Further Reading:

» For more information about this subject, the following resources are recommended.

[1] MapQuest; Terraserver. 

[2] Eyeballing of Cryptome, April 2002.

[3] See for example, "Vice president in secure location at night", by John King, CNN, 11th September 2002.

[4] Eyeballing a Chem-Bio War Target, 25th April 2002.

[5] See Eyeballing US Transatlantic Cable Landings, 7th July 2002; Eyeballing US Transpacific Cable Landings, 8th July 2002; Eyeballing Downtown Manhattan Telephone Hubs, 10th July 2002.

[6] The homepage of Natsios Young Architects. Young’s partner Deborah Natsios maintains the Cartome website focusing on mapping technologies used in surveillance and spying. See also an interview with John Young by readers of Slashdot.

[7] For an interesting discussion of development and application of technologies of aerial photography, satellite imaging, GIS and like see Mark Monmonier's book Spying with Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy (University of Chicago Press, 2002). 

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[8] Many secret and many other more mundane facilities are hidden underground. There is growing interest in so called 'urban speleology,' exploring man-made underground structures; see for example the Subterranea Britannica website.

For more in-depth coverage see for example Anthony Clayton's Subterranean City (Phillimore & Co Ltd, 2000) and Nick McCamley's Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers (Pen & Sword, 2002).

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[9] The Guardian newspaper did a short piece on a few secret sites in Britain in 2000, linked to a story on the availability of the first national aerial photography map, the 'millennium map', of the UK. "The Russians spent decades getting hold of pictures like these. Now anyone can order them on the net", by Felicity Lawrence and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 27th January 2000.

[10] This issue is clearly illustrated in the "UK secret site photos ‘must go", BBC News Online, 7th June 2002. More information on 'chilling' effect on access to public information by governments and private business, see the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse.  

[11] Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps, 2nd edition (University of Chicago Press, 1996).

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[12] More information on the influential work of Brian Harley on the radical re-interpretation of cartography, see The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography, edited by Paul Laxton (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

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[13] For example see, Alexey V. Postnikov, "Maps for ordinary consumers versus maps for the military: double standards of map accuracy in Soviet cartography, 1917-1991", Cartography and Geographic Information Science, 2002, Vol. 29, No. 3, pages 243-260.

[14] Website for the exhibition and the accompanying book by April Carlucci and Peter Barber, Lie of the Land: The Secret Life of Maps (The British Library, 2002).

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Map of the Month
by Martin Dodge, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL

13th August 2003

Revealing Hidden Places: The Cryptome Eyeballing Map Series

      Maps can reveal hidden places that are beyond our sight. But they also have a unique power to deceive us by deliberately not revealing what is actually on the ground. Governments have many secret places, sensitive sites and critical infrastructures that they wish to remain hidden from prying eyes. The one government with the most to hide is undoubtedly the United States with its huge military and security apparatus, operating from innumerable bases and bunkers spread across the globe. Indeed, there is great fascination in contemporary culture - bordering on X-Files paranoiac obsession for some - with the activities of this military-industrial complex, and in particular with seeing what is behind the formidable fences and intimidating 'no entry' signs of its hidden places. The Eyeballing project <www.cryptome.org/eyeball.htm> developed by activist John Young uses publicly available maps to give a view into some of these secret and sensitive sites across America. 

      The project consists of series of individual 'eyeballing' web pages, each of which focuses on a particular military base, intelligence facility or other sensitive site, like nuclear power plants and dams. Eyeballing exploits the potential of hypertext to author a cartographic collage, piecing together a diverse range of aerial photographs, topographic maps at different scales, photographs, along with expert commentary by Young, annotated with corrections and clarifications emailed in from (anonymous) readers. There are also hyperlinks to supplementary documents and other relevant websites, while individual eyeballs pages are themselves cross referenced by hyperlinks. To produce the eyeballs Young only utilises public sources of maps and imagery, typically topographic mapping from MapQuest and aerial photography from Terraserver [1]. Even though the 'eyeballs' have an unpolished, almost amateurish look to them, the series represents a novel and valuable atlas of hidden places.

      Each eyeball spatialises a particular story of a hidden, sensitive site, engaging with the reader to actively explore and think what happens there. There are currently 172 individual eyeballing web pages and the series continues to expand in numbers and in its scope of subjects to map. So far the eyeballing series has covered 11 airforce bases, 17 naval bases, the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency (NSA), nerve gas storage facilities, nuclear power plants, 54 dams, numerous little known intelligence listening posts, as well as the Kennedy Space Centre, the Statue of Liberty, and one particular family ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Click for larger version

Part of the eyeball of the homes of President George W. Bush, created by John Young in August 2002. <http://cryptome.org/prez-eyeball.htm>


      As well as the obvious sites, there are also some unusual selections of eyeball targets that reveal the broad scope of the project as well some of the idiosyncratic concerns of Young, such as Las Vegas; He has even Eyeballed himself [2]. Much of Young's interest is not with 'top secret' bunkers but with the large number of facilities and infrastructures that are usually obscured from public view and not really talked about. There is still plenty more to do, of course, and he is working alone on the project so it represents a considerable individual investment of time and effort.

Origins of Eyeballing

      In a recent email interview, Map of the Month asked John Young about the eyeballing project, focusing on his aims and objectives in producing them. The project started in March 2002 as Young become intrigued by the continuing official ‘disappearance’ of the US Vice President Dick Cheney from post 9-11 Washington DC to a secret bunker, which the media euphemistically reported as a 'secure, undisclosed location' [3]. Young wanted "..to locate the safe hole and publish it". The secure location turned out to be a military command bunker, known as Site R, buried under Raven Rock Mountain in rural Pennsylvania, close to Camp David. This discovery provided the first eyeball web page <http://cryptome.org/site-r.htm>, a part of which is shown below.

Click for larger version

A screenshot of part of the Site R eyeball, the Raven Rock bunker where Vice President Cheney hides out. The full eyeball web page is much longer, with a  range of maps and  aerial photographs at different scales as well as photographs of the gates of the facility taken by Young.<http://www.cryptome.org/site-r/site-r.htm>


      Following on from the initial cartographic exposure of Site R, Young eyeballed obvious, high profile, organisations like the NSA, the FBI and the CIA, exposing their headquarters building complexes. He also did a timely sequence looking at  America's capacity in terms of weapons of mass destruction in April 2002, eyeballing probable storage of nerve gas [4]. The blurry and indistinct views of these facilities in the remote deserts of Utah provide a very pointed and potent reminder of the country in possession of the most WMD. Young says that developing composites of multiple sites, in order to expose "the extent of systems which cannot be seen in a single facility has been a goal - as common among geographers." The eyeballing of undersea cable systems and the telecommunications hubs in New York City [5] are good examples of this.

      Young is not a cartographer, instead he trained as an architect and now runs a small practice in New York City with his partner Deborah Natsios [6]. "As architects my wife and I have long used maps and cartography in professional work", according to Young, noting however, that this "has customarily been quite local and limited compared to the eyeball series, and none of our work has involved military facilities."

      Young has a clear political agenda in creating the eyeballing map montages, to show people the places that the powerful do not want the rest of the community to know about or think about. The mapping of facilities related to America’s continued maintenance of weapons of mass destruction, for example, is clearly designed to expose the hypocrisy of the Bush Government. Eyeballing is a small and quite recent part of Young's activist work, dedicated to exposing overbearing government and corporate secrecy, seeking to reveal the murky workings of powerful organisations that wish to operate hidden away from public scrutiny. He achieves this by the unflinching disclosure of sensitive and controversial documents via a unique information repository, an anti-secrecy library on the Web, called Cryptome <http://cryptome.org>, "which has no limits and does not control its borrowed holdings", says Young. The site has been online since 1996 and is an important node in the realm of freedom of information, challenging powerful interests particularly in the areas of surveillance technologies, digital rights and cryptography. The Eyeballing project can be seen as the subversive map room of the Cryptome library. Young has received no official comment or complaint about the nature of his mapping project thus far, but notes that eyeballing receives "quite an impressive number of downloads from official websites, in particular from the military".

Vision and Imagination

      "Maps are densely packed with information which helps translate words into locations which may be visited either physically or in the imagination" says Young. The Eyeballing pages provide new vision that stimulates the imagination. They hint at more than can actually be seen, making the viewer feel somehow illicit in looking straight down onto some of the most secure and sensitive places on the planet, such as the NSA headquarters. They give a thrill at seeing something we are 'not meant to see' and yet the maps themselves are entirely conventional, legal and publicly available. This subversive feeling is created through the selection and then unconventional arrangement of a specific set of maps.

      The matter-of-fact reality of the eyeball mapping actually helps to 'ground' some of these murky, anonymous and deliberately intimidating organisations. When we can see that they inhabit an ordinary office building, in a beltway sprawl of Washington DC for example, it begins to reel them into our everyday reality from the X-Files fringe, cartography dissolving their mystery. The eyeballs also give the audience a view that they could not normally get themselves, even if they wanted to. For most people it would be impossible to actually fly over the NSA complex in a plane. 

      The tactical exploitation of mapping in the eyeballing series can also be read as placing the cartographic spotlight back onto the powerful themselves, in a very small way of course. The best mapping, in terms of accuracy and currency, has traditionally been the exclusive preserve of the military, and the strategic advantages this cartographic knowledge brings have been jealously guarded by those in power. Indeed, much of the current mapping technologies have military origins, most particularly for spying on enemies [7].

      Yet, maps, even very detailed ones, can only tell us so much. And Young himself is working within the constraints of freely available public spatial data sources, which are often partial and out of date. Consequently, the eyeballs he can produce only scratch the surface of what is going on at these hidden and sensitive places. We may snatch a glimpse of the buildings, roads and other visible structures, but this is far from a panoptic view and grants the reader little sense of the implications of what is being performed daily at these sites. (Young's interpretative commentary does augment the mapping to a significant amount.) The interconnections, flows and chains of command, vital to the working of many hidden places, cannot be observed in static maps of physical facilities. Aerial photographs, topographic maps and satellite imagery can hint at the nature of power, as materially expressed through the physical structures, but they cannot actually show us power relationships.

      Moreover, those organisations with something really worth hiding have long been savvy to the watchful eyes above, putting their most sensitive sites fully underground [8]. Maps showing the access roads and entrance portals to such bunker complexes only give the barest hint of their subterranean extent. Nowadays much of the secret work of the military and intelligence community is actually transacted in cyberspace, in the data networks, servers and webs of classified information flows, which are again completely invisible to conventional cartographic display of physical facilities. Part of the wider of agenda of Young's Cryptome project is to try to expose the actual workings of these virtual systems of security and intelligence through publishing documentary evidence on their structures, internal policies, statistics, budget details and other banal, but revealing, administrative materials of the various organisations involved.

Public Mapping

      Eyeballing has been made possible by the amount of detailed spatial data, now publicly available on the Internet. These maps are accessible and browsable to anyone online, through simple Web interfaces. The fact that one does not require specialised knowledge or software to use spatial data has greatly widened access. In recent years a great deal of aerial photography and satellite imagery, often from declassified military sources, as well as new commercial satellite systems, has also become publicly available, although the resolution and temporal scale of this imagery is still the poor relation compared to what is produced by current classified military systems. Clearly tensions may well arise between 'open skies' of detailed commercially satellite imagery and the entrenched view that the public should not know what is hidden behind walls and fences.

       Eyeballing demonstrates well the potential for novel applications of spatial data, created by non-specialists, once it becomes easily accessible, at least in an American context. It shows what can be achieved in a quick, 'low-tech' fashion, by mixing and matching publicly sourced maps and imagery. It would have been very much harder to have created the eyeball web pages ten years ago for example, particularly as a one-man effort.

      However, it would certainly be a lot tougher to attempt eyeballing outside the United States, as much of the rest of the world is a long way behind the Americans in terms of access to detailed spatial data freely available on the Internet, and quite often sensitive sites, especially military facilities, are themselves censored from published mapping. "It is frustrating to lack access to eyeballing information outside the US like that available within", commented Young, "the US centricity is distorting of what information remains to be revealed about other countries." There are hidden places and sensitive sites all over the world and it would be interesting to see activists in other countries having a go at mapping them [9]. "[W]e hope that the eyeball series will induce other contributions of restricted and secret mapping information from other countries as well as the US", commented Young.

      Yet, there are also worrying signs that the growth in public availability of detailed spatial data may be coming to a close. In the current ‘chilling’ atmosphere, of post 9-11 security paranoia, availability and easy access to whole rafts of public information is being questioned. Spatial data, in particular, can easily be portrayed as somehow especially 'sensitive' and of likely value to terrorists [10]. The level of detail and freedom of access to digital mapping and imagery enjoyed today, may soon be locked away again, available only to 'authorised' users. Young passionately says, "wider public access is under attack by the secret keepers and should be fought vociferously".

      The Internet itself is a very ambivalent medium and could well be a double edged sword in terms of freedom of access versus privacy implications. The medium can deliver wider public access but it can also, at the same time, further bolster the powerful through their ability to track individual interests and consumption patterns. As Young notes, "Spying by the secret keepers to protect their privilege is on the increase, especially on the net. It remains to be seen if the net’s role to increase public access to information will be corrupted by those who spy on net usage - official and corporate."

Complicit Cartography

      All maps are distortions of reality, as they have to be selective in what they show and do not show. Sometimes distortions are imposed deliberately for overt purposes of propaganda or misinformation and this works so well as people have an innate faith in maps as truthful representations of reality. Mark Mommonier's book How to Lie With Maps [11] nicely debunks the myth of cartographic objectivity.

      In fact cartography, has long been a complicit tool, exploited by the powerful, to deceive and keep secret places hidden by deliberately not mapping them. This has been explained by map historian Brian Harley in his theory of cartographic silences, whereby cartographers censor the map to hide the presence of features on the ground that one should reasonably expect to be represented in a map at that scale [12]. It has been most widely practised by the military, and not just in the past. In the first instance this is done to try to conceal things from the enemy and thereby to deceive them. The routine and widespread disinformation in cold war Soviet cartography, where places were incorrectly located and sensitive facilities left unmapped completely, is a well known and obvious example [13]. Indeed, there has been recent popular interest in debunking the innocence of cartography and exposing the lies perpetrated, for example the British Library exhibition in spring 2002 entitled, Lie of the Land: The Secret Life of Maps [14]. The deliberate concealment is practised by many governments even today, although, this kind of cartographic censorship is clearly problematic now in an era of 'open skies' satellite imagery, which anyone can purchase on the Web.

      Beyond simple map censorship to conceal secret places, the theory of 'silences' also advances the active role of cartography in maintaining established structures of power. Subtle and insidious decisions made in map-making work to emphasise some things and at the same time to de-emphasise other aspects of the landscape that are seen as less important. Cartography usually reflects the hegemonic interests of the powerful in society and actively denies the voice to weak. Thus certain things are deemed 'unmappable' for social reasons and never appear on government or commercially published maps. As Mark Monmonier puts it, "By omitting politically threatening or aesthetically unattractive aspects of geographic reality, and by focusing on the interests of civil engineers, geologists, public administrators, and land developers, our topographic ‘base maps’ are hardly basic to the concerns of public health and safety officials, social workers, and citizens rightfully concerned about the well-being of themselves and others." (page 122).

Eyeballs as Maps of Resistance

      So clearly, John Young's work in the eyeballs series only gives a pinhole view into the world of hidden places, but it is a revealing view nonetheless, and being freely distributed through the Web, it could be argued that the eyeballs are potent maps of resistance to the growing secret state, turning the tools of the watchers onto themselves. Map of the Month asked Young about his 'dream' eyeballing map, without current practical restrictions, and this is what he said: "This would map surveillance systems of the world and methods of hiding those by artfully camouflaging with public disinformation."





© 2003 Martin Dodge, Cyber-Geography Research