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And, yes, I DO take it personally: The NYT on "spy balloons" in Afghanistan - a day late and a dollar short
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

The NYT on "spy balloons" in Afghanistan - a day late and a dollar short

i've visited afghanistan, kabul in particular, at least a half dozen times over the past few years... when i arrived there in september 2009, the first thing i noticed was the surveillance airship floating over the vicinity of the main mosque and in fact i put up a blog post featuring a photo of it i had taken from the roof of our guesthouse (see here)... after inquiring, i was told that it had been there for a few months but that such tethered surveillance craft had been a familiar feature over military bases around the country for at least a couple of years... 

so, in may of 2012, the nyt "breaks" the story...
The dirigible, a white 117-foot-long surveillance balloon called an aerostat by the military, and scores more like it at almost every military base in the country, have become constant features of the skies over Kabul and Kandahar, and anywhere else American troops are concentrated or interested in.
Shimmering more than 1,500 feet up in the daytime haze, or each visible as a single light blinking at night, the balloons, with infrared and color video cameras, are central players in the American military’s shift toward using technology for surveillance and intelligence.

In recent years, they have become part of a widening network of devices — drones, camera towers at military bases and a newer network of street-level closed-circuit cameras monitoring Kabul’s roads — that have allowed American and Afghan commanders to keep more eyes on more places where Americans are fighting.

The dirigibles are now such a common feature in daily Afghan life that some people here shrug and say they hardly notice them. Other parts of the network have become lasting parts of the urban landscape as well, particularly in Kabul, where long-necked closed-circuit cameras overlook locations susceptible to attacks, like the Supreme Court building, traffic circles and main highways past the military camps.

But other Afghans describe a growing sense of oppression, the feeling that even as the Americans are starting to pack up to leave, the foreigners’ eyes will always be on them.

It is often expressed in typically Afghan fashion, as a grumbled undercurrent of quips and brooding pronouncements: “It is an American kite,” or “Afghans and Americans are up there.” (They are not; there is no one in the balloons.) “It shows us that, sure, the Americans are still here,” and, “It is not effective because there are still these suicide attacks and car bombs."

For others, the cameras are an outrageous intrusion into private lives, putting women and children on display for foreigners whom they see as immoral.

the value of this article for me which, i shamefacedly confess, i did not even think about until i read it, is the intrusiveness of such surveillance on afghans' private lives... we put bamboo screening around the rooftop terrace of our guesthouse for two main reasons - so we could be up there without being seen from the street or neighboring buildings and making targets of ourselves but also so we couldn't look down into the walled compounds of our neighbors and watch their women, an absolute no-no... it's just one more example that reinforces the idea that many afghans already have which is that we are disrespectful barbarians who don't give a rat's ass for their customs and their beliefs... and we wonder why they hate us... 

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