Surveillance & military creep in early telecommunications technologies
The word ‘telecommunication’ comes from the “French télécommunication, from télé- ‘at a distance’ + communication ‘communication’.” (Oxford Dictionary)
Before the invention of telegraph wire telecommunication, the messenger & letter, flags, fire, light reflection, smoke and sound signals were the only technologies for communicating over distance. The signal code for wire telegraph transmission, Morse Code, was invented by an artist & scientist collaboration (Morse & Vail). The initial version of the code was adapted into an International Morse Code in 1851, to be compatible with non-English languages. Although Morse Code began as a civilian invention, the first long distance transmission from Washington D.C. to Baltimore (1844) was funded by the U.S government. Morse Code transmission was quickly adopted and expanded by the military forces in both the British Empire and the U.S.A. In the American Civil War, Morse Code was used to communicate through mobile field wires, flags, torches and light shutter signals. Because Morse had always been a transparent code communication, surveillance interception and the tapping of wires became an issue. Before the wire telegraph, written letters between military commanders, nobility and senior clergy were often written in secret ciphers to avoid surveillance. However, ciphers became more important with the development of the use of wireless radio transmission on battle fields. In war zones, transparent Morse Code required another layer of code to hide the content of the open airwave transmissions. Hence, in the early 20th Century, there was an urgent expansion of the art of cryptography to undermine the surveillance efforts of the opposing sides. Morse Code had initially been invented for the benefit of civilians, but like many other contemporary digital platforms and technologies the military creeps in, co-opts and surveils.
Surveillance creep and military creep are mutually perpetuating phenomena. They fuel each other.
The military often invent, test or adopt new technologies early in development. Many of the most common analog and digital technologies, that we now take for granted in our daily lives, were initially used by the armed forces. In this episode of the CBC Radio programme Under The Influence (a programme about the history of advertising), Terry O’Reilly reveals the origins of GPS and some of the other systems and products that have crept from the military into civilian usage.
Military misuse of civilian GPS fitness technology ended up exposing military bases
Although GPS was a military invention, GPS fitness technology has become so embedded in our daily lives that it is almost invisible. This can cause the circumstances for human error in the armed forces, because people let their guard down. In 2018, when Strava published their “heat maps” of their fitness technology, it exposed military bases across the world. See link to the WIRED article “The Strava Heat Map and the End of Secrets.”
Image: Nathan Ruser tweet with images of Strava “heat maps”. Click here to see full Twitter thread.
Can you find and decode the message on the posters?
There is an analogue coded message ‘hidden in plain sight’ on the Surveillance: The Paradox And The Creep exhibition posters (also on www.bdowens.co.uk home page). For the first 10 viewers who crack the code, I will send a prize of stickers & badges (see image below). Send the decrypted message to me via the contact form on this website page www.bdowens.co.uk/contact/
Military recruitment is a type of surveillance
Military recruitment is often set up as a kind of fun game or competition to surveil and coax people into joining up. British military intelligence has been known to use puzzles that are hidden in plain sight, sometimes in periodicals or in broadcasts. Some of the Bletchley Park code-breaking team were recruited from a crossword puzzle competition in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, and the 2020 GCHQ Christmas card contained a “brain teaser” image that contained a code. In a tweet, GCHQ encouraged “wise men and women” to solve the code.
(Image: Christmas bauble “brain teaser” tweet by GCHQ)
GCHQ has aimed recruitment puzzles at young high school girls
What is perhaps more chilling is that, in 2018, GCHQ aimed their puzzle recruitment at young high school girls. A division of GCHQ called the “National Cyber Security Centre” used the “Today” show on BBC Radio 4 as a platform to release a “puzzle as part of a campaign aimed at 12-and-13-year-olds.” Military intelligence recruitment puzzles are immensely manipulative in terms of brain chemistry, and they also trigger the psychological ‘sunk cost trap’. The individual gets a dopamine hit when they solve the puzzle, so they feel great. But, they not only feel rewarded, they have also made an investment of time, energy and emotional commitment. The hook sinks deeper and the foundation for unconditional loyalty is laid.
Creeping military recruitment will use technology of the day
The British Army recruitment campaigns also play psychological games but they are more obvious in their deceitful and misleading content. Like the recent GCHQ recruitment, they are aimed at high school age or school leavers, in addition the armed forces are always on the lookout at schools careers days. In recent years the campaigns have been targeted towards personality type, the “class clown” for example. In Dundee, there is an army recruitment office down town. It appears on Google Street View, and the “class clown” poster is in the window. Both the British military and the American military use computer games as a way to monitor young people and convince them to join up. See link to “Army recruitment: video game campaign raises big questions about targeting children.”
When I was a teenager, there was a British Army TV advert that made joining the army appear like an athletic adventure holiday with your ‘new’ mates (forget your old ones).
Video stills from British Army recruitment advert “To be Frank, Join the Army.”
In this army advert, the primary scene focused on 2 friends in a cafe lamenting the absence of their friend called Frank. They heard that he joined the army but they didn’t know why. Their conversation sequence cut away to action scenes of men on windsurfers, downhill skiers in formation, rock climbers, soldiers looking like they were having fun times, and a man and a woman walking along a deserted beach. In each cutaway sequence, there was an arrow pointing at Frank. And at the end of the advert, a deep voiced narrator announced “To be Frank, join the Army.”
It was a seductive ploy, essentially saying: “here’s a job, we will pay you to have a lark and you will get a girlfriend at the end.” But, there was no blood and guts, no burns or amputation, no PTSD, and the small print about having to kill people didn’t enter the frame.
The interesting thing about this particular army advert is the choice of the narrative devices. Someone is always watching Frank, and we as viewers are able to pick him out of the crowd. There is even an arrow pointing him out, distinguishing him from the others. The underlying (and possibly unintentional) communication is that the military surveil their own.
Surveillance of ‘their own’
In their book Re-Engineering Humanity (p.209), Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger, assert that “[e]ngineered determinism occurs when techno-social environments control how people behave, develop, and relate to each other.”
The purpose of military and secret service training is to engineer people to behave in a precise and predictable manner, no matter the cost to their humanity. Surveillance of ‘their own’, is part of that control.
Here is a link to ‘Act Two: Reality Show’, This American Life episode 696. This is a short radio play based on the actual FBI interrogation transcript of the “NSA contractor Reality Winner, who was later charged with leaking evidence of Russian interference in the U.S elections.” – For the full text transcript of episode 696 see this link.