April 11, 2014

Radical Archives and Index of the Disappeared

Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani are artists, archivists, and activists. Both have been involved in immigration rights activism, especially after 9/11, and they created the shifting exhibition Index of the Disappeared, now in its 10th year, to address the insidious surveillance, false narratives, and criminalization of dissent perpetrated by the U.S. government.

I saw the “Secrets Told” version of the archive at New York University last month. During a tour of the exhibit, Ghani spoke about her and Ganesh’s idea of “exploding the archive” and putting the fragments elsewhere. The information they’ve collected is all in the public domain, but what their project does is make the connections of disparate data more visible.

(If you want to read more, a previous incarnation of Ganesh and Ghani’s work was the subject of the essay Warming up Records: Archives, Memory, Power and Index of the Disappeared. As Alice Royer puts it, “Their project makes visible that which has been rendered invisible, re-politicizes that which has been deemed natural, and names the government as the perpetrator.” [Emphasis in original.])

The Q&A at the “Secrets Told” tour brought up the question of the line between the activist and the archivist, which is something Ganesh and Ghani want us all to grapple with. Today is the start of the two-day Radical Archives conference at NYU. The hashtag is #radarcs—follow along!


“Reasonable Articulable Suspicion,” redactions, and Benjamin Franklin.


One of the many binders of articles, government documents, court cases, and other materials collected and organized for researchers’ use.


Files arranged by topic, with connections drawn between them.


The pivotal 1979 Smith v. Maryland decision, which led to the legalization of personal metadata collected via (land) phone calls.

February 18, 2011

Selection from Philippe Breton, relating to Wikileaks

Litwin Books will soon be publishing an English translation of Philippe Breton’s 2000 book, Le culte de l’Internet: Une menace pour le lien social?, under the English title: The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies. Here is a bit from Chapter Four that comes to mind for me in relation to the Wikileaks discussion:

In the world of the new information technologies, the theme of “transparence” frequently returns under forms more or less vulgarized. Transparence is at work from the beginning: computers, then the networks, the new magic wands, are supposed to make transparent whatever they touch. One often hears it said, for example, that informatics and now the networks are capable of “making government transparent.” For a long time the same thing has been said in reference to business. The Internet thus presents itself as a tool enabling the struggle against “opacity,” the key anti-value of that universe.

That value has also erupted in the world of politics. Thus, the Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, at the inauguration of the 19th Summer University of Communications on the 25th of August 1998 declared that “the entry of our country into the information society” corresponded to “more access to knowledge and culture, more employment and growth, more public service and transparence, more democracy and liberty.” Here transparency is put on the same level as these other values judged to be fundamental. Transparence is an ideal that serves to exalt, but also, above all, to exclude: what is transparent is, by nature, more evolved, more advanced. “Power,” because it is assumed to be the retention of information, is on the side of the dark and the old. “Cooperation,” a notion even much more abstract, is on the side of light. “Start-ups” are presented as models of non-hierarchical societies where everything is transparent in every respect. On the side of power, law is more and more presented as an obstacle to putting in place a global information society. In cyberspace, one hears repeated in unison that there is no need for law, least of all national or international laws.

In order to carry out their mission, which is to support the light, information systems themselves must be transparent. From this perspective, all desire to separate systems, to protect them from “external intrusion,” is therefore considered antinomian. A good system should be open, transparent. The new religiosity is profoundly antagonistic to the constraints and necessities of what the professionals call “information security,” which is simply a variation of the security of goods and persons.

As one can see from some of the examples cited, the pursuit of an ideal of transparence implies the negative equalification of everything which is secret, of the hidden, the private, the intimate, the profound, the non-visible. The actual annihilation of the “non-visible,” deemed opaque, cannot help but be an attack on barriers, frontiers, on all separations which impede the flow of information, the “generalized interconnection” and the final transparence of the world.

Many of these barriers would be particularly valuable to target and become the object of a will to subversion, as for example, to take the most important of these, that which separates public from private life, law and juridical norms, all the norms which would impede the “free circulation” of information on the network, and finally, last but not least, the embodiment of speech as an obstacle to free communication. The ideal of transparence above all takes the form of a war against opacity and obscurity. The new religiosity takes us into a new time through a binary vision of the world. On the one side, information, openness, light; on the other, closure, entropy, disorder, Evil. In one case, a “solar” mode (the planet described by Asimov was aptly named “Solaria”), in the other, shadows.

The struggle against shadows is a real fight, step by step, even if the participants do not always discern the scope and the stakes of the battle. Some are often more concerned with the abolition of the “insupportable frontiers” between the private and the public, others more motivated by the desire to make a leap over all the barriers to access to different parts of the great information network, while, finally, still others are particularly indignant at the restraints to the free circulation of ideas which are national laws, the institution of the rights of the author, or, in another area, the presence of numerous middle-men (teachers, businesspeople, journalists) who “interpose” themselves between producers and consumers.

Watch for this book this Spring.

June 3, 2009

Attempted Censorship by U.S. Attorney

Attempted Censorship by U.S. Attorney — A Book to Watch!

By Ann Sparanese

On June 16, the paperback edition of Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI by Peter Lance will be released by HarperCollins. This is happening despite a prominent U.S. Attorney’s best efforts to stop it.

Since this book was first published in hardcover in 2006, Patrick Fitzgerald, US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago (the same Patrick Fitzgerald of the Valerie Plame investigation) has repeatedly attempted to have the publisher bury the book, and to prevent publication of the paperback edition. Lance, who is a five-time Emmy-winning investigative reporter with other books on terrorism under his belt, spent four years compiling “evidence that the best and the brightest in the two bin Laden offices of origin…had committed multiple acts of negligence in the 12 years leading up to 9/11 in their failure to stop the al Qaeda cell, trained by Ali Mohamed.”

U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald sent three threatening letters to the publisher charging libel, and held up the publication of the paperback edition for 18 months. [Just yesterday Fitzgerald sent an additional letter to HarperCollins, threatening to sue; things are heating up.] Initially, HarperCollins did not react to the threats, calling the book “an important work of investigative journalism,” but when Fitzgerald continued to protest, using U.S. Attorney Chicago letterhead, a U.S. Attorney Chicago fax machine on one occasion [Correction via Sparanese 6/5/09] the publisher decided to re-vet the entire book, which took a year. When finished, only inconsequential sentences were rewritten or corrected, leaving the essential arguments, evidence and documentation completely intact. This is an instance of a publisher standing up to one of the most powerful government officials in the U.S., but it is also an example of the chilling effect of censorship attempts, because for over a year Lance could do no other work than re-vetting every sentence of his book. Not a great situation for any author but perhaps the most responsible action by HCP in this case because now the situation is clear: though Fitzgerald’s name no longer appears in the title, Lance’s book remains intact and contains some new material, including a section on Fitzgerald’s attempts to kill the book.

I’ve been in communication with this author, and I really believe his is a book and an issue to watch. Until this new edition of Triple Cross hits the stands on June 16, it is still in jeopardy. The first edition of Triple Cross received no major reviews, and most likely you do not have a copy in your library. I have a feeling the publisher does not intend to make a big splash of it! Please read about it on Lance’s website and order it to make sure your library users have access to this information: ISBN 978-0-06-118941-8.

Whether or not you are totally convinced by the arguments in this book (meticulously researched material, definitely NOT conspiracy theories) what is important is that Triple Cross holds high level government officials accountable for negligence in their dealings with known terrorist operatives during the period leading up to the 9/11 attacks. It is unacceptable that this particular high-level government official has acted so aggressively to stop a book because it is critical of him – this must be the case, since nothing libelous was written. If anything, we need more genuine investigative journalism and discussion of this kind.

And there is something else: For me, as someone who fought, along with many of you in ALA and other organizations, against the USA PATRIOT Act, illegal surveillance, torture policies, and other violations of civil liberties that have been foisted upon us in the name of the “War on Terror,” Triple Cross is important because it makes a clear and compelling case that official negligence, misplaced priorities, turf wars, and arrogance – not lack of the appropriate laws and methods to fight terrorism – contributed greatly to the debacles that have since befallen the American and, indeed, the people of the world. And not one person high in the chain of command has been held accountable for any of it! So (1) tell HarperCollins you appreciate them standing behind this book and (2) please purchase it for your library. Don’t let it be buried. Let it lead to more public examination and discussion of ongoing U.S. policies and priorities.

Peter Lance will be holding a press conference to detail the attempted book-banning on June 16th in the John Peter Zenger Room of The National Press Club. You can learn more about Triple Cross and get updates on Lance’s anti-censorship campaign at http://www.peterlance.com. If you want more information about how Lance’s critical coverage of Fitzgerald might have led to Fitzgerald’s attempts to bury the book, you can read his attached article, “The Chilling Effect.”

Ann Sparanese, MLS
Head, Adult & YA Services
Englewood Public Library
Englewood, NJ

November 8, 2008

Talk about government transparency and sunshine

It’s a new dawn in more ways than one.

One of the things I hated most about the Bush administration, from a librarian’s point of view, was their ever increasing secrecy. Every year it seemed that more and more government information, information that people needed in order for democracy to function, was being hidden in the shadows, made inaccessible. This was done through a number of means, including the use of private contractors to perform government functions, gratuitous classification of documents, and simply operating in the dark.

Welcome to daylight. Check this out: The Obama transition team has already put a directory of transition resources on the open web. The 2008-2009 Presidential Transition Resources Website is intended for the administration’s nominees and appointees, for orienting them and organizing them and helping the transition happen smoothly. It is not intended as public communication, but is totally open to the public, not on some government intranet as it might have been. Not only is it on the open web, but Obama’s Change.gov President-Elect website actually links to it, encouraging the public to follow what the transition team is doing in detail.

Up to now I have only dreamed of this kind of openness in government….

September 8, 2008

Mother Jones article on Connecticut librarians’ defiance of the PATRIOT Act

Amy Goodman and David Goodman (of Democracy Now) have an article in the current Mother Jones magazine about the great Windsor, Connecticut librarians’ defiance of the FBI and the PATRIOT Act and ultimate court victory for all of us on constitutional grounds.

April 19, 2007

Guantanamo secrecy through plea-bargains

Another example of the Bush Administration’s information evil. Marjorie Heins has some commentary on the Free Expression Policy Project’s website about Guantanamo prisoners’ recantations of abuse charges in exchange for release from custody. The government knows they got the wrong guy, but won’t release him unless he signs off on a promise to back off on his torture accusations. The administration’s response when things like this are revealed is typically, “We do what we have to do to protect our beloved democracy.” Doublespeak.

March 26, 2007

White House using private email to avoid the accountability of a public paper trail

This is so f-ing typical of the Bush Administration… White House staffers are using private internet domains for much of their work by email in order to avoid the accountability of a paper trail. White House correspondence is supposed to be part of the public record, eventually. Here’s a snippet:

“…[I]t is better not to put this stuff in writing in their e-mail system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us,” one lobbyist wrote Abramoff, citing advice from a White House aide, “especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.”

Thanks to Kathleen McCook for sharing this news item with the SRRT list.

March 25, 2007

140,000 National Security Letters

The justice department has been abusing a provision in the PATRIOT Act allowing them to issue “national security letters” to obtain information on citizens (140,000 so far) without a court order and with the famous gag order imposed.

The Washington Post has published a revealing article by one of these recipients of a National Security Letter (identity withhheld).

March 14, 2007

The Presidential Records Act of 2007

The Presidential Records Act of 2007 is a bill presently in Congress that would overturn Bush’s Presidential Order 13233 of 2001, which was one of many outrageous secrecy measures of the Bush Administration, this one case giving former presidents the power to prevent access to their papers for many years.

Kathleen de la Peña McCook has blogged other aspects of this bill and the movement to support it.


Note from the next day, Thursday, March 15: The bill passed Congress yesterday, and, surprise surprise, Bush has promised to veto it.

January 13, 2007

Bush refuses to be photographed

After his last address on Iraq, President Bush broke with precedent and refused to be photographed at the podium by journalists, instead distributing an official, government produced photo which he expected the media to publish. Some media outlets did publish the official photo, and some published still video captures from the address.

Put it on the list of examples of the Bush administration’s hostility toward the fourth estate and of our declining information freedom. But in terms of this example specifically, why do you think he refused to be photographed at exactly this moment? I think it’s because he knew that the big truth about Iraq showed on his face after he evaded it in his address. It is the way that silence speaks.

May 3, 2006

Audit of NARA reclassification of documents

Check out this informative, link-laded post on NARA’s reclassification of documents and a recent audit relating to it, over at LawLibrary Blog. We knew that the present administration was crazy for secrecy, and that U.S. Archivist Allen Weinstein was a controversial choice because of signs of his willingness to fulfill the gov’t’s interest in greater secrecy at the Archives, but it is interesting to see how he is responding to the audit. The news is not all bad.

April 18, 2006

Government wants first crack at late journalist’s papers

George Washington U. to Receive Jack Anderson’s Papers — but FBI Wants to See Them First

By Scott Carlson
Chronicle of Higher Ed, April 18th, 2006

During his life and career as a muckraking journalist in Washington, Jack Anderson cultivated secret sources throughout the halls of government — sources who passed on information that allowed Anderson to investigate and write about Watergate, CIA assassination schemes, and countless scandals. His syndicated column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, earned him the enmity of the corrupt and powerful — so much so that during the Watergate years, associates of Nixon had discussed assassinating the columnist. They never went through with the plot. Anderson died last December at the age of 83.

His archive, some 200 boxes now being held by George Washington University’s library, could be a trove of information about state secrets, dirty dealings, political maneuverings, and old-fashioned investigative journalism, open for historians and up-and-coming reporters to see.

But the government wants to see the documents before anyone else…

See the rest