Thursday, October 29, 2009

FBI's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide to Premediation

An article in today's New York Times reports that the FBI has released its "Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide" as a consequence of a Freedom of Information suit. The article makes it clear that the FBI is authorized to commence investigations not only on evidence of actions that threaten national security but more importantly on the premediation of actions that might threaten national security.

Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, makes this point explicit: "'Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good seriously miss the mark,'" Ms. Caproni said. 'The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.'"

The FBI manual encourages agents to premediate potential security threats, authorizing them "to open an 'assessment' to 'proactively' seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats." That is, rather than investigating national security threats that have already "come onto [their] radar screen," agents are encouraged to premediate threats that may not already exist.

The metaphor of the "radar screen" is telling, as radar is a real-time technology of monitoring or surveillance linked closely with the media formations and disciplinary apparatus in place when the FBI emerged in the beginning of the twentieth century. No longer tied to monitoring national security threats in real time, the FBI is now empowered to open assessments and conduct investigations based on its premediation of potential security threats in the future. Rather than using technologies of audio-visual surveillance to spot such threats, FBI agents now use technologies of premediation to incite, encourage, or enable individuals to join potential terrorist plots.

This move from surveillance to premediation, from constraining or preventing terrorist behavior to encouraging or enabling it, characterizes the emergence of the current regime of securitization. I describe the distinction between surveilance and securitization in a passage from my forthcoming book: "As opposed to fundamentally disciplinary technologies like surveillance, confinement, and constraint, which aim to 'predict, survey, [and] prohibit' potentially illicit or disruptive activities in order to maintain social and political control, technologies of securitization aim to let happen, open up, and circulate, to encourage mobility and the proliferation of transactions of transportation, communication, and mediation."

Paradoxically, the new powers granted to the FBI in its Domestic Investigations and Operation Guide do not constrain individual freedom of movement, collaboration, or assembly, as would have been the aim of an earlier disciplinary regime of surveillance, but rather encourage it in the name of premediating threats to the nation's security that have yet to, and may never, materialize. And it is precisely on the basis of their potentiality that such threats will be assessed and may eventually become the objects of "preliminary" or "full" investigations.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Premediation Gaming

H/T to Ian Bogost for this link to an online game premediating armed resistance to an attempted coup by the Obama administration. This fear echoes my own and others about the Bush administration failing to surrender power on 1/20/09. Indeed at the end of 2007 I was paranoid enough to create and post a video expressing my fears. After seven years of the greatest arrogation of executive power in the history of the United States, I had some reason to be concerned. After less than a year of Obama's obsessive search for bipartisanship, the makers of The United States of Earth seem nothing but loony. Here is Huffington Post's take on the matter.

Cyberculture Seminar Description

ENG 7035—CYBERCULTURE (Richard Grusin)

This seminar will study cyberculture as a historical phenomenon, dating roughly from the publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) until the late 1990s. For purposes of the course, we will define cyberculture as the cultural response to the introduction of networked personal computers, particularly in the US and Canada, but with attention to European and Japanese responses as well. We will begin with the emergence of cybernetics in the mid-20th century, then proceed to sketch out the connections between the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s and the emergence of cyberculture in the 1980s. We will study a variety of print, audiovisual, and networked media forms, including cyberpunk fiction and film and online cyberculture. The seminar will conclude with a survey of the academic development of cyberculture studies in the 1990s.

By studying cyberculture historically we will attempt to identify its cultural, medial, and theoretical particularity—not only as it differs from our current understandings of mobile, socially networked digital media, but also as it shares with and in some sense premediates our current media practices and theories. Cyberculture emerged according to what Jay Bolter and I characterize as the double logic of remediation—a logic of immediacy in which individuals interact with each other through immersion in cyberspace, free from the mediation of bodies, language, or institutions, and a logic of hypermediacy which celebrates the hybridity of the cyborgian human-machine interface. But cyberculture can also be seen to mark an early formation of what I have since 2003 been describing as our current era of premediation, in which print, televisual, and networked media are increasingly concerned not with the remediation of the past, or the immersion in the present, but with the pre-mediation of the future. For in addition to exemplifying the double logic of remediation, cyberspace articulates a logic of premediation in its insistent preoccupation with the future of digital, networked computing.

Several questions will govern our work in the seminar, beginning with “Whither cyberculture?” Was cyberculture a passing historical formation? Or like the counter-culture of the 1960s, has it largely been incorporated by postmodern capitalism into mainstream media culture? Put another way, is cyberculture dead or has it morphed into a new social media formation, perhaps becoming the latest form of participatory media in an age marked by premediation?

In addition to regularly scheduled face-to-face seminar meetings, we will experiment with forms of synchronous and asynchronous communication that helped to vitalize cyberculture and cyberculture studies in the 1980s and 1990s. Students will be expected to write regular short pieces leading to a final seminar project on some aspect of cyberculture growing out of the concerns of the course.