The Distributed Geography of “Homeland”

When Michel Foucault told a gathering of architects that “the anxiety of our era has fundamentally to do with place” in 1967, he was describing prisons.  Foucault’s fierce generalization argued that the growing shift from time to place was a crucial means to understand the attention of governments, but he could not have foreseen the level at which place has become a focus of anxiety in the Global War on Terror–either in the ramped up security at public buildings and in mass transit, or in the targeted assassinations and shootings of individuals.  As threats of terrorist strikes seem to respect no battleground, we are consumed with tracking global networks on which we have no geographical orientation.  The conflation of such conflict as global, and the elevation of the attacks of 9/11 to a regime of terror instilled fears of where the next possible target of terrorism might be.  It has opened a sense of the place-lessness of the War on Terror–described as global, but long increasingly located in Afghanistan and Pakistan–has increasingly disoriented the American public from the world, and left them reeling for a narrative to orient us to its origins, which the convoluted narratives of the television drama “Homeland” takes such particular delight in purporting to unmask.

And the audiences that have emerged around the made-for-television thriller “Homeland,” a psychological drama which crosses multiple boundaries and suggesting the confusion or the problematic status of clear boundaries in its dramatic structure, asks audiences to decide what the nature of patriotism in fact is–and indeed the possibility of mapping places of safety in what increasingly seems a post-cartographical world.  For despite the previous security of the mapping of lines of battle and sites of safety that were perpetuated in World War II and its aftermath, as a new era of stability, by a President who looked at its surface from a measured distance–

Roosevelt and Globe.pngCentral Intelligence Agency/”President’s Globe” US Army Presented on Christmas, 1942

–the mapping of danger and of sites for surveillance have so proliferated in the Global War on Terror to make any coherent narrative about them seem cognitively challenging to knit, save to affirm the omnipresence of danger in the world.  While Homeland provided temporary narrative coherence to this world in ways that were increasingly satisfying to its viewers, in ways that have not been fully understood, the Reality TV figure Donald J. Trump created a sense of an imagined link between security, flows of capital and immigration—claiming to reverse the decline of American centrality and supremacy that was avoided by his opponent, but which increasingly dominated the rallies, public statements, tweets, and rallies that Trump held over the two years of the election.  For in the election, Trump provided a sense of the national imaginary that was besieged and looking for moorings that responded to the dislocation that the “Global” War on Terror brought, and that was ramped up in troubling ways by each possible terrorist attack that occurred on “American soil” and which reminded us of national vulnerability.


If the confusion of place, patriotism, and boundaries has in large part contributed to the election of Donald J. Trump–driven not only by economic anxiety, but where economic insecurity became the stand-in on which to displace far deeper fears about the homeland and about national frontiers and belonging–and to respond to a deep feeling of disempowerment not only in the economy, but an emotional satisfaction in an era of particularly acute dislocation.

Vulnerability was the dramatic theme, of course, of Homeland, which questioned the role of patriotism in a country that was infiltrated by hidden networks of terrorists far more than was evident to most.  It was an insider’s look at the War on Terror, from a place that we have only imagined to be able to stand.  For the status of place as a focus of anxiety has been elevated and transmogrified in the broad generality of a Global War on Terror to lose ny sense of security.  In the “Global War on Terror,” there is no clearly defined battlefield, but suspicion and surveillance have been generalized across space in ways that have confounded much of the nation in ways we have rarely seen before.  For a society in which the heightened ratcheting up of anxieties about place are difficult to narrate or indeed process, we have perhaps come to seek new figures of collective strength.  We have been trying to narrate what the new instability of space, and lack of a harmonious sense of place, has come to mean–or the lack of security of any given location with the confusion of sites of military engagement and sites of fear, and of where exactly the Home Front or the next sites of military engagement and future site of terrorist attack might come be.

The destabilization of place was rife in the 1960s, to be sure.  One remembers the instability of the home front during Vietnam that the poet Denise Levertov perceived so acutely:  during the Peoples’ Park Riots in Berkeley, CA, Levertov wrote ominously in her diary, “War/comes home to us,” as police and national guards arrived to quell protestors:  during the Vietnam War, she voiced a common concern that the circulation of soldiers from its front to nation, as teargas, bayonets, billy clubs and bullets appeared in the park off of Telegraph Avenue.  The narration of a deep discomfort with place in HBO’s psychological thriller “Homeland” captures the deep dissonances and uncertainties of place in the Global War on Terror–GWOT–where the act of terrorism makes a fear of violence felt everywhere, and the storyline of a suspected sleeper terrorist introduces us to a broad hidden network of terrorism.

1.  The Global War on Terror may be the only possible culmination of the profoundly asymmetrical invasions of Iraq, before minimal resistance, and inuagurating the declaration of war not against a fixed target or country, but an emotion, Rebecca Solnit noted, and the generalization of the emotion became something of a justification for the war.  The open-ended notion of a GWOT, without  fixed site, has encouraged the expansions of a battlefield less clearly drawn than ever before, confusing categories of “home” and war in ways that the dramatic television series Homeland has dramatically structured over seven seasons.  The War on Terror has provided an everywhere war.  And as we watch the series drawn by the mirror it provides on how fear of the ineluctable infolding of “war” as a threat to “home.” For the GWOT has provoked such heightened tension about place–and the place of a possible attack–to compel a sense of narrative   about place, and the uncertain nature of the front line, or even of where the enemy lies, that the television series on HBO has come to provide on our televisions, where we can watch the narrative that maps the presence of terrorism both on our shores and in our military, and even stage that drama in Syria, Pakistan, and the generic Middle East, from refugee camps to houses and families of suspected terrorists, as if to give palpable stories to the increasing fears of a strike in our homeland that cannot be stopped.

The permeation of anxiety in the nation has in a sense created a captive audience for a drama that unfolds the increasingly complex contours of the a “war” on terror, and map out the sites of contested arenas in ways that they are suddenly materialized and rendered not only as fears, but as something like a clash of civilizations. As sites of engagement on the edge of state sovereignty have engaged the nation in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2000 with particular unease, as if the shock of a narrating a reaction to the attack on American soil has both challenged our sense of place and compelled us to orient ourselves collectively to place, whether to accept a surveillance apparatus to track terrorist organizations with a largely imagined degree of accuracy, or to acknowledge the edges of sovereignty to be effectively redrawn.  The pretence of pin-point precision of drones as combat tools seems designed to quell the anxieties of place with which we are increasingly best.  The ominous disorientataion of how it is that war now “comes home to us” is thematized in HBO’s dramatic thriller Homeland, as inner lives, and we turn to it to  inhabit the changed geography of terror, narrating a changed a collective relation to place through the stores of protagonists whose paths question and trace the margins of state sovereignty.

Place, and the uncertain fear of its obliteration, is questioned from the return of a marine suspected to be a terrorist operative in the first season of Homeland, whose life reveals the presence of terrorist networks across the country, and who in later seasons of the television drama we trace to examinee the rewritten boundaries of state sovereignty with a vertiginous level of anxiety that starts form an increasingly uncertain relation to the map and the opening up of new areas of national vulnerability, as if to offer a parallel escape narrative to the terrorist threat map that he Homeland Security Department regularly generates on its website, as if to tabulate and contain the new threats to national stability at specific sites where sovereignty seems endanger of being undermined.

Terrorist Threat map.png

The rise of the tabulation of “Islamist threats,” of which we are advised that our troops bear the brunt, with law enforcement, are displayed the website of the Dept. of Homeland Security as if to stabilize fears but in ways that destabilize of sense of place,  now inundated with an anxiety of future attacks to which we are most everywhere potentially susceptible, in what seems a deeply unethical  remapping of unending terror.  We mark attacks in hotspots and begging interpretation as if it were the weather, operating by  isolines and isotherms, as if we might predict the future sites of vulnerability to terror strikes–or the level of “terror threats,” calibrated for easy comprehension as “high” in the U.S. homeland, which begs the question of place after all, but all the more unsettles us.  But what would a “high terror threat” be?  Is the map a way of orienting us, or is it a method for disorienting us?  What possibility of orientation exists in an age of such sorts of uncertainty that a new set of attacks might occur anywhere?

For we seem to conceal that none of this has any contingent logic, but tracked in the manner of a disease map or a record of local virulence, it is embodied in spatial terms so that we can try to impose logic on and live with deep anxieties of place.  Yet, of course, the Daily Terror Threat is unable to be mapped by any “snapshot,” and the analogy of a documentary or diagnostic record is only an illustration of our current addiction to maps to which we turn for better hopes of certainty or stabilize insecurity, but whose function seems to suggest the unseen presence of ISIS in our lives and in the space we know.

TerrorThreatSnapshot_Graphic_August_SMALL_Website.pngDaily Terror Threat

And, as the monthly assessment of terror strikes is mapped online, we turn as if for relief to Homeland, in hopes to better gain purchase on a perpetual fear of place the maps as the above, tracking Hatchet attacks that we are assured our troops and law enforcement bear the greatest brunt, placing us in a state of seige unless we can delink, as some aggregated news website warn us of increasingly immanent “main events” on the Homeland as if “Islamic Terrorist Network” is able to be mapped across the majority of the United States.


“Sporadic attacks” seem so recurrent in intelligence assessments that we may forget that right-wing domestic terrorists as “equal to” or “in some cases greater than” foreign-born Islamic terrorists, such as ISIS, and need to generate our own maps of domestic “domestic anti-government terrorist groups”that proliferate in parallel, covering even more of the map, and more than doubling our fears–and having little apparent coherence as well.


2.  Homeland seems to orient geography that was begun by the War on Terror, on the margins of the very boundaries of state sovereignty in ways that we never expected to be allowed, and its invitation is extremely compelling because it seems to map the edges of state sovereignty that are increasingly questioned or up for grabs in terrorist attacks.  Indeed, the series’ own structure has opened us to the danger of localized destruction by immersing us in an extension of its landscape of fear that has no set battlefield, but where any place can suddenly become a new front of engagement, and its progress cannot be clearly mapped.  Much as the fear of terror strikes have justified police raids and surveillance to an unprecedented degree, and opening attacks to new forms of mapping that have placed “place” within a new complex of geospatial control, the dramatic series boasts to orient us to it in ways for which a distinct thirst exists–and it fills the new contours of an everywhere war with recognizable human faces as we follow the protagonists to explore what sort of space for individuality the ongoing and widely distributed “War on Terror” allows.  As we move to the edges of state sovereignty where violence is greatest, the series asks us to explore the new topography of a world where straight edges between terror and civil society can’t be so cleanly drawn–and that violence erupts most strongly and fiercely on the edge of civil societies.

For the uncertainties of drone targeting provide a recurrent theme in the episodes of the first four seasons of Homeland, as if to orient viewers to the landscape of the War on Terror, where any place is invested with instability as a site of potential terror attack.  We move at the margins of space of sovereignty in the television drama, where any site is both able to struck, and exists in a GPS armature at the limits of sovereign space.  With the figure of Carrie Mathison, the heroine and intrepid protagonist who moves on and across these boundaries of sovereignty, moving across actual boundaries between sovereign states–as the publicity for the show so graphically announces in color-contrast–as if moving on the very frontier of state sovereignty and danger.


The image of “Carrie among hijabs” echoes the dangers and border-crossing nature of identity in a post-colonial world, and not only for a blond-haired woman–and suggest the isolation of the viewer navigating the plot that has emigrated overseas by Season Three.  For the series engages viewers not only as a dramatic thriller and spy story set in the CIA’s fight on terrorists, but by taking us to the borders of the War on Terror, courtesy the passport of her CIA badge, and allow us to navigate the same waters over her shoulder and try to understand the new map of the War–and indeed of global interconnectedness in which place is particularly dangerous and always exposed to surveillance or to danger.



As the privileged viewers of the show, we are asked to navigate the precarious emotional landscape of the edges of sovereign space, and oriented to the new distributed geography of Homeland, and are welcome participants on a ride that promises to orient us to that distributed space on the edges of national sovereignty.  As we watch Carrie follow her own instincts on the edges of that space–being expelled from the Agency because of her ties to suspected terrorists and rejoining it once again, we are invited to follow a woman who works within the mostly male preserve of the US intelligence community–but also to follow her human path as an individual as she explores the fuzzy international boundaries the War on Terror creates, moving from Washington and Virginia to Pakistan and Berlin.  Carrie’s instability and particular vulnerability as an individual who suffers from a bipolar disorder that renders her own judgement and perception unstable, both clouded off her antipsychotic medications and vulnerable to borderline episodes as her medications are maliciously switched with LSD, leads to some particularly dangerous moments as she tries to reconstruct the hidden maps that she begins to think she perceives, where her own knowledge of the borders of sovereignty become especially unstable and blurred–and all of a sudden, when outside of the “Agency,” she is compelled to map in new ways, even if the map becomes an emblem of imbalance.

lithiumHomeland, Season 2

The map she creates indeed becomes something of an icon of her instability in Season Two, when she is forced to leave the Agency–but it provides a sort of dramatic hinge to the later seasons when she becomes a field agent, sent to bureaus in Syria and Pakistan before landing a desk job in Berlin, a new outpost from which to survey the new ways with the arrival of Syrian refugees the extended geography terror is more fully explored.

In each, the role of remote surveillance offers a more accurate type of atlas and map for the new world of the War on Terror than the antiquated paper map of the Rand McNally variety that she posts on her wall, desperately trying to map foreign networks where the escaped Nicolas Brady, a suspected terrorist she has assisted to flee the United States, has left, and the potential new strikes of a terrorist world that began with the terrorist Abu Nizar in Pakistan, but seems to have actual tentacles all over the world, in ways that eerily recreate a map of international internet cables, or indeed a telegraph map–even if it is only an intimation of the extent of the map that actual surveillance provides.  Yet Carrie’s attempt to map the network, here before her father, is only a premonition of her own return to the field and itineraries abroad to Pakistan and Europe.

carries-map Homeland, Season 2

optical cables map


3.  The repeated return to dramatic episodes that are remotely rather than actually observed at several dramatic moments in the show situate us in an era of remote observation in which clear lines of sovereignty no longer exist.  This is one of the pleasures of the show, and one of the conceptual moves that seem to orient us to a world where lines of sovereignty aren’t clearly drawn.  If remote observation of casualties, and surveillance of this expanded battlefield, is a theme of Homeland, ably negotiated on our own television screens, the drone is an inescapable image of the War on Terror, suggesting both the newly legitimated consequences of the changing margins of state sovereignty as much as the capacities of remote observation.  Carrie will later run a drone strike headquarters in Pakistan, by Season Four, where she is forced to make decisions on the possibility of targeted “signature strikes” on targets believed to be terrorists–though their identity is not known–and will perhaps do so mistakenly, killing all the guests at a wedding party–that are based on the amassing of a variety “signatures” from privileged intelligence sources that link them to a terrorist group.  Such strikes are regularly condemned as being a form of state-sanctioned terrorism that allows a particularly eery form of “anonymous killing” based on what constitutes “a continuing, imminent threat.”  For the targeting of suspected terrorists, even if judged to be verified, leads the government to kill people without even knowing who they are, in an eery echo of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The problems of the alleged precision and remote observation by which drones are launched in the expanded theater of war is a recurrent theme, however, before Carrie arrives in Pakistan.  For it was a drone strike against a madrasa in Pakistan, if one we can recognized as intended to target “a high value terrorist target”–in this case, Abu Nizam himself–hit his son mistakenly, and led a American marine to become a counter-agent of his captor, so horrified is he at the deaths of 82 children during the drone strike that the American government has consented and enabled.  Despite President Obama’s 2012 executive order for commanders to “take feasible precautions in conducting attacks to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties” through training, the very “technological capabilities” of GPS-enabled drone strikes has allowed the “War on Terror” to be mapped and remotely waged with quite limited responsibility for its consequences–and increased possibility of civilian deaths, a theme to which Homeland rather bravely returns at a time when few are willing to acknowledge the widely reported, if minimized civilian deaths that  473 strikes flown between 2009 and December, 2015 which are claimed to have killed between what it said were 2,372 and 2,581 terrorist “combatants” as well as civilians.

The remotely waged nature of the “War on Terror” becomes the background as well as the central scenario and motif of much of the future seasons of Homeland, and the dramatic thriller provides a tacit promise to orient us to its vagaries and contours.  Indeed, questions of the qualitative value of human intelligence and surveillance as alternate sources of information and judgement used to map the landscape of the middle east and global terror is repeatedly raised in the series to considerable dramatic effect–with older generations privileging human contacts for a lay of the land, and younger generations surveillance and remote intelligence of drones–the qualitative nature of the knowledge by which the “War on Terror” will be mapped is a returning theme of the dramatic series that gives us a greater purchase on the war that we are actually engaged in.

3665US Air Force B-1B Lancer refuels after airstrikes in Syria in 2014. Photograph: Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs/AFP/Getty Images

4.  The motif of a drone is particularly effective precisely because the drama turns on the need to the need to navigate the expanded battlefield without clear borders, where the truest casualties and dramatically consequential deaths occur at a remove from an actual human battlefield.  The dramatic structure of episodes of Homeland compellingly promises to orient us to the uncertain topography of this new distributed geography of a War on Terror–by taking us on a trip that imagines the difficulties of negotiating a world where individuality exists in what seem a form of state-sanctioned terrorism, where any “place” can begiven meaning as a target.  As well as existing in a post-colonial spaces of Syria, Pakistan, and Iran, the unfolding of narrative Homeland enticingly negotiates the uncertain grounds of the War on Terror in ways that update the classic spy narrative, where the intended and unintended strikes of drones and the deaths that they cause propel the central storyline.

The War on Terror has become an opportunity to increase our own anxieties about place and find a way to reimagine place–both in the ability to migrate from a physical sense of place to a virtual sense of place, able to be inhabited simultaneously by people in different geographic places, and in the rise of the speed of mass mobility of people across borders and between cities.  The surveillance of what are still post-colonial landscapes in the HBO dramatic thriller Homeland raises repeated questions of individual empathy and understanding in the new landscape of the war on terror, by questioning how the uncertain boundaries of state sovereignty in the post-9/11 world reconfigure place in new ways that make the status of subjects all the more complex to negotiate in a battlefield that has so expanded that it knows no clear bounds–and almost seems remotely observed or able to be observed remotely.

WTC plume.pngSatellite image on September 12, 2001 of lower Manhattan ( Images)

The fear of an attack after 9/11 of a mass assassination at the State Department of the President, Vice-President and Chiefs of Staff at a public appearance that is remotely planned by Abu Nasir’s terrorist network drives finale of the first season of Homeland, the battle-field continues to expand in later seasons.  The season has already followed the return of an apparent war hero, who may be a counter-agent, Nicholas Brody, and his relation to his CIA handlers.  If the return seems rooted in an event–the seizing of Col. Nicholas Brody on the battlefield of Afghanistan, where he is “rescued” by Delta Forces in a terrorist compound, and returned to his home outside Washington, D.C., the mapping of places of safety, and indeed the landscape of state sovereignty, are shown to be not only increasingly uncertain–but to exist in the individual positions of actors who move in a new landscape where the battlefield has no bounds.  We follow the itinerary of the intrepid CIA officer Carrie Mathison as she explores on the new boundaries of the sovereign state in a post-9/11 world, seeking to secure stable intelligence about the enemy, but repeatedly frustrated by the difficulty of establishing secure information, whether trying to piece together the personal narrative of Brody’s relation to the terrorist network whose ties she increasingly suspects, or the world of remote surveillance.

Before the boundaries we believed longstanding became such sites of increased anxiety, battlefields were more clear, and places were removed from them.  In contrast, the ongoing military engagements of the war has opened a landscape of ever-increasing anxiety of place by undermining its stability, and even challenging our cognitive abilities to map a war increasingly dispersed on several fronts–that are difficult to disentangle from one another, and technologically enmeshed at a remove from a space/time continuity.  Even if its theme seems unrelentingly American, rooted as it is in CIA headquarters, army bases, and elite intelligence squads, it is no surprise that the theme of Homeland originated from Israeli TV, where the security of any places within the boundaries of the state are uncertain, and the uncertainty confines of the battlefield have been normalized as a status quo of daily life.  If the shifting spaces of Homeland have such compelling attention as they situate subjects in what are the lists of sovereignty, from the shifting “battlefields” of the war on terror both within the United States and in Pakistan, they exploit the heightened drama of those spaces by questioning how individual empathy can ever exist in them, and how what is apparently open to view on satellite intelligence are often mistaken, and how the threshold of apparent dangers are always able to rise as the boundaries of sovereign authority are actually so insecure.   Drone warfare is not only the recurrent theme of HBO’s multi-season thriller Homeland, about a soldier returning to the United States whose discovery was planted by a terrorist network headed by the terrorist stand-in Abu Nazir, whose name recalls that of the fifth Caliph of the Fatimid Caliphate and the “insurgent” jihadist Abu Nasir killed in Waziristan in 2006, foregrounds the contrast between personal intelligence and drone surveillance across all of its seasons.

The suspenseful thriller invites us to judge what are the best means to orient ourselves to the ongoing layers of drama in a struggle against anti-American terrorist activities in the Middle East, and the struggle between technocratic use of drone strikes and remote surveillance and the personal contacts of a coterie of avuncular older spooks and the intuition of Carrie Mathison, the series hero and CIA handler of the returned soldier Nicolas Brody, provide the grist of its compelling narrative.  The series invites viewers, after all, to try to orient themselves to the twists and turns of terror intelligence, placing us in the situation room, CIA headquarters at Langley, drone strike headquarters in Pakistan and special operations missions, as we observe an ongoing military revolution of intelligence gathered and attacks run by remotely piloted unmanned aircraft, which provide a backdrop for the torturous unfolding of its plot.  We see, at the same time, the rise of an Everywhere war–extending from the regions remotely bombed to Washington D.C. and the capital region, in a disquieting dislocated landscape of targeted killings intended to counter a global network of spies.  While drones are popular with the American public as a way to reduce the risk of American lives, the show’s narrative raises clear questions about the new geography of these “death-delivering video games, drained of all humanity,” to use Glenn Greenwald’s words, perhaps suggesting how they have profoundly confused our collective sense of place, not least because of how they disembody violence.  For by removing any sense of continuity or local knowledge, they have removed covert incursions into foreign territory from a coherent syntactic or narrative structure with which the television drama struggles–and is increasingly compelling to an audience who is searching for answers to .

5.  The narrative of the HBO television drama Homeland has been so popular over six seasons that it has occasioned news coverage and the attention of government and military figures–from intelligence officers as CIA director John Brennan to Michael Hayden and Michel Morell, as well as President Obama –whose aides often insist “We need to see it.”–and Jeh Jonson, who, like this blogger, binge-watched each season.  For the narrative structure of Homeland has provided a map from which to understand and come to terms with an anxiety about place in the war, even as we try to normalize it.  The story of Brody, discovered after he has been in a cell, location unknown, for eight years, and returns to the United States where he runs for Congress while working as an al Qaeda mole has lead the series’ to gain a prominent entry in any Google Search for its title, in ways that suggest the increased overlap between the very term for the television series Barack Obama has praised, presumably for the questions it directs to intelligence sources in a remotely waged war, and the Homeland Security Office of the U.S. government–

Google Homeland.png

–in a telling post-modern conflation between actuality and a televised dramatic series.

Since the very time that George W. Bush declared in the fall of 2001 that the “Global War on Terror” lacked bounds–promising it would “not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated”–the proliferation of the fronts on which it is waged over twenty years lack any signs of orientation.  The proliferation of sites of terror reflect expanded covert attacks on suspected insurgents or terrorists to erode our sense of where the fifteen-year “war” is actually located, and increased anxieties as to where it is based.  It isn’t clear that the war is even spatially located in any strict sense of the word–or that the recent issued executive order to follow stricter protocol and develop better technology to reduce the risk of civilian deaths will offer a greater basis to ensure accountability than 2013 guidelines to ensure “near certainty” of the presence of a designated terrorist at locations of drone strikes.

How intelligence communities exist in the conditions that allows them to operate drone strikes successfully–and how the drone strikes have been seen as a necessary if faulty system for monitoring an almost ubiquitous dangers of terrorist–are raised within the dramatic structure of Homeland in ways that are perhaps as compelling a dramatic rationale as the characters themselves.   As we evaluate as viewers the increasingly intense relation between Brody and Carrie, his CIA handler who suspects his status as a foreign agent or mole, but who she tries to save as she is increasingly sympathetic to him, we enter into the question of individual identity in the terrain of the War on Terror that is what sustains the series.  Even before she seeks to turn him to be a counter-counter agent for the Agency, he becomes the only tie to the terrorist organization at a time when knowledge about its organization is scarce and needs to grow after a series of deadly terror attacks:  the narrative of the drama is increasingly turns on a steep anxiety about place, driven propulsively by cutting between continents, danger zones, and bounds of sovereign states by asking us to focus on the men and women who move across them in ways that parallel and help us to digest the very events about which we read in the news, and the deep anxieties of place by which so many Americans seem to be gripped.

15dowdsub2-master1050Saul Berenson in Pakistan, Ronen Akerman/Showtime

6.  When Foucault described anxieties of place before an audience of architects, in reference to prisons and riots, he might have described the military architecture of anti-insurgent strikes and remote surveillance from drones, which provide intelligence as a remote panopticon.  But in ways that Foucault could not have foreseen, but which echo Foucault’s concerns of suspending ‘normal’ relationships, the physically removed paces of a “war” have repercussions on how we understand spatial relations and the permanence or inviolability of international boundaries–in ways that seem almost designed to perplex or be cognitively challenging.

For over the last fifteen years, much of the war has been waged remotely, or from a remove of video screens and remotely piloted drones in army bases to kill enemy combatants across the globe, is increasingly based in code, as the electronic geolocation, tracking, surveillance, and targeting of insurgents increasingly guide drone strikes in a remote war.  The ‘placelessness’ of the War on Terror based on drone strikes that results reflects an increasing embroilment in technologies of remote-sensing and triangulation of phone signals, whose focus of data collection mirrors the War on Terror from 2007 to 2013–and traces the expansion of the war within a post-colonial spaces on the margins of state sovereignty.


Boundless Informant (2007)

boundless-informant-march-2013-heat-mapBoundless Informant (2013)

Indeed, the basis of a war such covert strikes in harvested data suggests a sense of place constructed in code, as much as on a space to which we are cognitively habituated.  The covert war has been far more placeless than previous wars, removed from place and ethically removed from a familiar value system.  Indeed, as the conflict is increasingly located in a virtual place, most of its combat technologically engaged and removed from immediate surroundings, there have arisen pressing questions of the engagement in a war were the likelihood of striking targeted places has also dramatically increased civilian deaths–raising almost epistemic problems of imagining our own place in the continued war.  The lack of context in the very disembodied “Strike or Capture” maps on the screens of drone pilots who target their victims, lacking the content, visual information, or necessary controls to make an informed choices about the targets they are to fire missiles.

Drone Strikes' Targets

The questions of removed surveillance and the control of field of vision returned to and elaborated in Homeland, whose broadcasting on 2011 immediately followed the steepest escalation in drone-strikes during the war–and whose seventh season will be broadcast in 2017–by examining the covert involvement of special operations in an increasingly placeless war.  It tracks an everywhere war become an “everyware” war, where place is not only tracked by surveillance and reconnaissance but constituted in code, rather than by fixed positions on a map.  The production of space for the war is less implicit in a cognitive map, in other words, than in the data extracted from surveillance and the targets created for drone strikes. As much as being a heterotopia, the capturing of information by satellite relays, wireless networks, and other captabases allows such action as drone strikes to occur in the world without clear human oversight.  The slippage between human oversight and software generated drone strikes–removed from human intelligence–is a recurrent theme of Homeland.  

The coded infrastructure of tracking and monitoring suspected networks of terror and insurgents dramatically increase the possibility of increased citizen casualties or deaths because they are removed from human oversight, even while they generate the illusion of human agency on a video screen, as the cross-referencing of several captabases are accessed at a distinct to allow drones’ precision strikes.

Drone Strikes in Pakistan

New York Times

Interestingly, the popular psychological thriller derives from the award-winning Israeli Prisoners of War (2010) about three Israeli soldiers who return to Israel after a captivity of seventeen years in Lebanon, where they were apprehended while they were on a secret mission, and whose release their government has long agitated:  the reintegration of two soldiers into Israeli society is beset by flashbacks, and the discovery that one of their members is remaining in Syria, where he has converted to Islam:  the confused zone which they inhabit after their “homecoming” or “return” when they have unwillingly become symbols of the nation provides a telling pretext to explore the division of the Middle East, as each ie forced to work through their own traumatic captivity by a homeland that wants to see them as victorious heroes, and negotiating their lives around a nationalist division of space.  While the original series questions the lives fashioned by a geography of war, Homeland only starts from a similar premise, focussing on the return of Nicolas Brody from Afghanistan, and his unclear relation to fellow soldiers who had considered him dead and fought with him there, while only CIA agents suspect his secret conversion to Islam and his status as a counter-agent:  yet the geography of Homeland mutates in new ways as the War on Terror is a central means to understand Brody’s preparation as a counter-agent who maintains secret and deep-running allegiance to his former captor, Abu Nazir:  a drone strike killing Nazir’s son was the turning point in Brody’s decision turn against the homeland of the United States, and drone strikes authorized by the CIA provide a crucial opening for agents to understand the secret geography of insurgent networks.  The geography of drones, and the distinct architecture of intelligence gathering in the War on Terror, in other words, offer the basis to translate the Israeli drama into a story where war is dispersed along several parallel fronts.

While the psychological mapping of Prisoners of War turned on their difficulty in adjusting to the firm lines of division in Israeli society, the discovery of layers of entanglement of the United States and Pakistan in the War on Terror suggests a specific questioning of firm lines of opposition over its first five seasons.  The fronts of an extended war on “violent extremism” have mutated during the war in ways that mirror how Foucault described 1967 as an “epoch of simultaneity . . . of juxtaposition, of near and far [and] of the dispersed,” but which seems to have grown and expanded in ways that have challenged our notion of place–almost as radically as the discovery of Ptolemaic geography in Renaissance Europe helped decenter the cosmos from Jerusalem–which occupied the center of a Christocentric world view, and cartographic skills helped Europeans to deplacialize the New World, the War on Terror has grown with new software tools to locate and destroy terror.  If Ptolemaic geography led to an expansion of “places,” the War on Terror has become an “everyware war,” responding to increased anxiety about the ability to control terrorist attacks by constituting places of insurgents and terrorists in a code/space that remains particularly trying to many as a war that exists outside a clear geographic space.

The difficulty of mapping how the “War on Terror” is waged through remotely piloted aerial strikes, often by drones carrying Hellfire missiles, suggests an expansion of a dispersed war, mirrored in the increased likelihood that drones hit civilian targets.  A sense of the complexity of waging a war in code/space was revealed when the President felt compelled both to apologize personally and take “full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni,” after a 2015 drone strike in a remote al Qaeda compound on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border killed both the American contractor Warren Weinstein and an Italian abducted humanitarian aid worker, Giovanni Lo Porto, who had been held captive for two years and at an inknown location.  The apology was unique among the 415 known drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and 2015–all remotely piloted targeted assaults, made by Special Operations squadrons remotely tracking suspected terrorists by remotely filmed footage and triangulating cellular phones–the very sort of remote surveillance and targeting of suspected terrorists that has enabled a large part of the War on Terror, removed from human oversight.  The problems of creating a coherent narrative about–or weaving a narrative around–the intelligence-gathering networks that perform such remote strikes has in part been the premise of Homeland during its first four seasons, and made its storyline and plot so compelling as an inside vision of counter-terrorism.

1*zYDWdqAAaoPAG4wVW4h56Q.jpegReaper Drone training in Nevada; Air Force photograph

Foucault had of course referred to how we divide space in prisons and architecture, as well as riots, rather than fronts of war or military architecture.  But the shifting architecture of the “War on Terror” increasingly removes how we construct place since from a continuum in disorienting fashion and challenges us to grasp relations of space, as is reflected in the paranoid or alarmist narratives of the Showtime thriller Homeland.  In keeping with dramatically increased anxieties of place over the last fifteen years, and the multiplication of anxieties of the proximity of the violence that may erupt anywhere, and is need of constant surveillance, the un-uniform space of terror is matched by claims for the precision by which drones to target, strike, and destroy any place based on aerial mapping, attempting to monitor all possible places and sources of suspected terrorist activity.  The attempt to map terrorist sites have radically changed how we experience the world–with the result of effectively and dramatically undermining the stability of place.

3. The problems of mapping a remotely staged “War on Terror” are multiple and many.  But the anxieties about organizing its distribution, and managing its appearance in space, range from airport security to combat strikes to arms trafficking, monitoring or surveilling communications to attacking targets deemed dangerous to citizens.  The location of terrorist networks have stubbornly resisted being mapped over the last twelve years, as has the narrative coherence of our relation to a war no longer waged on battlefields, and a massive expansion of remote intelligence units since have allowed drones to account for half of all air force planes, in a mad attempt to surveil and monitor all terrorist activities and locations so that they can be remotely attacked.

Even as the growth of assassinations by drone have grown, al Qaeda presence in many of the regions we attack by drone has grown since Special Operations counterterrorism forces arrived in 2002.  The emergence of calls on social networking sites by “keyboard jihadists” to commit terror accompanied with professions of allegiance to ISIS on social media platforms from Twitter to Facebook have removed terrorist violence from spatial geography or bearings–even as they may raise questions of First Amendment rights.  But even with the increasing unlikelihood that space is  a meaningful register to understand the War on Terror, we perceive it in terms of the disturbing challenges its poses to the security of our sense of space–and pursue its collection in an attempt to monitor and analyze terrorist activity, even in hostile territory which it flies above.

Drone James Lee Harper Jr:AFP:Getty Images.pngJames Lee Harper, Jr./AFP

For Homeland plays on fears of a shifting geography of terror to considerable dramatic effect since it has premiered in October, 2011, ten years into the “War on Terror.”  A central premise of the psychological thriller is the prevalence of sleeper cells and terrorist networks in the United States, perhaps tied to mosques and imams, in a shadow network that is uncovered and traced by CIA operations officers for nationwide viewers, with close ties to Iran and al Qaeda.  The prominence of covert rather than open operations are traced for viewers invited to discover the ways that geographies are increasingly interlaced with global consequences, and indeed covert military operations are central to the storyline that the psychological thriller employs as its protagonists target imminent threats against the United States.  In the first four seasons that have move in rapid succession from fears of hidden terrorist networks that have returned to target the United States on its home ground–a persistent fear that has been playing out in the deadly bombings at San Bernardino or Paris or Brussels or Orlando, which we seem to seek to tie to islamic terrorism–and often based in a groundless demonization of Muslim faith.  To be more fair, the plot of Homeland also tracks the contested relation between remotely sensed and human intelligence–and the errors that plague how remotely observed knowledge that determine drone strikes are based.

Indeed, what is portrayed as the difficulties of converting the War on Terror into a war conducted by drones, rather than human intelligence, is one meta-narrative to which the plot of Homeland returns, raising questions about the value of dedicating the nation to a war effort increasingly based on remote intelligence.  The expansion of targeted strikes and “Capture/Kill” programs, which are designed only to kill, has led to a routinized violence focussed on place–witnessed by such slogans as “We Track ’Em, You Whack ’Em” on the NSA program Geo Cell, dedicated to tracking what are known as “high value targets” from Taliban governors to al Quaeda operatives, removed from a greater sense of grand strategy or global consequences, let alone legal and human rights, mapping locations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, and providing them only after the fact to Pakistan’s government–as if to treat the regularity of violence in the “buffer” area as a state of exception.


We have been so repeatedly challenged to map the coherence of terror attacks that the opening sequence of the television drama traces a series of flashbacks of the news, reporting, and causalities since September 11, 2001, that with the expansion of the global war and terror have provided the narrative backdrop for a drawn-out so-called “war” which has come to cost upwards $12 billion a month, and has created some 20 million refugees.  The continuation of the “war” increasingly relies on special operations forces to track and kill members of the Taliban and al Qaeda in “capture/kill” teams not only difficult to map but taking war to a new level–teams that never aim to capture.  The rapid expansion of such covert operations as the flexible tools necessary to “target” individuals by manhunts waged in the name of national security create a shadow-war on terrorism that Homeland seeks to map as a compelling drama.  In ways that reflect the increased prominence of extrajudicial targeted killing in the “War on Terror,” no longer limited to battlefields or theaters of combat, and which since 2009 dramatically expanded through targeted drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in an ever-growing number of kill-capture raids often located near the Pakistani border.  The dislocation of the war front from ever-growing fear of terrorist attacks is oddly thematized in Homeland‘s plot.

The “War on Terror” has resisted mapping.  In ways both cognitively and perceptually challenging to grasp ,its spatial distribution has expanded across a period of ongoing combat–so difficult to comprehend that the “War on Terror” has disappeared off the radar of many, save in specific instances and moments when it indeed erupts or is invoked.  Increased anxiety over mapping place is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the architecture of assassination drone strikes are terrifying in that the degree to which they both promise and enable comprehensive monitoring and surveillance of place–and the anxieties of managing the spatial distribution of suspected terrorist cells.  These anxieties of management reflect a lack of clear spatial axes or divisions between the front of war and the defense of a Homeland, and live off of the increased anxieties of deadly dangers that are able, despite our increased surveillance technologies, to grow at home, and rely an increased skills of “special intelligence” of security operatives to defeat international terrorist that move insidiously across the divides we once thought were so firm:  the tracking of his movement has been the central dramatic tension in the Showtime television drama “Homeland,” which seems to come close to endorsing the need for unsupervised surveillance, overseas informants, and to manage terrorism’s spread for which there can be no coherent strategic vision.

The steep human costs of those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in over twelve years–conservatively estimated at over two million–have made targeting extremely vulnerable societies through drone strikes their centerpiece–the very same strikes that have contributed to yet more instability and violence in an already unstable regions.  For the unilateral militarism of the persistent geography of drones may indeed be a recruiting tool to the terrorists such targeted strikes seek to eliminate, given the steep damages they have inflicted on civil society, and the inhumanity of their recurrence.  Although residents in the region have grouped all air-attacks–whether from planes or other incursions–since the use of drones is emblematic of a military revolution of remotely piloted unmanned aircraft, piloted from cockpits on the ground who control their flight, as a technology to launch Hellfire missiles at suspected terrorists in triangulated locations–as a particularly disquieting dislocated landscape of targeted death.  The imaginary aerial views that Google Maps creates–set in a terrain of a denatured landscape, pushpins mark targeted positions to chart a deeply unethical map of warfare–disembodied and suggesting more precise targeting of suspected terrorists than drone strikes allow.

Drone Strikes' Targets

The reach of remotely operated drones oddly breach distances to a removed theater of war, in ways that give new meaning to geographical bilocation, as landscapes are scanned by multi-spectral imaging for targets their pilots kill, often with innocent bystanders–and created an industry of training drone pilots that exceeds training for aircraft piloting.  Despite claims for precision of targeting individuals, their mechanics create a far greater level of violence by increasing the ability to target bystanders who might arrive at the site of an attack to locate its victims–even as they are celebrated as selective tools of military strikes.  Drones target place in unprecedented ways and from unimaginable distances–transforming people into targets, and striking places of targeted individuals, as the pursuit suspected terrorists responded to inability to control fears of future attacks, promising to strike terrorists anywhere.

While terrorism converts any place to a possible site of carnage–from night clubs to railroad stations to office buildings, to dance-halls, all often processed as sites of collective commemoration–the enhanced abilities of drones promise to target the exact place of an enemy that remains unseen, but carry an even deeper costs of disrupting the coherence of the social fabric of the societies we ostensibly seek to rebuild.  The difficulty of discerning place or of placing terrorism is evident in the widespread use of unmanned drones to target enemies over huge expanses of land, but revealing with a degree of local detail terrestrial projections don’t afford, and a growing demand for a far more finely grained model for mapping place than had previously existed.  The abilities for mapping place, surveilled with precision from 10,000 feet, are less about providing a coherently embodied picture than targeting unilateral military strikes.  While most drones are forced to fly great distances to reach targets, leased Pakistani airbases provided cover to coordinate covert strikes in border zones and a considerably expanded architecture of military engagement:  in response to a “covert war” declared against America, a strategy of covert engagement and operations has begun based in Yemen and Pakistan against terrorists in north Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, often without congressional oversight.

0DADE439-2984-409A-8214-C22E4AF65020_mw1024_s_nVoice of America

Ongoing militarized struggles against the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants have continued to raise anxieties about the locations of America’s enemy unthinkable twenty years ago.

6.  For the “War on Terror” has created a compellingly clear sense of the simultaneity of the near and far, and the difficulty of distance and data collection that has changed our experience of the world and of how war is waged over a spatially quite dispersed region:  in targeting place by the sovereignty of the drone, we focus on individuals place in space with a newfound degree of GPS precision, locating individuals by cameras on unmanned aircraft flying at about 10,000 feet, as Predators and larger Reaper drones are manipulated wirelessly to strike place.  Since 2004, drone strikes have created a dispersed militarized space in Pakistan and Afghanistan, waging warfare remotely by steering battery-run drones strikes through controls located far away from combat in quite ethically disturbing ways, attacking enemy compounds and convoys with disturbing regularity, in an attempt to stave off further future attacks.  The spatial secrecy and lack of transparency of this war have made Americans both more eager to map it, and less able to do so.

Many on the ground have come to fear the menacing strikes from the intensifying use of mechanized drones as well as conventional airstrikes, but the drones strike many whose names we will never know–some 90% of drone strikes hit civilians not intended as targets between 2012 and 2013, and the  enormous uncertainties of drone technology are acknowledged even by former Defense Department officials, despite their vaunted claims for precision and “targeted” kills:  while drones can be mapped, what one sees from a drone’s cameras is compared by pilots to “looking through a soda straw” and many operators based in Nevada who “fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world” often don’t even know  who they’re killing with much certainty, equipped only with rough evidence so abstracted from local information or informants.  Drones create an illusion of greater accuracy to target suspected terrorists, but also allow their operators–often located far outside the theater of war–to kill the wrong people, including civilian bystanders.

France 24.pngFrance TV 24

Remote judgement of drones’  altitude, pitch, and operations by multiple cameras and a multi-spectral targeting system that can be read against maps offer crude guides for firing anti-armor and anti-building Hellfire missiles from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in what has become a virtual laboratory for covert airstrikes in Afghanistan over eight years, and a laboratory for mapping place with increased precision from considerable spatial remove.

France 24 drone BLOW THIS UP.pngFrance TV 24

The contradiction of a dispersed space of warfare is quite conceptually hard to process.  The geography of military drone-strikes define place as primarily a site of surveillance–or a constellation of places subject to surveillance and possible destruction–lying outside sovereign space, and in relation to which the observer holds a necessarily uncertain position.  (Ever so eerily, unmanned targeted drone strikes outside of an existing theater of war map points of entry into a sovereign space seem to be the mirror-image of the murderous incursion of suicide bombers into targets within our sovereign airspace in 9/11.)

Does the distance of mapping, and its apparent objectivity, help understand the intense succession of violence and architecture of targeted assassination that drone strikes create?  While drone warfare was long used in Afghanistan, targeted drone strikes focussed on frontier regions of Pakistan from June 2004, particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as a region of regular cross-border incursions where US drone strikes are allowed, killing thousands of people from 2004-12, as has been charted in Chris Herwig’s time-lapse cartographic animation of CIA drone strikes that illustrates their tremendous escalation over 2009-10, if in a disembodied fashion, declining only as the US was asked to leave some of the air bases in Pakistan which the CIA used to launch drone strikes–statistics that are not included in the drone strikes run by the US Air Force or official military operations.

Because journalists are effectively banned from the region which non-residents may not enter the region or recording devices leave it, the world depends on local and regional news and accounts of surviving eyewitnesses, making any mapping of drone strikes in the FATA difficult and uncertain.  Only by culling information from local and regional news data, one map of drone strikes and the landscape of sustained civilian casualties presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, while incomplete, registers the bloody concentration of total casualties in a region where Pakistan’s government tolerated American unmanned strikes from the Bush presidency through President Obama’s first term.  The landscape of drone warfare reveals a sanctioned collective carnage that would remain otherwise hidden from sight within Pakistan’s territory, but confined to the FATA–drenching its distinctive local topography in a set of splashes of bright crimson red:

drone architecture FATA.pngForensic Architecture/The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (2014):  Drone Strikes, 2004-13

with an intensity focussed most heavily on what seems the blood-stained region of Waziristan, the architecture of assassination has created a geography of strikes confined to the boundaries of the FATA but with significant estimated levels of human casualties, difficult to process for any viewer of the map, but aptly coloring the FATA an intense red–as an area where violence is not only permitted, but residents are exposed to a continuing threat of death from military and paramilitary groups alike, and lies on the margins of Pakistan, not only as a site of regular military incursions and offensive but a site where individuals can be targeted and destroyed:

Waz Close UpDrone Strikes in Waziristan, 2004-13                                                                                           Forensic Architecture/SITU Research/The Bureau for Investigative Journalism

FATA close upDrone Strikes in Waziristan, 2004-13                                                                                           Forensic Architecture/SITU Research/The Bureau for Investigative Journalism

Despite significant casualties of the over 350 drone strikes that have occurred in Pakistan since 2004, all incursions into Pakistan’s airspace, which have expanded as unilateral strikes as dronology has been refined, have contributed to a deeply warped understanding of space, with little public clarification, even as Pakistan and the United States have contributed to efforts to expel the Taliban from the northwest in recent years. Notwithstanding the blackout of news reporting from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), even the collective count of a range of drone strikes reported by the US government is challenging to comprehend.  Although a large number of drone strikes have killed civilians at unconscionable rates within the FATA for over a decade to deter or target alleged terrorists by drones, gunfire, and air strikes in a human rights disaster

blog_incident_graphicAAAS, 2005-9 Reported Drone Attacks near Pakistan-Afghanistan border

the dense clustering of strikes of unmanned drones almost perpetuated a license to target sites along the “border” in Pakistan’s northwestern provinces, obscuring their human costs–and continuing to raise pressing if undressed questions about their own borderline legality as a war removed from any battlefield or ethical standards as well as from codes of conduct of international law, where “collateral damage” on civilians is often disproportionate to targeted strikes designed to “take out” identified terrorists.
2005-9 drone Attacks:.pngAAAS, 2005-9 Reported Drone Attacks near Pakistan-Afghanistan border

7.   The geography of drone warfare so ethically fraught because it depends on the certainty of a mapping system whose very architecture is imprecise, if it promises the precision of targeted killing.  Did the recent killing of the portly emir Mullah Aktahr Monsour by an Air Force drone raise the bar on the regularization of drone violence?   Or did the assassination set a new bar for the sense of a displaced and dispersed site of warfare ?  The recent assassination of of the portly emir Mullah Akhtar Mansour just inside of Pakistan’s southeastern province of Baluchistan ostensibly made good on Barack Obama’s promise as a candidate to take out terrorists who threatened the United States, even on enemy soil:  after increasing successes against Afghanistan and coalition forces, the strike on the Mullah reveals the heights to which space is controlled, managed, and created in new ways during the War on Terror.  Yet with far less criticism or questioning than the 2011 killing of Anwar al Awlaki by a predator drone in Yemen on the grounds that he constituted a “significant threat” to the United States, the targeted killing rests on the sense of the preeminence of a global war on terror over recognized actual national bounds of sovereignty or individual rights.  The drone strike that targeted the Mullah was a clear invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, albeit against a warlord with ties to the international opium trade and acts of atrocious violence.

The killing of Mullah Monsour in Pakistan’s state of Baluchistan has been primarily portrayed in the media as a sort of chiding of Pakistan for offering shelter to members of the Taliban, double-dealing with America’s avowed enemies even as they benefitted from recent sales of American-made F-16s and affirm their status as allies.  But on what grounds are such sovereign decisions a sufficient basis for deadly incursions into Pakistan’s territory?  Mullah Mansour’s killing was not only a slapping on the wrists of an American ally.  The precision attack also  vaunted the authority of remotely operated aircraft strike by declaring that no one remained outside of the American army’s reach.

The killing stood out even after the ongoing amassing of civilian casualties from a growing number of drone strikes over the last decade, targeting the northwestern provinces of Pakistan with an unrelenting degree of violence almost unprecedented in its violation of airspace, suggesting an almost complete control of the very places where targets might move or imagine themselves to hide.  Fo killing of the driver and the Mullah, who profited from increasingly healthy poppy harvests of poppy cultivation and opium harvests that funneled monies to the Taliban, marked the first time one of Pakistan’s “red lines”–sensitive areas of sovereignty now openly crossed by the United States–were in fact crossed by a drone attack, raising many complaints from our allies.   The drone strike reflected the new geography of war and of American power in an undefined theater of war.

Kandahar Poppy Harvest.pngKandahar Poppy Harvest, Allauddin Khan/Associated Press

pakistan-drone-protestS S Mirza/AFP/Getty Images 

But in “taking action against terrorist networks,” the attack showed a lack of restraint that threatens to further destabilize the presence of sovereign boundaries in the region by unilaterally affirming American interests above all others, and changing the game on the ground in a war that has continued to challenge the bounds of military engagement.

Long before the drone strike Mullah Monsour had “been under surveillance for a while,” according to Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), who has long urged the United States to strike the Taliban in Pakistan.  The latest incursion into Pakistani territory near to southern Iran illustrated the reach of the United States–if his ties to the leaders of the Haqqani network and past obstructionism made him especially wanted.  His sudden and unexpected killing, coming as Afghan-Taliban peace talks were trying to be revived in Islamabad by efforts of representatives of the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was not given a precise location–“in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area”–as he was tracked in taxi and arriving from Afghanistan.  While the opportune moment to strike seems to have appeared without much foreknowledge, the targeted strike benefitted from an increasing sophistication with the remote operation of unmanned drones in the region, coupled with gathering of human intelligence, perhaps in Pakistan or Baluchistan itself, allowed the unprecedented airstrike into sovereign lands in provocative ways.

thediplomat_2016-05-22_03-29-50-386x256.jpgU.S. Air Force/Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt

8.  The stealth courses of these unmanned aircraft that move from remote control, designed to minimize loss of pilots have now become the weapon of choice to engage terrorists world wide that they constitute almost a third of US Air Force aircraft since 2012–not comprehending or registering the many CIA drone flights that are not officially reported.  Flying unmanned drones (Unmanned Air Vehicles, or UAV) across sovereign boundaries and into foreign airspace creates a unilateral war of targeted killings without redress; drones increase the  sense of the violability of sovereign boundaries in ways that may almost render sovereign boundaries superfluous in the near future, but normalize the surreptitious nature of warfare in foreign countries.  If somewhat analogous to the dangers of rockets and aircraft created in home fronts in World War II,   drone strikes are of course occurring to provoke an even more intense sense of vulnerability and defenselessness.

And the strike against the emir Mulla Mansour, coordinated by the U.S. Air Force, and not the CIA, suggested a military incursion into Pakistan’s airspace and its home front.  Despite suggestions of tacit cooperation from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, after the Pakistan’s military had just been sold F-16’s, and some interest in preventing Mullah Mansour from developing Taliban’s ties to Iran at a delicate time in US-Iranian relations, and perhaps help better align American and Pakistan interests in relation to the Taliban.  (No statements were made by the Pakistan army or ISS for five days.)  The ability of drone aircraft to slide quite frictionlessly across national boundaries and frontiers, moving through sovereign airspace with minimal risk that make them the aircraft of an age of globalism.  We are not sure that the strike was unilateral, but the drones evaded Pakistan’s radar systems and apparently followed Mansour’s vehicle as he voyaged from Iran, either by intercepting cell phone signals or observing vehicles, to illustrate American might and the effective porousness of Pakistan’s frontiers in ways designed to terrify the Taliban, earlier confident of their protection behind the long respected “red lines” Pakistan had set as limits of violating its own frontier, and indeed described a boundary for drone attacks.  The drone strike against him followed no such protocol of orientation.


In targeting Mullah Monsour just twenty three miles past the Pakistan-Afghanistan border-line, just inside “red line” drawn by Pakistan’s government, the drone strike near Ahmad Wal in Baluchistan province crossed the “red lines” Pakistan had defined for Americans since 2010–to make a point of targeting a man in Pakistani territory, where Mansour had also lived over previous years, and travelled with a passport and perhaps with Pakistan’s consent.  If Pakistan’s Prime Minister and Chief of Army  were warned of hi skilling, and the Afghan government was in the loop, the drone is difficult to trace or even photograph, creating an increased permeability of home front lives.  Afghanistan’s leader and former Minister of Foreign Affairs identified him as a chief obstacle to peace negotiations.  Indeed, the location of the killing was, probably intentionally, tried to be concealed or left obscure for some time by the Afghani executive Abdullah Abdullah–who had long urged to strike the Taliban inside Pakistan’s territory–

Space Confusion.png

The targeted precision strike on a man traveling in a white Toyota taxi from Afghanistan reveals a confusion of territorial space and airstrikes in ways that recall nothing less than a television thriller, and raises questions of the erasure of clear bounds of sovereignty in a conflict mapped in airspace and drone range–as much as sovereign bounds.  The drone strike was the first to cross the “red line” Pakistan had established in its sovereignty, far south of the northwestern tribal belt that, on the ground, appears like it may be an incursion into a home front.  Americans were pressed by Afghani officials who argued that air-strikes must be extended into Pakistani territory, the assertion of US authority to engage in drone strikes within sovereign space expanded the theater of operations five years after Osama bin Laden’s death–and first targeting of an insurgent on Pakistani soil.  It’s unclear if the strike was done was invited by Pakistani officials, or, as one senior American officials said, they were informed only after the strike.   (Perhaps the odd construction of the entire regional engagement by the odd portmanteau contraction AfPak, as if the countries were a single constellation, may suggest some blurring of nations of territorial sovereignty; the fact that the emir was probably being tracked by his or his driver’s cell phone might mean lines of sovereign space weren’t clearly mapped before the airstrike was launched against the white Toyota carrying Mullah Monsour.)

22-Taliban-leader-drone-strike.w750.h560.2x.jpgBarkat Tareen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


9.  The deadly strike may encourage a further fragmentation of the Taliban group, and make it particularly difficult to continue negotiations with Taliban leadership, even if the United States felt that Monsour was an obstacle to such negotiations–he had been identified as increasing control over splinter groups, but his death is cast, or mapped, as if he were pivot in a geopolitical balance.  Taking the war to Pakistan, however, may well prove to be about drones’ abilities to cross borders with stealth in ways that their controllers are even unsure.  The question of where the emir was traveling from remains curiously unclear, however, and may resolve questions as to why he was targeted in Pakistan’s territory:  Agence France-Presse found that the emir and his driver, an employee of a car rental company based in Quetta, were in fact traveling from Iran when killed by the drone in Baluchistan with his Pakistani driver, Muhammad Azim, whose brother said Muhammad told him that he would be “on a long drive” with a passenger “coming from Afghanistan.” Can the death of the taxi driver be explained by Mullah Mansour’s alleged intransigence?

Mullah Mansour was targeted by the U.S. government as a particularly difficult and worrisome character because he opposed a peace process–although that very process seems deeply flawed.  Mansour’s deep involvement in the narcotics trade from poppy fields from which he profited linked him with criminal elements that made it appealing to target his criminal activities.  His death has been widely interpreted as a direct communication to Pakistan’s government, and an invitation to offered the opportunity to rethink its relation to the Taliban, in a line that the US government has fed to the media; yet invading Baluchistan over Pakistan’s objections was considered by Washington as far back as 2009; the message seems to be primarily sent to the Taliban, and the execution of Mansour probably proceeded without consultation of Pakistan’s intelligence agency–but attempted to fragment Taliban leadership rather than continuing peace negotiations.

Afghanistan’s government described the emir as an obstacle to further peace talks, but Mansour’s killing may mark an end to the negotiations Pakistan had hosted.   To be sure, his replacement by the hawkish cleric Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as leader of the Taliban is bad news for any future negotiations–if not easily erasing many hopes for future negotiations in Islamabad, and increasing anger at staking new rules of the game.  It is hard to see, retrospectively, what exactly was gained by the strike, and incursion into a state’s sovereign bounds–either in the hopes to alter the Taliban’s leadership or structure of power or chastise Pakistan.

10.  Most maps note distances but rarely express or indicate the relation of their content to their viewers’ place:  but the place at which we remotely watch drone strikes, or indeed target places (in order to target people) from removed places of observation suggests the conceptual difficulty of the war on terror and, perhaps, the ease for allowing its continuity.  The geography of the drone strike in a sense metaphorically encapsulates the unclear geography of a long-sustained war, whose fruits the national political system may be finally beginning to bear in the global confusion of the Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and his intolerance of all muslims and intent to expand military involvement in the region.

We collectively struggle conceptually to map the results of the ongoing twelve-years of involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Iraq war’s multiple consequences and aftermaths, but perhaps increasingly do so because of how it has blurred boundaries more than most previous wars.  It has proved disorienting, and difficult to map–either in terms of the brute numbers of its military and civilian fatalities, or providing a way to understand its contours–and perhaps one of its results in the quagmire of the current election, and one of the costs of the war is its narrative failure, and the degree to which that narrative failure led to the unexpected popularity of a Presidential candidate all too ready to reject the role of the US in the world–Donald Trump–and relinquish the place of the United States as an arbiter of global strategy.  (Indeed, Donald Trump seems to be watching too much Homeland in suggesting the need to supervise all Muslim communities in the United States for their possible ties to terrorist groups–planning to ban all Muslims from entering the United States and going so far as to blame American Muslim groups as complicit in all terrorist attacks on American soil given their “proven history of terrorism” against Americans and for “failing to turn in people they know who are bad”!  For Trump advocates massive bombings in Iraq and Syria despite their lack of involvement of ISIS in terrorist attacks in the United States from Orlando to San Bernardino.

However, the absence of any compelling narrative about the tragic continuation of the war has failed to provide any sense of place–or bridge the huge spatial gap between a war waged overseas.  The problematic relation of the so-called “War on Terror” to our country was only rendered in new ways by Emily Prince, when she asked us to imagine the return or repatriation of military dead after four years of war and 4,000 US military dead, by locating small portraits of killed soldiers on a map, as if give these troops a new resting place and interrogate the relation of their deaths to the country.  The absence of an ability to process the war’s military sacrifice–or the deaths of Americans, as well as of Al Qaeda commanders and Taliban emirs–is a continued cognitive obstacle for almost all Americans, for whom the logic of its rhythms or its sacrifice don’t make clear sense–as its aims are no longer coherent and have so often changed long after the decision to invade Iraq and topple the local regime of Saddam Hussein, or oust the Taliban from Afghanistan. It was in order to map such a disconnect and difficult of understanding that Prince began to draw small portraits of the soldiers that question their relation to the abstract identity of the nation.  By placing small memorial images of each soldier to create a visual record of each of these deaths–and a map that grasps what meaning they had for our country –Prince users the lost soldiers in the ongoing combat, even stretching or warping the map’s dimensions in order  to accommodate the distribution of military dead.

The placement of individual portraits the military dead within an outline of the territory of the United States is an eery repatriation and tally of the dead often forgotten in the war’s geographic remove.  The symbolic repatriation of the dead on a map against the cities where each was born suggests the remove of the theater of war in which they were engaged, and died, and a spatial dissonance between the theater of war and the Homeland they were meant to defend.  There is something of an attempt at solemnity in the placement of portraits of the dead into a new resting place in the gallery offers a sort of temporary emplacement of the lost war dead, as if to start to understand their loss, that contrasts to the absence and remove of dead in the so-called War on Terror, and the spatial dislocation of that war has provoked–a dislocation all too evident in the difficulty of assembling a coherent narrative.

The map of military dead symbolically repatriates the overseas military dead,  mapping a shadow image of loss.  Its construction shocks viewers by asserting the actual proximity of the wars to our own homeland, rarely so clearly examined as consuming the nation’s landscape–and all too often treated at a comfortable remove from it.  The chorography of the nation that it assembles through individual images of military dead is an exercise of cognitive comprehension, all too apt for a war whose human costs are rarely so powerfully placed in public view:  by placing the portrait of an individual soldier mapped against a new image of a conceptual Homeland of human loss, its artists, Emily Prince challenges the viewer to register the scale of American overseas war casualties, as we approach the map and examine and learn about each of the military dead in the ongoing war on terror.

72_sturken_00_lgEmily Prince Artwork

Emily Prince Art

The levels of human losses sear the viewer in this conversion of the nation to a graveyard, open eyed faces that stare out expectantly if vacantly in ways that recall the funerary portraits in early Christian art that were meant to convey eternal life after death–but whose promise of eternity now falls flat.  The crowding of naturalistic portraits of military dead into a map not only mark the losses of America’s extended war.  Each portrait placed in the collage-like map of the United States make present the lost soldiers, with their date of death and place of birth; Prince used official photographs to craft ghostly pencil drawings particularly haunting as portraits that now render their definitive remove, and the difficulty of placing their portraits in the Homeland they volunteered to defend.

Each soldier’s face becomes more difficult to process collectively in the totality of a map, whose negative chorography overwhelms the viewer.  One scans the composite surface for individual storylines, beyond dates of birth and death of each serviceman and woman, as we are asked to fill in its gaps on an actual map situated by their birthplaces whose surface eloquently raises compelling questions about our relations to the sum of those individual lives.  The faces mutely look out as if headstones from the negative map, in ways tha oddly recall the funerary portraits of early Christians, if they are executed with far less care:  Prince, indeed, seems to be doing justice to each of the military dead who look out to us from the afterlife, as if to ask us whether their deaths match the hopes and desires they had when joining the military, and the specific vulnerability that each portrait retains–as the final testimonies of their lives.

77e4c25fa6e9e146d08d91373aa2327d.jpgFayum Mummy Portrait, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Scanning the surface of Prince’s commemorative map poses questions of how we might consider our relations to the war dead whose bodies have been repatriated from the theater of war in Iraq.  The remove of their death is all the more poignant in the fact that their current resting places in the nation reflect a new mirror of what the nation looks like through their collective sacrifice, painstakingly drawn by hand, as if in a simple process or practice of commemoration, designed to preserve the memory of the soldiers whose deaths are so often out of our sight, and out of our collective national field of vision.  Even if the targeted killings of terrorists makes headlines, and the killing of Osama bin Laden has become almost a leitmotif of what constitutes American leadership, the losses that are continually made in the protracted War on Terror are less rarely contemplated–perhaps because the charge of making us safe from terror has by now so expanded to no longer have clear confines as a battlefield.

What is the notion of a nation that the collective portrait of American soldiers reveal, and how can we look at the country in the same way again?  The images that Prince distributed along the surface of the crowded maps in challenging ways, by bringing the costs of a theater of war located far overseas back to the the country from which it has been so effectively compartmentalized and bracketed –and whose costs have continued to be held at arm’s length for twelve years.  The collective portraits of individual soldiers is almost unable to be read save through careful attention to the places on the map often erased in an ongoing War on Terror to target and extirpate the operators of terrorist attacks.  The collective pencil and ink portraits serve to map the nation, and to return the costs of war home to viewers, and ask us to focus attention on the connection of theater of war overseas to the society at home.


If all maps tell a story, the placement of grisaille-like portraits of sketched head-shots across the continent suggest a shadow chorography of the War on Terror in the Homeland, crowding and encompassing the immensity of a continent, gathering snapshots as if in the spliced testimony of a new Dos Passos, suggesting the need for a story which the many embedded journalists who travelled with military platoons were never able to present.  It is a “radical cartography” situated in ways that  challenge us to acknowledge the presence of individual dead in a conceptual space of national interests–as if to remap their loss from a national perspective, and replace their lives the oldest icon of a national map–and raise questions of how we are to comprehend the continuity in losses of war.  As we face increased difficulty of even telling a story that holds purchase on the war, it seems necessary by taking stock of the negative landspace of loss–and a space that seems more and more incongruent with the nation.

11.  Although it does not offer anything like an actual physical map, the psychological TV drama Homeland is premised on its claim to orient viewers behind the scenes to the confused relation between domestic space and the space of an extended war on terror.  The plot line of the tense thriller bridges the disjunction between the military arena overseas and the inner workings of the government:   the collapsing of the opposition between “Homeland” and war-front within the ongoing war is revealed by its complex narrative arc over several seasons from the officer Carrie Mathison’s initial engagement with a returning marine, held in long captivity, whose difficulty of returning home is complicated by his conversion to Islam and his possible status as a counter-agent–who is later converted to working for the CIA.   Brody, who disappeared in 2003, is himself evidence of the drastically changed global situation since the early war on terror:  Brody’s new faith of Islam is the first sign we have that he is indeed a double-agent, as we learnt that whilea prisoner of war during the time that the “War on Terror” he has been prisoner has so widely expanded.  Despite flashbacks to a time when he had a clear sense of who was the enemy, he must struggle to process and orient himself to the political geography that has changed.  For he has converted to Islam in Iraq, and gone to the other side, at the same time as the US government is trying to pursue the “War on Terror”, and was convinced to turn after a drone strike against his captor’s compound.

By the most recent season, Carrie has come full circle to work for a charitable institution offering aid to Muslims who live in the United States, as if to make amends for the classification of Muslims operatives among terrorist networks in the  US:  but the fear of such active unseen networks in the United States was a driving undercurrent in the first four seasons.  But the series seems to try to come to terms with the spread of counter-terrorism operations far outside of the theater of military engagement or open war zones–indicating the possibility of the United States as part of the ever-shifting sites of counter-terrorist operations.  The compelling attraction of its narrative arc as a psychological thriller lies in negotiating a newly hybrid confused landscape of war–from Brody’s memories to his return to his Pakistani handlers–particularly effective for bridging the unclear boundaries of an ongoing war that are particularly intriguing as they promise to fill in an absent storyline.  The series is helped, to be sure, by dynamic editing that carries the viewers across a spatial divide in its several sub-plots, thematizing the distance and confusion of its characters as they move across spaces in Syria, Washington, DC, Islamabad and Berlin:  it moves with quick cuts between isolated stories of individual faces of soldiers presumed dead and living and the battle terrain overseas.

For the dramatic tension works by concentrating global fates in the personal stories of special operation officers who have become the privileged tools of constructing the geography of the War on Terror with drone strikes.  For its narrative arc over five seasons that gradually cohere around questions of intelligence strategy never quite commensurate with the spatial geographies or global scope of the ongoing “War on Terror”–punctuated by the huge stakes that drone strike ireate.  If the background is the unraveling of a long-staged American grand strategy in the Middle East, stalled in its endgame and infighting in Washington, the chess-game like intelligence options are placed not only in a human story but in what seems like an insider’s view on a global war, as if to clarify and better orient us to a theater of war, the uncertainties of whose operations across domestic and foreign war theaters are laden with narrative uncertainty.

If maps denote distances within their bound space, few map gesture to or reveal the relation of the individual viewer to their space–but the relation of the viewer of the often quickly contrasting juxtaposed scenes of the Middle East and America in the pychological thriller Homeland invite the viewer to reassess their ties to the mapping of terror abroad, questioning the dichotomy between Americans and terror far more cleverly by making the drama about individual interests, and the ability to line those interests up with the pressures of war on the individual soldier.  Homeland creatively and compellingly situated itself from its opening credits in the political discourse and culture of terrorism in America from the Reagan presidency–shown in a cascade of memory images from mass-media in which the emblematic images from 9/11 that raise questions of the comprehension of memory of a crucial pivot in the continuum of late twentieth-century American history, and suggest poor or inadequate televised footage of events in the not-so-distant past–as if to question the ability for comprehending the relations of our military across space.

The confusion of spatial relations that strategy has created.  It invites us to follow a hidden human story in its plot, beneath the familiar televised exchanges that have kept us increasingly removed rom the local action on the ground that it is ready to reveal and is the bait for each episode, which serves as a psychological thriller of inside intelligence–whose central protagonist, Carrie Mathison long suspects the hidden al-Qaeda ties of Brody, even trying, in an episode of compelling psychosis, to construct a compelling map that would reveal the non-disclosed ties between Brody and the landscape of terror for her former boss, Saul Berenson, to convince him that the US bombing of Iran is going to provoke a new sort of attack on American soil from the group allied with Abu Nazir, as a bomb is going to be strapped to the body of a human spy or delivered in some unknown way as she is about to undergo electroconvulsive treatment for the bipolar disorder that may have led her to obsess about the possibility of a turned former prisoner for war.  Mapping the ties to terror is a sort of madness of its own, and indeed the conceptual map that she creates showing linkages between al-Qaeda and the Brody, now a US Congressman, is viewed skeptically and despite its intuition makes no immediate logical sense.  The dislocation of seeing the CIA former director, played by Mandy Patinkin, bloodied and gagged beside a terrorist and before the ISIS flag, provides an icon of the nowhere-nature of the war, where an American sympathetic to human rights in elegant black is shown cross legged beside a group of alleged terrorists at an undisclosed location, filming an address that will be shown in the United States and is streamed to a global public audience on the internet.

homeland__season_4__103094995-e1419655969110Homeland/Season Two

The compelling or compulsive pull of the series lies in convincing viewers of access to a hidden narrative by which they might uncover new levels engagement of an increasing blurring of geography, not otherwise evident in the televised news or official pronouncements that have distanced us from events:  a war placed overseas has expanded multiple avenues of attack in an un-unified Homeland, as possibilities for domestic attack by terrorist networks proliferate, as plot lines follow human stories that rarely appear on public view and complicate familiar narratives of spatial engagement in one site.

The dramatic action in the psychologically thriller is often dispersed, and exists by the juxtaposition of multiple theater and sites, as we enter its serpentine individual narratives, invited to enter inside narratives of the war that are largely, we find, in fact determined by drone strikes–strikes that form background for the key narrative turning points or revelations, from the conversion of Brody to a counteragent for Abu Nazir to the attempt to locate and track terrorist networks outside of Islamabad.  In a sense, it is because of our skepticism about the coherence of a narrative of engaging terrorist networks or activities that the imaginary access Homeland offers to an inside story of the hidden plots and permutations of the return of a marine, and the cascading relations that his return provokes with the approach of a terrorist network to the Homeland that we think of as lying in opposition to a remote theater of war.  As we enter the storyline of Homeland, and accept the story it offers as an insider glimpse on a story we all suspected was in fact much more complicated than was related on the nightly news:  the implicit promise to reveal or map a hidden inner story of terrorist threats makes the dramatic series so compelling; the series’  attraction may stem from widespread conviction that the official storyline seems incomplete and unsatisfying.  The narrative of drone strikes creates an illusion of filling gaps in the War on Terror that offer individual access to the hidden backstory of espionage that helps assemble a coherent storyline.

The juxtaposed images of superimposed screens of different newscasters reacting to the ongoing war suggest its highly mediated nature, and the remove of most of what we know from what goes on behind the scenes, and the mediated remove of any reports of the conflict from the expansive battlefield where the real action occurs.


Obama on Homeland.pngHomeland, opening credits (Showtime TV)

There is a sense in which the Homeland reveals long blurred boundaries of war.  In blurring boundaries, it may bear the imprint imagined might be in the Israeli prototype on which it was modeled in showing the detailed presence of foreigners at home, in an eery reprisal of the image of unexamined status of Arabs within the Israeli state and intense anxieties about what the drawings of boundaries and actual allegiances during a time of war.  But it translates well to the uncertainty of the returning hero who we see revealed as working with a prime terrorist, only to be reconditioned as a double agent in a network of intelligence that links the Homeland and theater of war–the drama is particularly effective in convincing its audience to imagine the degree of actual proximity of terrorist networks to the United States and even to its very government, in examining the difficult navigation of a collapse of a master narrative of American policy in the Middle East.  The dispersed nature of the struggle against terror networks, who both infiltrate many spaces of government and spaces of embassies, suggest the dispersed nature of the war on terror, and the lack of any clear opposition in a battlefield when the CIA or “agency” is trying to maintain control to any degree possible over an uneasily defined foe.

The end of such a master-narrative about the space of the Middle East is apparent in supersession of any clear opposition or power dynamic to a relationship among multiple sites in increasingly tenuous balance with one another.  The presence in Homeland of two older veteran spies from a previous generation, who continue to try to make sense out of this balance–they are played  masterfully as witnesses by veteran actors Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham, and who serve as something like witnesses for the unravelling of master-narratives they once constructed, as they watch younger generations consumed by their actual disarray.  The narratives that they expect are interrupted in new ways by the occurrence of drone strikes that serve to involve viewers in the levels of drama of the psychological thriller’s plot.  If the compelling nature of sorting out this geography tends toward the overly manipulative, and the terrorists tend to be cast as stereotypes, the dramatic hook of a fragmentary geography of drone strikes–strikes that push Brody to convert to Islam and develop his tie to the terrorist Abu Nazir–a character named after the alleged Arab terrorist Abu Nasir who was killed in Waziristan–who Mathieson suspects to have turned Brody to his cause; another strike result in to deaths that cause untold problems for a young man in season four, as he becomes a spokesperson for the Taliban, only later turned by Carrie, and later strikes are close to taking out his uncle.  The strikes register the  pushing of American power beyond its actual military objectives.

The individual dramas of Homeland offer surprisingly dense corrective to a  war that is far less easily embodied.  The condensed compressed history repeated in the credits of Homeland of attack, of testimony about Pakistani-American relations, raises questions of comprehending the fear of terrorism and the Iraq war that set the stage for the return of a captive soldier, Lt. Nicholas Brody, a patriotic Virginian who signed up to serve his nation in the marines in the aftermath of 9/11, to apparent safety on American shores, and in the first season of Homeland returns “home” as a sleeper agent, in ways that challenge viewers to trace the contours of the confused relations not only of where the field of battle is to the home front, and create the illusion of disentangling the relation of America and zones of combat once located at a geographical remove:  despite the apparent remove of drone targeting of individual terrorists and a terrorist network’s ringleaders–Abu Nazir; Haissan Haqqani–as figures of indelible evil, the invitation to map the unintended consequences of the precision of drone strikes reveal a new landscape of often punctured American values. For drone strikes, if rarely depicted in real time, provide the lynchpins of the drama that one only begins to appreciate as the dramatic tensions unfold.

The dramatic success of the show is to make the division between the United States and the networks of terror it combats less fixed than we sense it to be–both by offering images of infiltration of the United States with counter-agents who return from the front, and then revealing the instability inherent in different levels of fronts that lie overseas, from Syria to the nest of terror of Islamabad.  The sequence of scenes filmed in South Africa were immediately seen as insulting by Pakistan’s government–taken as an insult for its clear lack of homework to the modern city of Islamabad, which seems a warren of possible anti-American residents and government counter-agents, subordinating the site of engagement to conventions of plot in ways that seem irresponsible for their distortion.  (And causing some disorientation for the actors who play terrorists at US airports.)

The conventions of drama seem to have necessitated an enhancement of the backward nature of an infiltrated Pakistan Intelligence Service–and a corrupted American embassy with plenty of opportunity to share secrets–yet seemed overly ready to resort to casting shelter to terror networks that the “red lines” create to an outright collaboration at levels that imply a sense of middle eastern deceit.  “Maligning a country that has been a close partner and ally of the US,” explained Pakistan’s Nadeem Hotian with some offense, “is a disservice not only to the security interests of the US but also to the people of the US.”  The imagined mapping of this site of terrorism recreated in Cape Town used actors who spoke Urdu poorly or with incorrect accents, and showed intelligence agencies as cozy with the ISIS-like terrorists, and more as “a grimy hellhole and warzone where shootouts and bombs go off with dead bodies scattered about,” replacing the “Islamabad [that] is a quiet, picturesque city with beautiful mountains and lush greenery” far from the Margalla hills, showing the city as a hopeless maze of allies, to create a site of dramatic encounters with hidden terrorists and security agents, where tensions run wild and high: the mobs that trap and capture Americans, stoning them with bats and dragging them out of car windows are “dehumanized” as an evil throng, rather than as filled with shopping malls, organized markets, residences with manicured lawns, and flower-beds–quite Americanized, rather than transformed to create an undifferentiated geography of fear where terrorists are poised to invade the city and take over the American embassy and slaughter many of its workers as Pakistani intelligence stands nearby.  The distortions that it performs by subordinating the actuality of Islamabad to the racist fantasy of a war on terrorists who lurk just outside the metropolis, the story lures us in inexorably by providing the inside story of a War on Terror in which the US government is increasingly struggling to overcome compromised information sources and a news media eager to cast the war as a Manichean struggle between Good and Evil, as if obscuring the actual map.

If the “bothering” of Carrie Mathison in a burka seems to cast Islamabad as a place where westerners would need cover to not be detected, the costuming accentuates the foreign atmosphere in ways that play to presuppositions about the region, and curry stereotypes of a foreign office on enemy turf, the geographic confusions of earlier seasons slid to something like caricature:  but the image of Carrie in a headscarf, a concretization of a mission that is undercover in a foreign city as Islamabad, may have left its writers prone to overaccentuate the foreign nature of this quite westernized place to expand its danger, and  reveal the increased unease of its close relation to multiple unknown sites existing in relation to each other, heighten because of potential ties to the world of al-Qaeda terrorists who lie nearby.

Claire Danes Crosfire.png

Yet the story that the series’ fourth season mapped of a double-dealing Intelligence where terrorists held the upper hand to the government’s own intelligence services, and indeed had permeated the intelligence services in ways that complicated the role of American intelligence–and lead to the capture of intelligence agents by an ISIS-like force.



By the psychological thriller’s fourth season, the transformation of the heroine of the series, Carrie Mathison, to a coordinator of covert drone strikes into Pakistani territory suggests a destination almost full circle form the initial unfolding over two seasons of the results of the killing of a school of Abu Nazir’s young son, who Brody had once tutored, that led to the transformation of Brody into a covert spy with deep justification to work in the Homeland for the bereft Nazir’s nefarious plot.

12.  The central dramatic role of drone strikes to the show’s narrative–for they are symptomatic of the warped spatial the relation of the United States to the theater of war which never to cease to mutate and evolve–oddly reflects our own remove from the actual theater of war, and the spatial uncertainty of a war that is increasingly waged by drones that have become the preferred secretive mode of attack, and the increased remove of their remote piloting and military executions from the lay of the land.




Even as we map their consequences, we remain at an often maddening distance all too often abstracted from the ground.  While Homeland conforms too often to the conentions of the genre of espionage and the demands of oppositions between evil and good, the confusions of clear oppositions it asks its audiences to navigate seeks to orient them to a terrain that is rarely captured of the human complexity of unleashing the war on terror, and the unclear status of its warriors.  Homeland offers the fiction of an ability to assess the scene of the same drone strikes–and to witness both the losses that the drone might inflict, and the panic of living with drone attacks–far more than is available and to expose the manufacturing of storylines about ongoing war that has increasingly depended on a intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya.  The individually targeted strikes challenge clear models of visualization, as the stealth war of drones have increasingly led to the transformation of the CIA into a “paramilitary organization,” targeting suspected al Qaeda leaders and terrorist compounds in ways that are difficult to understand, but which the fourth season of Homeland seemed to try to give Americans some purchase on.

Rather than replicate the pushpin abstraction of strikes on a map in Afghan terrain, we can watch the arrival of drones as they are sent from mission control, and the disastrous damage that they inflict.  The drama is almost a needed therapy for the duration of an ongoing war, acknowledging as a practice the human faces on the dead–if only in fictional form–at a time when increased drone strikes have reached their apex since 2008, the moment of most intense drone strikes in Afghan war, based on civilian death tolls compiled by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and number of strikes run:  one civilian died in at least every fourth drone strike in 2015.

image12-9-1.jpegJune 2015 (Gul Marjan Farooqzoi)

The relation between a returning marine and his family were the focus of the first three seasons of the TV show, in ways that asked us to reflect on the relation of the “homeland” to the theater of war that America created, the surprising appointment of Carrie Mathieson to the coordinator of drone attacks on Afghan territories and the Taliban extend her role as a guilty conscience of America–not only in relation to soldiers returning from the war, but to the continued pursuit of the escalation of drone attacks, whose effects we have witnessed in the first four seasons of Homeland.  And the transformation of Carrie to the “Drone Queen”–an episode from season four–shows her moving from the strike that she ordered on a wedding ceremony in the tribal country to her attempts to befriend a surviving victim of the strike, in ways that offer an expiation for the keen sensation of many at the unethical remove at which we remain from such targeted strikes, imagining the control rooms in which such strikes are ordered from afar as we imagine the new geography of war that drone strikes create, by showing the human sides of attacks we have yet to comprehend adequately in maps.

13.  The geography of spatial distribution that the television thriller acts us to retrace mirrors the complex relation and distribution of our own national intelligence networks and armies overseas.  In part, it raises questions about the incursion of American forces into the airspace and civil society of nations that are, in fact, not at war with the United states and have become entangled in how we map terrorism and terror networks and seek to map our control over the distribution of terror networks in the world.  And although the strike on Osama bin Laden was not performed by drones, it almost might have been–based as it was on the secret deployment of marines at the housing complex where he was based, tracking bin Laden remotely by his trusted courier, and watching a televised version of the firefight of Navy Seals that allegedly led to his capture watched in White House.


The spatial distribution of “Homeland” reflects the complex geography of the targeting and killing of Osama Bin Laden to Abbottabad, a town near to Islamabad–rather than in the more remote Tribal Areas where he was long rumored to be hidden–created the first strike against Pakistan’s land–


Yet the invasive nature of the drone piloted from abroad as it made incursions in a foreign airspace offered the script for the mission to Abbottabad.  Indeed, fifteen years after the events of 9/11 attacks, the policy of Barack Obama has not only “maintained many of the core elements of the global war on terror”  in initiated by George W. Bush, that foreground drone warfare, assassinations, and special operations forces, even if these attacks targeted people who were not members of the Taliban.  Drone strikes have forever altered the lives of militants and civilians during the Obama administration:  the celebration of the execution of Osama bin Laden in 2011 as a paradigmatic remotely orchestrated operation–itself watched by live video feed from the White House, as Navy Seals entered a mansion or safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, one Sunday afternoon, to monitor the killing of the terrorist whose death or capture had been openly made a priority long before Obama’s administration–but whose killing by a squad of Seal Team 6 was watched with intense curiosity from Washington.  Or was this only a sort of photo op, as suggested by Seymour Hersh, as officials would have been watching only to make sure that the Pakistani ISIS who had been holding bin Laden in confinement for some time, ready to be assassinated by seals–and were staging the “capture” as an event that American forces had orchestrated alone. Room

Even as military casualties have been reduced in Afghanistan, with the official unilateral withdrawal and declaration of the war’s end, yet the scope of ongoing drone strikes have intensified over time, through 2014 and 2015, as U.S. military fatalities have grown.


The increased use of drone strikes against targeted militants provides a problematic way of tallying deathly strikes whose damage assessment is deeply difficult to calibrate with accuracy, but has significantly grown.

Drone Strikes in Pakistan--Obama:Bush

The conflict with terrorism in a way has created a new basis by which geography is mapped, and by which we are always challenged to reorient ourselves to the world.  The television show capitalized upon this disorientation–a disorientation increased by the remotely waged war of drone strikes against unnamed “insurgents”–by situating the silent if ongoing war of drone attacks its storyline, and uncovering their alteration of the landscape of the middle east, as well as its terrain, among a set of characters who move between ongoing theaters of operations to the land they are defending.  In early seasons of the show, we find that not only are many terrorist cells in the homeland, but that newscaster for Al Jazeera is working for the group commanded by Abu Nazir, and a clear dividing line that maps onto territoriality increasingly difficult to draw.  As we move between public statement and back story, official newsreels and personal story of private lives lines, the absence of a clear picture of the lay of the land in Pakistan is increasingly clear–as is the impossibility of separating the homeland from the war.

The program is compelling as a narrative that follows an unravelling of clear boundaries between “there” and “here”–between Washington and the Middle East, in the Age of Drone Strikes–not to speak of the original mission of involvement in Pakistan and in the region, whose geopolitics overlap with its stories of individual relationships.

14.  From the first seasons of Homeland, viewers were led through the alternate realities of Brody having returned “home” from apparent captivity in the Middle East with a mind changed by his time in Afghanistan, the oppositional relation once drawn between America and Al Qaeda is far less clear than it once appeared to the Virginia working class kid who left his wife and joined the military in the wake of the terrorist acts of 9/11.  The difficulty of drawing a boundary with the clarity of a line in the sand is epitomized in microcosm by Brody’s difficult to readjust after having witnessed the relation of the United States and local militants through the effects of a drone strike, and converted to Islam, Brody’s mind is filled with particularly graphic flashbacks that as  we watch challenged the viewer to remap relations between American and the mid-East, they challenge the flimsiness of a coherence of geographical remove that can no longer make so much sense for his life, and to shudder at the increasing penetration between homeland and war front until they effectively dissolve.  The beauty of the television drama is the extent to which the confused memories of Lt. Brody–and his difficulty of appreciating the allegiance he wants to follow–is both foreign and mirrors the confusion of collective memories of the ongoing Afghanistan war and its complex evolution from the Iraq Wars.

Brody’s conflicted priority and his individual story encapsulates the complex relation  –told through the eyes of CIA operatives who straddle the continents, and target regions whose exact topography we stand at a considerable remove, despite the contradiction of the precision at which we are able to map, by drones and maps and overhead flights, the terrain on which the extended conflict is waged.  For whereas the first gulf war provoked a massive airlift of printed paper regional maps of Iraq, ferried in vast numbers for troops and commanders in the First Gulf War, in hopes to orient themselves to the land, the shifting landscape of drone warfare suggests a landscape particularly difficult to concretize, but which it is part of the success of Homeland to do–both by showing the difficulty of different actors as they struggle to orient themselves tot he landscape of the conflict in Afghanistan, and the difficulty with which they do so.  And the inheritance of clear lines of a mission become increasingly confused even for Saul Berenson by the fourth season of Homeland, as several members of the American embassy are found to collaborate with terrorist groups, and the landscape of the Middle East is increasingly difficult to recognize at first hand–even as we have physically and socially changed the landscape of the middle East.

The intersection of different generational levels of officers who orient themselves to the lived landscape, aided by cross-cutting or flashbacks to the perspectives of inhabitants on the ground, provide an illusion of the constant struggling to process the landscape of war that is defined by drones–but that drone strikes seem to have made increasingly difficult to recognize or understand, as the local inhabitants have gained familiarity with how to manipulate and orchestrate fake drone strikes of their own.


In part, this is the landscape that the increase dependence on drones, rather than local human intelligence, has created.

Drone Strikes' Targets

But the unfolding of the drama increasingly reveals the twists and turns of the blurred and fraught traffic between the Middle East or Islamic world, with which no clear boundary anymore exists, and the levels of knowledge we have to judge the networks of terrorists, foreign secret service agencies (ISS), and the hybrid sorts of intelligence on which the CIA depends in an age of drone strikes.  From a story of one individual who is returning to America after a period of years spent with Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq, we learn how his own mental state has been changed by the ties that still inform his daily actions, and enter a world where knowledge from afar is forever more complex when one is transported more closely to the ground.

Execution squads

The implicit message of the arcing storyline of the danger posed by the remove of drone strikes from human knowledge that goes “straight to the heart of the drone strike argument” on the benefits of targeting high-visibility terrorists, and of the dangers of what is generically termed “collateral damage” of civilians whose lives are ended by the strikes.  Is the knowledge streamed by surveillance planes, later episodes ask, sufficient for targeting individuals?  And what happens when bad information is fed to the CIA command?  Is targeting individuals by drones even ethical as a form of war?  Obama has described watching the show regularly as a “guilty pleasure,” and Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson is a fan–the explicit treatment of the collateral damage of drone strikes that terrorize Pakistani and others.  In ways that directly engage the ethics of drones, more fully and complexly than does most news, the celebration of the deaths of those targeted by drone strikes is mapped onto the experience of their deadly effects on the ground–and in the continued extension of a war that looks more and more like an ongoing military struggle.  If the United States withdraws from Islamabad in Season Four, the war continues, off-screen.

remotely piloting drones

The problem of drones and remote intelligence from drones is framed in Homeland as one of geographical knowledge–and the ethics of continuing a remotely waged war.  While we persist in keeping up the pretense of a clear dividing line between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Washington, the exchange of information is in essence mapped in all the potential possibilities for its lacunae of on-the-ground knowledge or human intelligence.  For even if we simply aren’t in the know or as involved as the somewhat unlikely CIA protagonists in the show–who have come to realize (and struggle with) the extent to which the old oppositions between east and west, or Iraq or Iran with the events of modern-day America, can be said to ever be separate anymore.

The border-crossing of operatives and station chiefs who have superior intelligence and wage the covert war provided an increasingly central axis along with the dramatic tension in Homeland has been mapped.  The fluidity that has existed across generations, and is manifested in multiple smaller sub-plots and seemingly minor characters, is not only a subject of fear, but has become an aspect of the everyday in our own lives–as the drama of day-to-day executions by drones and targeting of terrorists has provided a background soundtrack over the past ten years of which we have been increasingly conscious, yet have rarely come to terms, even as we have continued to accelerate the quantity and range of drone strikes in the hopes to end the war–but as the deployment of drone strikes against targeted individuals creates an increasingly obscured relation to space, bred from the sense of increased certainty  but perforce removed from the ground and occurring against the backdrop of a far more flexible and canny intelligence waged by those on the ground.


Rise of the Drone.png

The landscape of sustained drone strikes across Pakistan has not only so altered the actual changed relation to the land, but destabilized a landscape over which American military and CIA have an increasingly unsure relation–as Homeland reveals–and the topography of Pakistani relations to the terrain that has been so strongly pounded is absent from any recognizable concept of governance with which the United States and CIA operate.

Drone Strikes in Pakistan--Obama:Bush.pngSlate–Interactive Map by Chris Kirk

Tracing a story of the first terrorist attacks on US warships to an almost perpetual state of “remaining vigilant” against future attacks, the series addresses the challenges of maintaining our own shifting mental geography of current events, where the waging of a sustained war overseas has given a clarity and concreteness to the terrain of targeting individuals–as much as a lived environment landscape.  The landscape is most often depicted as not inhabited or habitable, but hostile in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the disorientation of negotiating the landscape on the ground by station chiefs in Islamabad or Kabul mirrors the unease we have in processing our own country’s military engagement there.

Homeland invites us to trace overlaps between American forces sent oversees who take on new identities during symbolic homecomings to Iranian soil.  Although the series takes its title from the Homeland Security Department founded by President George W. Bush in the wake of the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center by suicide bombers’ hijacking of passenger planes on  9/11/01, it is concerned with the aftermath of the extended tortured relation to Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan that has emerged, focussing on the technologies of observation that US military has come to employ in a daily manner, through the lives of six or seven individuals who struggle to ascertain and come to terms with the tortured relation to the land and its actual inhabitants from individual perspectives, whose lives map in microcosm the historical role of the United States in the region’s complex geopolitics, from the arrogance of the new CIA commander to the old hand perspective of the made up character Saul Berenson, to the pilots and commanders of actual drones.

The television drama is particularly compelling, as it continues it has come to question what “homeland” is as a category –as well as what the homeland of those who live in tribal regions.  Indeed, after beginning with the arrival of an apparent prisoner who served as an American marine from what seemed an Iraqi prison, the series’  progression increasingly fosters a spatial confusion of allegiances as the confusion of ties within the government is revealed, that tries to process the continuation of what seems an ongoing appendage of the American military in much of the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq began–and the eruptions of sudden sensations of geographical proximity with which we’ve yet to come to terms.


For if the long history of the level of American entanglement in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries becomes the setting for the human drama of Homeland, the point seems to be that the far-off is now met by an almost post-modern space that is not so uniform, after all, and over which human paths criss-cross more than was earlier the case, when Saul Berenson fled Teheran after the last days of Shah Pahlevi’s rule, or the Beirut that Kerry once patrolled–and the Mossad are less our co-workers than entrusted suspects, even if the show was originally modeled after one on Israeli TV.  Watching the psychological thriller unfold, one’s compelled to reflect on the shifting relation we feel to the war, and the inability of the officers we follow to effect any clear or desired change– and the complex layers of entanglement in what was once conceived as a playing board.

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Filed under aerial bombardment, Homeland (TV Show), Homeland Security, terrorism, War on Terror

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