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On the occasion of this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, artist and writer James Bridle wrote the essay ‘Sneakers and Snoopers’, about security and surveillance during the Games. Starting with the camera technology that records the performance of the athlete in the stadium, Bridle zooms out in his essay to the huge scale in which our cities are controlled and their safety is guarded. Bridle gave a lecture at Het Nieuwe Instituut on 10 November 2016. His project Citizen Ex is also currently part of The Life Fair at Het Nieuwe Instituut.

Just two blocks away, the Operations Centre has its dark mirror in the heavily fortified Centro Integrado de Comando e Controle (CICC), a parallel facility set up by the Federal Police. The CICC is one of a network of twelve centres built in each of the 2014 World Cup’s host cities, and is the official back-up site for the National Integrated Command and Control Centre (CICCN) in Brasilia. Like the Ops Centre, the CICCs contain a stadium-sized digital screen alongside hundreds of terminals, with full access to all of the city’s data and surveillance feeds. Where the Ops Centre brings together emergency fire and medical dispatchers, water specialists and rubbish collectors, the CICCs provide the same service for the state police, military, and intelligence agencies. Of course, notes a government press release: “The high investment will not be in vain. The CICCN and the regional centres will remain in operation, rendering services to the Brazilian population after the World Cup and Olympic Games.”

Together with the ability to peer inside the stadiums themselves, using their integrated security systems, the CICC is intended to provide a total image of the city at all times, and not only from traffic and other cameras. In April, the government purchased half a dozen high-altitude surveillance blimps of the kind familiar from US operations in Baghdad and Kabul, which, tethered at strategic points around the city, will provide high-resolution, twenty-four hour aerial footage of entire districts. At the recent Latin American Aero and Defense Exhibition held in Rio, the Civil Aviation Secretary announced new laws to cover unmanned aircraft over the city. The laws are intended to keep private drones away from crowds and buildings, but they don’t apply to the police and military, who have pioneered the use of drones to surveil civilian events.

At the same fair, South African company Desert Wold unveiled SKUNK, an “anti-demonstration” octocopter carrying loudspeakers, cameras, and pepper spray guns. Citing the Marikana massacre in which 41 mine workers died in South Africa, the manufacturer claimed that such technology would lead to less violent outcomes by removing the fear and stress of riot police from the scene - once again, citing the supposed objectivity of machines over the emotional human, even when those machines are covered in guns. An initial shipment of ten of the machines was on its way to Rio.

Brazil has the largest aircraft industry in Latin America, including a homegrown subsidiary of Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit, which produces the Hermes UAV. The Hermes 450 has a ten-metre wingspan and has seen extensive action in Gaza and Lebanon, and, with the British Army, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of Hellfire missiles, Brazil has fitted its fleet of Hermes with a Sky Eye sensor containing seventeen long-range, thermal, infrared and other cameras, capable of tracking activity across a hundred square kilometres and recording faces and license plates from 30,000 feet.

Brazil’s national commitment to both football and to militarised surveillance has already given birth to one spectacular piece of contemporary sports footage.

In July 2013, the Air Force released a film taken by one of its drones as it passed over the National Stadium at precisely the moment Brazilian star Neymar scored the opening goal of the Confederations Cup. The video first shows a Hermes in flight, a bolus of cameras swivelling in its belly, before cutting to the aerial shot, each player a few pixels across, dodging around avionics data, tracked by the crosshairs of the targeting system, just as the ball smacks into the back of the net. The video continues with footage of the stadium, of crowds of people surrounding it, of the team coaches arriving, and VIPs in helicopters. All are levelled: sport, transit, spectators, participants, threat, opportunity, all equal in the all-encompassing electronic vision.

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The drones will be aloft again for next year’s Olympic games. Just as the cameras of the international media and the Olympic-funded Command and Control Centre spread out across the city, the eyes in the sky will gaze down on track and field, swimming pool and rowing lake; the high jumpers, discus throwers, sprinters and archers all caught in the crosshairs of the heads-up display. In W, or a Memory of Childhood, the French author Georges Perec described a country whose entire social structure was based on the Olympic Games, every citizen an athlete, every decision based on sporting prowess. In the endless expansion of military surveillance technologies into everyday time and space, we see the world transformed not just into a battlefield, but also into a sporting ground, a continuation of war by other means.

The future of the world according to the logic of both “W” and surveillance systems is a world in which we are constantly monitored, observed, measured, judged, and scored. From the databases of the International Figure Skating Federation to the datacentres of the National Security Administration every step, every turn, every leap is noted down and recorded. The drone that passes overhead keeps score for the kids playing football on the street, while watching through the upstairs window.

Farzin Lotfi-Jam, Mark Wasiuta
Farzin Lotfi-Jam, Mark Wasiuta, Sharif Anous
Joost Grootens

This project is part of the programme track Annual themes and the folder Olympic Games.