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Five stationary cameras and a "point, tilt, zoom" bubble camera in an East Oakland neighborhood with a population that is 50% Black, 23% Latino, 16% white and 6% Asian.

Five stationary cameras and a point, tilt, zoom (“PTZ”) bubble camera in an East Oakland neighborhood with a population that is 50% Black, 23% Latino, 16% white and 6% Asian.

Race is a surveillance technology. Race can be theorized as an embodied, primarily visual means of perception used by the viewer to identify and track human bodies.

In the era of early mercantile capitalism race was deduced by skin color, hair, and facial features. Race was used to categorize humanity into castes of slaves and masters, free and bonded.

The anthropology and biology of the colonial era developed the idea of race as a “nature” in the blood, and as a fact measurable in the body’s proportions, the texture of hair, the size of the brain. All of this was scientific nonsense, of course, but the point wasn’t to grapple with empirical reality; the point was to justify slavery and imperialism based on what is otherwise an arbitrary and politically determined difference. In the plantation societies of the Americas every white eye was a camera, every Black body the object of surveillance.

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A street sign in deep east Oakland circa 90th and International Boulevard, a mostly Black and Latino area of the city, warns pedestrians and vehicles that “all activities” are under surveillance.

Surveillance has always been about controlling the mobility of the poor and property-less, be they slaves or prisoners, wards of reservations, immigrants, or welfare recipients.

The poverty and violence of inequality constantly threatens to spill over into the privileged zones of wealth and tranquility.

Surveillance tends to be most concentrated on border zones between the enfranchised citizens and the marginalized denizens, or in ghetto and prison architectures designed to contain the boiling masses of the darker nations.

11thBroadwayPTZ

A PTZ camera along Broadway in Oakland’s downtown commercial corridor, location for the offices of fortune 500 companies, law firms, and valuable real estate.

Today the state and the military-industrial contractors that build and operate the contemporary surveillance systems adamantly deny the raciality of surveillance. Like those who deployed surveillance systems of prior centuries, the empirical evidence contradicts them. We know that NYPD stop and frisk tactics disproportionately target Blacks and Latinos.

We know that border reconnaissance drones fly mostly over the US-Mexico border, watching down upon non-white immigrants.

Biometric databases are used to capture the identities of “foreign” combatants, prisoners, border crossers.

These surveillance systems, vast projects that have consumed billions of dollars and countless labor hours, reveal obvious obsessions with the movements of racialized bodies.

achievesuccess

The sign for a youth center in east Oakland tells Black, Latino, and other immigrant youngsters to “achieve success.” A PTZ surveillance camera watches over them.

In Oakland, California, local police and security agencies are in the early phases of building out a city-wide surveillance system called the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). The DAC will pull video camera feeds, gunshot detection alerts, and even information gleaned from social media, into one central hub. It will allow the Oakland Police Department to use the surveillance intelligence to deploy officers in real time, and also as evidence in later criminal prosecutions.

As with all surveillance it’s important to understand who will be watched, and who will be watching. Oakland is one of the Blackest cities in California with roughly 100,000 African American residents. 73,000 of Oakland’s African American residents live at or below the federally defined poverty level of income. 27 percent of Oakland’s population is Latino, and 16 percent is Asian. Poverty is high among these groups also.

tribunebuilding

Surveillance cameras peer around the corner of the building in which the Oakland Tribune, the city’s major daily newspaper, is located. The street poles in the background are decorated with banners of the Downtown Oakland Association, a business improvement district that is applying for grant funding to build out a private surveillance camera network that may eventually be linked into the city’s DAC system.

FremontHigh

The eyes of authority watch over Black, Latino, and Asian youngsters at Fremont High School in east Oakland.

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Potential contractor to complete Phase 2 of Oakland’s DAC surveillance system, URS Corp is the largest nuclear weapons contractor for the United States. The company is so integrally involved that it’s “federal” web page includes a picture of a nuclear missile-armed submarine.

In March of 2013 the city of Oakland signed a contract with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) for design and construction of the first of two phases of a city-wide surveillance system called the Domain Awareness Center, or DAC. The basic infrastructure to link up cameras and sensors with servers running powerful software, hosted in several command rooms at the Port and in the city’s Emergency Operations Center, is now mostly complete. Oakland’s DAC surveillance system is not yet fully up and running, however, until Phase 2 work is completed. In July of 2013, against an outpouring of public protest against building the surveillance system, the Oakland city council approved a contract modification for SAIC to complete Phase 2.

Recently, however, the Oakland city council learned that its prime contractor for the project is involved in the U.S. nuclear weapons program, a fact that violates Measure T, a city voter proposition that makes Oakland a nuclear free zone. Measure T and Ordinance No. 11062 C.M.S. bar any contractor that is involved in nuclear weapons work from doing business with Oakland, and SAIC’s contributions to nuclear weapons are well-documented.

Oakland paused work on the project, and in October the city council authorized its administration to drop SAIC and return to the original pool of vendors who responded to the city’s first request for proposals (RFP) issued one year ago. The original pool of vendors who expressed interest in bidding on the surveillance project included 25 corporations, so surely another with a clean record could be found?

It appears, however, that SAIC’s ties to nuclear weapons aren’t unusual inside the industry that sells mass surveillance systems. Many of the contractors that specialize in building giant surveillance systems like the DAC also have nuclear weapons and other arms manufacturing contracts with the Pentagon. Mass surveillance and nuclear weapons appear to go hand in hand in the thinking of the executives who run these companies.

For example, engineers with URS Corp responded to Oakland’s original RFP for the DAC. URS Corp is a prime contractor for theU.S.nuclear weapons research, design and testing laboratories at Los Alamos, New Mexico and Livermore, California. URS is part of two for-profit limited liability corporations that manage theU.S.nuclear weapons labs for the National Nuclear Security Administration. URS also operates the salt mines in southern New Mexico where deadly radioactive waste from theU.S.nuclear weapons programs is buried.

Schneider Electric also responded to the original RFP and appears to be in the running to get the DAC Phase 2 contract. But again, like URS and SAIC, Schneider Electric has ties to nuclear weapons. In marketing materials Schneider lists Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nuclear weapons facility managed by URS, as one of its clients. Schneider Electric also lists the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin, and Wright Patterson Air Force Base as clients. Lockheed Martin has long been one of the prime nuclear weapons contractors for the United States government. Wright Patterson Air Force Base hosts several units that research and deploy nuclear weapons. Schneider Electric’s Pelco subsidiary has installed surveillance systems at the Navy’s Kings Bay Strategic Weapons Facility, a port that harbors nuclear armed submarines.

kratos

Marketing materials created by Kratos Defense and Security Solutions, Inc., another potential contractor that might build Phase 2 of Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center.

Another company in Oakland’s vendor pool that is being considered for Phase 2 of the DAC is Kratos Defense. Very much like SAIC, Kratos is another San Diego-headquartered arms merchant that thrives on Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contracts. In their most recent report to shareholders, Kratos’ executives straightforwardly describe their company as “a specialized security technology business,” whose “principal products and services are related to Command, Control, Communications, Computing, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (“C5ISR”).” Kratos’ major business segments include “Electronic Warfare/Attack,” drones, known in industry-speak as “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” and “Missile Range Operations.”

And Kratos has direct links to nuclear weapons too. Kratos designed, built, and manages a security system for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s use at the Nevada Test Site, a testing ground for nuclear weapons that in recent years has been considered as the site of a possible radioactive waste dump. Last year Kratos won a multi-million dollar contract from the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to provide “worldwide Radio Frequency (RF) interference geolocation services” for the Pentagon’s use. Among other things, STRATCOM commands the nuclear weapons forces deployed by the Air Force and Navy, and Kratos’ contract relates to this nuclear mission.

The list of potential Oakland DAC contractors includes still more companies deeply involved in weapons manufacturing, including nuclear weapons.

Two representatives from Unicom Global attended the Port of Oakland’s October 22, 2013 pre-proposal meeting for the DAC. Unicom Global is owned by Beverly Hills entrepreneur Corry Hong, formerly a lead guitarist in a South Korean rock band who became a software designer after immigrating to the US. Unicom is a holding company owns several major federal technology contractors including GTSI. GTSI was suspended from doing business with the federal government in 2010 due to accusations the company was scamming the Department of Homeland Security. Hong and Unicom bought GTSI last year, and since then GTSI and Unicom have regained considerable business with the military and DHS.

Unicom’s GTSI has even contracted with the National Nuclear Security Administration. A 2009 brochure from GTSI that is available on Unicom’s web site discusses one such contract in which GTSI provided the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories with “classified removable electronic media,” or CREMs. CREMs are storage devices which have been used to save nuclear weapons design information and testing data.

Oakland’s list of potential DAC Phase 2 contractors just keeps turning up companies with links to nuclear weapons. G4S Technology, part of the security company G4S, also responded to Oakland’s DAC RFP and attended to the mandatory pre-proposal contractor meetings. G4S Government Solutions has the prime contracts to guard most of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex across four states. G4S mercenaries are stationed at the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Nevada Test Site, the Sandia National laboratory Tonopah Test Range, also in Nevada, and the Hanford Site in Washington state.

So can Oakland actually pick a contractor to complete its mass surveillance system who doesn’t violate the city’s anti-nuclear ordinance? Perhaps a more important question is the one being asked by a growing coalition of residents opposed to the project: should Oakland even build the DAC?

saicmonitors

Screenshot from SAIC’s jobs web site. SAIC develops surveillance technologies for many branches of the federal government, as well as local governments and police agencies.

In 1988 the Oakland city council passed the nation’s most ambitious anti-nuclear ordinance, banning any and all activities that would advance the development and deployment of nuclear weapons. It was a big deal, not like the previous mostly symbolic ordinances passed by other towns and cities far from the nation’s nuclear labs and military bases.

The city of Oakland lies just south of Berkeley where in the 1940s and 1950s much weapons research was conducted. Weapons and components were transported through Oakland’s Port and across roads and highways and rail road routes traversing the city. Atomic weapons that later decimated the environments of South Pacific islands, causing cancers among islanders and destroying their homes were shipped through Oakland. In the 1960s Berkeley’s research was consolidated at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in southern Alameda County, but for decades Oakland was host to nuclear weapons contractors and federal offices involved in the design and deployment atomic weapons. (In fact this is true today, the subject of a future blog post perhaps.) The Navy sought to home port a nuclear-armed squadron in the Bay Area in the 1980s, and Oakland’s anti-nuclear ordinance was a direct effort to resist the further nuclearization of the region.

In 1990 a federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan slapped down most of Oakland’s anti-nuclear law, calling it unconstitutional and claiming that it interfered with national security. However, one portion of the anti-nuclear ordinance stayed on the books. Oakland would continue to refuse to enter into contracts or otherwise spend city funds on work done by corporations involved in the US nuclear weapons program.

Both the spirit and letter of this law were thrown out three years ago when the Oakland city council summarily agreed to the massive port-city surveillance system called the Domain Awareness Center. The contractor building Oakland’s camera and sensor network is Science Applications International, a giant military-industrial corporation that has helped the US Defense Department develop, build, and deploy nuclear weapons, among many other killing technologies.

And the Oakland contract with SAIC would seem to violate the spirit of another city of Oakland resolution, the anti-SB 1070 law that was passed in 2010 to oppose Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Oakland’s anti-SB 1070 resolution requires the city to boycott Arizona, and companies with headquarters in Arizona, due to the state’s racist and militarized immigration policies. SAIC has a major office in Arizona and has helped the federal government build a massive border wall and surveillance system.

USMexBorderFence_4

A portion of the gigantic wall built by SAIC along the US-Mexico border, a portion of which spans Arizona.

SAIC’s anti-immigrant technologies probably don’t violate Oakland’s anti-SB 1070 ordinance because the company’s contracts are with the federal government, and not the state of Arizona. SAIC is headquartered in Virginia, and only has branch offices in Arizona. Nevertheless, SAIC is perhaps the single largest provider of border surveillance technology to the government. SAIC has multiple offices in Arizona where its assists the Department of Homeland Security in its historically unprecedented effort to wall off the US-Mexico border and deport millions of human beings.

On SAIC’s web site the company proudly advertises the 60-mile border wall it helped build for the Department of Homeland Security in Arizona.

SAIC has developed the major surveillance, biometric, and alarm systems used by the DHS along the US-Mexico border throughout Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. SAIC claims to have executed at least $200 million in border security contracts in the last five years, work that includes developing the “Integrated Wide-Area Surveillance System,” or IWASS, which we are told, in promotional material on the company’s web site: “safeguards the homeland through an intelligence-based operational solution for border security.”

InterrogationSAICJob

Screenshot taken from SAIC’s jobs web site. SAIC is hiring interrogation trainers to teach US military personnel how to interrogate captives and prisoners. The work is carried out at Fort Huachuca, an Arizona military base where SAIC also assists in drone training and operations.

SAIC has dozens of job openings at its Arizona offices currently. The company is hiring biometric technicians to develop camera-linked computer systems capable of discerning identity from facial recognition and body shapes. These technologies could someday be incorporated into Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center system, according to discussion between SAIC and city officials.

At its Fort Huachuca office SAIC is hiring staff for its “human intelligence” program, a major military contract to train interrogators and spies within the US military. SAIC is deeply integrated into the US military’s espionage and surveillance activities. Arizona is one of the major locations where SAIC and the Army develop these technologies.

Fort Huachuca, located in southern Arizona near the Mexico border, was founded in 1877 by the US Army during their war of extermination against the Apache nation, and other southwestern Indians. For Huachuca grew afterward as an outpost against Mexico from which the United States had seized a quarter of North America.

Today the desert outpost is also one of the US military’s major drone warfare bases. SAIC is one of the main contractors providing technology and training for Army and Navy drone weapons systems at Fort Huachuca, and drone surveillance systems based at Fort Huachuca are reportedly used in border patrol operations, but mostly in overseas theaters of war. As the LA Times reported in 2011, SAIC employees are part of the “kill chain” in drone warfare, carrying out crucial roles in the drone missions employed by the Obama administration to kill thousands in the Middle East and Central Asia. Just last month the military re-upped SAIC’s drone contract to assist Army personnel in operating and maintaining the new weapons.

SAICDroneOperatorJob

Screenshot of SAIC’s jobs web site, advertising employment opportunities for drone operators. SAIC’s staff are in the “kill chain” of the US military’s controversial drone warfare programs.

SAIC’s nuclear weapons contracts are too numerous to try to list. SAIC has contracted with the US nuclear weapons complex since the mid-1980s. SAIC has taken billions in payments from the US Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration to conduct studies and carry out contract work for nuclear weapons development as well as lead up the government’s site planning and environmental compliance efforts at the major weapons labs in New Mexico and California. One of SAIC’s latest nuclear weapons-related contracts is a $228 million work order with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In addition to designing and testing nuclear weapons, Sandia also develops weapons and surveillance technologies for the CIA, NSA, and other federal spy agencies.

SAIC also serves the military branches that deploy nuclear weapons. For example, in 2009 SAIC was paid $10 million to help the Air Force reorganize its nuclear weapons command structure.