Ingrid Burrington: Hi, every­one. Thank you for com­ing. It’s real­ly hum­bling to be here, and thank you Addie for invit­ing me. 

So, hi. My name is Ingrid. I’ve been using, a lot of times, as my one-liner artist state­ment that I make maps and tell jokes. Which is to say I think a lot about pow­er, giv­en that maps and jokes are tremen­dous instru­ments for exer­cis­ing, explain­ing, and chal­leng­ing pow­er. And I’m going to just be talk­ing about some work that I’ve been doing for the last eigh­teen months that start­ed with what I think of as an image prob­lem. When sto­ries about online and phone-based mass sur­veil­lance start­ed rolling out, the stock pho­tog­ra­phy was real­ly weak. And the images all seemed to not real­ly cap­ture, to me, what we were actu­al­ly see­ing hap­pen. There were a lot of white dudes look­ing at screens and a lot of blue-filter, Eye of Sauron shit. And part of this prob­lem is that it’s an abstract thing, right? But the oth­er part is that the parts that aren’t abstract, like the actu­al places where sur­veil­lance takes place, the kinds of images that you can even get are sort of limited. 

From video @1:24

From video @1:24

This is prob­a­bly one of my favorite pho­tos I’ve ever tak­en. It’s at a park next to the NSA. It’s for famous fall­en spy planes, and not only does it have a list of things you should­n’t take a pic­ture of, it has a pic­ture of the kind of pic­ture you can’t have. So not only does the NSA have real­ly strict rules about what kinds of images can be put out about it—there’s like that one famous stock pho­to and then [Caitlin?] made anoth­er one—they also have con­trol over an image that is impos­si­ble to create. 

From video @2:09

And then one of the oth­er things like that Eye of Sauron clip art thing I think does is it amps up the mys­tique fac­tor, and I think kind of adds to this idea that these insti­tu­tions are impen­e­tra­ble. This is a mousepad that I bought at the Cryptology Museum next door to the NSA, and um, they can’t sum­mon light­ning. This stuff, I think it kind of feeds into a cul­ture of fear around this stuff. And I’m real­ly into expos­ing the banal­i­ty of pow­er, the way in which a lot of these things that are kind of sen­sa­tion­al­ized or ter­ri­fy­ing are real­ly just white dudes in sub­ur­ban office parks. And I start­ed with look­ing a lot at one par­tic­u­lar office park.

From video @2:43

From video @2:43

So this map, down at the bot­tom, that’s the NSA. And then a lit­tle fur­ther to the top and to the left, that is an office park that I first start­ed notic­ing. I went down to Fort Meade for Chelsea Manning’s tri­al and was just look­ing around at things that were in the area and saw all these defense con­trac­tors in this office park and was like, That’s…inevitable.” It turns out this prop­er­ty, which is called The National Business Park, is owned by a real estate invest­ment trust called Corporate Office Properties Trust, and their entire busi­ness strat­e­gy appears to be buy land next to major defense out­posts, and build offices for defense con­trac­tors and the gov­ern­ment.” Which is actu­al­ly a pret­ty smart busi­ness strat­e­gy if you’re a real estate company.

From video @4:00

From video @4:00

This to me, this is where sur­veil­lance actu­al­ly hap­pens. So much of the work that is being done by the gov­ern­ment is actu­al­ly being done by third par­ties, and it’s a very lucra­tive busi­ness. So I went to this office park and kind of just walked around it, and it’s bor­ing. It’s real­ly kind of weird and bor­ing and it’s weird to think about the fact that these com­pa­nies that are enor­mous and involved in pret­ty unseem­ly shit appear like this, like this kind of crap­py build­ing with this kind of crap­py pub­lic art. And at the same time, there’s all these sort of lit­tle hints to what is actu­al­ly there. Like, there are cer­tain roads that you can’t real­ly go much fur­ther past on with­out need­ing to show spe­cif­ic kinds of ID

I was inter­est­ed in try­ing to use that spe­cif­ic land­scape and maps of it as a way to see how the military-industrial com­plex has become increas­ing­ly pri­va­tized, so I start­ed look­ing at Landsat satel­lite imagery. So this is an image of that office park in 2002.

National Business Park 2002

National Business Park 2002

That was the old­est one that I could find. It’s kind of tiled togeth­er. So there’s a cou­ple build­ings there; they’re cur­rent­ly doing okay. This is 2006.

National Business Park, 2006

National Business Park, 2006

It’s not a per­fect tran­si­tion, but you can see there are at least a few more build­ings. By then there’s about eight new build­ings that’ve been added to this. What hap­pened between 2002 and 2006? The obvi­ous one is that we invad­ed Iraq, but the oth­er one in 2002 was Project Trailblazer was start­ed. I don’t know how many peo­ple here are famil­iar with Project Trailblazer. It was a giant infor­ma­tion sur­veil­lance pro­gram that was con­tract­ed out to (I have to always write this down) SAIC, Boeing, CSC, and Booz Allen Hamilton. It was a com­plete boon­dog­gle. And this was the project that a num­ber of whistle­blow­ers inside the Department of Defense brought to the Inspector General because the NSA could’ve built it them­selves for a lot less mon­ey. And this is why Thomas Drake was indict­ed for the Espionage Act.

National Business Park 2012

National Business Park 2012

This is the prop­er­ty in 2012. There’s anoth­er mil­lion square feet that’s been added since 2006, there’s nine more build­ings. So this is a very small but very inter­est­ing illus­tra­tion to me of the fact that the military-industrial com­plex isn’t just weapons or mal­ware, it’s real estate. It’s prop­er­ty, it’s bod­ies, it’s humans. 

One of the things that I thought was super-interesting as I start­ed look­ing into this par­tic­u­lar real estate com­pa­ny was that they had start­ed this busi­ness piv­ot to run­ning data cen­ters. Which of course is extreme­ly smart. But it led me, in try­ing to go see their data cen­ters and oth­er data cen­ters, into this kind of mis­lead­ing­ly banal ques­tion, which is How do you see the Internet?” And I guess this is how most of us see the Internet, like we’re inter­fac­ing with it: 


But when you try to actu­al­ly explain to some­one what the Internet is, or how to com­pre­hend it, you get a lot of real­ly abstract net­work dia­grams and real­ly mis­lead­ing metaphors and clip art. (Don’t get me start­ed on the cloud.) Cuz like, this is the cloud:

The Cloud

The (Amazon) Cloud

This is an Amazon data cen­ter in Northern Virginia and it’s not call­ing atten­tion to itself. It’s kind of a cru­cial piece of infra­struc­ture, and it’s some­thing that you would nev­er real­ly even real­ly notice.

So at this point in the year I start­ed to get real­ly obsessed with net­work infra­struc­ture. This is what hap­pens when you start talk­ing to peo­ple about net­work infra­struc­ture, I have learned.


And I com­plete­ly under­stand why, because it’s some­thing that was sort of designed to be ignored. You real­ly only notice infra­struc­ture when it stops work­ing. We can get into whether there is some­thing about the Internet that is no longer work­ing per­haps lat­er. I should prob­a­bly just move on to a lit­tle more of methods.

So it turns out if you want maps of where fiber lines are and want to get a bet­ter sense of data cen­ter geog­ra­phy, peo­ple won’t just tell you. So I kind of had to fig­ure it out myself. And I start­ed out real­ly small. I just want­ed to fig­ure out how can I see the Internet with­in one city block around me, like walk­ing down the street in Manhattan?” Turns out a real­ly good way to do that is to look down.

Spray-painted markings indicating utility locations

Spray-painted mark­ings indi­cat­ing util­i­ty locations

I imag­ine you’ve seen things like this before walk­ing down the street, like spray paint on inter­sec­tions and streets. This is stuff that’s put down on the street pri­or to street exca­va­tion work, and it’s basi­cal­ly a way for peo­ple doing that work to know what’s around them, so that if they’re going to be doing work on a gas line they don’t acci­den­tal­ly cut the pow­er to an entire neighborhood.

They’re all color-coded, there’s an inter­na­tion­al stan­dard for this. And all the orange ones are telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions. That includes tele­phone and TV and well as inter­net. But once you start look­ing for these, you real­ly can’t not see them. I kind of start­ed to think of them like The Crying of Lot 49, like you could just find the postal horn every­where. And there’s some fun things you can do with this, so like this is a weird way to kind of reverse engi­neer where cer­tain fiber lines are.

From video @8:59

From video @8:59

These are two lines that are run­ning out of 111 8th Ave, which is a major car­ri­er hotel, into 85 10th Ave., which has a Level 3 colo­ca­tion cen­ter. (Fun fact: also home to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force offices. IDK

From video @9:47

From video @9:47

But that’s a very tedious way to work through that prob­lem, to try and walk through the entire city, fol­low­ing orange lines, and even­tu­al­ly I’m going to get hit by a bus. So the oth­er way that I’ve been approach­ing this prob­lem is by work­ing on a field guide, so that any­one can fig­ure out what these things are, and what they’re look­ing at, and see the Internet on the street. And this is going to be print­ed in January. It’s also a weird way to get in a lot of side­ways infor­ma­tion about the pol­i­tics of net­work infra­struc­ture. In this slide there’s an aside about dark fiber. What is it? Why do all these ISPs have it? Why do they sell it for so much mon­ey to banks? A ver­sion of this also exists on-line, so I’m a lit­tle more into the idea of a hand-held expe­ri­ence with it. But if you’re inter­est­ed, it’s out there.

One of the things that a lot of this work has made me think a lot about is scale. There was a time com­put­ers used to be the size of an entire room to func­tion. And while we’ve been able to make hard­ware that is small­er, I believe that the room has sim­ply got­ten big­ger, to about the size of the plan­et. We’re sur­round­ed by sen­sors every­where, and a lot of them are fair­ly mun­dane, and a lot of them we can kind of eas­i­ly for­get about and have been there for a long time. I think some­times I get a lit­tle side-eye at the hype over the Internet of Things because we’ve had this shit around for a while. And then there’s ele­ments of it that’s kind of insid­i­ous and is kind of work­ing as pri­vate net­works that we can’t real­ly under­stand and that are increas­ing­ly actu­al­ly on human bodies.

This next slide [screen­shot of this arti­cle] is going to seem like a detour, but it’s actu­al­ly just tak­ing the scenic route to a relat­ed point, so bear with me. This is a small project that I fin­ished very recent­ly and is kind of relat­ed to what I’m try­ing to work on next while I’m here this week. A cou­ple of weeks ago, a German news­pa­per released a sto­ry about GCHQs tap­ping of some sub­ma­rine cables, the cables that con­nect ocean Internets to each oth­er. And this was­n’t new, like peo­ple had known that they were doing it, but this was the first arti­cle that released a doc­u­ment that had a list of exact­ly which cables, which hap­pens to be pret­ty easy to find pub­lic infor­ma­tion, like just the exis­tence of where cables are. Telegeography main­tains a real­ly nice data set about them. 

So I just kind of mashed those togeth­er and made a map of which cables are being tapped and which ones aren’t, and which pro­grams they’re asso­ci­at­ed with, and which com­pa­nies own those cables because that can also give you a sense of what these code­name pro­grams, who the part­ner asso­ci­a­tions affil­i­at­ed with them are. 

Our Command & Control Networks are tru­ly being trans­formed into a WEAPON SYSTEM as they get lever­aged more and more by our sol­diers — and as such, need to be pro­tect­ed from the increas­ing focus and efforts of our ene­mies to attack them using any & all means…
Defense Information Systems Agency NetOps Strategic Plan 2006

This was a quote from a Department of Defense doc­u­ment that was essen­tial­ly mak­ing the argu­ment that com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works are weapons sys­tems. Literally, not like they’re a means to an end, they were basi­cal­ly like, Communications sys­tems are weapons.” And to me this illus­trates a cer­tain urgency for why you might want to care about infra­struc­ture, and might want to know about fiber lines beneath your feet, because they have been weaponized. They have been mil­i­ta­rized. And it would be cool if we could make them less that. And what I’ve been think­ing a lot about this week is how to fol­low a thread that con­nects you from the mas­sive military-industrial net­works that are cap­tur­ing infor­ma­tion and sep­a­rat­ing net­works all the time. 

This is a 2004 map of the SIPRNet, which is the Secure Information Protocol Routing Network; it’s the Department of Defense’s pri­vate clas­si­fied net­work that spans a huge amount of the world. Connecting this to police depart­ments that now are able to col­lect cell phone data of pro­test­ers. There is a link that is bring­ing things from this real­ly high lev­el, from sub­ma­rine cables, down to the street, back to that inter­sec­tion where you’re just try­ing to find the Internet.

I don’t total­ly know what that looks like, and I’m hop­ing to fig­ure it out, and I don’t want to think of it as a demor­al­iz­ing point. I think it’s a chal­lenge that has to be tak­en on and is worth tak­ing on. Thank you very much.