ubikcan

March 20, 2007

I-Geography

Filed under: CIA, politics, Surveillance — ubikcan @ 10:13 am

(Updated)

A new kind of geography is emerging. We could call it I-geography, after the analogous name in journalism schools where it stands for investigative journalism. I-geography would be either investigative or intelligence geography.

It’s perhaps the newest kind of geography, and it benefits from the distributed information processing abilities of ordinary people scattered around the world. However, little of this work has appeared in traditional geography outlets (journals, books and geography-based discussion lists such as the crit-geog forum).

Because the work of intelligence agencies is classified, yet some of the activity appears in the civilian world (not just conferences such as GEOINT, but registered front companies, affiliations with NASA for spy satellites, leasing of commercial aircraft, etc.) it is necessary to put together information from a distributed sources, none of which may mean much by itself. It is only when it is put together that it may reveal itself for what it is.

A lot of this is geographical in that a plane may be spotted in Afghanistan carrying out extraordinary rendition, then spotted by other people in Shannon Airport. Tracing these networks and plotting them on maps, and then posting them in blogs is the fieldwork of these activities. I’ve not yet seen a map mashup of extraordinary rendition, but it’s an obvious candidate.

Update. No sooner said than done. Sort of:

A recent review in the LRB discusses a book on the CIA’s program of extraordinary rendition in these terms:

On 26 October 2001, Masood Anwar, a Pakistani journalist, broke a story in a Karachi newspaper: Pakistani intelligence officers, he reported, had handed over to the US authorities a Yemeni student called Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, who was allegedly wanted in connection with the bombing of the US destroyer Cole in Aden the previous year. The handover occurred early on the morning of 23 October in a remote area of Karachi airport, where airport staff nonetheless observed and reported to Anwar that the captive was hustled aboard a white, twin-engined, turboprop Gulfstream V executive jet with the registration number N379P painted on its tail. It took off at 2.40 a.m. for an unknown destination. As the Washington Post later reported, at 19.54 on 26 October, Anwar’s story was posted on the FreeRepublic.com website. A few minutes later a blogger reported the aircraft’s registered owner: Premier Executive Transport Services of Dedham, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, another reader posted a message on the site: ‘Sounds like a nice generic cover name. Kind of like Air America’ (the CIA’s secret airline, shut down in 1976: it had flown weapons and supplies into, and heroin out of, Laos during the Vietnam War).

Thanks to the work of such bloggers, spotters, journalists and airport workers around the world, many crucial details about the CIA’s rendition fleet have since become public.

The geography of the intelligence community is currently attracting little interest inside the discipline, but the following people have done work on it (all open-access):

Trevor Paglan, PhD student in geography at Berkeley, author of Torture Taxi
John Cloud, who has studied cartographic/remote sensing applications in the Cold War, eg., Cloud, J. 2002, “American cartographic transformations during the cold war”, Cartography and Geographic Information Science, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 261-282.
Mark Monmonier, author of Spying with Maps

Only one reference so far to GEOINT:

Harrison, J. 2006. Intelligence applications. GEO: connexion 5, no. 3: 18-19.

However, people in the remote sensing field of geography obvious have a natural shared interest with the intelligence community, even if their interests are civilian (I know some people who just haven’t published on the i-geog aspects even though they have such interests).

Hopefully more people will go into i-geog so that we may learn more about these activities, past and maybe present.

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