Surveillant Landscapes

There is a fascinating little piece on Bldg Blog about ‘security geotextiles’ and other actual and speculative surveillance systems that are built in to, underlie or encompass whole landscapes. The argument seems to support what I have been writing and speaking about recently on ‘vanishing surveillance’ (I’ll be speaking about it again in Copenhagen a the first Negotiating (In)visibilities conference in February): the way in which, as surveillance spreads and becomes more intense, moving towards ubiquitous, pervasive or ambient surveillance, that its material manifestations have a tendency to disappear.

There is a standards kind of alarmism that the piece starts with and the assumption that such things are malevolent does strike one as an initial impression, perhaps not surprising given that the piece is inspired by yet another security tech developement – this time a concealed perimeter surveillance system from Israeli firm, GMax. Perhaps if it had begun with urban ubiquitous sensory systems in a universal design context, it might have taken a very different direction. However, what’s particularly interesting about the piece is that it doesn’t stop there, but highlights the possibilities for resistance and subversion using the very same ubiquitous technologies.

But whether hegemonic or subversive, the overall trajectory that post outlines of a move towards a machine-readable world, indeed a world reconfigured for machines, is pretty much indisputable…

A buried and ultimately invisible magnetic passive perimeter security system, from Israeli security company, G-Max.

(Thanks to Torin Monahan for alerting me to this)

New Book – Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine

The Surveillance Studies Centre says: Congratulations to Elia Zureik, David Lyon, Yasmeen Abu-Laban and all the contributors on their new book Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine, now available from Routledge. The book is an edited collection of papers from the research workshop, States of Exception, Surveillance and Population Management: The Case of Israel/Palestine, organized by The New Transparency Project in Cyprus, December 2008.

ISBN: 978-0-415-58861-4


Preface – Elia Zureik, David Lyon and Yasmeen Abu-Laban

Part I: Introduction

1. Colonialism, Surveillance and Population Control: Israel/Palestine – Elia Zureik

Part II: Theories of Surveillance in Conflict Zones

2. Identification, Colonialism and Control: Surveillant Sorting in Israel/Palestine – David Lyon

3. Making Place for the Palestinians in the Altneuland: Herzl, Anti-Semitism, and the Jewish State – Glenn Bowman

Part III: Civilian Surveillance

4. Ominous Designs: Israel’s Strategies and Tactics of Controlling the Palestinians during the First Two Decades – Ahmad Sa’di

5. The Matrix of Surveillance in Times of National Conflict: The Israeli-Palestinian Case – Hillel Cohen

6. The Changing Patterns of Disciplining Palestinian National Memory in Israel – Tamir Sorek

Part IV: Political Economy and Globalization of Surveillance

7. Laboratories of War: Surveillance and US-Israeli Collaboration in War and Security – Steven Graham

8. Israel’s Emergence as a Homeland Security Capital – Neve Gordon

9. From Tanks to Wheelchairs: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Zionist Battlefield Experiments, and the Transparency of the Civilian – Nick Denes

Part V: Citizenship Criteria and State Construction

10. Legal Analysis and Critique of Some Surveillance Methods Used by Israel – Usama Halabi

11. Orange, Green, and Blue: Colour-Coded Paperwork for Palestinian Population Control – Helga Tawil-Souri

12. “You Must Know Your Stock”: Census as Surveillance Practice in 1948 and 1967 – Anat E. Leibler

Part VI: Surveillance, Racialization, and Uncertainty

13. Exclusionary Surveillance and Spatial Uncertainty in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Ariel Handel

14. “Israelization” of Social Sorting and the “Palestinianization” of the Racial Contract: Reframing Israel/Palestine and The War on Terror – Yasmeen Abu-Laban and Abigail B. Bakan

Part VII: Territory and Population Management in Conflict Zones

15. British and Zionist Data Gathering on Palestinian Arab Land Ownership and Population during the Mandate – Michael Fischbach

16. Surveillance and Spatial Flows in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Nurhan Abujidi

17. Territorial Dispossession and Population Control of the Palestinians – Rassem Khamaisi

Part VIII: Social Ordering, Biopolitics and Profiling

18. The Palestinian Authority Security Apparatus: Biopolitics, Surveillance and Resistance in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Nigel Parsons

19. Behavioural Profiling in Israeli Aviation Security as a Tool for Social Control – Reg Whitaker

Surveillance and Ethical Investment

An interesting case today. Associated Press is reporting that Sweden’s major pension fund has decided to drop the company, Elbit Systems, from its investment portfolio on the grounds that it provides surveillance equipment to the separation barrier that cuts through the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. The find has an ethical policy and as the European Union considers the barrier to be in violation of international law, it seems they had little moral choice but to drop it. Interestingly the Israeli government has complained on behalf of this private company, which of course just serves to highlight still further the close links between the state and security firms and arms manufacturers in Israel. I am not sure that it’s particularly ethical for any national pension fund to be propping up another nation’s security policies, let alone a policy that is so controversial not to say overtly illegal. But beyond this Elbit is a major arms company that would, I thought, in any case have been off-limits for a fund with ‘ethics’ – see: Neve Gordon’s report on The Political Economy of Israel’s Homeland Security produced for The New Transparency collaborative research initiative here at the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s.

Does the expansion of surveillance make assassination harder? Not in a world of UAVs…

Following the killing of Mahmood Al-Mabhouh is Dubai, allegedly by Israeli Mossad agents, some people are starting to ask whether political assassination is being made more difficult by the proliferation of everyday surveillance. The Washington Post argues that it is, and they give three other cases, including that of Alexandr Litvinenko in London in 2006. But there’s a number of reasons to think that this is a superficial argument.

However the obvious thing about all of these is that they were successful assassinations. They were not prevented by any surveillance technologies. In the Dubai case, the much-trumpeted new international passport regime did not uncover a relatively simple set  of photo-swaps – and anyone who has talked to airport security will know how slapdash most ID checks really are. Litvinenko is as dead as Georgi Markov, famously killed by the Bulgarian secret service with a poisoned-tipped umbrella in London in 1978, and we still don’t really have a clear idea of what was actually going on in the Markov case despite some high-profile charges being laid.

Another thing is that there are several kinds of assassination: the first are those that are meant to be clearly noticed, so as to send a message to the followers or group associated with the deceased. Surveillance technologies, and particularly CCTV,  help such causes by providing readily viewable pictures that contribute to a media PR-campaign that is as important as the killing itself. Mossad in this case, if it was Mossad, were hiding in plain sight – they weren’t really trying to do this in total secrecy. And, let’s not forget many of the operatives who carry out these kinds of actions are considered disposable and replaceable.

The second kind are those where the killers simply don’t care one way or the other what anyone else knows or thinks (as in most of the missile attacks by Israel on the compounds of Hamas leaders within Gaza or the 2002 killing of Qaed Senyan al-Harthi by a remote-controlled USAF drone in the Yemen). The third kind are those that are not meant to be seen as a killing, but are disguised as accidents – in most of those cases, we will never know: conspiracy theories swirl around many such suspicious events, and this fog of unknowing only helps further disguise those probably quite small number of truly fake accidents and discredits their investigation. One could argue that such secret killings may be affected by widespread surveillance, but those involved in such cases are far more careful and more likely to use methods to leverage or get around conventional surveillance techniques.

Then of course, there is the fact that the techniques of assassination are becoming more high-tech and powerful too. The use of remote-control drones as in the al-Harthi case is now commonplace for the US military in Afghanistan and Pakistan, indeed the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, last year described UAVs as “the only game in town for stopping Al-Qaeda.” And now there are many more nations equipping themselves with UAVs – which, of course, can be both surveillance devices and weapons platforms. Just the other day, Israel announced the world’s largest drone – the Eltan from Heron Industries, which can apparently fly for 20 hours non-stop. India has already agreed to buy drones from the same company. And, even local police forces in many cities are now investing in micro-UAVs (MAVs): there’s plenty of potential for such devices to be weaponized – and modelled after (or disguised as) birds or animals too.

Finally, assassinations were not that common anyway, so it’s hard to see any statistically significant downward trends. If anything, if one considers many of the uses of drones and precision-targeted missile strikes on the leaders of terrorist and rebel groups as ‘assassinations’, then they may be increasing in number rather than declining, albeit more confined to those with wealth and resources…

(Thanks to Aaron Martin for pointing me to The Washington Post article)

More border madness

I could probably blog all the time just about border surveillance and security issues… Aaron Martin has pointed out the reported latest new development on the Israel-Palestine border, which is an apparently arbitrarily used stamp which allows visitors to visit only the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and not Israel itself. Gaza remain closed to foreign visitors, and effectively an open-air prison camp.

It seems hard to define this as a ‘policy’ since the Israeli government officially deny that any order was given for the new stamp, despite the fact there is witness and photographic evidence of its use. Its purpose seems to be clearly to define for future reference, ‘enemies of Israel’ and to make it as hard as possible for those interested in the welfare of Palestinians to enter Israel.