"DARPA’s Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach Two (MENTOR2) program aims to improve defense readiness by improving the secondary school and post-secondary school education of those who will be called on to utilize, maintain, and adapt high technology systems in low technology environments. MENTOR2 will achieve this goal by developing and demonstrating new teaching tools and materials in the fields of electromechanical design and manufacturing. It is envisioned that project based curricula employing MENTOR2 design and prototyping tools can teach a deeper understanding of high technology systems, and better enable future competence in the maintenance and adaptation of such systems through the manufacture of as-designed components or the design and manufacture of new components."
No word yet on how the first round of MENTOR went. The past iteration of “DARPA High” created waves in the hacker world, perhaps most famously with Mitch Altman’s vocal opposition to military funding for hackers. At the time, Tim O’Reilly (whose organization Make Magazine and Makerfaire received funding) wrote that
@snifty the kids neither know nor care where the funding is coming from. Besides, DARPA is a force for good in the world.— Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) February 19, 2012
No word at all about the children’s personal records that the Pentagon would presumably be able to scope. No clue if any of the students did ask questions about the funding or what the military does. One to keep a close eye on…
Shannon Mattern published an essay in Places on the ontology of “infrastructural tourism.” It’s an essay on the notion that the infrastructures of the globalized, militarized, digitized (&tc…) planet are not really “things.” Instead, they are vast non-things—complicated systems that are neither easily perceivable nor mapped. Infrastructures of myriad types are political circuits and they are lived in plural ways. They grow, change, break, disappear into the earth, come back out of the ground, appear on our phones, consume energy, produce new natures… In short, our lives do not exactly depend on them, as we often like to believe, but rather our lives are shaped in cacophonous ways. We also adapt to the forms of society that relate to these; they affect the experience of time itself, for instance.
And a number of artists are working in ways that deal with these infrastructures, devising new forms of getting to know or sense these. But then what? Shannon’s essay pushes us to think more about intervention, action, participation; in brief terms, who is infrastructure for; who does it affect? Once you begin pulling out that yarn, where does it lead? What affinities begin to form and what actions are taken? We’re thrilled to be in great company with those discussed in this essay—Smudge, Amy Balkin, the LA Urban Rangers, and many more. From our repertoire, Shannon dives into #terraincognita. We’re further prodded here to question methods, participation, and action. It’s a great jumping off point.
The Edward Snowden case is causing quite a stir, not to mention quickly becoming an enormous embarrassment for our journalism caste, which can’t seem to figure out what to make of the leaker. Pathologize his psychology? Outright fault him for his convictions? Undermine the work of the muckrakers, Greenwald and Poitras, who brought his leaks to light? Among the “progressive” and quasi-Left media, the confusion verges on the absurd, directly or indirectly blaming Snowden for causing an international row, even when it becomes more and more evident that the United States—not Wikileaks, Anonymous, or any other—is the world’s greatest hacker.
Central to many ideological claims on both the left and right is the bizarre notion that in order to assess the damage that the United States spy apparatus does, it is necessary for Snowden—not the rogue’s cast in the government—to turn himself in. This startling contradiction hinges on the idea that if Snowden was of a high moral caliber, and his claims were truthful, he’d be “brave enough” to bring his words to court. Such an idea cherry-picks from history, conveniently forgetting routine government abuses. Most famous from this history is Daniel Ellsberg, who eventually turned himself in when his cover was blown and was then (illegally) hounded by the government in order to destroy his case.
Meanwhile, forget all of the fugitives: the CIA rendition thugs, the government officials who approve torture programs, the baby killers behind drones. Who in the news media demands that people like Henry Kissinger turn themselves in to the countries who have sought them since the 1970s? When foreign governments press charges against CIA agents or U.S. officials who approved torture, the press corps shrug it off. One shouldn’t take into account, either, the secret courts with secret evidence, the images of force feeding mechanisms at Guantánamo, and the brutality of solitary confinement. Set aside unjust cases such as those of Jeremy Hammond and Oscar López Rivera, or the hell that a US prosecutor put Aaron Swartz’s through. Forget the scope and scale of the public/private carceral establishment in this country. Instead, simplistically call Snowden’s bravery into question (parroting, by the way, the empty words of the multi-millionaires in Congress). Such is the integrity of the national reportage clan.
Needless to say, then, that there really is no contradiction, at the heart of it all. These sorts of confusing claims can be expected from a state-supporting, NSA-hugging, co-dependent media establishment. (Note: they like leaks — when those come from the White House). No less than three of The New York Times columnists, the former enablers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, vouched for the NSA spy program, imposing on readers the point of view that the government’s role is to protect national “security,” rather than the basic democratic rights that the state is supposedly built upon (and this, of course, exposes a certain contradiction to the state’s own self-aggrandizing mythology, but we digress).
It’s been more than ten years since 9/11, but the message from a unified political and press elite is the same: fear another attack. No one pauses to seriously address the enrichment of “intelligence” and military contractors, and yet when it comes to other forms of security—security from sexual abuse, police misconduct, war trauma, racial profiling, or hunger—the authorities remains recalcitrant to intervene, thus revealing the untenable nature of the government and the media’s position. Claims, then, that call on Snowden to act in the national best interest only serve to distract attention away from the routine violation of citizens’ rights that take place throughout the body politic, day in and day out.
How to proceed, then? One way is to envision the NSA itself, but not as one might first expect to see it. Behind the hyperventilating confusion-mongering, another series of spaces might come to view, if one cares to look. The forms that need to come to light are the lived contours of the security state — the moving edges, vectors, and territories that have an everyday presence. These are not the outlines that Snowden helped to reveal. Snowden knows the solid architecture of the NSA all too well. (Perhaps this is precisely why he is trying to go underground, and hopefully he will succeed). Put differently: what could be the less-grasped valences of the security apparatus? What elements of the security architecture could never be summarized on a powerpoint slide? For the security state is not only a scalar leviathan—that which would never be domesticable anyway, even if Congress did put its little minds to it. It is a series of relationships that can enmesh and exclude those who would start to unravel those connections.
The everyday of the security state is an always emerging rabble. What’s actually going on behind the scenes would not be terribly surprising, truth be told. It is the business of surveillance, run as a giant institution, with hierarchies and command chains, jealousies and dirty tricks, dry-erase boards, office rules, and sworn allegiances and company barbecues. One could take the approach of measuring stuff in purely physical forms: How many miles of fiber optic does the NSA require? How many teraflop-bytes of data storage? How many Sharpies? How many cubicles; how many codenames—how much of all this stuff? In the end, one would gets an almost infinite and Borgesian infographic—but an infographic nonetheless.
Meanwhile, what are the common extensions of the NSA and the rest of the security state: the next-door neighbor that makes a trust app on a laptop in their garage and licenses it to the government? What are the very particular machinations—the NSA jokes, for instance? Where are the mom-and-pop shops that devise a few lines of code? Who are the otherwise unemployed Hollywood or New York actors, screenwriters, producers, and gaffers that make an NSA recruitment video? Who installs the internet wiretaps, and where do they buy their lunch? Where does the paralegal grab drinks with the data analyst, and what banal intimacies do they share with the bartender?
Snowden (and others before him) revealed a certain “globality” to the NSA. But it is with a whole, vast array of human relationships, transactions, and negotiations with which the security apparatus wraps the world several times over. There seems to be a certain shared pleasure pulsating through the networks, as if delighting in the publicness of their own transgressions—which makes the Snowden revelations something quasi-theatrical; another hedonistic chance to show state power by disciplining him. This flow would be the actual “dark matter” that a salivating agency like DARPA could never boil down into a business requisition. Through the tendrils of this mesh, furthermore, flow the very constructs like “bravery” and “justice,” repeated as mantra, like a glue that bonds the intersections—words that are lobbed against those who poke out of the darkness. Snowden did his part, but it is never enough. Now it’s time to start.
[Note: feel free to share this text or cut-and-paste it; please credit to Demilit]