surveillance and tracking

Network Architecture Lab Established

Why has this blog been so barren lately? Am I giving up on the Net? No! Far from it. I have, however, been a little busy lately. Now that the project is safely established, we can announce that...

AUDC Establishes Network Architecture Lab

@ Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation

Formed in 2001, AUDC [Architecture Urbanism Design Collaborative] specializes in research as a form of practice. The AUDC Network Architecture Lab is an experimental unit at Columbia University that embraces the studio and the seminar as venues for architectural analysis and speculation, exploring new forms of research through architecture, text, new media design, film production and environment design.

Specifically, the Network Architecture Lab investigates the impact of computation and communications on architecture and urbanism. What opportunities do programming, telematics, and new media offer architecture? How does the network city affect the building? Who is the subject and what is the object in a world of networked things and spaces? How do transformations in communications reflect and affect the broader socioeconomic milieu? The NetLab seeks to both document this emergent condition and to produce new sites of practice and innovative working methods for architecture in the twenty-first century. Using new media technologies, the lab aims to develop new interfaces to both physical and virtual space.

The NetLab is consciously understood as an interdisciplinary unit, establishing collaborative relationships with other centers both at Columbia and at other institutions.

The NetLab begins operations in September 2006.

NSA Wiretap Documents Revealed

In my article on the Centripetal City, I suggest that the concentration of Internet infrastructure poses a potential terrorist target. But what of the other sort of terror, the Orwellian terror of complete government surveillance, the state of exception created by total war? Network culture may appear to be liberating, but what of this dark underside? In (post-)Soviet America, you don't Google the NSA, the NSA Googles you!

The scandal over wiretaps by the NSA has been brewing for some time, but yesterday Wired Magazine released documents that detail charges that AT&T built secret rooms in a San Francisco company office in order to cc: traffic from its WorldNet Internet Backbone to the NSA. Read Wired's story here and view the documents in pdf here

the science of driving directions

How do Mapquest and Google maps work and where did they come from? Nick Paumgarten investigates in this article on the science of driving directions in a recent issue of the New Yorker.

Blackstar Real or Fantasy?

One of my secret obsessions is the history of space programs. I've never managed to do anything with it in my academic work, but I have my hopes. Late last night I was browsing through sci.space.history, a USENET group that still is a great source for information on the topic when I ran across this thread, referring me to a lengthy Aviation Week and Space Technology story on a secret government space plane called Blackstar.

Now AWST isn't the Inquirer. On the contrary, it's published by McGraw-Hill and its usual readers are people in the industry or the government. But if this piece, by William B. Scott, a senior editor of the journal, is to be believed, a two stage-to-orbit space plane was developed in the 1980s and may have become operational in the 1990s only to be cancelled recently.

As the piece details, the program was built in response to the loss of the Challenger and subsequent military concern about access to space. During an ultra-secret crash development program, the SR-3, a mothership based on the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber and the XOV, a low-Earth orbiter derived from the X-20A Dynasoar were developed.

xb-70 taking off

This isn't all that far-fetched, Scott suggests, both projects were well under development in the 1960s and there was talk about launching the Dynasoar from the XB-70 at altitude, much as SpaceShipOne was launched from the White Knight carrier (wondering aloud: is Blackstar something an inspiration for Rutan? … of course White Knight flies at sub-Mach speeds and the Blackstar mothership would have flown at Mach 3 or above and SpaceShipOne is incapable of orbit, but still … if anyone could take the general idea of Blackstar and run with it, if only to taunt the Feds, it would be Rutan). The small orbiter would be able to slip into space, make a lightening-fast overflight of a site and return to a horizontal runway. Other applications suggest launching small satellites from its payload bay and retrieving and servicing satellites and perhaps even a role as a weapons platform.

dynasoar x20

Pentagon officials, the article reports, think that the project may have been owned and operated by companies, not by the government to ensure plausible deniability of its existence. Top military space commanders remained in the dark about Blackstar, which may have been operated by an intelligence agency. Blackstar's existence would explain the mysterious retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 reconnaissance plane in 1990. Observers have long wondered why this program was cancelled. The article concludes with a discussion of sightings of mystery aircraft.

The article is certainly filled with conjecture and speculation. Noted space analyst James Oberg was skeptical, and cites sources saying it was simply unworkable due to the laws of physics. Dwayne A. Day in The Space Review ripped the Aviation Week article, suggesting that the journal also published a mistaken story about a Soviet nuclear bomber in 1958 and then giving evidence as to why the story couldn't be true. Maybe Oberg and Day are right, but AWST is a major publication, not the Inquirer and if Day suggests Scott has been barking up the wrong tree since the 90s, Scott's position is that he has 16 years of files and wants to present that research. Day makes a lot of noise about the government officials being anonymous, but last I heard, it was still illegal to reveal classified information.

Some of the posters on USENET suggest that there is a reason for this leak now. Perhaps it is because the program is operational and in being cancelled will deprive some corporation of a large contract. Perhaps it is an attempt to force reconsideration of the Apollo-style CEV, which seems to many like a move in the wrong direction when a smaller Dynasoar like vehicle, especially air-launched, seems like a much more attractive possibility. Maybe it's just that some old Cold Warriors started thinking that their work wouldn't make it into the history books.

Remarkably, however, the mainstream media have barely picked up on this story. Google news delivers very few hits on the topic, leaving me to wonder if we will ever learn the truth about Blackstar. Is it merely misguided conjecture? Or has the most important story of the US military in outer space just been broken?

Deleuze at War

The New York Times carries an article today looking at the border wall between Israel and the West Bank. The piece reveals the influence of Brigadier General Shimon Navez on the Israeli strategy. Navez, it turns out, is influenced by Deleuze, the Situationists, and George Bataille, among others and is advocating that although the wall be removed, air surveillance be used to achieve control on the West Bank. But as the pro-Israeli and anti-theoretical New York Times tends to do, the article tantalizes with this information but doesn't go far enough. The article also briefly touches on the criticism of Eyal Weizman, one of the most important writers in architecture today. Read the article here. Read an interview with Weizman by Sina Najafi and Jeffrey Kastner at Cabinet Magazine.

The Surveillance Scandal Takes a Weird Twist

Caught spying on Americans, the Bush administration's reaction is to accuse the New York Times of blowing its cover. Not only are we subject to a vast domestic surveillance program of unprecedented proportions, we are supposed to not know about it. Read more here.

Data Mining in the EU

As a follow up to the entry about the NSAA here's an item from Alternet: Annalee Newitz uncovers the EU's own plans for data mining.

Centralization and Eavesdropping

In the past I've written about the dangers of telecoms centralizing, but my thought had always been that terrorism and natural disaster were the big threats. Silly me.

This weekend, the New York Times broke the news that the NSA has been installing eavesdropping equipment directly at telecoms without search warrants. One of the most interesting observations in the article was that since so much international voice and data traffic passes through U. S. switches, the government is free to observe this traffic as well.

So much for the triumph of the California Ideology. Welcome to the culture of the aggregator. Also at the New York Times, James Banford worries that the NSA is "The Agency That Could be Big Brother". At his Washington Post blog, William Arkin worries about this as well. In retrospect, Watergate seems so quaint. That brought down a presidency? On this rainy Monday in LA, I think I'll be spending my evening watching Three Days of the Condor.

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