This piece of investigative journalism is a mix of pure fiction, theorethical views and facts sampled from Internet. The essay is based on an assignment given to me by artist Michael Johansson. In his project FIELDASY a number of scenarios were enacted by artists / architects / interactive designers. This is a short version of my contribution.
IN SEARCH OF THE MILITANT CODE
The air around me reeks of syntetic rubber, of gray metal. My eyes filled with black, absolute shadowless blackness, as if covered with a tight, smooth plastic blindfold; I imagine this is how silicon implanted under your skin feels like. Silence like in sound-proof cell. No wheezing drain-pipes, no humming electrical appliances. Nothing. After this notation of all information my senses are able to gather from the surroundings, I can relax and reflect over the fact that my mental "mapping" ability seems intact.
Mediaworkers train the ability to recreate words, images and events from their memory. And retell theses events in different media. The latter part of the process used to be highly valuated; a skilled story-teller and interpreter of events and news had top status in the mediaworld. Today, this art is regarded almost as a mechanical act, of low status. In the present media landscape, the investigation and the quest are rewarded. The "Muckraker" takes top billing, a well documented scoop gets highest score. The ideal mediaworker control "The Art of Being There" to fulfillment.
The messages above spread all over the world television screens. It literally glued itself like an electronic billboard on top of all other signals, and it couldnīt be erased. The only solution was to close down transmissions. During a couple of long, endless hours the worlds television screens went black. The earth once again turned into a local place, not a global.
When the television screens flimmered back on again, the hottest news was the story of how this had happened. An intelligent code had been planted at all brodcasting networks, designed to activate at the same time.Before any station had time to re-formate their operative systems, a low resolution MPEG-video started. In the video a female cleaner with access to the broadcasting control centers, hacked herself into the MOTHER COMPUTER. Her fingers dance on the keyboard as she wrote a long algoritm and pressed RETURN. The message read:
The MPEG-video had no sender, but mediaconsumers over the world knew. This action was staged by a group of militant graffiti artists who used uptodate communication methods to spread their tags over the world. Their strategies differed, the common feature was to plant messages with individuals and organizations with power and influence. Individuals that took pride and made a career out of control and integrity. After being targeted by these messages, their value turned below zero, the powerstructures they represented degraded. As a result of this suicides and corporations declaring themselves bankrupt were reported. Politicians were discharged and governments resigned.
The female artists never used their skills to benefit personally, their were all anonymous. Their resolve and will to act without any form of personal gain or recognition, impressed me and many others. In line with the growing success of their actions, their fame grew.
I gazed at a picture, a pixelated enlargement from one of the video messages transmitted by the activists, it showed a tatoo on a cleanshaved scalp. A heart with two names crossed - CODE and TOM. Even in this low quality image, there were no doubt. It was a message to me. Code (she created the alias as a tenyearold) always called me TOM, she showed me the seriousness of her involvement in our relationship with that tatoo. She kept it hidden under her hair until my birthday when she gave me a razor for present, a Ladyshave.
After the "scalping" act she told me the story of the greek master Histaeus who tattooed a massage on one of his slaves skull. His hair regrown, the slave was sent to an ally with the message. The success of this mission meant that an threathening invasion from Persia could be halted. Her fascination for codes and secret messages took off during programming courses at university in our hometown. This was way back in time, before the millenium.
I took the bait and started investigating her traces, my goal was an interview, with her or anyone else active in the graffiti acts.
The media still delivers facts and stories through conventional channels. All information - even the digitally stored - must be processed and transferred via different reproductive media. This in an age when scientists researching memotechniques are getting close to master the ultimate form of communication; being able to scan the human mind for information, opening a direct tap from the flow of images, scents and emotional experiences stored in the grey brainwrinkles of every individual. The future journalist are more than a communicator, she/he IS the media. "The art of being there" will be a reality for all with access to the technology of tapping into a reporters memorystorage..
I activated one of my contacts in the indy-media world and searched through Interpols files. The result turned out positive. The signatur Code was on the "wanted" list , presumably the mastermind behind extensive "hacker-activities" and computer related crimes. The search was active, this meant she was still out there. I posted a flood of e-mails to everyone that had, or could have had, contact with her. And finally I had an adress. Code existed.
We exchanged memories and thoughts for a couple of weeks before she volunteered to arrange a meeting with one of the most affluent of the female activists.
A voice awakened me. A low female voice. "Take the blindfold off". The voice had all the signs of a being digitally created and sampled. Transformed from a database of individuals. I obeyed. And I got vision. In the gloomy dusk a mattress lies on the floor. I am in some kind of storage room. Raw wooden panel on the wall and floor. Fresh air coming from small ventholes in the roof. "Your interview will take place during the next 24 hours. You must move to the location on your own. I will give you instructions." The voice could be Codes, or maybe thatīs just my wishful thinking.
My feelings about an actual meeting are filled with contradictions. All the instructions I have followed have made me confused and exhausted. A torchlight showed me ahead. At least that was what I thought. In reality I was stuck in some kind of maze. A lowbudget underground version of the famous minoic Themple of Knossos.
Code sent me a quote by Steven Levy, one of the best informed mediawriters around the millenium, taken from his book "Crypto".
Finished reading all her e-mails I realized that nothing can be passed on secretly using the existing technologies. If you have the software to create encrypted messages, their will always be methods of encoding them. Programming code is a versatile language mastered by and developed by an increasing armada of experts. All communication is transparent and accessible for everyone equipped with uptodate technology.
After waiting another couple of hours to be guided through the strange maze surrounding me, the sampled voice returned. The instructions led me step by step through doors, stairs and passages. Some were damp, probably underground, subway? I tried asking Where are we going? but my question generated no answer. Someone was watching, following my movements, maybe with a heat-sensitive camera or some kind of motion-tracker.
This winding and exhausting walk ended in an open huge room, a kind of foyer with large vertical glassplanes, covered by a non-transparent material. There were traces of frenetic activity. Office tables and chairs piled together in chaos, black overfilled garbagebags crammed in a corner. I placed myself on the sofa and words slowly began to roll over the milky glassplanes. The message read:
The message was followed by others, some of these I recognized from earlier actions, some brand new; presumably this had been their head-quarters and they left behind a database with information. The plasma screen lit up with an image of Code, barely visable throught he electronic noise. She gave me apologetic smile, "your physical presence is enough to track us down. we had to regroup. you can ask me questions, but only in the official net-english."
I studied the screen with a sceptical glance. A strange situation for an interview, in real-time but not alive. They had supreme control of the conditions, that was an argeement I had to obey. I passed a question on to Code.
Q: Would you call yourself a hacker?
A: No. Always the same stupid question. I guess there are some hackers who would call me a 'hacker', others would call me 'cracker' and others just 'lazy-assed destroyer'. There are a lot of dirty names for people like me, but I don't care.(...)
Q: What are the forms electronic resistance takes today
A: I give you an example. In the mid 90s the group Critical Art Ensemble published a book called Electronic Civil Disobedience. The basic assumption of the book is that power and its representations are no longer located in the real world but have been shifted into the Net. The model they developed transfers civil disobedience from the real life to the virtual world. What we do is taking it one step further. We use every electronic means available to form our actions and spread our tags. We invent and re-script and do whatever necessary to spread our word. Thats what we do, a kind of electronic civil disobedience.
The screen went dead with an electronic sigh. During the last seconds a voice was heard, using recognizable frequences but at the same time totally incomprehensible. The sound faded and I realized I had heard this sound before. It was similar to the backward message recorded on The Beatles WHITE ALBUM, the infinite loop at the end of A Day In The Life of the World.
For all of you not blessed with the ability to interpret backwards messages on the fly, this is what it said:
© THORE SONESON 2003
Important actual sources used in this fictive piece:
hacker is a woman av Cornelia Sollfrank
the people av Steven Levy
More on the art project FIELDASY by Michael Johansson on http://www.infobloom.se/fieldasy/index.htm only in swedish).