The “blank spots” of the title of Trevor Paglen’s Blank Spots on the Map refer to America’s secret intelligence-gathering outposts—from unacknowledged air bases in the Southwest, to innocuous office buildings in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to disguised prisons in Afghanistan, to undeclared spy satellites circling overhead. Drawing on his reporting skills and training as a geographer, Paglen constructs both a history and a remarkably detailed outline of America’s “black” operations, many of which are now in the hands of profit-oriented private contractors who have no allegiance to the taxpayers who fund them—or to constitutional niceties.

Indeed, Paglen argues that government-sanctioned secrecy exacts a severe toll on America’s legal system. The Central Intelligence Act of 1949, he points out, exempts CIA funding from Congressional oversight in spite of the constitutional clause that mandates it. Now, Paglen asserts, the law has been stretched through state-secrecy arguments to embrace wiretapping of citizens without court approval, torture, “extraordinary rendition” of prisoners to other countries for interrogation, punishment and concealment and routine denial of due process.

“Creating secret geographies has meant erasing parts of the Constitution,” he says, “creating blank spots in the law . . . handing sovereign powers . . . to the executive branch . . . and turning our own history into a state secret.”

To document these conclusions, Paglen monitored (from a distance) secret sites from Las Vegas to Kabul; sifted through government and private documents and extrapolated the data found there; and enlisted the talents of an array of amateur researchers, including a zealous recorder and interpreter of satellite data in Toronto and a retired history professor in Hawaii who specializes in the privatization of intelligence gathering. Paglen engages in no UFO voodoo or conspiracy theories here. He’s just a concerned citizen doggedly attempting to gain relevant facts from a government now designed to conceal them.

Edward Morris gathers intelligence from Nashville.

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