Patching You Through to the Dark Side

"Creative geographer" Trevor Paglen began his research on the U.S. Military's secret "black sites" as a way of investigating a new form of domestic colonialism in which the uncharted bases (think Area 51) were taking over the landscape of much of the Southwest. He began mapping and monitoring these sites, from afar, perfecting his beautiful Limit Telephotography process and taking people on tours of the regions. But soon the tactical media artist began to discover a subculture of workers employed at these sites--workers who, despite the heavily-enforced veil of secrecy surrounding their work, have formed social organizations, attend alumni dinners, and even hand out awards to each other for secret jobs well-done. As he began to infiltrate these groups, in the process of expanding his research to cover topics such as the CIA's extraordinary rendition flights, Paglen started collecting patches used by these veritable grown-up boy scouts to identify their fraternal clans. Paglen's new book I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World documents the mysterious iconography and deciphers the bravado. The book is named after one particularly cryptic patch I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me, a phrase which accurately conveys the anonymity surrounding the participants in these societies. Another favorite features the emblem of an alien head and says, in Latin, "tastes like chicken." Accompanying the book is a website, compiled by Paglen, extensively cataloguing the patches, augmenting and annotating the published text, and offering readers additional texts and interpretive sources. It seems befitting that Paglen would make such use of the internet, invented by the U.S. government, to publicize information about its own cloaked networks. Log-on and see if you can help him unravel the mystery of the NRO Dragon Patch. - Marisa Olson