions and billions of them — whose curricula vitae can be measured, mapped, and monetized at scales that are simulteneously perrsonalized and planetary.  Facebook alone curates more than 64 thousand years of human social relations every day (four-fifths of it on mobile devices and four-fifths of it outside the U.S. and Canada) and LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner (quoted in MarketWatch, 2015) recently declared, “We want to digitally map the global economy, identifying the connections between people, companies, jobs, skills, higher educational organizations and professional knowledge and allow all forms of capital, intellectual captial, financial capital, and human capital to flow to where [they] can best be leveraged.”

Capitalized curricula vitae, however, are automating and accelerating what Anne Buttimer once called the ‘dance macabre’ of the knowledge economies of spatialized information, because the deceptively friendly concept of ‘human capital’ is in fact a deadly contradiction:  capital is dead labor, the accumulated financial and technological appropriation of surplus value created through human labor, human creativity, and human thought.  Buttimer’s remark about geospatial information being “a chilly recording by a detached observer, a hollow rattle of bones” hurt — because this is what she said in a conversation to the legendary time-geographer Torsten Hägerstrand, who in the 1940s spent years with his wife Britt in the church-register archives of a rural Swedish parish to understand “a human population in its time and space context.  Here’s what Hägerstrand (2006, p. xi) recalls:

 “[We] worked out the individual biographies of all the many thousands of individuals who had lived in the area over the last hundred years.  We followed them all from year to year, from home to home, and from position to position.  As the data accumulated, we watched the drama of life unfold before our eyes with graphic clarity.  It was something of stark poetry to see the people who lived around us, many of whom we knew, as the tips of stems, endlessly twisting themselves down in the realm of times past.”

Hägerstrand wrote that he was disturbed and alarmed by Buttimer’s words, and I am too, because Allan Pred (2005, p. 328) began his obituary for Hägerstrand by quoting Walter Benjamin, emphasizing that it is not only knowledge or wisdom, but above all real life — “the stuff stories are made of” — which “first assumes transmissible form at the moment of …death.”  But just as “every text has a life history” (Pred, 2005, p. 331) that comes to an end, now Allan Pred’s curriculum vitae has also assumed transmissible form of the market-driven, distorted sort you can track through the evolving Hägerstrandian time-space prisms of the digitized network society.  Hägerstrand is dead, but he has a Google Scholar profile that’s constantly updated by the search robots, and the valorized geolocatable knowledge of his citations put him in a dance macabre of apocalyptic quantification:  he is “worth” only 1.093 percent of the valorization of another dead curriculum vitae, that of Foucault, who’s also on Google Scholar.  The world is falling in love with geography, but we don’t need more than just a few human geographers to do geography, thanks to the self-replicating algorithms and bots of the corporate cloud of cognitive capital.

The geolocatable knowledge economy is thus a bundle of contradictions and the endgame of the organic composition of human capital.  Human researchers spending years in the archives to build databases are now put into competition with the fractal second derivatives of code:  how do I balance my respect and reverence for our new generation of geographers screen-scraping APIs and coding in R, D3, Python, and Ruby on Rails without giving up what we have learned from the slow, patient, embodied labor of previous generations working by hand?  I see the tips of stems, not just in Hägerstrand’s small Swedish parish, but right here, in this room.  Tips of stems, endlessly twisting down in the realm of times past — but in today’s times where each flower now faces unprecedented competition in every domain:  jobs, research support, academic freedom, human care, human recognition, human attention.  Tips of stems, endlessly twisting through time-spaces of a present suffused with astronomical volumes of geographical data in what the historian George Dyson (2012) calls the “universe of self-replicating code.”  Tips of stems, tracing out an entirely new ontology of socio-spatial sampling theory defined by the automated mashup analytics that now combine Hägerstrand’s time-space diagrams with Heisenberg’s observational uncertainties, Alan Turing’s (1950) ‘universal machine,’ and Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge blended with Marx’s conception of the “general intellect” and Auguste Comte’s notion of the ‘Great Being’ of all the accumulated knowledge of intergenerational human knowledge, tradition, and custom.  Tips of stems, tracing lifeworlds of a situationist social physics that treats smartphones as “brain extenders” (Kurzweil, 2014) converging into a planetary “hive mind” (Shirky, 2008) while reconfiguring the observational infrastructures and human labor relations of an empiricist hijacking of positivism:  if Chris Anderson (2008) is correct that the petabyte age of data renders the scientific method obsolete, then who needs theory?

We all need theory — we humans.  Theory is the intergenerational inheritance of human inquiry, human thought, and human struggle.  Let me be clear:  I mean no disrespect to the extraordinary achievements of the new generation of data revolutionaries represented by my distinguished panelists, and all of you who can code circles around my pathetic do-loop rusty routines in FORTRAN, Cobol, and SAS.  Tips of stems, twisting themselves down into the realms of human history:  take a look around, at one of the last generations of human geospatial analysts, before we’re all replaced by algorithmic aggregation.  Yesterday’s revolution was humans doing quantification.  Today’s revolution is quantification doing humans.

References

Anderson, Chris (2008).  “The End of Theory:  The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.”  Wired, June 23.

Blaut, James (1993).  The Colonizer’s Model of the World.  New York:  Guilford Press.

Dyson, George (2012).  “A Universe of Self-Replicating Code.”  Edge, March 26, at http://edge.org

Hägerstrand, Torsten (2006).  “Foreword.”  In Anne Buttimer and Tom Mels, By Northern Lights:  On the Making of Geography in Sweden.  Aldershot:  Ashgate, xi-xiv.

Kitchin, Rob (2014).  The Data Revolution:  Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences.  London:  Sage Publications.

Kinsley, Sam (2014).  “Memory Programmes:  The Industrial Retention of Collective Life.”  Cultural Geographies, October.

Kurzweil, Ray (2014).  Comments at ‘Will Innovation Save Us?’ with Richard Florida and Ray Kurzweil.  Vancouver:  Simon Fraser University Public Square, October.

MarketWatch (2015).  “LinkedIn Wants to Map the Global Economy.”  MarketWatch, April 9.

Pred, Allan (2005).  “Hägerstrand Matters:  Life(-path) and Death Matters — Some Touching Remarks.”  Progress in Human Geography 29(3), 328-332.

Shirky, Clay (2008).  Here Comes Everybody:  The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.  New York:  Penguin.

Turing, Alan M. (1950).  “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”  Mind 59(236), 433-460.

 

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“What makes location valuable? Geolocation as evidence, meaning, & identity”
Agnieszka Lesczcynski, University of Birmingham

I want to invert the question that Jeremy and myself posed to the panel when organizing this session by asking, rather than ‘where is the value’ in geolocation, what is it that makes geolocation valuable? In contending that there are particular kinds of economies emerging around location, it is because geolocation itself is somehow intrinsically valuable, and I’d like to make some preliminary propositions to this end.

Over the last few years I have been particularly interested in the ways in which emergent surveillance practices of the securities agencies, made broadly known to us through the as yet still-unfolding Snowden revelations, are crystallizing around big data – its collection, mining, interception, aggregation, and analytics. And specifically, I’m particularly interested in the ways in which locational data is figuring as central within these emergent regimes of dataveillance. Indeed at the close of 2013, Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani, reporting in the Washington Post, identified at least ten American signals intelligence programmes or SIGADs that explicitly sweep up locational data – i.e., where location data is the target or object of data capture, interception, and aggregation.

  • Under a SIGAD designated HAPPYFOOT, the NSA taps directly into mobile app data traffic that streams smartphone locations to location-based advertising networks organized around the delivery of proximately relevant mobile ads, often unencrypted and in the clear. This locational data, which is often determined through mobile device GPS capabilities, is far higher-resolution than network location, allowing the NSA “to map Internet addresses to physical locations more precisely than is possible with traditional Internet geolocation services”
  • Documents dating from 2010 reveal that the NSA and GCHQ exploit weaknesses in ‘leaky’ mobile social and gaming applications that veil secondary data mining operations behind primary interfaces, piggybacking off of commercial data collection by syphoning up personal information including location under a signals intelligence program code-named ‘TRACKER SMURF’ after the children’s animated classic
  • In perhaps the most widely publicized example, the NSA collects over 5 billion cell phone location registers off of cell towers worldwide, bulk processing this location data through an analytics suite code-named CO-TRAVELLER which looks to identify new targets for surveillance on the basis of parallel movement with existing targets of surveillance – i.e., individuals whose cell phones ping off of the same cell towers in the same succession at the same time as individuals already under surveillance.
  • Just a few months ago, it was leaked that the CSE, or Canada’s version of the NSA, was tracking domestic as well as foreign travelers via Wi-Fi at major Canadian airports for up to two weeks as they transited through the airports and subsequently through other ‘nodes’ including other domestic and international airports, urban Wi-Fi hotspots, transport hubs, major hotels and conference centers, and even public libraries both within Canada and beyond in a pilot project for the NSA;
  • and, most recently, under a SIGAD code-named LEVITATION, the CSE has been demonstrated to be intercepting data cable traffic to monitor up to 15 million file downloads a day. Particularly significant in the leaked CSE document detailing this programme is that the CSE explicitly states that it is looking to location data to improve LEVITATION capabilities for intercepting both GPS waypoints and “[d]evices close to places” so as to further isolate and develop surveillance targets, including those carrying and using devices within proximity of designated locations.

So the question is, why geolocation? Why is it of such great interest to the securities agencies? And here I want to argue that it is of interest because it is inherently valuable, and uniquely so amongst other forms of PII. And this value is latent in the spatio-temporal and spatial-relational nature of geolocation data.

  • the spatio-temporal nature of many spatial big data productions means that it may be enrolled as definitive evidence of our complicity or involvement in particular kinds of socially disruptive events or emergencies by virtue of our presence, or as in the case of CO-TRAVELER, co-presence and co-movement, in particular spaces at particular times
  • furthermore, longitudinal retention of highly precise, time-stamped geoloational data traces allow for the reconstruction of detailed individual spatial histories, which like the CO-TRAVELER example, similarly participate within what Kate Crawford has recently characterized as emergent truth economies of big data in which data is truth;
  • the relational nature of spatial big data productions, in which our data may be used to discern our religious, ethnic, political and other kinds of personal affiliations and identifies on the basis of the kinds of places that we visit and the ability to establish linkages with other PII across data flows;
  • and, in this vein, the ways in which locations are inherently meaningful – for example, they may be as revealing of highly sensitive information about ourselves as our DNA. For instance, on the basis of the specialty of a medical office that we visit, this information may be revelatory of the fact that we may have a degenerative genetic disease and the nature of that disease – information that socially we otherwise understand as some of the most private information about ourselves.
  • and, of course, the ways in which location is not only revealing of identity positions, but it is identity – for example, a group of researchers determined that unique individuals could be identified form the spatial metadata of only four cell phone calls at a very high confidence level.

So in asking where is the value in geolocation, my take is that it is valuable – to both the intelligence apparatuses that I have highlighted here but also corporate entities – because it is uniquely sensitive – revealing and identifying – amongst other forms of PII.

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Surveillance costs–new study

Shortly after the Edward Snowden revelations began in June 2013 I wrote a Commentary for Society and Space open site on the costs of security.

One of the issues I addressed had to do with the economic and other costs of surveillance:

What does the US actually pay? One attempt at an answer to this surprisingly difficult question was recently provided by the National Priorities Project (NPP). Their estimate was that the US national security budget was $1.2 trillion a year.

A new report by the New America Foundation has further explored the costs of surveillance in terms of lost business opportunities to US companies, US foreign policy and cybersecurity:

  • Direct Economic Costs to U.S. Businesses: American companies have reported declining sales overseas and lost business opportunities, especially as foreign companies turn claims of products that can protect users from NSA spying into a competitive advantage. The cloud computing industry is particularly vulnerable and could lose billions of dollars in the next three to five years as a result of NSA surveillance.
  • Potential Costs to U.S. Businesses and to the Openness of the Internet from the Rise of Data Localization and Data Protection Proposals: New proposals from foreign governments looking to implement data localization requirements or much stronger data protection laws could compound economic losses in the long term. These proposals could also force changes to the architecture of the global network itself, threatening free expression and privacy if they are implemented.
  • Costs to U.S. Foreign Policy: Loss of credibility for the U.S. Internet Freedom agenda, as well as damage to broader bilateral and multilateral relations, threaten U.S. foreign policy interests. Revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance have already colored a number of critical interactions with nations such as Germany and Brazil in the past year.
  • Costs to Cybersecurity: The NSA has done serious damage to Internet security through its weakening of key encryption standards, insertion of surveillance backdoors into widely-used hardware and software products, stockpiling rather than responsibly disclosing information about software security vulnerabilities, and a variety of offensive hacking operations undermining the overall security of the global Internet.

These may end up being upper bounds of the costs (and consequences), but they are very helpful in identifying what is at stake here. I haven’t read the whole report yet, but the executive summary is here (pdf).

 

Paglen/Applebaum/Poitras on art as evidence

A three-in-one presentation for you. Trevor Paglen, Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras talk at the transmediale event (description below video).

Documentary film director Laura Poitras, independent security analyst Jacob Appelbaum and artist and geographer Trevor Paglen reflect on upcoming frontiers of action and awareness for hackers, activists and artists in the present context of geopolitical surveillance and control. This conversation aims to trace a possible path towards investigating the deconstruction of power structures through experiencing them from within, critically reflecting on the role of art and activism today in the context of the post-9/11 politics and society. Crossing various practices and disciplines, from film documentary, computer security, hacking, experimental geography, photography, this talk reveals the role of art as evidence, as a practice of making people regain and reclaim their autonomy, have agency and live consciously in a networked world. Reconnecting with the courageous practice of whistleblowing and ethical resistance, Appelbaum, Paglen and Poitras highlight contradictions between public visibility and individual privacy, information disclosure and data protection in the digital and physical info-sphere.

Still “in denial” ten years later?

This post discusses the Haynes/Klehr book In Denial, before moving on to consider Anne Godlewska’s charge that Neil Smith downplayed Stalin’s murderous regime.

                          Capture

Ten years ago John Earl Haynes (a historian at the Library of Congress) and Harvey Klehr (a political scientist at Emory University) wrote a provocative book called In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage. Their main thesis was deliberately meant to be troubling to a strand of historians they dub “the revisionists” in contrast to their own position as “traditionalists.”

Haynes and Klehr accuse the revisionists of denying historical facts, because of a reluctance, driven by ideology, to properly assess the negative and damaging consequences of communism, especially communism in the United States. In other words American leftists can’t accept the failures of communism, and that some figures on the left were active spies for the Soviet Union during WWII and the Cold War.

The evidence is now in, they say, to show conclusively that figures such as Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Harry Dexter White, Maurice Halperin, Lauchlin Currie, and I.F. Stone were Soviet agents. This is in addition to confessed agents such as Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, the latter of whom named some 80 people in the US as Soviet agents, some of them in government. Others were also accused but either not convicted or there was never been any evidence of spying; Owen Lattimore, one of the so-called “China hands” is a case in point. (Bentley does not mention him in her list of accused agents, and when questioned by HUAC, had very little or no information about him.)

The Institute of Pacific Relations and Amerasia occupy a middle ground; some of their employees or members were arrested. In the latter case, since the OSS had broken into their offices, Watergate style without a warrant, the cases did not come to trial.

Lattimore is particularly fascinating given his importance in the McCarthy hearings (he was famously labeled the top Soviet spy in America by McCarthy at one point). But his case also shows the “small world” of scholar-intelligencers at the time. Hired at Johns Hopkins in 1938 by Isaiah Bowman, when the HUAC hearings were taking place in the early 1950s the subsequent head at Hopkins, George F. Carter, privately opposed Lattimore, and  even “ran to McCarthy with [a] story about Lattimore declassifying secret documents in 1950” (Robert Newman, 1992, Owen Lattimore and the ‘Loss’ of China, p. 411). Carter was a former OSS officer who worked on the Far Eastern desk in R&A (with Chauncy Harris; the section was headed by John Appleton). Newman notes that “Carter became a pariah at the Johns Hopkins campus and in the 1950s moved to Texas” (Newman 1992, p. 135) (this latter comment attributed to Abel Wolman,  the father of geographer “Reds” Wolman who was also at JHU).

If the accusations against Lattimore fizzled out, and certainly never lived up to McCarthy’s expectations (he’d said he was prepared to stand or fall on this one case alone)–there are also no records in Venona or the Vassiliev files–it is still the case that Lattimore and many of the others named here had their lives and careers profoundly affected. (I’m currently focusing on Maurice Halperin, but wish to return to Lattimore and Carter before too long.)

For quite some time the evidence they allude to was sealed in various archives or held secretly by the NSA, but beginning from the 1990s, and in many cases due to the work of Haynes and Klehr themselves, fresh evidence has become available to the public, and to scholars. This includes the Venona cables, nearly 3,000 partially and fully deciphered Soviet messages sent during the war to agents in the US, now declassified b y the NSA. Also during the 1990s for a brief time the Soviet Union’s KGB archives were opened, as well as the archives of the Comintern (they have since been closed again). Finally, in the late 1990s, the personnel and Security Office documents of the OSS were released to the National Archives. Since some of the people identified above were at the OSS (eg., Halperin, see my previous post on Soviet agents in the OSS) these records may contain internal OSS reports on its own staff.

So how does Haynes and Klehr’s argument stand ten years later? Reading the book recently for the first time was a rather dislocating experience. Although it carries a 2003 copyright, the book could well have been written in 1993. Many of the cases it dwells on hark from a previous generation of scholarship. John Lowenthal for example, who was a Hiss defender (and brother of the geographer-historian David Lowenthal) died in 2003 at the age of 78. Another of their favorite targets, Ellen Schrecker is, according to her Wikipedia page, now 75 (her last book was published in 2010 on the corporatization of academia).

It would be interesting to see how historians of communism, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War regard these cases today. In some cases, it’s a matter of emphasis and of understanding the full historical context in which these espionage activities took place. The facts themselves are not necessarily sufficient; they must be interpreted and given meaning (even if both sides were operating from the same facts, which is not always the case). For example, does one understand what was going on, and therefore emphasize, as anti-Fascism or as Soviet infiltration and control? If Hiss and White are more settled there are always others who might still be contentious: I.F. Stone is perhaps the best example of this. Spy or not a spy?

There is also a distinction between seeing oneself working for the general aims of communism, and working for the Soviets (even if at the expense of your country, in some way). Is it possible or desirable to separate the two like this? This is a central issue in these matters, and was felt even by those directly involved. See this cable on Elizabeth Bentley for example, which describes her conflicting attitudes about her activities and who she was working for (cipher cable to KGB from the US):

Mer [Iskhak Akhmerov, illegal KGB officer in USA] re Clever Girl [Bentley cover name] 15.06.44

In her work and conversations she usually behaves like our operative, in her comments she says “we,” implying our organization and including herself in this concept. I’ve written you that since my first meeting with her she has known perfectly well that she’s working for us. As a rule, she willingly carries out my instructions and reports everything to me about our people. Her behavior changes, however, when I ask her to arrange a meeting for me with “Pal” [Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, leader of a major spy ring] or to get any of the probationers [Soviet agents in USA] in contact with our operative. She becomes a completely different person and, apparently restraining herself, declares that she isn’t our operative, that she works for “Helmsman” [Earl Browder, head of CPUSA].

She tends to distinguish between us [USSR] and the fellowcountrymen [CPUSA] and bitterly notes that we only have a professional interest in certain issues. She says that we all care little about Americans, that the USSR is the only country we love and for which we work. I tried to explain to her that she is wrong, that both I and our other operatives think the same way as “Pal,” “Raid” [Victor Perlo, leader of another major spy ring] and the others, that by helping the USSR, we are working out of deeply held ideological motives and we don’t stop being Americans. I told her that “Pal,” “Raid” and the others who are consciously helping us love America just as before, and that she must understand that we are doing important work for our cause.
(Source: Vassiliev White Noteook #2, pp. 5-6, emphasis added)

Now, one would be justified in seeing Bentley’s attitude as naiveté. To separate out Soviet interests, regardless of your intent, is to not see the full picture. This is also the basis of accusations against Edward Snowden (variously called a traitor and defector).

In geography there is one similar case I can think of, and it’s worth recalling it here. At the “Author meets the critics” session at the AAG on Neil Smith’s book American Empire, Anne Godlewska made some fairly critical remarks on Smith’s failure to account for Stalinism’s murderous history (she accused Smith of making a “historical misrepresentation” (see Godlewska, Pol. Geog. 2005, p. 260). She went on the note that “most historians have argued for over 25 million Russians killed” by Stalin and remarked that Neil suffered from a “peculiar blindness vis-a-vis the Soviet empire” (p. 261).

At the session itself (which was well-attended so perhaps others can check my memory) Smith appeared completely taken aback by these comments, and said to his former co-author “we need to talk about this over a drink!” In his published response Smith said:

As someone whose vision of the Soviet Union is influenced by the  political critique of one of Stalin’s victims, Leon Trotsky, it is disappointing– actually preposterous–to be so misread as to be dubbed an apologist for Stalinism.

But there is a further aspect to this. I have to say that this was not a book about Stalin, actually, but a book about Isaiah Bowman and the American empire.

This exchange encapsulates the difficulties of studying these issues and of making charges of “denialism.” Was Smith “in denial” or was his book about other matters? Were Bentley and her fellow Soviet agents in denial? Is Snowden in denial? Were leftists during the second half of the 20th century in denial? To pose the question is to see its limitations.

Bentley and others in her circle knew full well they were working for the Soviets. Snowden’s case is more complicated but I think he cannot be seen as a traitor or Soviet agent. Smith’s case is also ambiguous but he does not deserve to be seen as a denialist or apologist (and Godlewska does not use these terms). As he noted:

On the question of how many people died in the USSR between 1929 and 1945,then, I nonetheless stand corrected. Recent scholarship does place the figures in the millions although of course there is massive ideologically driven disagreement about the actual figures.

It is this ideology which is driving both Smith in his downplaying of the Soviet role, and Haynes and Klehr in their over-emphasis on the same thing. In a way, both are guilty of still fighting the Cold War (both books were published in the same year), whereas with ten years’ hindsight we can more clearly see the need for a complexified and contextualized understanding of motives, political contexts (including political persecution and abuse of power), and historical tensions.

The use by Haynes and Klehr of the terms “revisionist” and “traditionalist” in fact betrays their own partisan position, even as they would have us believe that they are reporting objectively. A revisionist is someone who wants to revise how history occurred (as in revisionists and denialists of the holocaust; a parallel they use themselves). One chapter in fact is called “revising history” implying that history happens and then the revisionists come along and want to revise what actually happened. A “traditionalist” on the other hand, is someone who wants to hew to the way the historical chips actually fell. All three terms: denial, revisionist and traditionalist are kind of false terms here, introduced whether deliberately or inadvertently, to divert us from a complexified and properly contextualized understanding.

Thanks for reading this far! Obviously I’m just starting work on these events and issues, but there will hopefully be something on scholar-intelligencers or whatever you would like to call them, that will emerge from this.

“Collect it all”

Glenn Greenwald this morning identifies what he calls the “crux” of the NSA surveillance revelations: the desire to “collect it all.”

What this means is that instead of targeting, surveilling, collecting or storing information on individual suspects for whom there is “probable cause” (evidence), everybody’s information is collected; guilty and innocent alike.

As a matter of fact I agree that this is a crux of the story, although for anybody interested in the study of surveillance this is hardly news. It is useful and important that this is now a matter of public debate, however.

For those interested, Foucault argues that this switch from “discipline and punish” individuals to mass surveillance is characteristic of modern states, and gives rise to their characterization as the “surveillant society”) (eg., John Pickles wrote about his as long ago as 1991, see also the work of David Lyon).

I discuss this in my 2003 piece on geosurveillance (Downloads tab):

Prior to the legal reforms of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Foucault argued the law focused on the nature of the crime committed, the evidence of guilt or innocence, and the system of penalties to be applied. In other words: crime and punishment. The person of the criminal was important only insofar as he or she was the individual to which the crime would be attributed.

Foucault argued that a second system of power emerged in the early eighteenth century that regulated, counted, and surveilled the mass of people as a population. Foucault called this “biopolitics of the population” (Foucault 1978, p. 139) or, more simply, “biopower.”

Given the recent NSA story I think it is easier to see the crucial insight of biopolitics here. One could say that this mass surveillance is necessary because we are all a kind of “pre-criminal” (in the eyes of the state every person has a criminal potential) to some degree or other. Therefore, as I argued (Downloads tab) in 2007:

First, we need to stop seeing the issue as one of security and surveillance versus privacy or rights. Arguing about this or that surveillance technique misses the point that, both historically and today, surveillance is a core component of the modern state; that is, surveillance and geosurveillance are characteristic of certain types of political rule based on a politics of fear (Foucault [1975] 1977; Lyon 1994; Graham and Wood 2003).