“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”

Eyal Weizman‘s stunning Wall Exchange, “Forensic Architecture”, which he presented at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver earlier this month, is now up on YouTube here and embedded below.

If you are puzzled by my riff on Joni Mitchell, start around 46:10 (though you’ll miss a lot if you do…).

And while we’re on the subject of clouds, you’ll find a remarkable analysis of a different sort of militarized cloud in Tung-Hui Hu‘s A Prehistory of the Cloud from MIT:

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

Hu shows that the cloud grew out of such older networks as railroad tracks, sewer lines, and television circuits. He describes key moments in the prehistory of the cloud, from the game “Spacewar” as exemplar of time-sharing computers to Cold War bunkers that were later reused as data centers. Countering the popular perception of a new “cloudlike” political power that is dispersed and immaterial, Hu argues that the cloud grafts digital technologies onto older ways of exerting power over a population. But because we invest the cloud with cultural fantasies about security and participation, we fail to recognize its militarized origins and ideology. Moving between the materiality of the technology itself and its cultural rhetoric, Hu’s account offers a set of new tools for rethinking the contemporary digital environment.

Prehistory of the Cloud

Here is Lisa Parks on what is surely one of the must-reads of the year:

“Hu’s riveting genealogy of the cloud takes us into its precursors and politics, and boldly demonstrates how fantasies of sovereignty, security, and participation are bound up in it. Much more than a data center, the cloud is a diffuse and invisible structure of power that has yielded a data-centric order. Imaginative and lucidly written, this book will be core to digital media studies.”

“What is that sound high in the air?”

Coming from MIT in April next year, a new book by the ever-creative anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, Drone: remote control warfare.

GUSTERSON DroneDrones are changing the conduct of war. Deployed at presidential discretion, they can be used in regular war zones or to kill people in such countries as Yemen and Somalia, where the United States is not officially at war. Advocates say that drones are more precise than conventional bombers, allowing warfare with minimal civilian deaths while keeping American pilots out of harm’s way. Critics say that drones are cowardly and that they often kill innocent civilians while terrorizing entire villages on the ground. In this book, Hugh Gusterson explores the significance of drone warfare from multiple perspectives, drawing on accounts by drone operators, victims of drone attacks, anti-drone activists, human rights activists, international lawyers, journalists, military thinkers, and academic experts.

Gusterson examines the way drone warfare has created commuter warriors and redefined the space of the battlefield. He looks at the paradoxical mix of closeness and distance involved in remote killing: is it easier than killing someone on the physical battlefield if you have to watch onscreen? He suggests a new way of understanding the debate over civilian casualties of drone attacks. He maps “ethical slippage” over time in the Obama administration’s targeting practices. And he contrasts Obama administration officials’ legal justification of drone attacks with arguments by international lawyers and NGOs.

People of the bombI met Hugh at a conference on Orientalism and War in Oxford several years ago, and I’ve recently been reading his Nuclear Rites: a weapons laboratory and the end of the Cold War and People of the Bomb: Portraits of America’s Nuclear Complex as I continue my wanderings through the nuclear wastelands.

The coincidence between Hugh’s previous projects and his new one intersects with my presentation on “Little Boys and Blue Skies” in Toronto last week – see here and here – which sketched out a series of entanglements between drones and the nuclear wastelands (hence the Eliot quotation which serves as my title for this post).

The nuclear wastelands and cyberwar

I’m in Toronto, enjoying ‘Through Post-Atomic Eyes‘ enormously: wide-ranging yet focused, creative and critical, and above all wonderfully welcoming.  I’m also relieved – I’ve only been wandering in the nuclear wastelands for a matter of months, and being surrounded by scholars and artists who know so much more about these vexed issues has been truly invigorating.  I’ll post the slides from my presentation shortly – in the meantime, see here and here – but while I was searching for images I re-discovered this cover from The Economist:

economist_cyberwar

Since my own presentation tried to sort out the entangled geographies of nuclear weapons and drones, I would be the very last person to object to the continuity conjured up by The Economist‘s apocalyptic vision: in fact yesterday both Joseph Masco and James Bridle in two sparkling presentations emphasised the intimacy of  the connections between computing, nuclear testing and the security state.

So it seems appropriate that my  e-flânerie should also have led me to a special issue of CyberOrient, edited by Helga Tawil-Souri, is appropriately online now (and open access), devoted to cyberwarfare:

This special issue of CyberOrient engages with the relationships between “cyber” and “real” battlespaces, the mediatization of war, the need to expand our definition of warzones, and the importance of asking who participates in wars, to what ends, using what kinds of technologies, and for what purposes. Taken together, the five essays demonstrate the expansion and blurring of the spaces of war. As importantly, they highlight that even warfare that is “only” fought in the virtual realm is laced with violent intents and real-life repercussions. Not only can we not separate the cyber from the real so neatly, but we must not overlook that no matter how we wish to classify “new” or cyber wars, it is citizens, along with their ways of life and their cultural records, that continue to be by far the largest losers.

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Contents:

Helga Tawil-Souri, Problematizing Cyberwarfare

Donatella Della Ratta, Violence and visibility in contemporary Syria: an ethnography of the “expanded places

Ruth Tsuria, Islamophobia in online Arab media

Emily Fekete, The shifting nature of cyberwarfare in Middle Eastern states

Attila Kovacs, Visual representation, propaganda and cyberspace: the case of the Palestinian Islamist movements

Christoph Günter, Presenting the glossy look of warfare in cyberspace – the Islamic State’s magazine Dabiq

Drones and atomic clouds

I’m off to Toronto on Thursday to speak at the symposium “Through Post-Atomic Eyes“.  I posted some of my earlier notes for my presentation, ‘Little Boys and Blue Skies: Drones through post-atomic eyes‘, and since then I’ve been digging deeper into the strange intersections between nuclear weapons and today’s Predators and Reapers.

In my original post I described the US Air Force’s early attempts to devise a way of delivering atomic bombs from remotely piloted aircraft – notably Project Brass Ring:

B-47 drone.001

Following a tip from Matt Farish (who will also be speaking at the conference) I’ve now discovered that drones were also used to monitor the ‘atomic clouds’.

Shortly after the Second World War the US Air Force’s Pilotless Aircraft Branch resumed its experiments with remotely controlling B-17 bombers from ‘director aircraft’ and from ground stations:

B17 experiments.001

By July 1946 six to them were being successfully operated by the Army Air Group’s Drone Unit, and they were in action over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands for the series of nuclear tests known as Operation Crossroads.   The first test (Able) was carried out on 1 July 1946, when a B-29 Superfortress (“Dave’s Dream”) dropped a plutonium bomb of the same power used against Nagasaki from a height of 30,000 feet on a target fleet of 90 obsolete ships; it was an air burst, detonating 520 feet above the ships (the aim point was the battleship USS Nevada, perhaps appropriately enough given that state’s use for nuclear testing in the decades ahead; it was painted bright red to make it visible to the bombardier, but the bomb missed it y 1870 feet).

Bikini2

Operation Crossroads Target Array

The B-17s were on station 20-30 miles away, and they were the first to approach the target area.  Eight minutes after Mike Hour one of them entered the cloud at 24,000 feet, followed by three others at 30,000 feet, 18,000 feet and 13,000 feet.  The image below shows a B-17 landing at Eniwetok under ground control:

B-17 drone Bikini

There was nothing secret about their use – like the bomb itself, making the drones public was a vital part of demonstrating American military and technical superiority.  Here, for example, is an image from Mechanix Illustrated in June 1946 describing Operation Crossroads :

Crossroads at Bikini Mexhanix Illustrated June 1946

According to Bombs at Bikini, the official (public) report on Operation Crossroads, prepared for Join Task Force One and published in 1947:

A number of Army Air Forces officials believe that the drone-plane program undertaken for Crossroads advanced the science of drone-plane operations by a year or more. To be sure, a fewwar-weary B-17’s had been flown without crews during the latter part of the recent war [Operation Aphrodite], but they and their cargoes of explosives were deliberately crash-landed. Also, a few B-17’s had been landed by remote control; but pilots were aboard, ready to take over control in case of trouble. Operation Crossroads was the first operation in which take-off, flight, and landing were accomplished with no one aboard. The feat was an impressive one; many experts had thought it could never be accomplished with planes of this size.

As this video clip shows (start at 6.01), take-off was under the control of a ‘ground beep pilot’, who then handed over to a ‘beep television control pilot’ in an accompanying director aircraft (‘the mother ship’), who handed back to the ground beep pilot for the landing.  This parallels today’s ‘remote-split operations’, though on a greatly reduced spatial scale, where a Launch and Recovery crew stationed in or near the combat zone is responsible for take-off and landing while the mission is flown by a ground control crew in the continental United States):

The B-17 drones operated in concert with the US Navy’s F6F-5 Hellcat drones which made transits of the cloud at 20,000 feet, 15,000 feet and 10,000 feet (see the first image below; the tail fins are painted different colours to indicate different control frequencies: more here).  The second image shows a pilot on the deck of the aircraft carrier Shangri-La controlling an F6F-5 before take-0ff; landing on the deck of a carrier was difficult enough at the best of times and with a skilled crew on board, and not surprisingly the Navy drones returned to Roi island, part of Kwajalein Atoll.

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Paul Hoversten reports:

No manned aircraft flew over the center of the blast, called Zeropoint, until four hours later, although manned boats were on the scene after two hours.  Drones were also flown after the second test, Baker, on July 25, which was an underwater shot suspended from a target ship in Bikini’s lagoon.

Bikini atoll target disposition

In each case the drones were tasked to take air samples from the cloud (using filters housed in boxes under the wings) and to photograph the cloud formation:

Bikini 4

As the official pictorial record boasted (its very existence underlining the importance of a controlled ‘publicness’ to these tests):

Drone planes penetrated where no man could have ventured, flew through the mushroom cloud on photographic missions, sampled its poisonous content, televised to remote onlookers their instrument panel readings for flight analysis.

The samples were crucial, and drones remained of vital importance in collecting them.  The image below shows the air filters being removed from a remotely operated B-17 used in Operation Sandstone (a series of nuclear tests conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission at Eniwetok Atoll in 1948):

Boeing_B-17_drone_at_Eniwetok_1948

The capstone attempt to deliver atomic bombs by remote controlled aircraft, Project Brass Ring, was abandoned in March 1951 when the Air Force determined that a manned aircraft could execute the bomb delivery safely (at least for those on board), but drones continued to be used during atomic tests.  In 1953 QF-80 drones were in use at Indian Springs, the Air Force portal to the Nevada Proving Grounds (the full story is here):

Drones at Indian Springs.001Drones at Indian Springs 2.001

Lockheed QF-80 drone (FT-599) and director aircraft (a Lockheed DT33) ready for take-off at Indian Springs

Lockheed QF-80 drone (FT-599) and director aircraft (a Lockheed DT33) ready for take-off at Indian Springs

This was the first time ‘jet drones’ had been used during continental tests.  NULLO (‘No Live Operator Onboard’) operations used the same system of hand offs between beep pilots and director aircraft that had been used for the B-17s, but Sperry claimed that its precision marked a new milestone in remote operations.  Here’s a video of the drones in operation – and the effects of the blast on the aircraft:

But some tests were designed to evaluate the effects of the blast and the cloud on living creatures.  Here is a clipping from the Chicago Tribune, reporting on a test carried out over Nevada on 6 April 1953 – in fact the mission shown in the last still photograph above.  Note that the radiation effects were expected to be so powerful that all air traffic was excluded from an area of 100,00 square miles:

Chicago Tribune 6 April 1953

Today Indian Springs is known as Creech Air Force Base: the operating hub for the US Air Force’s MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers…

Tanner respondents

I’m delighted that Grégoire Chamayou and Chris Woods have both accepted invitations to act as discussants and interlocutors for my Tanner Lectures, “Reach from the Sky: aerial violence and the everywhere war“, in Cambridge in January.

The format for the Lectures is for me to give two presentations on the first day; the next day a panel of four respondents offers reactions and comments, and then we open up into general debate and discussion.

9780241970355I provided a series of detailed commentaries on Grégoire’s variously titled Drone Theory/A Theory of the Drone when it was originally published in French (see here for a full listing: scroll down), and we met last year at a wonderful workshop on Secrecy and Transparency at the Humanities Research Institute at Irvine, so I’m thrilled that the tables will be reversed.  Grégoire’s creative imagination seems to know no bounds – see, for example, here and here – and we keep in close touch so I know this will be a rewarding conversation.

9780190202590I’ve never met Chris, but I’m really looking forward to doing so: he has worked with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism; his Sudden Justice: America’s secret drone wars is the gold standard for books about the conduct of US remote operations; and he is now busy at Airwars monitoring coalition air strikes over Iraq and Syria.  I greatly admire Chris’s combination of probing analysis and lucid prose, and his determination to bring the results to the widest possible public audience is an inspiration.

More on other respondents later.

Archives of the Insensible

9780226277332News from the ever interesting Allen Feldman of his new book, Archives of the Insensible: of war, photopolitics and dead memory, coming from Chicago in December:

In this jarring look at contemporary warfare and political visuality, renowned anthropologist of violence Allen Feldman provocatively argues that contemporary sovereign power mobilizes asymmetric, clandestine, and ultimately unending war as a will to truth. Whether responding to the fantasy of weapons of mass destruction or an existential threat to civilization, Western political sovereignty seeks to align justice, humanitarian right, and democracy with technocratic violence and visual dominance. Connecting Guantánamo tribunals to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, American counterfeit killings in Afghanistan to the Baader-Meinhof paintings of Gerhard Richter, and the video erasure of Rodney King to lynching photography and political animality, among other scenes of terror, Feldman contests sovereignty’s claims to transcendental right — whether humanitarian, neoliberal, or democratic—by showing how dogmatic truth is crafted and terror indemnified by the prosecutorial media and materiality of war.

Excavating a scenography of trials —formal or covert, orchestrated or improvised, criminalizing or criminal — Feldman shows how the will to truth disappears into the very violence it interrogates. He maps the sensory inscriptions and erasures of war, highlighting war as a media that severs factuality from actuality to render violence just. He proposes that war promotes an anesthesiology that interdicts the witness of a sensory and affective commons that has the capacity to speak truth to war. Feldman uses layered deconstructive description to decelerate the ballistical tempo of war to salvage the embodied actualities and material histories that war reduces to the ashes of collateral damage, the automatism of drones, and the opacities of black sites. The result is a penetrating work that marries critical visual theory, political philosophy, anthropology, and media archeology into a trenchant dissection of emerging forms of sovereignty and state power that war now makes possible.

Here is the wonderful Talal Asad on the book:

Archives of the Insensible is a remarkable diagnosis of our time, tracing with great subtlety the multiple ways in which violence is transformed into justice and justice gives birth to destruction. This is a startling book written with passion and insight, and a valuable contribution to our understanding of the relationship of violence to international law in the contemporary world.

You can see why I’m so interested…

The Drone Papers

Drone Papers header JPEG

The Intercept has released a new series of documents – not from Edward Snowden – that provide extraordinary details about the Obama administration’s targeted killing operations (especially in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia).

I haven’t had a chance to work through them yet – today is taken up with teaching and Eyal Weizman‘s visit for tonight’s Wall Exchange – but I imagine that readers who don’t already have their heads up will welcome a head’s up.

The reports include a considerable number of informative graphics (taken from briefing slides) together with analysis.  Here is the full list:

The Assassination Complex (by Jeremy Scahill)

A visual glossary (by Josh Begley)

The Kill Chain (by Jeremy Scahill)

Find, Fix, Finish (by Jeremy Scahill)

Manhunting in the Hindu Kush (by Ryan Devereaux)

Firing Blind (by Cora Currier and Peter Maass)

The Life and Death of Objective Peckham (by Ryan Gallagher)

Target Africa (by Nick Turse)

More to come when I’ve worked through the reports, slides and analyses.