[Reader-list] on 11 September 2001 and surveillance cameras

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Fri Sep 28 20:14:06 IST 2001

Apologies for cross posting to those already on Nettime.

Remember, how much we once talked about surveillance, and surveillance 
cameras on this list? Sometimes themes of discussion come back, in different 
guises. THis posting for instance, by the New York Surveillance Camera 
Platers that I am forwarding from Nettime. Here, two threads collide - the 
thread of  discussion around September 11 and the thread about Surveillance.


"when Big Brother (TM)  watches you, learn to be Inivisible"
(Grant Morrison, The Invisibles)

----------  Forwarded Message  ----------
Subject: <nettime> on 11 September 2001 and surveillance cameras
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2001 00:12:49 -0500
From: SCP-New York <notbored at panix.com>
To: nettime-l at bbs.thing.net

Nothing Has Changed
Therefore Everything Must Change

by the New York Surveillance Camera Players

It has been widely noted that both "the intelligence community"
(approximately 15 different agencies) and the various military and civilian
agencies in charge of fighting terrorism (at least 40 of them) utterly
failed to prevent, anticipate or get advance warning of the devastating
attacks on civilian and military targets in New York City and Washington,
D.C., on 11 September 2001. This truly disastrous failure took place
despite the facts that every year the United States spends approximately
$15 billion on intelligence-gathering and analysis and approximately $9
billion on counter-terrorism.

There really should be no surprise here. Can anyone remember the last time
the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) anticipated a major historical event?
No: it "missed" the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin
Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the invasion of Kuwait, the bombing
of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attack on the USS Cole
in Yemen, etc. etc. And what was the CIA doing while these and other things
took place?  Assassinating democratically elected leaders such as Patrice
Lumumba and Salvadore Allende; dealing drugs to raise money for illicit
campaigns against popular movements in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El
Salvadore; propping up corrupt regimes such as those run by Fujimori and
Pinochet; etc. etc. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation? When was the
last time the FBI caught a "most wanted" criminal? A long, long time ago.
But when was the most recent FBI scandal: the murders at Ruby Ridge and
Waco? the "misplacement" of guns, laptop computers and files? the failure
to disclose the existence of 4,000 documents pertaining to Timothy McVeigh?
the exposure of Robert Hanssen, Russia's spy in the FBI?  You get the idea:
American taxpayers are wasting their money by funding a great many if not
all of these agencies.

But the feds weren't the only ones taken by surprise on 11 September 2001.
So were the New York Police Department (NYPD), which of course maintains at
least one "Intelligence Division," and all of the security firms that had
clients at the World Trade Center (WTC) complex. There's an important
parallel to be drawn here: in the same way that the CIA and the National
Security Administration (NSA) have devoted far too much of their money,
time and personnel to intercepting electronic communications and using
satellites to take increasingly sophisticated photographs, the NYPD and the
city's numerous security firms have devoted far too much of their money,
time and personnel to laptop computers, digital radios, microwave
transmitters and surveillance cameras. It might be said of both the CIA and
the NYPD that -- if the taxpayers agree to continue funding them -- they
(the CIA and the NYPD) should assign more agents to "the field," to
"walking a beat" -- and leave the hi-tech spy gadgetry alone.

The New York Surveillance Camera Players (NY SCP) can report from
first-hand experience that, prior to the attacks, there were so many
surveillance cameras in operation in the WTC area that their locations
couldn't possibly be counted or mapped out, at least, that is, using the
simple tools available to the NY SCP. No doubt some of these cameras were
installed and operated by the FBI (and the CIA too?) in the wake of the
first terrorist attack on the WTC in 1993; most of them were probably
installed and operated by either the NYPD or security firms hired by the
WTC or the businesses that rented space in it. None of these surveillance
cameras did what they were supposed to do: anticipate or prevent another
attack; provide security; keep thousands of people safe from harm. Like the
NSA's orbiting satellites, surveillance cameras are a colossal waste of

And so, for the NY SCP, nothing has changed since 11 September 2001. As we
announced on 13 September 2001, the position of the group remains the same
as it was prior to the attacks. We are unconditionally opposed to the
installation of any and all surveillance devices in public places.
Surveillance cameras did not and will never prevent a major crime or
terrorist attack. The problems -- of crime, of terrorism -- must be solved
in other ways.  11 September 2001 wasn't the first time that surveillance
cameras failed to do anything but violate basic human rights. In countries
such as England, where the authorities keep accurate and complete records
of the number of arrests and convictions that can reliably be ascribed to
the use of surveillance cameras, the results are clear. Either the
criminals simply move out of the sight of the cameras or the police arrive
on the scene too late to make an arrest. Note well the following news
report from Scotland, dated 27th August 2001.

       CCTV fails to cut crime rate

       Increases in fighting and abusive behaviour in an East Lothian town
have cast doubt on the effectiveness of closed circuit television. Traders
in Haddington said the CCTV [closed circuit television] system had done
little to reduce incidents of drug dealing and abuse in the area. Police
were called out last weekend after a report of a youth in a white car
"driving like crazy" in the town centre. However, when police attended the
scene, the trouble had stopped and no-one was willing to come forward. In a
second incident, police were called to a fight outside the Gardener's Arms
public house, but when they arrived the people involved had dispersed. The
criticism comes as a review of CCTV systems in East Lothian is under way.
Traders are disappointment the CCTV has not done more to prevent crime. One
said it had produced "little result".

It is only in American cities, where accurate and complete records of the
number of CCTV-derived arrests and convictions are not kept, that there is
"evidence" that surveillance cameras are effective crime-fighting tools.
(This putative evidence almost always consists of a handful of spectacular
anecdotes in which surveillance cameras led to the capture of the
criminal.) In the words of the principal of an elementary school at which
CCTV systems were installed in the wake of the Columbine shootings, the
value of such systems is merely "cosmetic," something to reassure insurance
companies and prospective clients that "everything" has been done to
prevent a reoccurrence.

       Tragedies spawn safety, design changes (August 27, 2001)

       WASHINGTON (AP) -- At Columbine High School this fall, teachers can
look forward to emergency response drills and crisis management guides. In
a few weeks, a "threat assessment manual" prepared by the Secret Service
arrives [...] Across the nation, schools have reacted to campus shootings
with a mix of tightened security and old-fashioned nurturing. Metal
detectors, video cameras and 24-hour hot lines are going into operation
[...] Joe Pizza, principal of Silver Bay Elementary School in Toms River,
New Jersey, said his school has a video camera trained on visitors as they
pass through the front door. "Even though the security camera is more
cosmetic than anything else, it does give parents peace of mind," he said.

And yet, in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, the TV screens,
newspapers and computer terminals of New York City and the rest of America
are filled with irrational calls for the installation of more surveillance
cameras and for the increased use of face recognition software to "enhance"
the performance of these cameras. For example, in the 16 September 2001
issue of The New York Times, our old friend, ex-Chief of the NYPD Howard
Safir, was described as being in favor of the "installation of 100 or so
[more] surveillance cameras in Times Square." (It's unfortunate that the
reporter from The Times didn't ask Safir how many cameras are already
installed there, because the matter is the subject of some conjecture.)
These new cameras, Safir was reported to have said, "should be integrated
with biometric facial imaging software, allowing the images of all
pedestrians to be compared with photographs of known terrorists."
Quite obviously, such a system couldn't possibly work, that is, couldn't
prevent a suicide bomber from attacking Times Square. Some terrorists live
in areas of the world in which cameras are uncommon, rarely used or even
condemned for the graven images they produce, and so find it that much
easier to avoid being photographed in the first place. As a result, the
only photographs of "known terrorists" that come into the possession of the
CIA, FBI or NYPD are either photographs of the leaders and masterminds, who
rarely (if ever) engage in suicide attacks, or photographs of the
followers, who are of course killed during the attack(s). In either case,
such photographs -- whether they are entered into a digital database or not
-- are completely useless. Safir's proposal also fails to take account of
the simple fact that any surveillance camera installed in Times Square
would have to face downwards, towards the ground. (Certainly that is the
direction in which the existing cameras face.) And, as we all know, the
attacks on the WTC didn't come from ground level, but from the air.

Now, it's quite possible that a future attack on Times Square could come
from the ground, i.e., from a bomb hidden in and transported by a car, van
or truck. According to The New York Times, Safir himself seems to realize
this, and that the only way to prevent such an attack from taking place
would be to ban all automobiles from the area.

       But Howard Safir, the former New York City police commissioner who
is now consultant to the chairman of ChoicePoint, a security information
company, warned of embracing a "bunker, bomb-camp mind-set." While
acknowledging, for example, that turning Times Square into a pedestrian
mall might be the most effective countermeasure to car bombs, he said that
such a step would only signal defeat.  "That's basically caving to
terrorism," he said.

How wrong he is! Filling Times Square with computer-enhanced surveillance
cameras -- now that is "caving [in] to terrorism"! But turning the area
into a pedestrian mall -- it would "signal" an honest awareness of the
obvious fact that automobile traffic is literally killing New York City.
Once confined to obscure minds, this awareness has apparently spread to New
York City's traffic planners, who have recently expanded the pedestrian
areas in Times Square, not reduced them. (Howard Safir doesn't seem to know
this.) And so, turning Times Square into a pedestrian zone would not only
make it a safer place, but a more pleasant one as well!

So what's with up people like Howard Safir and those who would "fight
terrorism" by giving more money to the very agencies that failed to see and
warn us about the attacks on the Pentagon and the WTC? Why aren't these
people learning from history? Why are they proposing more of the same --
more spies, more satellites, more surveillance cameras -- instead of
admitting the obvious, which is that these schemes just don't work and that
new ones have to be tried? Is it because they are incapable of logic or
just plain stupid? Listen to people like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield
and so-called "President" George W.  Bush: like Mr. Safir, these are stupid
men, in way over their heads. But this doesn't fully explain why they are
consciously putting forth proposals that obviously won't work.

The answer would appear to be that they are in fact not really concerned
with fighting terrorism or crime, but instead with strengthening their hold
on American society. The war criminals and convicted felons who now speak
on TV without fear of being remembered for what they did in the 1970s and
1980s (the Henry Kissingers, Robert McFarlanes and Ed Meeses of the world);
the pro-death penalty head of the newly founded Office of Homeland Security
(a perfectly Orwellian name!); those dour Christian soldiers trying to ram
through Congress the draconian Mobilization Against Terrorism Act of 2001
-- their enemies are not "international terrorists," but ordinary citizens
of this putatively democratic society, people who already are or might soon
become political opponents or domestic dissidents. The "new" war against
terrorism is nothing more than an opportunistic justification for the same
old war that's been going on in this country for decades, at least since
the political assassinations of the 1960s: the military-industrial
establishment's war for control of the hearts and minds of the American
people. Note well "Administration Urges Passage of Trade Negotiating Bill
as Blow to Terrorism," which was published on 24 September 2001 by the
Associated Press.

       WASHINGTON (AP) - The administration began a new drive Monday to
persuade Congress to grant President Bush the authority to negotiate trade
agreements, telling lawmakers passage would help the fight against global

       U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said supporters of
legislation to let the president negotiate a hemisphere-wide free trade
agreement and a new round of global trade talks should know within two
weeks whether the votes are there for passage in the House.

       Zoellick said the legislation would serve as a major signal that the
United States does not plan to retreat from its global responsibilities,
including defense of free trade against terrorist threats and opponents of

       "On Sept. 11, America, its open society and its ideas came under
attack by a malevolence that craves our panic, retreat and abdication of
global leadership," Zoellick said in a speech promoting benefits of free

       "This president and this administration will fight for open markets.
We will not be intimidated by those who have taken to the streets to blame
trade - and America - for the world's ills," he said. "The global trading
system has demonstrated, from Seoul to Santiago, that it is a pathway out
of poverty and despair."

Just two weeks after the disaster, we are no longer talking about
terrorism, Osama Bin Laden and other militant Islamic fundamentalists, but
instead about "opponents of globalization" and those who choose to exercise
their constitutionally protected rights to assemble and speak freely at
large and colorful street rallies, marches and demonstrations. But just
because anti-American terrorists are (also) anti-globalization doesn't mean
that anti-globalization activists are terrorists! Far from it. As the
example of Genoa recently demonstrated, if there are any "terrorists"
present at anti-globalization demonstrations, they have been brought there,
encouraged and protected afterwards by fascists at the highest levels of

It's obviously no coincidence that Zoellick made these ominous statements
just one week before the World Bank and the International Money Fund were
scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C. Though these meetings have been
postponed due to the 11 September 2001 attacks -- they had originally been
shortened from one week to two days because of the size and strength of the
opposition to the meetings of the G-8 held in Genoa, Italy, on 20-23 July
2001 -- some of the groups that had planned to demonstrate in the streets
against the meetings have decided to go to Washington anyway and
demonstrate against the "war on terrorism." People like Zoellick obviously
want to make sure that their meetings won't ever again be disrupted by tens
even hundreds of thousands of protesters, and they (Zoellick and his ilk)
aren't above employing paranoia, calumny and political crime to get what
they want.

And so we propose that, instead of being allowed to wage war against the
people who allegedly attacked it, the government of the United States -- a
rogue known for "going its own way" on such matters as the Kyoko climate
accords, the "Star Wars" missile defense system and the embargo of Cuba --
should be constrained to join the rest of the world. The US government
should ask the World Court to convene a special session at which all those
who believe that they have legitimate grievances against the United States
and/or its military forces can be heard. The judges at these trials should
have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, and conduct thorough
and unimpeded investigations into the charges brought before it. And, if
and when it turns out that prominent American political leaders have in
fact committed crimes against humanity, they should be properly punished,
no matter who they are. We have faith that, when justice is finally done,
there will no longer be popular support for whatever terrorists continue to

If our proposal seems naive or "impossible to put into practice" -- if it
seems at odds with "the way things are," or, rather, "the way things will
have to be after 11 September 2001" -- then everything must be changed.

28 September 2001

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