Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Fear the Kraken

The taste of living in Aberdeen got a little more bitter yesterday with the launch of Grampian Police's "Project Kraken". The Kraken is a mythical sea-monster from Norse tradition - big as an island. Look it up if you want.

The announcement of Grampian Police's implementation of Operation Kraken was, in our opinion, fittingly monstrous. Appearing on North Tonight STV News, Assistant Chief Constable Bill Gordon of Grampian Police called on members of the public to report "suspicious activity". This "suspicious activity" taking the form of individuals snapping photographs or making notes regarding (amongst other things) "significant buildings", "locations" or "bridges". This is supposed to protect us from terrorism. The police are actually encouraging people who live or work on the coast to register with them as "members" of Project Kraken. We can't remember the name of the society to which the child informants belonged in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, but we'll assume that being a member of Project Kraken is something like that. There'll be a quarterly newsletter. Really, there will. O how we wish we were joking.

We [Grampian Police] are also asking users and residents of the Grampian Coastline to register with Project Kraken free of charge. As a registered member of Project Kraken you will receive timely information updates by email, and a quarterly newsletter providing a summary of local and national incidents and activity that might be of interest.
In addition, you will be added to an email distribution list which will be used, when appropriate, to circulate urgent information and intelligence updates. There may also be times that we contact you with a request that you assist us in ‘observing and reporting’ particular individuals, groups or vessels.
Well, we photograph a lot of this sort of stuff a lot of the time. We also sometimes take text or audio notes. For instance, the photo at the top of our pages has Aberdeen's North Pier, Breakwater, Guiding Light and Harbourmaster's Tower photographed at the exact moment of the turning of a very high tide at the mouth of the Dee. We exhibit this photograph because it is both photogenic and metophorical. It's apparent aesthetic appeal or esoteric message can be appreciated by the viewer as they wish. Also apparent in the photo is the old, now redundant, Harbourmaster's tower, this too is significant to our aims at Other Aberdeen.

We photograph and discuss infrastructure because our human world is made of infrastructure. Part of the human condition is the story of our interaction with the infrastructure which we have summoned into being, this is one aspect of the human adventure which most fascinates us. Without infrastructure, we are like any other mammal; individual or tribal, our daily concerns are those of feeding, family and shelter. When the individuals and tribes of humanity are connected and serviced by infrastructure we transcend this baseline animal condition and become a collective society, a wider culture: a civilisation. When Other Aberdeen chooses an aspect of infrastructure as a suitable subject for psychogeographical exploration, we are looking at nothing less than the atoms of civilisation. It fascinates to see infrastructre planned and built, it satisfies to see infrastructure humming with vitality, used to full capacity. Then, at the end it similarly delights to see older, redundant infrastructure obsolesce and decay back to a trans-natural post-industrial state.

One Source of the Ferryhill Burn
One of our very first posts last year: Somewhere in Aberdeen coyly alludes to this idea. The photograph is of a pond at Hazlehead which, at one time, was one of the headers to the Holburn/Ferryhill Burn. The dammed pond was used along with a sequence of others to control the volume and speed of the water flowing into the water course. That water, in turn, turning the wheels of industry at the Justice Mills, Ferryhill Mill and Dee Village Mills. This was a water course which worked hard before it was allowed to drain into the Dee Estuary. It powered one of the means by which our nascent city nurtured itself with an industrialised food source.

It's industrial vitality (and vital industriality) now gone, the pond enjoys a photogenic retirement as an ad-hoc nature reserve. Man-made though it was, nature is taking it back, and the process is quite beautiful. Literally and metaphorically.

We usually try our very best to avoid using cliché, but clichés come into existence because they are true. Therefore, today we have no compunction in saying that we can't make up our minds whether a police initiative which might stop us taking nice photos is Ballardian, Kafkan, Orwellian or (Ray) Bradbury-esque (per Farenheiht 451).

That the police are asking members of the public to inform on photographers and others with an interest in this sort of stuff promotes a culture of secret denunciation like that of pre-Napoleonic Venice. Moreover, as pointed out by these people, the collective visual history of our country is extinguished by anti-terrorist initiatives designed to protect the heritage it prevents us recording. The irony is not lost on us. It further troubles us that these exhortations from the police will empower those who have an unhealthy interest in exercising arbitrary power over others. We have famously posted about this before.

Whatever it is, it's disturbing, it's unsettling, it's an affront to our freedom and a constraint upon our ability to go about our lives at our own liberty as free agents. To offer another cliché:
People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.  
(As Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said.)
The fact remains: in the west we are by far more likely to be struck by lightning, or killed by our family doctors than we are to be killed in a terrorist outrage.

Here's a photo of a bridge (co-incidentally, at the turning of the tide):

(With our thanks to reader spottiewattie17 for the heads-up.)


Anonymous said...

I thought the old harbour-master's building was to be leased to a local business?

Anonymous said...

"There may also be times that we contact you with a request that you assist us in ‘observing and reporting’ particular individuals, groups or vessels."

This appears nothing less than 'directed surveillance', which is controlled by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. I suspect the Office of Surveillance Commissioners might have something to say about it..

Anonymous said...

time to sign up, snap away.. arouse suspicion, whip out the old membership card, problem solved.. ;)

Anonymous said...

Grampian Police do seem to have drawn from the lexicon of oppression, its terminology so laden with sinister, smirking euphemism that the well-read libertarian is instantly put in mind of grubby men in nylon suits re-educating class traitors in sunless rooms.

Yet as a former copper and Home Office apparatchik, I would sound a note of caution. If dark forces are at work, they are more Kafkaesque than Orwellian. Liberty is not at risk of being throttled for its own good by a grinning master of double-think, but it could be smothered in a blizzard of paper.

We live in an age of tick-boxes, initiatives, bespoke legislation, key performance indicators and mission statements. Yesterday’s terrorist outrage is today’s government initiative is tomorrow’s creaking, self-fulfilling government department. Existences need to be justified as mortgages don’t pay themselves. Justifying a budget is a tricky business, but not too tricky if you’ve been on the course and learned how to craft a business case in the prescribed formula.

Which isn’t to say that there is no threat from terrorism – indeed, events in Exeter and Glasgow in the last few years show that soft targets outside London’s ‘ring of steel’ are very eligible. So there is a reasonable argument for vigilance, but for the fact that the threat is so diffuse compared to lightning strikes and train crashes, and the fact that words like ‘vigilance’ stick in the craw. In fact, conjoin ‘vigilant’, ‘sentinels’, ‘mass-destruction’ and ‘democracy’ in the style of your choosing and you have your own justification for an illegal and, more importantly, botched invasion of Iraq.

In my police days, I was frequently exasperated by the signal lack of continuity in policy. Policing was all too political, senior officers too focussed on the next promotion board, front-line policing always contorted to meet the latest knee-jerk government diktat. Plus ca change with Grampian Police. Op Kraken has the ham-fisted tone of a document drafted by a committee of senior officers and vetted by policy wonks for inoffensiveness and political compliance.

I would dare to suggest that what we have here is a needless re-wording of a neighbourhood-watch policy for the age of Jack Bauer and the Chilcot Inquiry. Bizarre? Certainly. A threat to liberty? No, but perhaps a sign of the damage already done to autonomous policing by lazy policy-mongering.

On the up-side, government cuts are biting and many policy-generating departments are kneeling on the block awaiting the axe. There may well be less paper for public servants to drown in – but there will always be some. How else would senior managers in the public sector show how indispensible they are?

Gair Dunlop said...

Photographing terrorists photographing buildings can be dangerous.Perhaps you ought to pretend to be their friends first; perhaps you could offer to drive them around to demonstrations, or start a relationship with them?

There aren't enough police to do that sort of thing these days.

Other Aberdeen said...

@Anonymous 3 Mar 10:22
Thanks very much for your informed and informative comment. It has made us (and doubtless our readers) feel a bit better by adding a perspicacity to the thread that it would not otherwise have had. We appreciate your sharing a senior insider's perspective and realism on this.

Your words are comforting, but do not assuage one of our major and all-too-realistic concerns with Op Kraken and the TV news coverage it garnered on Tuesday. We remain concerned about the rationalising effect that it will have on the already over-self-empowered private-security-guard para-police (petit-police) who believe they control the semi-public-semi-private spaces which are coming to dominate the urban environment. They believe they control these spaces because it is true that they do.

TV reportage of senior police officers inviting the public to denounce photographers in the cause of anti-terrorist operations is permission for the private security guard to increase his empire of control, it normalises his paranoia and it empowers him to 'crack down on' non-conforming individuals within his sphere of control. Of course, what passes as non-conforming is an arbitrary and subjective judgement within the mind of the private security guard only. The excesses of his behaviour, intimidation and harrassment of blameless consumers (or even those just passing through) all will be justified and rationalised in the context of Project Kraken.

It's not the state we fear.


Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with the Australian TV series "The Chasers War on Everything"? They did a simple test to see what the response would be to differently dressed people taking photos of Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge (among other things) and here's what happened's_war_on_everything__terrorist_security_response

Oraculumsulmareexcoeurd'Ecosse said...

It would seem that 'Project Kraken' is no more than a meagre figment in the moronic imagination of some desk-bound individual with time of their hands and with a need to justify an existence.