Project GUNMAN and the Telling of Intelligence Histories

This story of how the National Security Agency (NSA) was involved in analyzing typewriter bugs that were implanted by agents of the USSR in the 1980s is pretty amazing (.pdf) in terms of the technical and operational details which are have been written about. It’s also revealing in terms of how the parties who are permitted to write about these materials breathlessly describe the agencies’ past exploits. In critically reading these kinds of accounts its possible to learn how the agencies, themselves, regard themselves and their activities. In effect, how history is ‘created’—or propaganda written, depending on how your read the article in question—functions to reveal the nature of the actors involved in that creation and the way that myths and truths are created and replicated.

As a slight aside, whenever I come across material like this I’m reminded of just how poor the Canadian government is in disclosing its own intelligence agencies’ histories. As senior members of the Canadian intelligence community retire or pass away, and as recorded materials waste away or are disposed of, key information that is needed to understand how and why Canada has acted in the world are being lost. This has the effect of impoverishing Canadians’ own understandings of how their governments have operated, with the result that Canadian histories often risk missing essential information that could reveal hidden depths to what Canadians know about their country and its past.


When science research interferes with politics, economics, or culture, science is most often the loser. Thus, governments and businesses control healthcare for their personal gains or concepts and disregard or avoid factual knowledge and events.

Michael B. A. Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, & History: Past, Present, and Future

The Top-Secret Cold War Plan to Keep Soviet Hands Off Middle Eastern Oil

This article discusses how, following the Second World War and advent of the Cold War, the United States and British governments worked with oil companies to plan ‘denial’ operations should the USSR invade the Middle East. Core to the plan was for combined CIA and military, along with corporate employees, efforts to strategically blow up parts of the refineries such that the Soviets would be unable to take advantage of the oil reserves and thus empower the West to invade and ideally retake the strategic resource.

The efforts were developed and iterated on for almost a decade, though towards the end the focus shifted from the USSR and towards nationalist governments in the region. Moreover, what started as a denial approach transformed into one where oil production would be maintained: the thirst for oil on the part of the United States and Britain meant that turning off the taps could be a serious blow to their economic and military efforts.

These were contingency operations but they were taken seriously. Explosives were moved and put in place and the British even established plans for nuclear assaults to prevent the fields from falling into non-Western hands. It raises the question of whether similar kinds of activities are planned, today, or whether cooler heads now are responsible for establishing contingency plans when it comes to core resources that contemporary Western economies rely upon. And would nuclear or other explosives be used, now, or is this where we would see a first and genuinely far-reaching aspect of hard ‘cyber’ power?


Researcher reveals how “Computer Geeks” replaced “Computer Girls” | The Clayman Institute for Gender Research


The earliest computer programmers were women and the programming field was once stereotyped as female

One of the best books I’ve read about the transition from computing as a female- to male-dominanted area of work is Ensmenger’s The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise.

It’s a remarkable book that details – with precision – how labour changes combined with new understandings of what ‘goes into’ computer work led to the defeminization of not just the people working on computers but the very tropes and language associated with the same kind(s) of work. Highly, highly recommended.


On Masons, Cryptography, and History

Wired has a terrific piece that details how a secret order in the 18th century used a combination of cryptography, obfuscation, and operational secrecy to either spy on the Masons, or keep the Masonic traditions and rituals alive during a time of persecution. It’s a longer read, but worth your time. Wired’s article also demonstrates the value of academic freedom: it gives scholars the ability to explore and solve intriguing problems. Their work may never provide a monetary ‘return on investment’ but it will likely enrich society and culture nevertheless .

Piracy as Saving History?

I haven’t seen this argument before. It’s clever: stripping DRM (and/or transforming files to be cross-compatible with a variety of software readers) means that (in theory) those files will be accessible for longer periods of time, thus letting us preserve our (digital) history. From the article:

Piracy’s preserving effect, while little known, is actually nothing new. Through the centuries, the tablets, scrolls, and books that people copied most often and distributed most widely survived to the present. Libraries everywhere would be devoid of Homer, Beowulf, and even The Bible without unauthorized duplication.

The main difference between then and now is that software decays in a matter of years rather than a matter of centuries, turning preservation through duplication into an illegal act. And that’s a serious problem: thousands of pieces of culturally important digital works are vanishing into thin air as we speak.

At issue: I’m really not sure that a total archive of everything digital is actually something that we want, or necessarily need. A LOT of books, games, poems, and so forth were lost to the mists of time, and it’s not entirely clear to me that our world has fallen apart because of such losses.

History is a patchwork that is contingent on us perceiving certain items as more or less important from a partial and retrospective position. Moreover, it should be noted that truly significant texts/poems/artifacts have historically been replicated and distributed because of their value/importance at the time. Do we necessarily need a campaign of mass piracy – under the auspice of ‘preserving history’ – to ensure that similar efforts are made to secure the most critical elements of our past? I’m not so sure.