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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There was a man who wasn't there.
The U.S. National Security Act of 1947 established a national security structure which was felt to be necessary to protect the U.S. from what was perceived as serious threats from foreign and domestic enemies. Almost immediately a parallel structure, invisible to public, was created as a compliment to the public national security establishment. This parallel structure is...
Published on March 15, 2009 by Retired Reader

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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overstated, biased, a bit sloppy, but interesting
This book espouses the viewpoint that the large amount of money expended on "black" programs and activities, because it is not detailed in the budget, undermines the foundations of American democracy. That viewpoint is worth considering, whether one agrees with it or not, and Mr. Paglen offers much information to support his case. However, he overstates his case in...
Published on March 30, 2010 by Victor A. Vyssotsky


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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There was a man who wasn't there., March 15, 2009
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The U.S. National Security Act of 1947 established a national security structure which was felt to be necessary to protect the U.S. from what was perceived as serious threats from foreign and domestic enemies. Almost immediately a parallel structure, invisible to public, was created as a compliment to the public national security establishment. This parallel structure is what this absolutely fascinating book refers to as the "black world."

According to Trevor Paglen, a geographer by trade, this black world can bounded by adroit compilation of blank areas on official maps, deleted passages from official documents, and acute observations of restricted areas and activities. Well he has certainly done a very thorough job of it. He begins with the secret and unacknowledged government test sites scattered throughout the country, but especially in the South Western U.S. that actually employ an astonishingly large number military and civilian workers yet still are literarily off the map. He subsequently tackles such arcane topics as black operations, black funding, and a host of other unacknowledged, often denied, U.S. activities including questionable and even illegal programs and operations. Perhaps the most discouraging information he provides is how easily it is for officials of the black world to hoodwink congress and the media, both nominal guards against government excesses. Certainly the most astonishing thing he reveals is that the black world in total may employ as many as 4 million military and civilians who carry secret or higher clearances. The fact that this many people can be involved and yet so many black activities remain completely off the gird is pretty scary in itself.

This reviewer has tremendous respect for the academic discipline of geography. It combines some of the best features of social and physical science and perhaps is the most effective system for understanding the phenomenon of Globalization. Some 60 years ago one branch of geography that was called "cultural geography" sought to describe the relationship between societies and the environment in which they lived. The term may no longer be used, but Paglen is a cultural geographer in the best sense of the term.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overstated, biased, a bit sloppy, but interesting, March 30, 2010
This book espouses the viewpoint that the large amount of money expended on "black" programs and activities, because it is not detailed in the budget, undermines the foundations of American democracy. That viewpoint is worth considering, whether one agrees with it or not, and Mr. Paglen offers much information to support his case. However, he overstates his case in various ways, distorts the interpretation of certain facts, and pastes together a collection of unrelated information and anecdotes. This leaves the book less convincing to a knowledgeable reader than it should be. None the less, it's worth reading.

As an example of the problems of the book I'll touch on the work at Groom Lake (Area 51), on the Nevada Test Range, operated as part of Nellis Air Force Base. Mr. Paglen asserts that the work at Groom Lake is so secret that not even the name "Groom Lake" can be used in publio. That may have been true many years ago, but isn't now. Indeed, a large amount of information about what goes on at the Area 51 test site is available on the Web, some of it thoughtfully provided by the United States Air Force. I spent a couple of hours browsing this material, and finally I got bored, having learned as much as I cared to know from text, photos, maps, etc. And I note one minor misrepresentation of fact in Mr. Paglen's material on Groom Lake. In two places he asserts that the Soviet aircraft used in Red Flag exercises were "stolen" from the Russians, but that's not how they were acquired. The US gov't got those from countries which had acquired them from the Soviet Union and then decided to use US equipment instead, and happily let us have their unwanted Soviet-built fighter aircraft.

Indeed, there is one truly "black" area at the Nevada Test Range: "Area 19". What goes on there (if anything) is not clear, although there is a lot of mythology about Area 19 on the Web. My personal guess is that Area 19 was intended and prepared for use in projects that never took place, and that the reason nothing can be seen there now is that there's nothing to see. But, of course, I may be wrong about that.

Now, having criticized Mr. Paglen's book, I'll soften my discussion by pointing out that in choosing his examples of "black" programs he faced a nearly insuperable obstacle. There are indeed some programs and activities of the US government that are truly "black", but you won't find references to those in the public domain, and no writer will get the time of day from the government in seeking to find out about them. Those might furnish better material for Mr. Paglen's thesis, but he can't learn about them. I've been on the fringes of a number of those during 50+ years of working off and on in and with the defense community, and took part in a few. The thing all the ones I'm aware of had in common is that they weren't secret to keep Congress or other appropriate people in the US from knowing about them; they were secret to conceal them from foreign military adversaries. None of them and none of their budgets, posed the slightest threat to American democracy. Indeed, all except one of the ones I worked with were so small they wouldn't have rated a line in the budget even if they had been unclassified; if something is big and sprawling, it's exceedingly difficult to keep its existence and reason for being from becoming known. In one case, we successfully concealed the existence of a good-sized overseas military installation for several years, to keep the Soviet Union from learning enough about it to attack it successfully, but even in that case the word got out after a while, and we were visited by a Congressional delegation; by now it's ancient history, long since abandoned and demolished, and one can learn a bit about it on the Web (although not much). There may be analogous "black" programs that could pose a threat to US democracy; I have never heard even a rumor of any such, but then I wouldn't have.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wheels within Wheels, February 16, 2009
By 
Robert C. Olson (Vacaville, California USA) - See all my reviews
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Wheels within Wheels
An interesting historical review of the "Black" world of American intelligence operations. The title is a little misleading but considering the subject matter that seems rather appropriate. Mr. Paglen does an adequate job of historical documentation on all aspects of the secret and above secret "Black" world of alphabet soup intelligence agencies. At times he is rather pedantic in certain aspects of the intelligence world, like super secret intelligence satellites, while quickly glossing over more interesting operations like Iran-Contra and Groom Lake. His chapter on Federal Law and the evolution of today's massive intelligence gathering machine is very interesting and worthy of more examination. One of the most interesting little nuggets that Mr. Paglen highlighted was, "At this moment approximately four million (his italics) people in the United States hold security clearances to work on classified projects. By way of contrast, the federal government employs approximately 1.8 million civilians in the white world." Amazing. Since its very beginning as the "Black Chamber" in 1919, covert/clandestine/"Black" Operations has grown to such a monumental size that few in our government knows just how large the "organization" really is. Furthermore, money does not seem to be a problem as great amounts simply disappear into the secret black world of classified intelligence. To use the old cliché, "If I tell you then I'll have to kill you." How much? That's classified1
All in all a good, general, cursory examination of America's "Black" world of intelligence. Have your laptop ready so you can "Goggle" much of what Mr. Paglen writes for a more in-depth examination and see interesting pictures. A few more, actually a lot more, in text photos would have been nice. I was hoping for more new information, but sometimes a general review is good. Actually, not much new here at all, so beware if you're looking for more than a superficial glance. This is more of a historical review and I recommend waiting for the paperback. If you want depth in this subject then I recommend reading books by James Bamford or Nick Cook.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Little Green Men?, January 11, 2010
The one star reviews I've read for this book seem to be written by people who are on some sort of mission to uncover truly damning evidence against the US Government. They seem to be shocked, appalled that this book hasn't led to Congressional investigations.

This book does not deal in conspiracy theories.

It deals with what we actually "know" as observers of the black world. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is how the author details the enormous size (geographically, politically, socially, etc...) of the black world. As such, if conspiracy theories about little green men are your thing, then this book isn't for you. However, if you want a professional, academic analysis of what it is we don't know from a geographic perspective and the impact it has on our society, then you will probably find this book interesting and entertaining.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paglen hits another one out of the park... as long as you get where he's coming from, December 23, 2010
Trevor Paglen, Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World (Dutton, 2009)

The more I think about this book, especially in conjunction with Paglen's previous effort, Torture Taxi (which made my favorite reads of 2008 list), the more I think the guy just can't win. The niche he's carved out for himself is one that's destined to scare up dissatisfaction from both sides of this particular fence. The conspiracy theorists are going to hate Paglen's methods of research (which involve, you know, actual research rather than sitting around wearing tinfoil hats), while the skeptics are going to hate the subjects Paglen digs into, which are a conspiracy theorist's wet dream. In short, the guy's pretty much screwed. Which is a crime, because, like Torture Taxi, Blank Spots on the Map is a lovely little tourguide to parts of the map the United States government would prefer you didn't see. Which is all well and good, I guess, if you're down with the idea of "necessary state secrets" (and what a joke that idea is, and always has been), but consider this: Billions upon billions of your tax dollars are being funnelled down these black holes. Billions. Are you bugged about the vast amounts of money we ship to governments who don't need it every year? (Prime example: Israel.) That's chump change compared to what goes into Langley and just plain vanishes.

It's not like the skeptics can really keep their voices raised any more, either. Since the hijinks of September 11th, names like Guantanamo Bay, Groom Lake, and the Salt Pit have become cultural markers. There's no more plausible deniability. All Paglen is doing is outlining the geographies, making them easier for the public to see. He goes and looks. He goes and talks to the people that look. And he reports back. It's simple. It's the same formula he used in Torture Taxi (I can't remember whether it's explicitly stated, but I got the feeling that this book grew out of that one), and it works just as well here. There's a lot of black-ops history surrounding these sites, some of which (especially regarding Groom Lake) has recently been declassified. Did you know that? Of course not. Who's going to tell you? Trevor Paglen, that's who. And maybe Mike Gravel, if he drops another book any time soon. But don't expect to hear about it on CNN or Fox News. This is information you need to go searching for. Once you do, you may come upon Trevor Paglen, who's got it all wrapped up in a neat, readable little package.

To answer what seem to be some implied criticisms of the book, no, of course there are no answers here. Most of this stuff is still highly classified. What did you expect, the folks in Langley were just going to let Paglen drive up and give him a tour of a top-secret facility? (There's a great bit at the beginning about a guided tour of Groom Lake, however.) But you've always suspected it exists; stealth bombers and jump jets don't suddenly appear out of nowhere. All that can be done now is make the edges a bit clearer. That's what Trevor Paglen does, and he does it well. ****

(In the interests of full disclosure, yes, I know Trevor Paglen; I met him once about a decade ago while he was still in the band Noisegate.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "National Security" claims can, if invoked, wipe out all legal protections., November 9, 2013
By 
My review splashes in late to a furore that's well underway between favorable and unfavorable reviews. I notice that the 1* reviews avoid all specifics and have a blanket hatred for all books that oppose unlimited government powers. In these 1* reviews, no specific claims from the book are brought foward and critiqued. Most of the 2* reviews are off on a tangent and quibble about technical details or are eager to put forward their own findings as fellow secret base researchers. Many 3* reviews glom onto whether this book is full of conspiracy theories or not. ALMOST NONE of the reviewers focus on the dynamite in the book --- the shocking revelation that by invoking "state secrets" the government (no matter which party is in power) has succeeded in garnering a series of court judgements that effectively geld judicial inquiry into any alleged crimes committed by the government. This is demonstrated by Paglen's referencing court decisions and verbatim quotes from government advocates and the final summing up by the judges --- all verbatim from the record. There's nothing vague or hunchy about this. More than adequate documentation is provided and pp.144-167 nails down the boiler plate that the executive branch can negate judicial inquiry into anything, that is: ANYTHING that the government is doing or has done.

Here's a key exchange:
Judge: "Suppose you had a collision between a [U.S.] mail truck and a taxicab and the attorney general came in said that in his opinion discovery in the case [even in tightly controlled, closed session] would imperil the whole military position of the United States, and so forth. Would the court have to accept that [and be barred from looking into any of the specifics and issues in the case, no matter how carefully assembled] ?" The government replied that was exactly their position. Mention "state secrets" and the case will be kicked out at the start. No inquiry, no examination of alleged abuses, no weighing of government claims that national security would be imperiled if the case was allowed to proceed --- all foreclosed automatically. Carrying this point up the ladder in a series of appeals, the government triumphed. Mumble the two magic words "state secrets" (or "national security") and the executive can do whatever it wants. This included the case, documented by Paglen on pp. 158-159 where it's been demonstrated that the government invoked the "state secrets/national security" defense, shut down the case and knowingly lied while doing so --- no classified materials were involved at all. The issue was government negligence in a B-29 plane crash with 9 crew members killed. As a family member later asked on p. 161: " . . . how could the government stand before the Supreme Court and lie?"

As Mickey Spillane has Mike Hammer say in the final sentence of his hard boiled crime noveI, "I the Jury":

"It was easy."

And it remains easy until this day.

THIS is the reason for reading this book. The surrounding materials of project acronyms and base locations are just verifiers to anchor the exposure of an unchallengeable executive that knows it can do anything it wants --- to anybody.

And beyond this point in the book there is crucial, specific information re: black ops in Central and South America during the Reagan administration, when black-ops groups escaped all Congressional oversight & even found ways to be immune from the funding cut offs legislated by Congress. Nobody but the black ops themselves knew of their existence and no external controls could be applied.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Would have been better with a more narrow focus, June 23, 2009
By 
C. Steinmann (Charlotte, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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This book started out with a great first couple of chapters, but then began to ramble about from here to there and back again, with no real focus on the topic of the title. I thought the first two chapers were very well done, and that Mr. Paglen would have been much better off to have remained focused on discussing the Blank Spots he alludes to in the title. He instead moves on to discussions of spy satellites, and then becomes stuck on the topic of our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. While those are great topics, it is not what the title led me to believe the book would be about, and I was disappointed to end up reading about it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an inspiring exercise in logic, November 13, 2014
By 
James LaMar (Danville, IN, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World (Paperback)
I am still reading, and studying, this book, but I am extremely impressed with Trevor Paglen's reasoning and the inspired way he manages to see around obstacles to normal investigations. I had expected another vague "conspiracy" type of book, but Paglen proves numerous details and facts, to support his theories.
He does a great job of coaxing informative details out of the hidden covert world. (The only complaint I have with this book is that he uses the term "black" so often. I would prefer he used other terms, such as "covert" or "hidden," to break up the repetitiveness.) But, he reasons out a good way to approach what appears to be an insurmountable wall of secrecy and find a way over or around it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be impressed, I think, with Paglen's use of logic.
Also, I admire the way that this author supports the American ideals of openness and accountability to the people of the United States, which the government too often seems to want to ignore, push aside or suppress.
Altogether, I find this an educational and inspirational search for unraveling the truth from the many-layered onion of subterfuge and deception foisted on us, in the alleged interest of "national security."
Bravo, Mr. Paglen! I look forward to purchasing your other works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual Travelogue to the Fringes of Secret Activities, October 14, 2014
By 
This review is from: Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World (Paperback)
Geographer Trevor Paglen takes us on tour of some famous, some infamous and some unknown locations where those without security clearance cannot go. Along the way, he gives us some history as well as current use of the locations.

The sites Paglen explores include Vandenberg Air Force Base where secret rocket and missile development occurred. It is also one of the National Reconnaissance Office locations is. He spends time in Las Vegas, tracking the coming and goings of private airlines taking classified employees to test ranges and bases in Nevada and California for advanced aircraft development and training. One of the dark places is indeed very dark, space. Paglen talks to people who track the military and secret satellites that circle the globe, looking down upon its inhabitants.

Conspiracy theorists may be disappointed. But Paglen sheds some light on the secret activities that our government sponsors and pays for. Some of these may deserve their hidden nature due to national security concerns. With others, it may not be justified.

Paglen helps the reader to understand what is happening at these sites and why.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, courageous, September 10, 2010
By 
If it is not a matter of interest to readers that many billions of your tax dollars,
up to 30% or more of all govt. spending, goes to vast secret operations that pollute, lie,
cheat, torture, orchestrate politics, and focus on suffering while the country goes to hell along with the
rest of the world (illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, pollution, degeneration- and that
is one's average town)- and if it is not news on any level to you how, where, and perhaps
why this is done, then this book may not be "for" you. I think most people are clueless
that we have such an extensive secret "government" (a better word is dictatorship) , so
far reaching and taking so much of our resources. I would think that the political issues
of today , with many factions wanting "their country" back may be traced back to just
these fungal developments in the past several decades.

I felt the book was well written, riveting, well researched, a page turner, and obviously
from an intelligent author. The country needs more awareness such as this.
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Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World
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