Trevor Paglen | NSA-Tapped Fiber Optic Cable Landing Site
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NSA-Tapped Fiber Optic Cable Landing Site, Mastic Beach, New York, United States
The following text was adapted from a discussion inside the artist’s studio
The metaphors we use to understand mass surveillance and the Internet tend to be very abstract, and often mystifying. Words like “cyberspace”, the cloud, the information superhighway perpetrate an image of the Internet as something placeless yet ubiquitous, immaterial yet omnipresent. These metaphors are deeply misleading.
‘NSA-Tapped Fiber Optic Cable Landing Site, Mastic Beach, New York’ draws on documents from the Snowden archive and other sources to develop a vision of the Internet that emphasizes the materiality of communications networks, and the political geography of the Internet. In doing so, the project mimics the NSA’s own understanding of the Internet, emphasizing fiber optic cables, landing sites, switching facilities, data centers, and the routes and choke points in global telecommunication infrastructures.
The piece shown here focuses on a network of transatlantic cables that come onshore at Mastic Beach, NY, one of several major fiber-optic cable landing sites in the U.S. Several NSA-tapped fiberoptic cables land on Long Island, including “Atlantic Crossing-1,” “Atlantic Crossing-2/Yellow,” as well as the “Apollo” and “Emerald” cables.
Each of the works in this series is composed of a dyptich. On the left is a photograph of the beach or landing site where the cables come onshore (in this photograph, the cables are under the water and beach). On the right side is a collage of images and documents related to the specific site. The base document is a map produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for marine navigation. Among other things, these maritime maps indicate the location of undersea cables so that ships do not interfere with them. Layered on this map are various internal NSA documents from the Snowden archive, corporate documents, additional photographs of the site, and other materials.
For the DIS Data Issue, we have created a digitally annotated guide to this artwork.