The Architecture of Surveillance


| 1/8/2014 4:02:00 PM


In a small park next to the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md., signs explain rules about photographs one can take — and illustrate the kind of photo one isn’t allowed to take.

Welcome to the NSA’s non-location.

This article originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.

Mass surveillance has an image problem. The visual references commonly used to portray intelligence agencies—screens, servers and sleek glass buildings—don’t suggest an ethics or a rationale to their operations. They don’t suggest that there are even humans involved in collecting information about millions of other humans. In order to understand a world in which mass surveillance is increasingly deemed an unexceptional fact, it seems useful to face the apparatuses performing that surveillance in the most literal, prosaic way possible. For me, this meant driving to suburban Maryland.



In a small park next to the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md., signs explain rules about photographs one can take—and illustrate the kind of photo one isn’t allowed to take. Looking at the diagram of a restricted image reminded me of the ubiquitous stock photograph of the NSA, the one reminiscent of the Kaaba and among the few used by news outlets. The photograph’s ubiquity, along with its subject’s resemblance to another opaque monument, serves as shorthand for an institution that seeks to be perceived as beyond human comprehension or accountability.

KHarter
1/11/2014 12:43:58 AM

Ingrid, Thank you for pulling back some of the covers and revealing the presence of sleeping behemoths. It's getting more difficult to maintain a peaceful heart today's world.