Catch – um – Click 22
Well so much for keeping the address of the DARPA headquarters under raps.
Even though address of the agency that oversees research into everything from autonomous vehicles, robotic pack mules and Imaginary Weapons, can easily be found using Google and is clearly listed on it’s webpage (with directions), you can’t take a picture of the building itself. (At least not if you are nearby.)
Even worse, should you take a picture of the building, one could end up landing in some kind of Orwellian watch list. That’s what Kenneth W. McCormann found out. According to Marc Fisher at the Washington Post,
If you happen by 3701 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington and decide you have a sudden craving for a photograph of a generic suburban office building, and you point your camera at said structure, you will rather quickly be greeted by uniformed security folks who will demand that you delete the image and require that you give up various personal information.
When Keith McCammon unwittingly took a picture of that building, he was launched on an odyssey that has so far involved an Arlington police officer, the chief of police and the defense of the United States of America.
McCammon could not have been expected to know when he wandered by the building that it houses the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a low-profile wing of the Defense Department that conducts all manner of high-tech research that evolves into weapons systems and high-order strategery.
DARPA’s presence at 3701 N. Fairfax is hardly a government secret–Google finds nearly 10,000 pages listing the agency’s use of the building. But there’s no big fat sign on the building, so how was McCammon to know that this was a building he dared not photograph? And why would the government care if anyone took a picture of the exterior of an office building? This is as silly and hypersensitive as the now-common harassment of people who innocently take pictures of random federal buildings in the District.
Unfortunately, in the next days and weeks, this will likely become one of the most photographed nondescript office buildings in Fairfax County, Virginia. Why? Because people are going to blog about it and wander down to see what the big deal is.
The problem here isn’t that DARPA really has anything to hide. The building itself probably isn’t even the problem. Perhaps the people entering and leaving the building would be an issue, but any spy or terrorist worth their salt could simply install a minicam in a car and park it across the street. Absolutely no problem getting images of each and every person entering the building on a given day.
Actually when McCammon followed up on the ‘contact’ writing complaints to the Arlington County Police Internal Affairs Section, he was met with openness. His blog shows the information he received. Now he has move up the line to find out what the security official at that installation has on file about him.
Think about ending up on a watch list or a no fly list simply because you took a picture of a building.
Conservatives, please connect the dots. Support the troops and obey the law. Public photography should be illegal, right? (Actually under a strict reading of the bible, image making should be illegal but we won’t go there.) Anyone could be a terrorist; anyone a target? Anywhere a secret installation? Are the liberals so far off when they say that security measures have gone a bit far?
And the officer who stopped McCammon was off duty, doing private contracting; a hired gun (abet working for the government). This says two things. Why does the governement have to contract off-duty police officers to do that kind of work (is it cost effective?). Indeed, are off-duty police officers a higher class of citizen – those who must be obeyed?
Finally, as McCammon point out,
Further, setting aside the issue of officer discretion, the most disturbing aspect of this incident is the simple fact that we had no way of knowing that we were acting in a manner that might have been so much as considered suspicious. If the subject in question is devoid of any type of external marking or warning sign, one should have no reason to suspect that it cannot be photographed (or approached while in possession of photographic equipment). And it follows that one should certainly have no reason to suspect that photographing such a subject might land one’s name on a list, or in a database. Reasonable, law-abiding people tend to avoid these types of things when it can be helped. Thus, my request for a list of locations within Arlington County that are unmarked, but at which photography is either prohibited or discouraged according to some (public or private) policy. Of course, such a list does not exist. Catch-22.
The absurdity of this type of situation is clear: We’re being penalized for violating poorly documented, questionably legal (an argument that I’m certainly unqualified to make) and arbitrarily enforced policies. We’re not being told what is expected of us. And to the extent that we are able, we need to take a stand. We need to know our rights, document the fact that we’ve been wronged, and work for change. And if we fail to enact change, the very least that we can do is make it such a pain in the ass to harass photographers that those who would otherwise jump at the chance will think twice, if for no other reason than to avoid a mountain of paperwork and an internal affairs investigation.
If you do nothing else today, tell some random person the address of the DARPA headquarters in Fairfax Virginia. It’s 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, a non descript brown office building.
You can’t miss it. You just can’t take pictures of it. Click – 22.
(Hat tip: Noah Shachtman/Danger Room)