Cerebral, unconventional tour of sites deemed top secret by the U.S. government.
Paglen (I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me, 2008, etc.), the son of an Air Force physician, became fascinated by military secrecy while growing up around the world. Working on his doctorate in geography at Berkeley, he fed his fascination by studying government maps, some of which redacted locations on the ground. Believing such secrecy to be anathema to American democracy, and in some instances a violation of the Constitution, he set out to visit those sites, sometimes openly, sometimes through subterfuge. His tour included Air Force bases in California and Georgia; a weapons laboratory in New Mexico; staging areas in Honduras and Afghanistan; a remote section of the Mojave Desert; government agency buildings in the D.C. area; even downtown Las Vegas, where from an 18th-floor hotel room he used a telescope and other instruments to chart comings and goings between the airport and classified installations elsewhere in Nevada. Although Paglen is angry about the countless billions of dollars spent to establish and maintain such sites, he is rarely shrill. Instead, he hitches his anger to a scholar’s analytical mind, demonstrating that even the most determined government cannot keep sites completely secret, given their physical manifestations on the ground. “Just as a Band-Aid announces the fact that it conceals a wound,” he writes, “blank spots on maps and blacked-out documents announce the fact that there’s something hidden. Secrets, in other words, often inevitably announce their own existence.” Although the text mainly follows Paglen’s investigative trail, it sometimes cuts away to other individuals fighting for government disclosure by litigating, charting objects in space or whistle-blowing.
Educational and engaging.