Books: Blank Spots on the Map

Trevor Paglen on the dark geography of the Pentagon’s secret world.

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For all his talk of transparency, Barack Obama now heads a secret government—4 million Americans with security clearances generating 250 million pages of classified documents a year, and a “black budget” of as much as $60 billion. In this fascinating attempt to trace the physical contours of this parallel intelligence world, geographer Trevor Paglen investigates everything from suburban office parks staffed by spooks to clandestine airstrips and extralegal prisons. He engagingly blurs the line between research and sleuthing. From the 18th floor of a Vegas Strip casino, he watches charter flights between the city airport and top-secret desert bases; he visits a Virginia PO box that receives mail for 168 “sterile identities” maintained by the CIA; and he meets a Canadian hobbyist who catalogs spy satellites that can become virtually invisible. (It involves mirrors.)

Born of the Manhattan Project and Cold War paranoia, the culture of government secrecy, writes Paglen, has become antithetical to democracy: “Blank spots on maps have generated blank spots in the law.” He meets the wife of a contractor who died in 1995 after inhaling toxic smoke at Area 51, where—sorry, ufo buffs—the Air Force tests high-tech stealth aircraft. When she sued the federal government for compensation, the case was thrown out after the military claimed that the base “did not exist.” Yet, as Paglen finds, just poking at the boundaries of this netherland is a step toward accountability. “It really isn’t possible to make things disappear,” he writes. “Secrecy…is always bound to fail.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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