You are on page 1of 127

The Secret Shopper

By

Willie Osterweil

Inattentive, rude, and dumb service workers damage the value of their bosses product in subtle acts of psycho-social sabotage so pervasive that an entire industry of mystery shoppers has sprung up to combat it

When we talk about surveillance, we make a connection, almost automatically, between surveillance and crime, and another between surveillance and technology: The CCTV camera capturing the masked robber, the bank manager monitoring every inch of his vault for signs of intrusion, the giant NSA black site in Utah, designed to store indefinitely all the data that travels across American wires and through American airspace. Whether James Bondglamorous or 1984-terrifying, surveillance is high-tech and polices the illicit.

Willie osterweil

These intuitive connections are reflected in the fact that, when someone refers to Jeremy Benthams panopticon, they are almost always talking about the prisons he designed. And while Foucault wouldnt have us forget that Bentham also designed panoptic factories, hospitals, schools, and mental institutions, these all still follow after the form of the prison, which is where the power differential is the starkest. Wardens, however, need to watch prisoners much less closely than the capitalists looking to squeeze out every dollar need to watch those at work in their stores. As long as workers are forced to smile, politely greet customers, and point them toward a special deal, capital will need to send out mystery shoppers to keep them in line. Mystery shoppers spy in retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, banks, hospitals, bars, supermarkets, churches, doctors offices, public transit systems, gas stations, mechanics shops, gyms, funeral homes, universities in short, anywhere the public is treated as a customer. Marketing firms hire mystery worshippers who pose as firsttime congregants to evaluate church cleanliness, friendliness, and godliness. Mentally healthy people complain to psychiatrists of fake symptoms while carefully comparing the doctors behavior against a checklist. Last summer, a congressional scuffle over the federal governments plan to send out elderly mystery patients made headlines, and
7

the secret shopper

while the measure ultimately failed, the U.S. has helped Pakistan deploy mystery shoppers in order to combat tax evasion. In a neoliberal society where service is a commodity, consumer choice is hailed as civil liberty, and every social relationship is understood as a transaction between provider and customer, mystery shoppers are deployed basically everywhere. These are not well-paid agents stalking casino floors for criminal masterminds. Mystery shoppers are workaday spies, moms cruising the mall with an eye to shelf organization and timely welcome greetings. They are the front-line grunts in corporate espionage, the preferred objective parties for internal corporate-performance evaluation and data gatherers for marketing firms. All in all, mystery shopping is a $1.5 billion industry employing 1.5 million peopleworldwide. And yet, there is almost no public knowledge of the mystery-shopping trade. If youre not one of the millions of retail employees regularly surveilled by contractors hired to catch you out, or one of the million and a half doing the spying, you could be forgiven for not knowing just how serious a business mystery shopping is. What academic work has been done on mystery shopping tends to be industry specific, evaluating its efficacy rather than its sociological impact. Mystery shoppers pop up from time to time in the news, but usually in

Willie osterweil

relation to a bank-account-phishing scam connected to fake mystery shopping jobs only a little more sophisticated than the Nigerian-prince email. And the books about mystery shopping are almost exclusively aspirational: The Mystery Shoppers Manual: How to Get Paid to Shop in Your Favorite Stores, Eat in Your Favorite Restaurants, and More! The hard work of making sure every chain store in the country is more or less the same follows a fairly simple process: Mystery shoppers sign up for each job separately through a mystery-shopping company (MSC), staffing agencies that corporations hire to provide retail spies. The MSCs names go from totally banal (Service Excellence Group Inc.; Customer 1st) to the more insidiously corporate (Statopex; Confero) to the accidentally Maoist (Shoppers Critique International). Each job, called a shop, is a onetime, one-task contract between the mystery shopper and the MSC. Once mystery shoppers agree to do a shop, they enter the store and follow the instructions they are given (to make a purchase, or return an item, or ask a series of questions, etc.), all the while carefully monitoring and remembering conditions (not writing them down; writing things down is a dead giveaway) and pretending to be a normal customer. This last bit is important if any employees at the retail site figure out theyre being mystery-shopped, the MSC can and will deny the mystery shopper payment for that shop.
9

The Secret shopper

Who hires mystery shopper services? Evidence provided by mystery shoppers has been upheld as impartial by judges, so they are sometimes used by corporate-law firms to prove contentious points in large cases. Marketing firms also use mystery shoppers. Eric, an account associate that I interviewed, currently manages a marketing campaign for a major beer distributor well call it Buzz Beer. His company sends mystery shoppers into bars where Buzz Beer sells at high volume to take notes on how prominently displayed Buzz advertising is, how well the bartender pours, and whether the Buzz beer was served in a Buzz-branded glass. They measure the temperature of the beer and then fill all of this information in on a smartphone app (owning a smartphone is a prerequisite for this particular shop,) which automatically processes the data and turns it into a Buzz Score for Eric. After a round of shops is compiled in a market hes working in, Eric then tells the owners their Buzz Scores and promises that the bars with the highest score improvement in subsequent mystery-drinker evaluations will get invited to Buzz parties and get lots of branded swag. Its a win-win, although of course the bar never agreed to play this game. Mystery shoppers are paid a flat fee, on a shop-byshop basis, frequently $10 to $20. Usually, but not always, they are reimbursed for the products or meals purchased. It helps for aspiring mystery shoppers to
10

Willie osterweil

have an eye for detail: the questionnaires they must submit are often pages long and can involve dozens of highly specific questions. Sometimes mystery shoppers are asked to do something like check that all the clothes in a store are the size it says on their hangers without buying anything, or videotape an entire dental exam without getting noticed. More often they are tasked with making sure certain brand names are visible in enough places or monitoring if the cashier is pushing the right promotions, often checking what clerks say against the exact language they are expected to have memorized that week. Mystery shoppers at restaurants often need a thermometer to test food temperatures, while other companies require shoppers to carry a stopwatch so they can measure the time (to the second!) it takes them to be greeted. As it works out, almost no one can make a living mystery shopping. For one thing, its on the mystery shopper to sign up for each job: the MSCs guarantee no steady work to any shoppers; instead they give would-be shoppers access to what is basically an online bulletin board (often after a brief training and vetting period). Jobs are posted and claimed constantly, meaning the shopper has to spend a good deal of time online, especially at the beginning of each month, to stay shopping consistently. Each shop usually has a specific day or week when it needs to be completed to be valid, and reports almost always need to be turned in within 24 hours
11

the secret shopper

of completion. Since each shop applies only to a specific store, youd have to be remarkably organized or live in a very dense urban area to do more than four or five shops in a day. Mystery shoppers are not paid hourly and are rarely reimbursed for travel expenditures. And, of course, if their report is deemed inadequate they bought the wrong shirt, say, or didnt fill out the form correctly or got made by an employee no pay. Mystery shopping is precarious, casualized contract labor taken to an extreme. As a result, mystery shoppers tend to have another form of income. Predominantly middle (or lower-middle) class people, mystery shoppers are frequently stay-athome moms looking to supplement their spouses income, or part-time workers hoping to enjoy some of the smaller luxuries, like eating out, without worrying about expense. Many retirees do it to earn extra cash while staying busy and mentally sharp, and, less frequently, so do young people for whom a little money goes a long way. Shoppers on message boards and in interviews I conducted describe mystery shopping as something between a part-time job and a hobby. In short, mystery shoppers are mostly people traditionally considered to be outside the workforce. Most often, mystery shoppers are hired by companies to do internal audits: to monitor the affective

12

Willie osterweil

labor of employees in a way that managers, whose presence over the workers shoulders changes their behavior, cannot. While the existence of the MSC produces the appearance of an ethical double-blind situation the mystery shopper doesnt technically know who shes doing surveillance for and the corporation that hired her doesnt know her identity in practice its usually pretty obvious who a shopper is really working for. Does your questionnaire ask mostly about Levis branding in the clothing section, or how many times the greeter smiles at you before coming over to help? You also end up with some pretty nasty class dynamics: upper-middle-class execs hire middle-class retirees and moms to do intricate surveillance on minimum-wage-or-near employees for pennies on the dollar. But just like people doing viral marketing in their social networks for minimal pay because its fun, this jailer-like spying on behalf of management is described through the narratives of choice, pleasure, and freedom that are always used to justify precarious labor. You are free to turn down any job that doesnt interest you, promises MysteryShoppersAmerica.com. You are always free to take off as much time as you want whenever you want.

13

the secret shopper

Why have mystery shoppers become so necessary to corporations? The trend seems, on its face, a reaction to cashier intransigence: subterfuge designed to counter the frowns of the surly stock boy. Witness claims made by mystery-shopper providers, such as this one from Customer Feedback LLC: 96% of dissatisfied customers do not complain directly and 91% will NEVER come back! 68% of the customers who quit your business do so simply because of an attitude of indifference by your staff! The numbers are questionable, but the idea that competition between retailers selling the same products at basically the same prices hinges on the friendliness of the staff seems commonplace, almost obvious. So what to do about that grumpy minimum wager? First, it will help to understand what makes her so grumpy in the first place. She certainly knows what affective labor is expected of her. Is it possible that her profit-eating grumpiness is intentional, a form of sabotage? As Mario Tronti and other autonomist Marxists have argued, entrepreneurs and capitalists dont drive innovation and technological change top-down but instead react to workers ever-shifting modes of resistance to exploitation. Tronti argues that working-class demands draw their power in being expressed as refusal, acts through which employees damage their bosses profit margins and stifle their production process. Most obviously, refusal manifests as a strike total work refusal
14

Willie osterweil

but it also appears as sabotage, slow-downs, workplace theft, taking extra breaks, making breaks take longer, etc., etc. Short of a general strike and total revolution, worker refusal is always in the process of being recuperated by capital, necessitating new forms of resistance. In The Strategy of Refusal Tronti writes, The platforms of demands which workers have for decades presented to the capitalists have had and could only have had one result: the improvement of exploitation. Better conditions of life for the workers were not separable from greater economic development of capitalism. Capitalism assimilates worker demands and attempts to transform them into new bases for further exploitation. Workers in turn develop new demands, new modes of refusal. In this light, much of the neoliberal turn following the upheavals of the 1960s and 70s can be understood as a way of rehabilitating and coopting worker demands. Women are brought into the workforce but only to keep real wages stagnant and normalize two-income households. De jure segregation against African Americans is ended, while de facto segregation emerges in the war on drugs and its horrifying levels of incarceration and police violence. More creative work is offered by the rise of knowledge labor, but at the expense of generalized precarity and the transformation

15

the secret shopper

of all creativity into work, via social networking, cultural signifying, and/or constant self-marketing. Industrial wages in the Global North are kept at middle class levels, but most industrial jobs are globalized and shifted to developing economies, replaced by nonunion wage labor in service and distribution. College education is made available to all and becomes a form of debt peonage. But these transformations also change the shape of refusal. If much of the working class in the West is now positioned at the points of consumption and distribution as waiters, gas-station attendants, or cashiers, then it is there that demands-as-refusals reappear. Rudeness to customers; smile and smalltalk boycotts; operating cash registers, scanners, and credit-card machines inefficiently; talking incessantly to coworkers; feigning ignorance of the store layout; staging lethargic price checks or cleanup and restocking go-slows; training new hires poorly; and, of course, stealing goods and money from the store are all forms of refusal and class struggle. Because these forms of refusal are performed in public rather than on the shopfloor and are often targeted at consumers (themselves often working class) rather than against machines or managers, they can be antisocial and alienating in their own right. But while victimized customers might think certain

16

Willie osterweil

employees are unusually rude, ignorant, or lazy, these behaviors are too widespread to be explained as a matter of bad apples. Anyone who has worked retail can tell you about the despair and hatred of the customer that develops over time. I worked for many years in movie theaters, and the amount of garbage people leave strewn in the narrow rows between seats (where you inevitably bang your knees and occasionally your forehead as you clean) is so mindboggling, it seems malicious. I began to preemptively loathe customers just for buying popcorn, knowing that after making, packaging, and selling it to them, I would, in two hours, have to pick the remainder of it up off the floor a filthy and humiliating task reserved for societys most poorly paid workers (and, in the patriarchal home, women). How can you make sure an employee doesnt express that loathing and scare off a customer? One good way is making her expect that every next customer could be a mystery shopper and that a bad shop could get her fired. MSCs insist that their services should be used only for incentive programs and that punishment is an inappropriate use of mysteryshopper data. In a blog post titled Misuse of Mystery Shopping Scores on the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website, Christopher Warzynski argues that firing an employee for a low shopping score is inappropriate. Its worth quoting at length:
17

The Secret shopper

In some cases, poor performance indicates a need to correct the training regimen that failed to effectively convey managements expectations to staff. But it is NOT appropriate for a company to terminate the employment of a staff member solely on the basis of a low score on a mystery shopping report. The underlying premise of mystery shopping is measurement: measurement to ensure consistency in achieving a specific level of performance, consistency in delivering a specific experience to the customer, consistency in compliance with company policies and procedural expectations. Consistency.

I mostly take Warzynski at his word here, and I love that fetishistic repetition of consistency. He seems genuinely appalled that people use his fine consistency metrics for something as unpleasant as firing workers. However, his claim earlier in the blog post that hes heard of only a few such cases rings false when you look at the website of one of the MSPAs member organizations, Northwest Loss Prevention Consultants (NLPC). In bright neon-green text their site declares, What You Dont Know CAN Hurt You! Companies lose billions of dollars every year simply because of: Employee behavior, Lousy customer service, Employee theft. The Internet is full of stories about retail and restaurant chains with a policy like Applebees, where two bad mystery shops will get you fired. And when NLPC offers to run background checks to ensure youre hiring the right employees, theyre probably not checking to
18

Willie osterweil

see if your electronics salesman was an eagle scout in high school so you can incentivize him accordingly. This ambivalence runs through mystery-shopper message boards as well. A comment from Wendy M to a worker complaining about being fired after a bad shop report typifies the sort of response mystery shoppers give:
Mystery shoppers are trained to believe that theyre doing the store owner a service by providing an evaluation of the store, so that the store can provide the best service possible. They are hired by the stores themselves. You lost your job because you probably provided bad service. So, the person most responsible is you not the mystery shopper. However, it does suck to lose your job and I can relate that working retail sucks. Sorry.

Mystery shoppers know they are getting people fired, and while one shopper I interviewed refused to give bad scores to workers as a form of solidarity, he had worked as one for only a brief time. Moreregular shoppers were much less reticent. Although the idea of getting workers in trouble upset them, they tended to join Warzynski in blaming store managers for misusing their work. Most mystery shoppers tend to be honest, even earnest, in their reports, which, for a job partially taken up for the fun of stealth and duplicity, points to the real perversity of the job.

19

The secret shopper

What this devotion to the task reveals is their collusion with the bosses. Mystery shoppers are miniature thought police, affective pinkertons, mercenary management to whom real management outsources the legwork of everyday psychic control. They are sent in to break the avenues of refusal available to workers, to enforce the arbitrary standards dreamed up by marketers, bureaucrats, and MBAs that so deaden the experience of everyday life under late capitalism. And to top it all off, theyre class traitors, identifying with and working for management against their class cohort. All just for a little extra cash for the weekend. Producing identification with the bosses; smashing labor; and making solidarity difficult through contract labor, precarity, and remote working are key features of neoliberal workplace organization. But central to this vision, too, is workplace surveillance. Jay Gould, ninth richest man in American history, railroad speculator, and widely despised robber baron, famously remarked upon the hiring of strikebreakers, I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half. Neoliberalism allows for the return of the robber barons by producing the technologies and techniques to replace Goulds kill with watch. Heightened workplace surveillance helps build a workplace where no time is wasted, where all effort is put directly into the production

20

Willie osterweil

of the bosses product. But it transforms more than just the bottom line. The threat of the ever-present spy, the fear that the woman who forgot her ID in the car but swears shes 18 is actually a scab employed by your boss, means you trust no one, expecting them all to be against you, out to catch you breaking managements rules, which you now enforce with paranoiac efficiency. Surveillance, ultimately, isnt about stopping crime. Its about making police.

21

Agents Without Agency


By

Rob horning
The game of being an amateur spy can be a satisfying diversion from our overall powerlessness

When my paranoia threatens to surge out of control, Ill sometimes fantasize about being a spy. It gives my suspicions a purpose. It seems to dignify my furtiveness, even reverse it. Rather than try to avoid people, I can pretend I am keeping them under observation, and what is at stake is not whether they like me but some larger question of whether they can be trusted in the abstract. It seems like a way to defeat self-consciousness, to disappear into a mission. Rather than feel powerless, a cog in an grueling and indifferent social machine, I can turn my observations into discoveries of other peoples secrets and wonder whether I know too much. I can start to pretend that maybe there are good reasons

23

rob horning

I often feel Im being kept in the dark. Its for my own safety. The fantasy must be common. One of the stock characters of espionage thrillers is the ordinary person caught in obscure but epochal struggles, recruited by circumstances to become a citizen spy. The scenario allows readers to vicariously experience the terror of being hunted and dehumanized within an incomprehensible mesh of state-surveillance operations as a riveting fantasy of ordinary peoples world-historical importance. Like the protagonist, the reader has the chance to be at the heart of an important fight without the trouble of having to serve in state bureaucracies or master extensive protocols and diplomatic details. With all conspiracy tales, escapism is premised paradoxically on the fantasy of knowing the real inescapable truth, the inside story, which, of course, is nothing more than an authors elaborately contrived fiction. British author Eric Ambler was a master of the nave-spy-in-over-his-head trope. He wrote an influential string of novels in the years leading up to World War II Uncommon Danger (1937), Epitaph for a Spy (1938), Cause for Alarm (1938), The Mask of Dimitrios (1939), Journey Into Fear (1940) that helped established the tenor of the murky, modern espionage thriller. All of them feature ordinary, slightly disreputable men who

24

agents without agency

more or less inadvertently end up in the middle of international conspiracies, accused of crimes they hadnt known they committed, fleeing corrupt and incompetent police, or working in coordination with other foreign agents whose trustworthiness remains undecidable. Like George Orwell, Ambler wrote from the presumption that rising fascism meant that no one was so humble or insignificant that they could remain indifferent. Fascism aimed to mobilize every facet of society for total war, which demanded an equal response to resist it. Everyone was implicated, thus anyone could be thrust into action. The 1930s brought the kind of war where every member of society was indiscriminately targeted for death from above. This would provoke a climate of militant prudence and ambient mistrust in which, say, British citizens were expected to destroy any household maps and falsify local signage to confuse expected invaders. Amblers novels reflect this growing anxiety over protecting information, brought on both by technological developments that made it easier to disseminate information and by the entangled complexity that dispersed relevant data across a broader populace. In Epitaph for a Spy, the protagonists mere possession of a camera embroils him in an intelligence investigation, and he is forced to scheme how to unmask a foreign agent. Cause for

25

rob horning

Alarm centers on a machine-company sales rep who finds himself with access to sensitive armament data. Graham, the hero of Journey Into Fear, is targeted for assassination because his engineering work makes him know too much when war breaks out. Amblers protagonists rarely know that they know something important; the news is generally broken to them through a violent attack or an arrest. They then learn they have become intelligence agents against their will they have become the unwitting conduit of vital knowledge that can be transmitted through them without their necessarily being capable of understanding its broader importance. But ignorance isnt an excuse for indolence. Ambler makes a point of contrasting his protagonists with the professional spies who come to their aid. The seasoned agents insist on the blundering, useless ignorance of the protagonists and the urgency of their unshirkable mission nonetheless: You have no idea what you are doing, but no one but you can do this. The protagonists are left scrambling to act in the absence of the knowledge that would give their actions meaning. In this they resemble economic agents in the vision of a market economy in Friedrich Hayeks The Use of Knowledge in Society. Only local arbitrageurs have pertinent knowledge, but this knowledge is always partial until it is fed into the larger processing system of the market, which spits out the truly rational analysis.
26

agents without agency

The resulting price movements reveal how well our activities were coordinated. So while Hayek is eager to celebrate the arbitrageur every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made he concedes that the most significant fact about this system is the economy of knowledge with which it operates, or how little the individual participants need to know in order to be able to take the right action. Amblers characters are caught in this apparent contradiction that what they know is both meager and all-important. They are positioned in the midst of an epistemological shift that accompanies the growing logistical complexity of the economy and the globalized interconnection of states and firms. Their actions constitute information (knowing what) without knowledge (knowing how or why). For individuals, what it means to know something has more to do with who receives the message than with our mastery of the facts. It may be pleasant to know things, but circulating the knowledge makes it real and effective. This condition unveils inconsistencies in the ideology of individual agency, which is both insisted upon and nullified in capitalist society. Individualist ideology demands that our choices constitute outcomes, but the complexity and interconnectedness of society makes clear causality impossible to establish.
27

rob horning

Amateur spies, however, face no such contradiction. They can enjoy action without knowing the stakes. They distract themselves through the imagined mastery of various elementary pieces of tradecraft, a psychological feint that foreshadows how the gee-whiz technology of the social Web now helps excuse its intrusiveness. Ooh, neat. Im tailing somebody. Im making a dead drop. My phone tells me where my friends are. Social media has, after all, acclimated us to the milieu of everyday espionage that has no apparent goal. We are not identifying and tagging people in photographs to fight the Nazis. We are not spreading gossip in Tweets to keep the next domino from falling in Asia. Instead, like Amblers amateur spies, we are caught up in a frenzy of disclosures while having little power to synthesize them or implement the synthesis to effect social change. Instead of the righteous paranoia that leads to criticality, we forget about the implications of being under surveillance oneself by constantly assuming an active role in surveilling, feeding information into the cloud so that unfathomable commercial processing may ensue.

We have come to take for granted comprehensive lateral surveillance. We have grown used to regarding friends as also spies, whose allegiance is uncertain;

28

agents without agency

they are agents who are liable to identify us in photographs, keep tabs on our whereabouts, spread misinformation or disinformation in permanent, public forums on our behalf or to our detriment, who can be sure? Even intimates can become inadvertent double or triple agents in the infinite regress of strategies and counterstrategies in our intricate social-media self-presentations, which we can never really be sure arent false-flag operations. Why do people share what they share? And since they know I will be asking that question, how has that affected their choice to express that enthusiasm over that Stanley Cup playoff game, or Obamas kill list, or the kale they had for dinner? How do I respond? Everything is a move in a complicated game that social-media surveillance makes sure we are always playing. Control over even our own identity slips away from us, as we lose sense of what is spontaneous and what is mere tactical performance in the midst of such recursive reflexivity. We sense our own fragile fakeness, which can only confirm our suspicions of others. During the Cold War, lateral surveillance was figured in the Western imagination as a matter of Stasi files and sullen paranoia, with repressive governments forcing terrorized citizens to point fingers at one another. In the Facebook era, though, no one has to march us into a interrogation room on trumped-up charges to start us spying.
29

rob horning

Surveillance has been sugarcoated as considerate sharing, as inclusive fun. When you talk about your medical conditions, for instance, you arent tipping off possible insurers on rescission opportunities but building community and offering hope to the similarly afflicted. If nothing else, social media have made us acutely aware of just how much information we can supply, how theres room for the most mundane minutia regardless of whether we can perceive its significance. Given the way communication is productivity in the network society, we feel the pressure to document all of what we know and are sensitive to the rewards of such diligent reporting the measurable attention, the approving reactions of our followers, the fleeting sense of having done something useful. We record data about ourselves and acquaintances with almost unthinking candor in exchange for a sense of social inclusion, rationalizing the belief that being included can simply mean being watched. We are continually faced with the tension between paying due social attention to our friends and making them incidental spying targets a dilemma that falls under what security experts call collateral intrusion: accidentally spying on unintended targets. Since we all have a broadcast channel to program and since our social participation (and, increasingly, our economic worth) is measured

30

agents without agency

in terms of how well we fill it, we begin to see the people around us as persons of interest, if not outright suspicious characters. We can be spies observing other spieswhich is perhaps less ego bruising than being paparazzi trailing microcelebrities. (Though regarding the dossiers collected on us as celebrity gossip rather than the intrusion of repressive institutional apparatuses is its own ideological balm.) The documentary possibilities we all now possess through social media have started to reshape what we see a phenomenon Nathan Jurgenson has dubbed the Facebook eye. We regard things more in terms of how they may be retransmitted rather than as they are. This mode of seeing makes us knowing collaborators in the creeping normalization of blanket surveillance, under the guise of our collecting local information inflected with our unique constellation of interests. Just as Hayek dreamed, social media make us all traffickers of information, with the social-media companies jockeying to become proxies for the master-processing market in aggregating all the data and supplying economic agents with rationalconclusions. The spylike pursuit of information rather than knowledge makes us function less as thinkers than processors, personal computers and inefficient,

31

rob horning

low-powered ones at that. We are not the subjects who know things or intentionally produce knowledge; we are instead means of circulation objects through which information passes with more or less noise in the signal. We become not only part of a network but part of a circuit. We are pawns in a larger game, a fly caught in the cog-wheels as Vandassy, the narrator of Amblers Epitaph for a Spy, puts it.
Amblers protagonists are not the rational agents either in the plots his novels unfold; they are subsumed into a larger system. They believe that they are serving a higher cause, but the same logic that drove them into espionage assures that they can never be certain. The actual rational subject, the entity that knows, is a corporate or national one beyond the comprehension of any individual caught in the chaos of unfolding events. In our case, the entity that knows is a social-media company or an algorithm that can parse all the data weve supplied. A passage from Epitaph for a Spy illustrates Amblers grasp of espionage not a matter of ingenious field agents but of a systemic process involving a legion of undetectable, unremarkable men scattered through everyday life. But then you couldnt expect a spy to look like a spy however a spy was supposed to look.
32

agents without agency

He didnt advertise his trade. All over Europe, all over the world, men were spying, while in government offices other men were tabulating the results of the spies labors: thicknesses of armor plating, elevation angles of guns, muzzle velocities, details of fire-control mechanisms and rangefinders, fuze efficiencies, details of fortifications, positions of ammunition stores, disposition of key factories, landmarks for bombers. The world was getting ready to go to war. For the spies, business was good.

And for Facebook, business is good too. Though we are all enmeshed in the spy business, the scary thing is that the efficiency it discovers has nothing to do with individual thriving, social justice, or any other of the silly limited human aspirations. In Amblers world, the equilibrium the intelligence-sorting machine seeks under the guise of preserving itself may serve only to accommodate war and expedite killing. In our world, we serve the flourishing of markets for their sake and their incomprehensible ends. If we accept the consolations of the spy game, and embrace the sort of self-conception it structures, then we also concede that we are without agency. We are content to serve as a subroutine in a much larger program that we have no ability to direct. The incentives we experience stem not from some inner yearning; they dont reflect the urge to exercise our will. Instead they are the means by which we are programmed to continue in our information-transmission functions. Any sense of
33

rob horning

personal mission shrinks to local tactics for keeping our intelligence pipeline flowing. Since we cant understand the purpose of all the information we can gather, the only meaningful metric is more. As spies we come to learn that we are safest of all when we have nothing to hide and no one to protect. In a brutally competitive, atomizing economy where we perform ourselves to survive and where we are obliged to collect as much information as we can for a market mechanism that works for no one and against everyone, were spies in a war of all against all. We are without even a side to choose.

34

The Future Is Female


By

samantha hinds
In the recent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy remake, women are nowhere and everywhere

A tea-soaked palette floods recession London. In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we see the khaki styles and filing boxes of an empire packing itself away. Director Tomas Alfredson, known best for his gentle adolescent vampire tale (Let the Right One In, 2008), stays orthodox to neither John le Carrs text nor the sonorous lurch of the films TV predecessor. Alfredson instead stacks rapid visual clues, beginning with a title sequence of offbeat jazz to underpin chain-smoking functionaries. With its singsong suspense among the classified stacks, Tinker has a bureaucratic bebop. Alfredson, a Swede, in an admitted second-language evasion, storyboards with the comic-book cuts of a kid who ran straight past the Oxford Classics to Tin Tin.

36

samantha hinds

In Tinker, the Cold War strikes soothing, senile hues: mint, rose, brown. Le Carrs MI6, dubbed the Circus, stands in brick and imperial ivory, its ponds marred by dead leaves. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, born 1971, resurrects 1973 through a dusky haze of cigarette smoke and locker-room steam. Despite a lively pace, weary tones pervade. Wiretappers huddle under red-veined ecru maps. Even bleak Soviet torture is conducted in a pastel room where a bun-haired monitor crisply folds her newspaper. As Vclav Havel said when asked to recall the 1970s on the other side of the Curtain, The first half of the decade is a single, shapeless fog. Tinkers plot turns on the search for a KGB mole, but le Carrs story really invokes dying glory specifically, the duty and defeat of a Blitz-battered old guard under amoral new management. Gary Oldmans George Smiley, the cast-off spy brought back to investigate a possible double agent, is accordingly reduced and ruminative. We see him don oversize frames that highlight under-eye bags and jowls. He is a disheveled pensioner on an empty bed whose emotional range peaks at silent gagging. Compare this to televisions Smiley: an arch Alec Guinness, playing the entire scale of upper-crust talk with a percussive lilt. Directed by John Irvin, the 1979 BBC serialization of Tinker suited only the ascetic. Viewers had to commit to six claustrophobic

37

the future is female

hours of calculated old-man maneuvers in thickly wallpapered rooms. The matryoshka doll of the series title sequence, nesting and revealing, indicated its nature: cramped but analytically gratifying in the extreme. The late Ian Richardson did dandy in aspic Bill Haydon best here: haughty, sniveling, and slim. (Colin Firths version in the new film swaggers out of turn.) BBC screenwriter Arthur Hopcraft ensured the old Smiley had a tense and inquisitive agency. Oldman working with the redacted language of writers Bridget OConnor and Peter Straughan seems stunned silent by comparison, if touchingly so. He matches Guinnesss musicality only when describing an encounter with Soviet arch-nemesis Karla. Both actors convey Smileys dignity, but only Guinness gave him carriage. The genius of the Smiley character is in his sublimation. Though under acute suspicion, Smiley is no Condor on the run. Nor, thankfully, is he an avenging codger with cudgel, avoiding spy actor Michael Caines reactionary turn to raging Harry Brown (2009). Smiley is too discreet for blood at least among his own. Forgiven his vocation, Smiley would be the witness archetype at its moral best. A custodian of unspoken codes forged in wartime, spent Smiley watches former British knightserrant be bought off by the highest bidder. Tinker thus marks the point when the rational neoliberal approach to intelligence collection ousted the
38

samantha hinds

honor-bound gentlemanly spy culture of the Second World War. The melancholy of generational irrelevance is present everywhere in Tinker. Here, we see the contemplative hero as forced retiree: beekeeper, constant gardener, chess hobbyist. Your generation, your legacy is the only call to action for these washed-out Allied code-crackers. Their descendants have proven brutal and nave, circulating faked Soviet intelligence at the peril of British lives. As Havel noted, An era of apathy and widespread demoralization began...Society was atomized, small islands of resistance were destroyed, and a disappointed and exhausted public pretended not to notice. Alfredsons film paints this mood of austerity in both the Eastern Bloc and a post-Watergate West. Despite the source materials 1970s provenance, Alfredsons interpretation of Tinker inevitably echoes our context: the Global War on Terror. After all, knights beget mercenaries. No wonder todays viewers instinctively sneer at Tinkers Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) like 24s Jack Bauer, a phlegmatic blond thug: he is the new guard incarnate, selfrighteously trading in false secrets for gain. His ugliness is apparent but also implicit, signaling a moral rabbit hole that bottoms out with Blackwater and Guantnamo. Stately Tinker is a palliative after a decade of spy films that tried to sex up sputtering

39

the future is female

hegemony. Though camp romps and rogue-assassin CGI-fests such as 2007s Bourne Ultimatum ($270 million in gross receipts) still dominate the popular spy form, a new breed has emerged to illuminate the link between clandestine activity and corporate maleficence: films like 2005s Syriana an adaptation of See No Evil, the explosively dissenting memoir of CIA operations case officer Robert Baer and le Carrs Big Pharma thriller The Constant Gardener. Though le Carr, an executive producer of Tinker, has been called a morally purblind, mean-spirited left-winger by fellow ex-spy Reuel Marc Gerecht, intelligence veterans generally applaud le Carrs fiction for its healthy institutional cynicism. Each new le Carr adaptation reminds civilians of a critical need for crossover between political analysis and popular art. This means more than Stella Rimington, former MI5 head, becoming chair of the 2011 Man Booker Prize. This also means more than Stasi file subject Timothy Garton Ash burying his insights on cinematic verdichtet (concentration) and political reality deep within a New York Review of Books review of The Lives of Others (2006). Popular discourse needs its Graham Greenes, its Havels in reverse. Maybe disenchanted security-studies students will soon eschew private consultancy suites to instead make Hollywood magic. They can make bank, after all, compared with peers who perform
40

samantha hinds

divinatory analysis for Langley: Tinker has already pulled in over $10 million. A recurring graffiti screed in Tinker The Future Is Female is a last gasp of Godard, conceding in cruel prelude to Thatcher. (And indeed, Jack Foley of Focus Features has stated that he staged Tinker as a box-office entre to PG-13 competitor The Iron Lady.) This image is a fantastic subliminal jab, as Alfredson ensures throughout the film that Smileys wife Ann remains completely unseen. Unlike spy fictions typical berating hearth harpy (see Angelina Jolie in 2006s The Good Shepherd), Ann is not a main character. More pivotal is our one MI6 female, expert Sovietologist Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke). Her character is based on real-life researcher Millicent Bagot, a Cassandra of sorts who incisively first spotted British spook Kim Philbys notorious defection. In the 1979 series, Connie is played by an apple-cheeked Beryl Reid. But Alfredson makes his smart Connie wasted and dowdy, her game-changing insight reduced to weird mammary paroxysms: All my boys. All my lovely boys, she murmurs, even when said boys have crushed her vocation. Meanwhile, Sir Percy impassively butters his toast. Her boys are gone. The new style in spy cinema has been one of a tactical sexuality that is corporatized and weaponized. Rather than gentlemanly, it is
41

the future is female

positionally coded as female, an aesthetic that has its apotheosis in Nikita culture. Positionally, because it is all too easy for todays viewers to imagine Tinkers Haydon and his many sexual conquests remapped onto the ruthless playbook of a female spy. There is less separating Vesper Lynd from Lynndie England than we think. As agents, women are usually portrayed as either Amazonian young rough (Nikita, Hannah) or complicit iron lady (Madeline, Marissa). The only recent deviation from ladies playing game theory in Prada was in Salt (2010), a pleasant spell of androgynous agency (without even the apologetic maternal arc of Tarantinos assassin in Kill Bill). Tinker in its new iteration can be read as a lament over the depletion of tactical sexuality. Libido, having been abused and corrupted, is finally drained. Connie gets ditched by the academic-cumgovernment career machine, Smiley is cuckolded by his home-fire bride, and Soviet defector Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova) gets snuffed out for cracking the Natasha archetype. Austerity kills nearly everyone in spy films. Spy drama has always relied on its Spartans to conserve the homeland, while destroying home life. Richard Burton, as le Carr character Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), complains that spies are a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like

42

samantha hinds

me: little drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands. In Tinker, homes are broken and life cycles hiccup: Smiley and Connie drink Johnny Walker like good Churchill men and stare impassively at teenagers nearly screwing on a nearby couch. Young men, too, make sacrifices to the maw of Saturn and state. Easily the saddest scene in Tinker is also its quietest: when mod, boyish Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) Smileys straight man, whom Alfredson has cleverly made gay must by precaution dismiss his lover, whom he tidies up from a dimly lit domestic kitchen. Theres a woman, proclaims assumed turncoat Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) in classic spy trope. Ricki invokes the feral id of the 1960s in port-side Istanbul (switched from the originals Hong Kong) to the tune of Blood, Sweat & Tears Spinning Wheel. To paraphrase Eric Ambler, Ricki is the ape to Peters velvet. As wronged man, he seethes, channeling Hitchcocks version of John Buchans 39 Steps (1935). But if Ricki is messily libidinous, he is sympathetically so, sneaking into Smileys dark house in sneakers and blue jeans like a returned prodigal son. I want a family, thank you, Tarr declares righteously. I do not want to end up like you lot. Smiley protects this rogue scalphunter for upholding good old English chivalry toward a bloodied Russian moll. This safe harbor despite tactical risk is explicit value reinforcement, drawing
43

the future is female

a sad parallel between the capacity for action of the pre- and post-corporatized spy. Tinkers young elites debate brutal counterintelligence stratagems around a ruined round table, presented in a garish orange safe room instead of hushed parlor or dusty office. Only a single crystal decanter hints at spycrafts old gentility. Once called the infantry of our ideology by le Carr, these new intelligence officials are commanded by bad faith. And their atomized greed has real consequences: We see a botched operation in a Budapest arcade that becomes tremulous ambush, leaving an infant suckling its dead mother. Notably, le Carrs novel featured a front office full of the mothers. In the film, older women like Connie spend their fertile years on ascending beyond the secretarial pool. Iron ladies get no heroic denouement. Once depleted, they are passed off as hysterics and discarded. Austerity kills: The new Tinker reorients the spy-film genre to those classic poles of libido depletion in service to the corporate state: wasted young valor and bleached old servants of the good. Austerity in the sexual register is immensely, disdainfully cruel.

44

Shines Like Gold (excerpts)


By

imp kerr

From: ShUwH Subject: SHEx Initiation Ritual Date: August 16, 2010 4:58:37 PM EDT -000000 To: jsyrup@psprite.com Message-ID: {unknown} FILE C. Recovered from Jerry Syrups computer: Preliminary Notes on an Initiation Ritual to expedite Attunement of new members into S-HEx Working Group (PowerD.) of the New York Shex Branch of the SHE|| Order; by ShUwH, . {} Quotation: This ritual is not intended for use as-is, but rather as a jumping-off place for inspiration.

46

Entrants are encouraged to experiment with this ritual ex malo bonum until such time as they are ready to reify it as a personal rite, otherwise called extraordinary daytime rite [ShUwH Note: staybehind operations]. End of the Rite of the SHEx: The order was first called the Order of SHE, and was a fairly shortlived and controversial society formed Oct. 15, 2007, circa Tribeca, in Soho, Manhattan, New York, by Imp Kerr, aided by Aloha Covert (real name: Aloysia Covert-Waught) et alii (I. Warm, Chiquita, T-Symmetric), suppressed in 2009, and entirely disappeared by the close of 2010. It is now established that was not primarily (first and foremost) involved in the fabrication of , which evidently was not founded by Imp Kerr or any other similar authority, though it pirated and/or paraphrased their rituals and at one time or another had a number of prominent in the downtown Manhattan [sic] branch. Stereohell has received many public from several sources by reason of the deviations of Stereohell, however, sycophants encouraged the idea that Stereohell and stereohell were the same [see glossary notes, pp. 51-55]. For details on the lives of Kerr and CovertWaught, citations were made [ibid. IV, p. 70] in the general text but, since SHEx was their creation

47

and developed as they directed, their acts need to, and will, be further discussed [inconclusive]. {} Source: COMINT (not verified, see p. 402 (1010) 56; cf. note 5). Imp Kerr conceived the idea of founding an order which would increase stereo, lay the foundation for an INTELLIGIBLE AND INEXPLICABLE (so-called) SYSTEM, and by this mean, create new worlds, devise new splendors, oppose Wittgenstein and Science Ltd, among others, and such, all of which objectives being expressed in holograms, sound signals, texts, and names, notably , , and , which were changed to ulterior SHEx, which was translated as Stereo Hell Easy come by the FBI Decryption Team, and Stereohell or stereohell by the Signals Intelligence Service of the US Army. {} She was too shrewd and subtle for her own good, though such qualities gave her headway for a time. {} Of particular interest is the attempt by Imp Kerr (born Kerr) to fly with little knowledge of human aerodynamics. Kerr sought the aid of T-Symmetric to give her machine both propulsion and ballast, but it dragged her down without helping SHEx very much, researchers say [verbatim]. {} [III.1a] This report introduces a brief synopsis of

48

the palindrome theory, which proves [invalidated in 2009, see p. 58] the existence of activities and establishes the fact that the twin area [S-19 and S-75], which is noted for a high incidence of unexplained sightings, is located off the eastern Atlantic coast of the United States. [III.1b] Witness [redacted]. [redacted] was a B-1 pilot in [redacted] (the name of his carrier air wing was not released) till three years ago [2008]. When in active duty he brought girls to the Art Basel from New York, officially for organizing a house party, but two days after he arrived, said he, he saw a black plane with a white jellyfish logo landing, refueling, boarding the girls he brought up there and taking off. It was singular, normally the periods between the landing and the take off is longer, said he. Two hours before leaving he had a little chat with an A-2 pilot about that and he told him, joking, that maybe they were going to S*HE|| 1. He laughed but later on he visited a web page dedicated to S*HE|| 1 and S*HE|| 2 and he saw a picture of a playmate similar to one of the girls he flew to Miami, FL. Nota Bene: S*HE|| 1 was finally beset by both internal and external disorders, for found fault with some of s ritualistic work and peremptorily ordered to cease, whereupon resigned. Eventually all S*HE|| raised opposition, so much that
49

FILES B. (Mirror files)

[redacted] eradicated [redacted] by edict, end of Oct. 2009. B2. A floor plan showing S-19 and S-75, both located within S-19 and S-75.

Following page: Polaroids: B1. The arrival of Rubi Possolipo at S-19. B1. Inside the tilted room at S-19.

50

EEK! In 2009, speculations that might attempt to kill Imp Kerr intensified. Intelligence officials warned that had arranged her imminent physical elimination in Manhattan, and the massacre of her memory, verbatim and gist. When an airplane crashed near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, killing all the passengers, decided that Kerr was onboard and died in that crash. A communiqu reporting her tragic death circulated via fictitious announcements on official web sites and bogus articles in newspapers. She got a new name and new authentic documentation with her new identity, was removed to an undisclosed location, never returned to New York.

52

The stereohell portfolio was acquired by Steve DePatie upon Imp Kerrs death in 2009. The folios were numbered from 1 to 115, yielding a total of 222 pages. The text was approximately 45,000 words in length. It used a lexicon of 23,046 words. It was divided into sections, which were broken into segments which were broken into paragraphs. The number of segments was changing at each new reading from five to around five hundred chapters, depending on how many times you read the entire text. Further examination of the structure of the text revealed patterns similar to female hormonal cycles. Twenty-seven different styles of writing were identified, and each segment (or stage) could be decomposed into six disjoint levels (a senary system of waves, or parallel planes)the randomness at which the levels were interlaced is not fully explained; for example, in the segment titled HOPE, reproduced herein, one inactive level is randomly reactivated twice, before undergoing recombination with three other levels. A fragmentary and unauthorized publication of stereohell was made by Kirsopp Snake in 2010. It was a full-sized black and white facsimile of 46 pages of the portfolio, made by editing bits
53

collected online. Snake did not have access to the portfolio, which is still in the possession of Steve DePatie. These 46 pages concern principally S-52 and the activities that took place at Wax & Bobs (WB) and its vicinities. Punctuation and gramma errors are included. Individual facsimiles should be read for greater comprehension. PROTOCOLS

Pattern comparisons between stereohell and female hormonal cycles.


54

The S-52 protocol has been revised to reflect the following correction: initiate contact on more than one occasion contact you for no particular reason ask your advice apologize more than once sew your mouth together at the inside of the lips (the needle is brought out through one of your nostrils) drain the contents of your abdominal and chest cavities with a trocar and replace the removed matter with cavity fluid The S-52 hyperprotocol (ten times faster): torch your future DISPATCH In the late 90s, the fortune dispatched gritty Chiquita in the MPD to institute . After many a summer and considerable tribulations, she started the Wax & Bobs phase. In 2002 and onward she brought to her aid the assistance
55

of T-Symmetric, Malibu, and Billie, whose girlfriend, a dream interpreter, was named Joanna. The girls were extremely secretive, identifying themselves and their routine by assumed simple words Chiquita was You, the headquarters was Green, New York City was The Angry Dragon, T-Symmetric was Exact, etc. Dates were given in a sort of retro-code, phone numbers were translated into peptide sequences. The admission procedure was binary and consisted of 1) Five fuck off, and 2) Pain. Wax & Bobs was very popular and attracted a disproportionate percentage of males. By July 2007, it had 158 names on its rolls.

1. Chiquita pulls up her strapless bra as she gets ready for morning yoga, ca. 2005.

2-3. Two different readings.

56

A connection was made the same year in Dumbo, through Covert, a highly sensual and intellectual young woman, and Ingrid Warm, daughter of R. Warm, and in 2008, Chiquita was introduced to Kerr, who received full access to all of Chiquitas material in 2009. S-52 A dozen of female caretakers were working at S-52 (initially S-56). They were cutting firewood, entertaining patrons, working up pavlovian theories. They were told that taste is made of a thousand distastes. As the WB letterhead put it, the S-52 provided systems and services in the MPD; Or, in the words of ,It was similar to a private stereohell. S-52 was a small facility constructed on a trapezoidshaped pet cemetery from the early 19th Century, around a wolf s den, located on Little West 12 Street. It had three floors and a basement level. All the six large rooms were separated by bulletproof doors. It was originally a cantina providing 75,000 kilocalories per day, before being refurbished into a shrine devoted to kinks. It is mentioned by Novalis Heinrich von Ofterdingen was Henrich von

57

S-52 and in 1848, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the underground man, strangled a raunchy skank with a choking fetish in the kitchen, stabbed him in the freezer and cooked him, wholly, with duck and puttana sauce. The dish was named Siberia Rockefeller. The recipe is found in The Aspern Papers. Its sorbet variant was patented in 1975 by J. F. Shelton (Hereafter Billy Gumm) under the name Force 5 Nu York Fyodor.

4. (An example of memory manipulation.) Before.

5. (An example of memory manipulation.) After.

58

decided to close down S-52 following

a major incident of subversion. The inspection report mentioned cross contaminations, disgust, boredom, and death. S*H//1 security unit raided S-52 and found BDSM safety manuals, ropes, dentist utensils, broken bones and wax materials inside the freezers, a machine with an X-ray emblem on it, classified documents stored in conditions conductive to propagation, and high dose mixtures of midazolam and ketamine in close proximity to threaded plunger syringes (with traces of blood evidencing memory manipulation). Chiquita reopened S-52 in 2002. First she hired T-Symmetric, at the time when she was banging asses in video booths for 50 bucks a pop. She learned bondage by doing it and before long she could make the Williamsburg Bridge out of ropes. She recruited Malibu in 2005. Malibu had milking nipples. She was nicknamed Terminator after midnight. She recruited Billie in 2006, an expert in cupping, verbal abuse, subversive sexuality, jeet kune do, and hair pulling. Sixty percent of her body was tattooed. They were all pre-op and on hormones for years. Among the big time regulars was Jimmy Brodkey, a loner, a retired FBI profiler, an out-of-controller. The man was bearing a pompadour, smiling yellow

59

teeth, smelling shrimp. He was living on his FBI pension, up in the Upper West Side. He was like, Honk honk! Meep meep! Tut tut! He was calling the girls the aged sisters, and before paying, the aged sisters draw us into life: over us dead they bend. He was a beast of burden, fuming, bi-dual, internecine. He was a broken TV screen, serving as a symbol of the universe as a struggle between sinvilisation and gross. He was that one bruise you dont know how you got, a side-effect of your medication, a sit-down and a discussion about his self and your sad self. He was using busty as a noun. He had a bank account at WaMu. And so they thought he was engaged in the collection of information for the purpose of subversion. He was recording his voice, he was recording her voice. And he was declaring, My name is not Billy Gumm, my name is not Dart Vo, Zan Bames, Fritz Freez de la Fuente, I dont want your sympathy. How many years have you been there, Billie? Billie was valiant, for one thing. She had a busty, munificently tattooed. She was callipygian. She was lettered. She had green eyes. She was dilating all his orifices. Her new tattoo project was: This pain is your true place. And he was panting, sweating, puffing, nolo contendere, nolo contendere. And so Billie hated it. And so calmly she clutched

60

his Kants mane, and a generous clump of Derridas pubes, and enraptured, radiant, she dragged him down. So pretty turbulent a stage, in which her spirit was acting like a crazy fang, an infinite myriad of fangs, a slow vitriol, conniption. And yet this was never translated into something new. Difference and repetition. Know the knee! she hurled, Know the toe! Nolo contendere, nolo contendere Inflicting pain was easy. The difficulty was to always make the right decision about when to stop. To keep the client alive. It was not about remorse. It was edge play. Where does darkness fall? Where are the folds? Where does it crush the horizons? How does it decenter limits? In the real world these things were disapproved, but at S-52, it was really what they did hope they would get. And we knew if they had health issues, and they signed at my own risk papers. And happier than the girls they were. His first time he was like (testing), Is there a happy ending? I like the smell of balls, too Shit lickin pussy bitch! And she taught him, first physically, in Grandeur 70, how to restrain himself from touching her, talking to her, looking at her, loving her. It was like folds. Noes are like folds.

61

HOPE Billie moved from Liverpool, United Kingdom of Great Britain, to Brooklyn, New York of the United States, when she was 19. She had always been a woman but now she was experiencing insultancies and victimizations from patrons in the street which was a place where she was unknown and where she was forced to function in squalid conditions, in the rain, the cobblestones, ladies and gentlemen, the boots of shiny leather. She was hopeful, but she was freaked out. She didnt feel excited about anything. Excited, she wasnt. Wow, Lady Billie, Id blow your brains out. Something grim and deviant could occur.

62

Under Our Skin


By

Giovanni Tiso
Smartphones bring just-in-time efficiency and corporate discipline to everything from shopping to sex slavery

Its two years ago, and Im at a bar in Wellington. A friend shows me on a map on her iPhone that that is indeed where we are. From within the app we could post this information on our respective Facebook walls, or on Twitter, FourSquare and so forth. This is the Internet now, I realize: no longer just information that travels on the TCP/IP protocol, but also the GPS-enabled handsets that track our locations in real time and enable us to upload photos of ourselves at bars in Wellington. And the social desire to share that information: that too is now part of the Internet. We want these things to be known about ourselves. We want to be followed.

64

GIOVANNI TISO

Its February 2012. A news report comes out of Italy on the traffic of women sold into prostitution from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Far East. La Repubblica journalists Enrico Bellavia and Vladimiro Polchi need only briefly mention that pimps use microchip implants and cell phones to track these women on the ground and prevent their flight. We can imagine the rest. A microchip, of the kind you might use on a dog. A cell phone, and the injunction to carry it with consequences no doubt more horrifying and brutal but otherwise not entirely unlike those that would befall many ordinary schoolage children and mobile workers, who would also face sanctions if they breached the arrangements with, respectively, their parents and employers, and dropped off the grid without adequate notice or a valid excuse. We know how it goes. We are intimately familiar with the hardware and the software involved and thoroughly habituated to how our technologies of communication can effortlessly double into instruments of control. This control comes in many varieties, ranging from practical convenience apps that help you locate your phone in case it is lost or stolen, or that accompany your child outside the home all the way down to enabling the dehumanizing violence of human traffickers. The physical device and the software I use to update my followers on my current location or make sure that
65

under our skin

little Jimmy comes straight back after school are the same that the mafia uses to keep track of Natalia, who isnt much older. Are we, in fact, inured to this? I suspect so. Soon we shall stop even noticing such things. In the meantime, while we are still marginally sensitized to it, what are we to make of this contiguity? Should it bother us? Could it be that it points to an actual continuity between consumer behavior and criminal behavior, besides what we might be inclined to consider an incidental link namely that the popularity of, in the case at hand, location services for smartphones translate directly into the availability of off-the-shelf products for those other, perverted purposes? In asking this particular question, I aim to circumvent the typical response to such issues in mainstreammedia commentary, which is to make the key discriminant one of choice versus imposition. According to this view, there is neither contiguity nor continuity: just good and bad, honest and dishonest uses of the same technologies. Technology itself is neutral, and our mode of engagement with it remains free and rational. To wit: engaging in the most remarkable acts of self-surveillance on social networks such as FourSquare is automatically good because we do so of our own free will and are conscious of the trade-offs. We exchange privacy for

66

GIOVANNI TISO

product discounts, status, or opportunities of social interaction, harming nobody in the process. By contrast, the stealth collection of data by many free smartphone apps or the routine wholesale changes to the privacy settings foisted upon Facebook users by the service are bad because even when the harm is not substantial these are (rightly) perceived as unwarranted intrusions. Within this frame, its easy to categorize the use of cell phones and microchips inserted under the skin to track the movements of women sold into prostitution as the horrifying abuse that it is: a grotesque aberration sitting at the extreme end of the spectrum of nonchoice. This analysis reflects and reinforces a fundamental ideological bias of our times, which evaluates new technologies effects on society in terms of quality of the consumer experience that is to say, through the eyes of a model consumer. This model consumer is a rational agent who makes informed choices and adopts or rejects each innovation based on its relative merits. But since technological innovation is the (by now quasi-mythical) engine of Western affluence, the model consumer must also be a well-disposed early adopter. She must not be too picky, let alone critique the economic and social system that churns out innovations at a brisk rate. If the model consumer didnt dutifully stand in line for each new iteration of the iPad, an entire way of life, the very confidence in who we are, would be called into question, with
67

under our skin

potentially catastrophic consequences. So the model consumer must adopt most new products on the market, and adopt them cheerfully. While mobile technologies do make certain everyday tasks easier or more pleasant, soon enough to justify their expense one must take a step further and regard them not just as tools for business, but as conditions for full participation in society. It starts with the simple questions: Can I afford not to own a cell phone? Would I still be employable if I didnt own one? Would I still know what is happening and get invited to parties? The next year, its owning a smart phone. Or being on Facebook. Or getting an iPad for the children. None of this is about being aspirational. Its about keeping up, an imperative sharpened by the economic crisis. So we cut expenses, but not when it comes to technology. Perhaps we eat out less, or travel less. But the cell phone which by now has become a smartphone stays. And the thing about smartphones is that in order to be fully functional they need to know where they are that is to say, where we are. This knowledge defines them. It is what makes them smart. If you dont own one of these devices yourself, you will perhaps have had the experience of being shown a map of your current location by an iPhone owner. This has happened to me at least half a dozen times: See, this is where we are. It doesnt matter

68

GIOVANNI TISO

that I thought that I knew where I was. My mental map was no match for the crisp precision of the iPhones. From that moment, being in that place meant something different. The concept of presence had been redefined. And I thought it was cool, every single time. With mobile Internet and dynamic maps come a host of location services that collectively provide greater and greater incentives for allowing the phone to constantly track your position and broadcast it to other people in your networks. In this way we keep tags on each other and keep track of each others absences. X hasnt checked in for a few days. I hope shes okay. On top of this network of distributed surveillance made up of seemingly benign small brothers and sisters watching (over) one another is another, more traditionally structured layer relating to the adoption of these technologies by companies, families, and schools to track the movements of their employees, children, and students. If I lump these terms together its because they are practically interchangeable. Companies track their mobile workers electronically to ensure operational efficiency; families track their children electronically to make sure that they are safe and dont venture where they are not supposed to; schools track their students electronically to improve security and discourage truancy. But these
Geotagging ones tweets seem to be especially popular at the moment. I wrote this, and I wrote it here. It is no longer simply an utterance, but an utterance with longitude and latitude. This will enrich communication, somehow.

69

under our skin

arent different kinds of surveillance. They are all ultimately about controlling bodies in space. They are about enforcing compliance by making the subjects constantly visible and aware that they are being watched. It doesnt matter that not all companies, not all families, and certainly not all schools do this. The fact that some of them do, that what 15, 10, perhaps as little as five years ago would have struck us as dystopian fantasies have become routine arrangements, is what we must account for. And there are the calls to extend them further, to make them universal, integrated in the system by default. A coronial inquest on the death by suicide of a bullied teenager in Rotorua, New Zealand, has recently heard that spy software by a company called MyFone could be installed on all New Zealand cell phones for $200,000, allowing parents logging onto the companys website to see any calls or texts made to and from the phone and providing a tracking service so that they can find out where their child is at any time. The coroner hasnt made such a recommendation not yet at any rate but that the advice of MyFone was even sought speaks loudly about the present cultural moment. We may see in this a return to panopticism, a revival of some of the institutions of the disciplinary society school, family, workplace that were
70

GIOVANNI TISO

judged to be in terminal crisis by Gilles Deleuze when he sketched the outlines of the society of control. But if this is the case, then it is a distributed, fluid panopticism in which the subjects under surveillance are also agents of surveillance both of themselves and in relation to other subjects. In the meantime, the physical confines of those historical institutions have largely broken down. The workplace, most of all, is wherever and whenever you happen to be, so long as you remain visible, present, connected to the network, a configuration that relies on self-surveillance as the chief mode of control. Thus it is principally through the social networks, as opposed to the technologies that detect, track, and broadcast our physical location, that this control is deployed. There is more value in those subjective utterances (I have boarded the plane, Im in the meeting or even Im going to bed) than in the objective real-time logging and plotting of our exact longitude and latitude, for the former also reveal our state of mind as well as the willingness to remain connected and to keep sharing that information a coded layer of meta-surveillance that is essential to the functioning of the system. We want these things to be known about ourselves. We want to be followed, both metaphorically for this is the primary meaning that the word has on Twitter and literally, when we broadcast our coordinates
71

under our skin

for the world to know. GPS is just an instrument, an adjunct.

You may have noticed, and objected to, the blanket use of the pronoun we in this essay. Ordinarily I would argue that participation in the networks is anything but equal, that they are biased toward describing a certain type of subject. But it is important to recognize that the staggering statistics about the adoption of Internet technologies say, the number of people who have a Facebook profile (900 million people, at last count) or the number of iPhones sold (the figure of 108 million is over one year old) indicate the extent to which this distributed-surveillance infrastructure has overlaid the older technologies and modalities of communication and socialization. There is very little outside of this particular text, and non-participation isnt a meaningful option. Unless we acknowledge the totalizing reach of the networks, we might view the use of microchips and cell phones to track the movement of an enslaved workforce as an aberration as opposed to the seamless extension of the logic of the networks themselves and of the economic system that underlies them.

72

GIOVANNI TISO

Because in the final analysis this, too, is neoliberalism, with its global flows of reprogrammable labor and its all-pervading circuits of control. The trafficked women in the La Repubblica expos were first trained in Cyprus and Serbia before doing an internship in Russia, during which their earning capacity was tested and evaluated. Then they were delivered to their final destination, be it Italy, France, the Netherlands, or some other country where they would be exploited for maximum gain. Like in any ordinary, well-functioning modern workplace, technology has helped enable faster communication and make the system more efficient, reducing the lags and the downtime as much as the loss or displacement of staff. I dont mean any of this glibly. This isnt a happy story, but it is an emblematic one and ought to encourage us to question the stubbornly popular myth that the Internet is the place to pursue individual and collective freedom, to socialize, organize and mobilize, to be creative or articulate a more progressive politics. It may be some of those things, some of the time. But it is primarily, and in far more deeply embedded, structural ways, a technology of control suited to the stage of capitalism and the political, social, and cultural moment that produced it. Left alone, it will naturally tend to reproduce the conditions that enabled it to emerge and flourish.

73

under our skin

Any critique of those conditions including the feral globalization that makes it possible to source, train, and trade sex slaves by the thousands through a network spanning half the planet will also have to be nothing less than a critique of the Internet and its distinctive and immensely powerful social configurations.

74

Our Man In Great Neck


by

Danny penny

An American grandparent recalls infiltrating the Soviet Union disguised as an ordinary tourist from Long Island

Some of the names in this piece are real (those of my grandparents, a well-known activist, and a celebrity). Others have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals who were involved but who may not want to be named.

Serge sat in a metal chair in a cramped office, trying to avoid staring at the KGB agent sitting across from him. He focused on his own shoes instead, chunky, ugly things, not quite the desirable Nikes hed seen a young man wear the day before. The KGB agent narrowed his eyes and ran his tongue over his beige teeth, letting the hums of the air duct and the squeaks of the suspects chair fill the empty room.

76

danny penny

Your request for emigration has been denied, the agent said. He turned the knob of a small television set resting on his desk and adjusted the screen so that both men would be able to see the image. Do you know why youve been denied? he asked as the TV tubes warmed up. Serge shook his head silently. A middle-aged couple materialized on the screen. The woman carried a large bag and the man wore a tight tennis shirt tucked into casual slacks clearly not from the USSR. Do you recognize the two people in this video? Serge shook his head, trying to look away. Are you sure they dont look familiar? the man pressed. He spat his words out as if they had curdled in his mouth. Their names are Murray and Helene Cohen, known Zionist spies, he said. You have been recorded associating with them. He pointed to the TV screen, his finger tapping the glass with dull thunks. Tell me what you know about them and you might not go to prison. My grandmother only heard this story years after it occurred. The man whod attempted to emigrate was the brother of a refusenik she and my grandfather had met in the Soviet Union. More than 20 years later, they found themselves sharing a table with Serge at the bar mitzvah of some mutual friends grandchild. Theyd had a file on him and everyone he knew, a binder of grainy xeroxes filled with the miniature life stories of more than a hundred families

77

our man in great neck

whod been refused exit from the Soviet Union because they were Jewish, or dissidents, or both. Some had been sent to prison camps in Siberia; others were kept under constant surveillance, their homes bugged, their comings and goings recorded by a sprawling, state apparatus a drab, yellow fog settling over their lives. These people were desperate to leave, but few were ever allowed. In June 1982, my grandparents, Murray and Helene Cohen, traveled to the Soviet Union as part of a secret mission headed by the Great Neck chapter of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry in

78

danny penny

order to pass information and contraband goods to Jews attempting to leave Russia. A few years ago, my grandmother moved with my late grandfather from their house in Great Neck, the home base for their Soviet operations, to the once swinging and now mostly walker-pushing North Shore Towers. When I step into her apartment, my grandma immediately hands me a Greek yogurt, and with a spoon in my mouth, we sift through stacks of fat manilla envelopes filled with binders, photo-albums, and scraps of memorabilia from the trip/mission. My grandma explains how she first heard one of her co-conspirators, who well call Lisa Sanger, give a speech during a Shabbat service at her temple. The organization attracted her because when she and my grandpa joined, they were respectively the second and third members. I didnt want to be part of something where the secretary stood up and read the minutes from last weeks meeting and then everybody voted on this measure or that, she explained. If we decided we wanted to do something, I wanted to be able to do it, not spend all day debating it. My grandmother neglects to mention some of her other personal reasons behind the trip. At the time, she and my mother were estranged because of my mothers relationship with my father, whose appearance my grandma has

79

danny penny

described as similar to a homeless Jesus. At the same time, my uncle was just starting to come out of the closet, a process my grandfather refused to acknowledge, literally walking out of the room to run an errand when my uncle attempted the talk. Their nest was not merely empty, it was barren. While my grandmother would never connect her strained relationships with her children to her decision to go the Soviet Union, I think the situation of their cathexis is worth mentioning. Who better to replace your children with than the entire Jewish population of the Soviet Union? Their plan was relatively simple: my grandparents would go on a regular tour of the Soviet Union, stopping in seven cities across Russia and Ukraine. During the day, they would pretend to be just like everyone else, but at night they would secretly meet with people who their organization had already contacted in order to distribute the items theyd brought. In preparation, my grandparents attempted to learn a few key phrases in Russian, which my grandmother consistently referred to as the cyrillic language when I talked to her. However, this preparation turned out to be pretty basic, and for much of the trip, they relied upon refusenik translators and the handful of sentences theyd memorized. They were not CIA material.

81

our man in great neck

Unfamiliar Customs We were requested to bring in quite a few things into the Soviet Union: one man wanted a shortwave radio, one man wanted a book by Henry Kissinger, another wanted a photography book. As people came out, they brought the requests of refuseniks who were still there, and we tried to follow through. So when we arrived at customs to leave the U.S., we decided that your grandfather and I would go on different lines. My valise was packed so that it looked casual, but certain things were hidden if customs started to open it up. Well, I got through my line and I met our group at the other end. And Grandpa, they open his valise and the first thing they see is a big book by Kissinger and they didnt understand, so they said, Why do you have this book? I like to read, he says. And why do you have a shortwave radio? Because I want to hear the news from the United States. But the crme de resistance was when they opened photography book and saw pictures of nude women that was it. So they kept him there, questioning him a good 10 or 15 minutes, while I was already on the other side. And my group leader said to me, Who is that person? and I said, I have no idea. Moscow Mule During the weeks to follow, my grandparents saw the sights and pretended to be an ordinary American
82

danny penny

couple on vacation, taking snapshots of Moscow out the window of their tour bus. To ingratiate themselves to their tour guides and hotel clerks, they used their Polaroid camera, a novelty many of the Russians had never seen. Its instant magic softened even the stoniest faces. They went to the markets, admired the views, and tried to eat the food like everyone else, but in the evening, they lived another life. I had one of these Le Sac bags which expanded, and in that bag, I carried blue jeans, womens pantyhose, and other things to sell on the black market. A pair of blue jeans could keep a family going, I think, for six months at that time. And so when we left the room, we took with us these bags we actually looked like hobos. We didnt talk in the rooms about anything that was particularly dangerous because all the rooms were bugged. In fact, there were light switches that didnt turn on lights. We knew something was wrong. And we would not make any outside calls while we were in the room. We had to leave our passports at the front desk, though we carried xeroxes wed made in the U.S. and when we left the hotel, we would give the key lady our key... The key ladies were the most suspicious people of all because we never went out with the other people in the group in the evening. But because the bureaucracy was so awful in each area, nobody bothered to talk to
83

our man in great neck

police in the following area. We were incompetent, and so were they. When we got out of the room, we walked down two blocks or so, and we used a public telephone and called somebody and told them we were coming. I remember we used a dime, which was equivalent to the size of a kopeck. To hail a cab, your grandfather held up either a pack of Camels or Philip Morris cigarettes because this was a very desirable thing to have. And all of a sudden, cabs zoomed in from all over, when you just held up something like that. We would write the addresses on little bits of paper they were really less than the

84

danny penny

wrapping of a cigarette and we would hide it in the hem of our clothes. We got in the cab and tore the paper in half and gave the driver the cyrillic instructions. When we arrived at the address, your grandfather would sit in the cab, and I would go out to these buildings and I would have to ask somebody in the cyrillic language, Where is so and so? I only knew a few sentences. So that was part of our training, which was really inept; we bungled along like Peter Sellers, but we went. We

85

our man in great neck

also developed codes for everybody that we saw, and I developed so many codes that I forgot what the codes stood for. Ida and the Orange On one of our first nights, we were at Lev Blechshteins apartment with a lot of people, and we were giving away whatever we had in our knapsack. We gave pantyhose, tea, coffee coffee was very difficult to get in those days. Even in the hotel, you only got one little demi-cup of coffee no refills. And while we were there, Ida Nudel arrived. She was really the vanguard for people who wanted to get out of the Soviet Union. She had hung up a banner on her window that read Let my people go! and because of that, she was sent to a Siberian prison camp for years. She slept with an ax under her pillow because there were wild dogs, thieves, rapists, and cut throats. But she knew that we were coming, so she managed to somehow arrange to get to Levs place. At the beginning of the trip, my grandparents had a layover in Finland, where my grandmother had received a navel orange from the airline. She had stowed it in her knapsack for later and forgotten about it, only remembering it when she saw it nestled in a pile of womens undergarments at Levs place. She fished the orange out and tossed it to Ida Nudel with little ceremony. Ida handled the

86

our man in great neck

orange gingerly, rolling it over in hands, smelling its skin, squeezing it in her palm. She cracked the seal around the bellybutton and the room filled with the fragrance of a fruit a long way from home. According to my grandmother, She hadnt seen an orange in years, so they took a Polaroid of Ida Nudel using a knife to peel the orange, pith half-exposed and a childlike grin creeping across her normally stoic face. My grandparents framed an enlarged copy of the photo and kept it prominently positioned on their bookcase for years. This was a regular tourist trip in the Soviet Union and we were told to try and make friends with somebody who didnt know what we were doing. And we made friends with this couple who held up the tour one morning because they were arrested. The police thought they were trying to buy icons, which was very illegal. When we were with Lev, we took the train to visit somebody, and the KGB was following us at that time. A man came up to us and asked us in the cyrillic language which soccer team we preferred because the World Cup was going on at that time. And Lev knew we were being interviewed and he said, Leave them alone; they dont like soccer. I know that when we went out early in the morning once, we were followed. We stopped at a store window and the person who was following he was maybe 30 feet away stopped at a store window and he
88

danny penny

looked in. It happened a few times, we would to look in a window, and then hed have to stop, too. I said to your grandfather, Were being followed. White Nights The last place we went to was Leningrad, which was never dark. It was light practically 23 hours a day. And your grandfather was very happy; he started to tear up all the papers of people we met and flush them down the toilet. My grandmother says very happy here, but she means experiencing his first major manic episode. Throughout his adult life, my grandfather endured severe bouts of depression, describing its onset as a gray mist coming over his eyes. However, hed never experienced what his doctors later diagnosed as a manic episode, and neither he nor my grandmother recognized what was happening to him in the USSR. It helped him actually. He was absolutely fearless. He was the impetus that propelled us on because I was a little bit concerned. And he said Dont worry, and were going to go here, and were going to go there, and he tore this [piece of paper] up ... He had an enormous amount of energy. The only concern I did have was that sometimes, he was a very talkative. That was part of the illness.

89

danny penny

My grandmother didnt go into any detail, but my mother later recounted a story my grandparents told her when they returned. In Leningrad, my grandfather had become particularly excited, talking loudly and animatedly, drawing stares and unwanted attention. Standing in a crowded elevator with my grandmother, my grandfather began to talk about their plans to meet someone later that night. My grandmother coughed and made all sorts of signs to indicate that he should shut up, but my grandfather wouldnt be deterred. In a last ditch effort, my grandmother yelled over him, Murray, are you thirsty? Do you want a drink?! This phrase was supposed to be code for Stop talking about secret spy stuff! which must have seemed somewhat obvious to the many other people packed into the sweaty elevator compartment. Where would the drink my grandma offered come from? Exodus When we came back, the photographers were there, and I was very inexperienced and naive. And Lee [the president of the Long Island Committee on Soviet Jewry] whispered in my ear, Your time will come, and pushed me out of the way and let the photographers take her picture. So I learned a lot on my trip, and I learned a lot coming back, too.

91

our man in great neck

The Guardian Angel My grandmother and I wrap up our interview, chatting about the family and leafing through the stacks of materials she and my grandfather semiarchived after their trip. This is how I come across the tan folder labeled, Murrays Assignment in which I find a xerox of an article clipped from a newspaper. The first line reads, Soviet Jewish activist Ida Nudel celebrated her 53rd birthday last week in her isolated Moldavian cottage in southwest Russia and actress Jane Fonda was the surprise guest of honor. My grandmother remembers when the article came out in 1984. I continue to work my way through the documents: various copies and originals and of letters and articles on the Long Island Committee on Soviet Jewry, multiple versions of the report my grandparents wrote up detailing their adventures, and a letter my grandfather wrote to Fonda after reading about her advocacy for Ida Nudel. He opens with a few paragraphs about my grandparents time in the USSR and their own meeting with Nudel. Then in the third paragraph he writes, Wild rumors were being circulated that you planned to make a movie, The Guardian Angel, the name given to Ida by her fellow prisoners during her Siberian exile. Of course, we expected you to play the leading role, and that the film would gain world wide attention. He ends the letter by mentioning that hell be in L.A. in a few weeks, and
94

our man in great neck

that he would like to meet somewhere and discuss their mutual interest in Soviet Jewry and potential film possibilities. No one ever made a movie with Jane Fonda as Ida Nudel, nor have my grandparents exploits been optioned for a future blockbuster, though my mother still encourages me to write the screenplay whenever a family member mentions the spies from Great Neck.

96

Excerpt from The Zone


By

Mathias nard
Translated by

Charlotte Mandell
Courtesy of Open Letter Books

I saw my salvation in the beautiful crystal chandeliers in the Quai dOrsay, in the gold cravats of plenipotentiaries, in the dark blue of diplomatic passports, and in the old-fashioned phrases of letters of credit, not knowing anything about the diplomatic service but what you could learn in Albert Cohens Belle du Seigneur, which seemed an entirely enviable fate to me, even attractive, sparkling, in fact, in the heart of the world, with the highest salaries in all the civil service, with chauffeurs, receptions, and countries where youd never have thought to settle, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, Bhutan, so I forced myself to learn, to train for these abstruse tests, law, synthesis, history, God knows what else, with no success, obviouslyeither because of my
98

mathias enard

dubious soldiering past, or simply because my test results werent up to that prestigious ministry the diplomatic corps turned me down after two different examinations, despite, at least this is what I was told later, an honest oral presentation, and my huge disappointment seems to me today, ten years later, in mans estate, in this train to the Vatican, hard to understand: I couldnt see what thundering Zeus was saving for me, a fate in a much more obscure administration than Foreign Affairs, on the Boulevard Mortier, Mortier marshal of the Empire survivor of all the Napoleonic campaigns where they employed me, against all expectations, as defense delegate, or so the title of the administrative exam delicately worded it, and I suppose the hundred candidates present in that absolutely commonplace exam room all knew what defense delegate meant, or at least they thought they did, information agent, more or less secret agent, an agent more or less from outside, for action wasnt in our purely administrative and linguistic program, an exam pretty much identical to the one for the prefecture, Social Services, or the Naval Command, and as Parma slides by the window I see again my first days at the Boulevard, the curiosity, the training, the strange ultra-secure building, without a coffee machine so as not to encourage idle conversation among the staff, armored toilets, soundproof offices, endless files, dozens of files to go through one by

99

the zone

one, to synthesize, classify, tally with their sources, fill out forms to ask for information in one direction or another, under such-or-such a surname spotted in reports coming from stations or correspondents with code names, transmit, refer to the superior, write up notes, work for the defense of the nation, in the shadows, in the shadow of a stack of manila folders, and my only geographic expertise had obviously been ignored in purest military logic, no Balkans for me, no Slavs: I was thrown into the Arab world of which I knew nothing, aside from Ghassans stories, the mosques of Bosnia and whatever history books wanted to say about it, I began in the Algerian hell as Chief Classifier in the third rank, in a world of child-slaughterers and polite mass-murderers with names that were all alike to me, in the madness of the 1990s the stench of medieval war, disembowelments, amputations, corpses scattered everywhere, houses burned down, women kidnapped, villagers terrified, bloodthirsty bandits, and God, God everywhere to control the dance of death, little by little I learned the names of the cities and hamlets, Blida, Medea, viciously, I began with seven decapitated monks heads seven red roses their eyes half-open onto their advanced age the Tibhirine affair on May 21, 1996 which was the beginning of my two Algerian years at the Boulevard Mortier, the marshal with the long saberhe too had used it from Jemappes to Russia,

100

mathias enard

maybe he had decapitated robed monks, women, children, in the imperial storm, every morning I thought of him, of his uniform, his epaulettes as I went to my ultra-secure hideaway to deal with my files, in the heavy grey atmosphere of that world of secrecy where I read my reports of throat-slittings and military operations without understanding a word, without talking to anyone about it, I burrowed into the Zone without passion but also without disgust, with an increasing curiosity about the dealings of the wrathful gods, patiently in my armored tent I guarded the hollow vessels, I defended Algeria from itself in the darkness, and just afterwards, as I took the metro, when I went home to Rue Caulaincourt, I always saluted Mortier on the boulevard plaque, my guardian angel, knowing that I was very likely being followed and observed by my own colleagues who had to make absolutely sure, all throughout my first yearcivil servant trainee, beginning spythat I was not in the pay of foreign nations or God knows what extremist movement, I could verify this recently when I read, almost ten years later, the report of the preliminary security investigation on me, a strange mirror, a dried-out life, a leaf in an information herbarium, dates places names suspicions psychological outlines relationships guilty or not family assessment of the case officer and so on up to codes references additions classifications

101

the zone

assignments various notes absences requests for leave like those that led me to Athens passing through Parma to escape for a few days the Algerian horror and the dead monks they had dumped on me so I could archive the massacre out of sight so I could give a plausible version of the incredible confusion of the Algiers station, Parma I remember I had dinner there not far from the baptistery and the cathedral, thinking about the Farnese family dukes of Parma and Piacenza, about Marie Louise the empress, above all not about Algeria or Croatia or anything having to do with war, except for the pyre of a strange monk, Gherardo Segarelli burnt by the inquisitors in 1300, a preacher of evangelical poverty for whom it wasnt a sin to lie down naked next to a woman without being married, and to touch, Segarelli wanted to rediscover the beauty of apostolic love, poverty generosity and the caresses of female bodies, he paced up and down Parma with his followers preaching until an inquisitor got hold of him hauled him in for questioning and decided to condemn him to the stake, Segarelli did not fear death, he thought that the decadence of the Church was one of the signs of the end of days, that they were all going to die, all the prelates the bishops theyd all end up in hell, when the flames licked him Segarelli screamed, to the great delight of the spectators, his head fell onto his chest, his body burned for a long time, attached to the post, then

102

mathias enard

the two executioners broke his bones in the stillsmoking logs, threw his half-carbonized limbs on top of each other in a pile and covered them with another batch of wood, taking care to salvage the still intact heart of the monk of love in order to place it on top of the fire and thus be certain that it would burn completely, then the next morning, once the man was completely reduced to ashes, once they were sure that Gherardo Segarelli could no longer take part in the resurrection of the body on the Day of Judgment, the two sinister vergers scattered his grey powdery remains in the Parma River, tittering giddilysitting on a terrace near the square where the eternal Church had tortured the monk who sought perfection in the coming together of bodies, my car parked in a garage nearby, I was crossing Italy seemingly the most civil country in the world to get a ferry in Bari to see the Acropolis before losing myself in the islands, eating squid salad and lamb kebabs, in the heat of the evening, the reflections of the fishing lamps on the Aegean and Id happily go and forget myself in the windy winter of the Cyclades now change trains in Bologna go back to Bari cruise off Albania or go to Sicily island of the end of the world sit down in the Greek theater in Taormina and watch the bay of Naxos bathe the hillsides, but I have to finish the sale hand over the suitcase stay in Rome for Sashka with the angelic smile remake my life as they say with the price of

103

the zone

treason which isnt much the money accumulated in my spys account, erase everything empty myself of my mans life finish my share of existence leave trains journeys movement in general listen to the marine forecast far inland in a deep armchair, thats it for adventure without adventure files sources endless investigations into the networks of the world that continually meet and meet again, train tracks, fasces of spears, rifles with bayonets joined, fascis of lictors, whose rods whipped the condemned and whose axes decapitated them, those same fasces from which Mussolini would make his and his empires emblem, the world surrounded by spikes rods and an axe, everywhere: I meet myself in Milan or in Parma, I check up on myself like my sources on the Boulevard Mortier, and yesterday, tidying up my desk for the last time before going to wander alone through deserted Paris and missing the plane, my empty desk in fact for you never leave anything trailing behind, the usage guide the dictionary a box of paper clips I thought of all the names I had encountered all the places all the affairs the files on site or abroad the long list of those I had observed for a while just as I am now observing the passengers in this oppressively hot train car, the crossword enthusiast and his wife, I could offer them my dictionary for their puzzles if they werent Italian, my neighbor the Pronto reader, in front of me the heads I can glimpse, a blond girl, a bald man, further

104

mathias enard

on boy scouts or something similar with scarves and whistles on a chain, I can still see them with my eyes closed, a professional habit maybe, when the first thing they teach you, in a spys training, is the art of passing by unperceived while nothing escapes you, the theory of the butterfly net, said my instructor, you have to be transparent invisible discreet but with your net taut, information agencies are establishments of light-hearted and usually bucolic butterfly hunters, which greatly amused Sashka the first time she asked me my profession, Im an entomologist, a natural historian, a hunter of insects I said, she replied laughing that I didnt have the build

105

Enigma Deviations
by

max Fox

Codebreaker and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turings life and death illustrate how spies often feel the need to encrypt their personal lives

Two years ago, Gareth Williams was found naked and decomposing, padlocked inside a duffel bag in the bathroom of his London apartment. He had been employed as a codebreaker for the Government Communications Headquarters (Britains NSA counterpart), so the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service met with the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police before investigations into his death began to ensure that any of the sensitive materials hed had access to wouldnt be compromised. The investigation was instead.

107

max fox

Mysteries emerged and remained mysteries. Who locked him in the duffel bag? Who wiped his phone hours before his death? Whose long orange-haired womans wig was that? Why was his apartment unusually clean of fingerprints? Why was his heat on in August? Why did his fellow spooks at MI5 not report his absence for a whole week? A two-year investigation into his death has not answered these and other questions. The detective assigned to Williamss case was barred from directly questioning his co-workers as witnesses or suspects. She instead had to rely on security-cleared counterterrorism officers to question them for her. The Guardian reports that SO15 [counter-terrorism] officers, not those from homicide command, interviewed SIS witnesses, in the presence of their line managers and legal representatives, and instead of producing signed, sworn, verbatim statements, SO15 produced anonymized notes, drawn up after the interview. The first explanation for his death was suggested by a fellow officer, identified in court only as F, who initially notified the police that Williams had been missing for a week. A recording of the call played in court: after a question about his state of mind, [F] said he had been recalled from a job he had wanted to do, and was uncertain about how he had taken the news, writes Nigel West in the Telegraph. The

108

enigma deviations

implication was obvious. Williams was supposed to have killed himself. The second line of speculation, incorporating the duffel bag, the wig, and some of Williams browsing history, sallied that it was a tabloids wet dream: sub spy snuffed out in sick sex game gone wrong. That Williams was a claustrophiliac was tentatively confirmed by his landlady, whod had to untie him from his bedposts once before. Collateral kinks were brought in to support this one. Who was he going to give the 20,000 of womens designer clothes in his apartment to, anyway, seeing as he had no friends at work and no known romantic interests, male or female? Williamss family, for their part, suspects the dark arts of the world of espionage, and various experts have come forth to assure the grieving Williamses that the Russians or the Iranians would have targeted a cypher such as their son for his proclivities and blackmailed, then eliminated him. That, or these proclivities indicated a coat already turned, and the SIS would have had to do it themselves. Whatever the direct cause of Williamss death, the circumstances made public share formal properties with the fates of two other queers with high-level security clearances, and rely on recognizable and eagerly consumed tropes about intelligence professionals. Theres something queer in the intelligence
109

max fox

project itself, occupied as it is with imitation and the intimate details of other mens lives. But it has odd echoes in the machinic social world that compels self-knowledge and self-disclosure. Is the entire Internet a honeypot trap, where the machines themselves are spying on us in order to learn our social mores and ultimately pass themselves off as us? The fates of various queer nodes in the surveillance system indicate that artificial intelligence and the modern intelligence services are related in a deep way, beyond that of their shared origin.

Alan Turing was found dead in the home he shared with his mother in 1954. Froth around his mouth, a bitten apple by his bed and jars of cyanide in the house led to a verdict of suicide, though his mother, who had been in Italy at the time, maintained it must have been an accident: He was always so careless. But all the same, his favorite movie was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with its poisoned apple, and he had just lost his post doing research with the Government Communications Headquarters, Gareth Williamss place of employ 60 years later. Friends bought the story. Turing had been the lead cryptanalyst at the GCHQ during World War II, devising among other things

110

enigma deviations

the method required to decrypt German military communication, and contributing significantly to the development of the digital computer along the way. Emerging from the open, jocular homosexuality of Cambridge University, Turing certainly wasnt closeted in any strict sense. After the war, however, the discovery of the Red treachery of the Cambridge Circle, a high-class group of KGB agents within Britains elite, and the trial of Klaus Fuchs, a nuclear scientist who passed Manhattan Project secrets to Russia, made securing the nations precious intelligence a paramount concern, so the British government adopted for itself the U.S.s new restrictions on employing homosexuals. Thus when Turing brought a youth back to his home and that youth later brought a friend who burgled him, reporting the details of the incident led to a trial for gross indecency that was taken seriously as a national-security threat. Convicted of buggery, Turing was sentenced to undergo estrogen injections for two years, which made him buxom and impotent. Most who knew him surmised that this was a humiliation that ultimately caused his suicide. Other friends entertained speculation that the secret service had conspired to kill him because he knew so much they were afraid hed go abroad and fall prey to some comely young spy.

111

max fox

Though most accounts of Turings nature indicate a deep guilelessness, he still had to fend off suspicion that he could compromise sensitive intelligence. But Turing was never a spy himself. His approach to self-disclosure he volunteered to the police investigating his burglary that hed brought the guy home for sex would have made him a terrible one. This unforced confession makes a bit more sense if we take a remark he makes in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence as indicative of his attitude toward subterfuge ingeneral. The conceit of this seminal paper is to investigate the upper limits of machine intelligence, which Turing believes can be made equal to that of humans. Even though one of his earliest intellectual triumphs was a proof of Gdels Incompleteness Theorem, which could easily have led him to believe in the superiority of mind to mechanism, his biographer Andrew Hodges writes that Turing
had proved that there was no miraculous machine that could solve all mathematical problems, but in the process he had discovered something almost equally miraculous, the idea of the universal machine that could take over the work of any machine. And he had argued that anything performed by a human computer could be done by a machine. So there could be a single machine which, by reading the descriptions of other machines placed upon its tape, could perform the equivalent of human

112

enigma deviations

mental activity. A single machine, to replace the human computer. An electric brain!

The ramifications of this discovery were widereaching but were predicated on the truth or falsity of discrete utterances. Thus Turings attitude toward deceit played a significant role in theorizing what would be the model for the digital computer and artificial intelligence, and is laid out in the opening paragraph.
The original question, Can machines think? I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted. I believe further that no useful purpose is served by concealing these beliefs.

Here are two things. First, he believes that human behavior is ultimately regular enough that a sufficiently powerful computer could conceal its identity as a machine from a human interlocutor. Second, he is unconcerned with his irregular behavior thinking that machines can think and sees no point in concealing it. These two positions are the outer bounds of a thought experiment which has come to guard the border between machine and human intelligence, an increasingly contorted position with the deep integration of social media into how we subjectivate ourselves.

113

max fox

This is the paper where Turing proposes his famous test to determine whether or not it would be true to say that machines are capable of intelligence or thought. The way he does this is by turning the question slightly, so that thinking can be ascertained by the machine playing a version of a game as well as a human could. This game, the imitation game, consists of an interrogator trying to tell which of two other players in a room apart from him or her is a man and which is a woman by asking questions through some sort of intermediary. One of the two other players is trying to help the interrogator pick correctly, and the other is trying to frustrate the identification. In Turings proposed version of the game, the male and female players become a single one, assumed to be human but potentially machine, which is confronted by the interrogator, unsure whether or not she is addressing an honest or deceitful human or a machine programmed to be deceitful. Turing assumes that the interrogator will ask the possible machine questions only a human could answer (a smart computer would know not to answer a question only a computer would know), but a sufficiently well endowed machine could still plausibly beg incapacity on human-like grounds. Thus an exchange like the following is put forth.

114

enigma deviations

Q: Please write me a sonnet on the subject of the Forth Bridge. A: Count me out on this one. I never could write poetry. Q: Add 34957 to 70764. A: (Pause about 30 seconds and then give as answer) 105621. Q: Do you play chess? A: Yes. Q: I have K at my K1, and no other pieces. You have only K at K6 and R at R1. It is your move. What do you play? A: (After a pause of 15 seconds) R-R8 mate. The bulk of the rest of the paper is dedicated to responding to critics who maintain various reasons for why a machine could never pass for a human. Their explanations vary, but the force of their objections comes from the fact that its deeply destabilizing to find oneself on equal discursive footing with a machine. Of course, we now do so regularly. Spam email as well as spambots on Twitter account for a massive majority of messages sent on the Internet. And while most of these machines very quickly fail the

115

max fox

Turing Test, accounts like @horse_ebooks inspire widespread fascination for the poetic quality of their attempts. A problem with Turings concept of machine intelligence, though, is the sort of subject it might be trying to emulate. Will a computer programmed to pass as human be more or less effective if its aware that its trying to pass? The answer would probably depend on whether or not such reflexive activity is common among humans. Duplicitous or parthidden subjects, such as spies or queers, have long had to know a thing or two about the intelligence required to make affected naturality pass for the real thing, though Turing himself was fatally untroubled by the need for such cover. The tension between his two positions insouciant self-disclosure, la Eric Schmidts If you have something that you dont want anyone to know, maybe you shouldnt be doing it in the first place, and the belief that a kind of transcendence through anonymity is ultimately possible is unresolved today. Think of the detective investigating Gareth Williamss death, who had to interrogate her witnesses through the intermediary of counterterrorism officers and received only anonymized summaries of their responses in return. Machines may be assumed to be identifiable as machines, but

116

enigma deviations

they can also be assumed to be gathering intelligence that would still require humans to act on it. A tragic instance of this type of dialogue emerged when Wired magazine published the chat log of the conversations between B. Manning, the Army private accused of passing military and diplomatic secrets to Wikileaks, and Adrian Lamo, the hacker turned snitch who informed on her. In this exchange, Manning treats Lamo as the interrogator, and she will be the assumed deceiver.
(1:40:51 PM)bradass87 has not been authenticated yet. You should authenticate this buddy. (1:40:51 PM)Unverified conversation with bradass87 started. (1:41:12 PM) bradass87:hi (1:44:04 PM) bradass87:how are you? (1:47:01 PM) bradass87:im an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for adjustment disorderin lieu of gender identity disorder (1:56:24 PM) bradass87:im sure youre pretty busy (1:58:31 PM) bradass87:if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do? (1:58:31 PM) info@adrianlamo.com <AUTOREPLY>:Tired of being tired

117

max fox

(2:17:29 PM) bradass87:? (6:07:29 PM) info@adrianlamo.com:Whats your MOS? (3:16:24 AM) bradass87:re: Whats your MOS? Intelligence Analyst (35F) (3:16:24 AM) info@adrianlamo.com <AUTOREPLY>:Tired of being tired

Easy enough to tell the machine lines from the human. But we know Lamos conduct is untrustworthy hes the FBI informant who turned Manning in and Mannings need for a confidante is precisely the reason the intelligence services tried to derisk themselves by expelling perverts in Turings time. A Foucauldian story could be told about the transition from a mode of governance that compelled self-transparent subjects to one that assumed multiply layered ones, with enough confidence in its own longevity to allow for nonsimultaneous disclosure of subjects every facet. The long game, in which the modes of capture are laid in place and the fullness of time assures their efficacy, is the same maneuver that Turing deploys to lay the theoretical foundations of the digital computer, which he calls universal for its capacity to perform any possible computational move. The infinity of time makes any given procedure equivalent in terms of computing power.

And physical, in a corollary added by David Deutsch in 1985

118

enigma deviations

The multiple identity is a keystone of the knowledge economy, which is predicated on the computability and universalizability of workers discrete actions at once profitably constituting the social and underpinned by military ends. Its worldview posits a layered and partially duplicitous identity to be continually exposed and managed. Multiply layered and part-hidden subjects and an affected naturalness under acute knowledge of surveillance are the traits that must be mastered by spies, queer subjects, and machine intelligence. Is it a surprise that they have become generalized in a world which rests on Turings theoretical advances, when his history binds all three together? Despite working in the seeming objectivity of pure mathematics, Turing was nevertheless evaluating its uses based on what he thought what one could or should do with truth or falsity. As his biographer noted, he could have used his early proofs of Gdels incompleteness theorems to maintain a view of human activity that exceeded description or capture by algorithm. He didnt, though, and now human activity has been vastly digitized. The veil of anonymity a computer affords to the identity of its user is now known to be threadbare, given that the ad-based Internet is predicated upon turing personal information about consumer preferences into metrics. But early hackers took
119

max fox

the Internet seriously as a sort of post-racial, postgender, even post-state utopia where the right sort of speech acts did real work. Though those dreams of digital identity transcendence have since fallen out of it, the world of work is increasingly structured by the parameters of machine intelligence doing certain tasks a human computer would do. Its important to remember that Turing was specifically proposing to replace human computers with digital computers, and female human computers at that: computer being at the time a gendered occupation like a typist. It is Alan Turings centenary this month, and petitions are circulating to have him replace Charles Darwin on the 10 note. His position in the histories of computing and artificial intelligence is secure. In 2009, Gordon Brown issued an official apology, proclaiming he was both proud to say sorry to a war hero such as Turing and proud that the homophobic laws under which Turing was convicted have since been overturned. But the strange balance of artificial and military intelligence which Turings sexuality played spoiler to still functions the same way and still catches others like him in its net despite the repeal of laws. Turings contributions to the two fields include an illumination of their own laws, as well as their strange nexus.

120

Its been a few months since I first brought up the need to prepare for the end. Im not talking your personal end thats somebody elses problem. Im talking the end of times. But Im not talking about the end of times as we know them. Those times are already gone. This is the real end, the big finish. The last bite of the whole enchilada at the end of the day, thats what he said. I guess Im a bit worried that people might take this news as a signal to run amuck, and amuck is the last way you want to run. Especially when time itself is running out. Sure we need to go wild a bit, but we also need to get rest. Just as we attempt to manage our fatigue, we need to get a handle on our craziness get a grip as society loses it own. A system is needed. A set of rules sounds a bit sterna basic skeleton or general outline might be more suitable. It could be just what the doom-and-gloom doctor ordered. The thing is these new social structures, these new moralities have to be custom-designed. I cant help you with that. Youve got to create it by your lonesome, but you dont need to be alone once you begin to live out your new philosophy. (Full disclosure: I could help you with that, but there are so many of you and that would put a crimp in my own outline, which tells me to make more time for myself.)

There will be an urge to turn toward organized religion. I would have to advise against that. It would be like investing in Facebook: Its already given you whatever it can give you; its just timelines and privacy issues from here on in. Im not saying new religion but no religion. As time begins to wane, we will feel the need to believe and belong. Resist it. The last thing we want is some kind of Nepalese tonguepiercing festival going on. I know theyve been doing it for centuries, but theres got to be a more time-efficient way to bring good luck to your village than walking through it in a cloud of vermillion powder with a 13-inch metal skewer through your tongue. So get your system set up. Get yourself a catchphrase or a mantra if you need one. The 60s were great for these. Do your own thing,Keep on truckin. Even the Army had a great one: Be all that you can be. Pick one out, use it, you can even abuse it thats one of the perks of the end times. Heads up for next month: As time gets shorter and the world gets wider, there is no time left for people to have three names. You know who you are. Be prepared to lose a name. Lose a moniker or get lost! Samuel Taylor Coleridge will of course be grandfathered in.