What is the function of an archive? In his answer to this question, Shuler compares the textiles of the Mongols, the artwork of Gregory Green, and the CIA's World Factbook, an "e-archive" that now disseminates the CIA's version of 20th century history to a global audience. Despite a lack of spacial limitations imposed on the text, the Factbook is far from a depository of "raw data." Instead, Shuler suggests that its archival function is one among many acts of aggression on the part of an aspiring Empire.

The CIA World Factbook: Marriage of Archive and Empire?

Jack Shuler

"The people of Baghdad have resolved to compel the Mongols of this age to commit suicide on its walls." -- Saddam Hussein

<1> A recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art cites the production of textiles as integral in establishing the power of the Mongol empire. In the accompanying notes to the exhibit, the museum curators write that, "In the creation of luxury textiles and objects for the Mongol elite, Chinese artists developed a visual language that was an effective means of establishing their rule and continuous presence throughout the vast empire." These artists used certain motifs such as the dragon and phoenix, to create tangible representations of power. The "mythical beasts integrated the ideas of cosmic force, earthly strength, superior wisdom, and eternal longevity." To read the motifs on these textiles is to read a story of empire created by a propaganda machine. These motifs and the textiles themselves are not only historical artifacts, but they record and are, in fact, archives of one civilization's attempt to materialize its power.

Mongolian Pattern, Mongolian Art Website

<2> In this essay "archive" [1], as a noun, will mean a collection of materials (including, but not limited to documents, supplies, objects, information) assembled by a person or group of persons in order to record, document and preserve a life, event, or body of knowledge -- a library, museum collection, etc. "The archive is both a physical site -- an institutional space enclosed by protective walls -- and an imaginative site -- a conceptual space that is forever changing" (Voss and Werner i). The construction of archives is a difficult and political process. Paul J. Voss and Marta L. Werner note in "Toward a Poetics of the Archive: Introduction," that, "the archive has more often revealed itself as an ideologically-charged space" (i). This is so because archives, to be sure, usually suffer from what David Greetham calls a "poetics of exclusion"; there is always a question as to what goes in and what does not go in an archive (19). Many archivists make decisions based upon time and resources available. Oftentimes a certain amount of personal preference, often based upon ideology, or "social editing" comes in to play. Decisions can be made simply upon the amount of physical space available. However, Voss and Werner offer that now, "Technology ensures that the façade of the archive is changing" (ii). Today, an archivist, one who creates an archive, is only limited by how much memory is in his or her hard-drive -- a truly liberating moment, indeed. Now those who create archives of information or documents, for example, do not need to be concerned by the inadequacies of space. Walls come down and "the archive becomes a virtual repository of knowledge without visible limits, an archive in which the material becomes immaterial" (ii).

<3> In Jacques Derrida's Archive Fever the author pays close attention to the ways in which archives might express power with an examination of the Greek origins of the word "archive." He writes, "the meaning of 'archive,' its only meaning, comes to it from the Greek arkheion: initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded" (2). Because of their positions, these political big-wigs of Ancient Greece kept all official documents in their homes. They were the "documents' guardians," not only because they protected the physical objects -- the documents themselves -- but because they held interpretive powers over these official documents, and thus over the law (2). And so archivists, like the archons of ancient Greece, are the arbiters of what is to be included or not included in an archive. They are more than agents of cool, for archives are not meant to be transitory -- there is a hope of permanence for what is contained in or retained for the archive. What is excluded will likely be forgotten or dismissed as unimportant. What is retained takes on a cloak of significance as it is now included in a body of knowledge meant for preservation. Indeed, the process of archivization creates meaning precisely because what has been archived has been carefully chosen for the archive (17).

<4> If we are to assume that the government of the United States of America exists at the center of an empire, as Saddam Hussein has indicated, or has the desire to create an empire, what then are the "textiles" of this empire? What are its archives of power? In this essay, the notion of the archive as a transmission of power across an empire will be explored by examining a popular electronic source of information on countries around the world, the Central Intelligence Agency's The World Factbook (www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook.index.html). This "factbook," an archive of data collected by the United States government, serves the empire by working to control discourse, specifically the way other nations are represented and discussed.

Empire and Discourse?

<5> In 2000 Michael Hardt and Toni Negri published the popular and controversial book Empire, an insightful analysis of contemporary struggles for and against globalization. Hardt and Negri propose a re-evaluation of the concept of empire and offer a new definition. They believe that Empire is a "decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its expanding frontiers" (xii). For Hardt and Negri the view of empire as an extension of the nation-state, no longer holds: "sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule" (xii). This new form of governance is called "Empire" with a capital "E." With Empire a nation-state's influence is surpassed by supranational bodies like the IMF and Worldbank, and even the United Nations, organization's whose power is not limited by geographic boundaries. Hardt and Negri would argue that while it may appear that one nation-state dominates global politics, that nation-state's power is limited by these larger organizations. Accordingly the United States, while retaining a powerful role in world politics and economics, is not a center of rule in the same way that London once was of the famed empire sans sunset. This is a new world with new terms and a new game in which no one nation-state can claim imperial rule.

<6> Of Hardt and Negri's conceptualization Timothy Brennan recently quipped, "As the United States ushers a new government into Kabul, criminalizes those who quibble with its military plans, and thumbs its nose at the Geneva Convention, Empire's thesis that imperialism has ended is likely to seem absurd" (339). Not to breeze through this debate surrounding Hardt and Negri's work, but from my position in Brooklyn, New York, currently living under Code Orange, having watched thousands march up Flatbush Avenue covered in blood and dirt on September 11th, I find it hard to believe that our world has become de-centered, that power is not housed in one nation-state, one economic, military, and political superpower. With the team of Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld having orchestrated the invasion of Iraq, and in the process disrupting the machinations of the United Nations and NATO -- examples of international governing bodies -- I find it hard to believe that our world has become de-centered. For such a contention I am sure to be accused of either, depending on one's perspective, pessimism or exceptionalism, but it is obvious to this critic where the center is. Thus, my understanding of empire is that it is an infrastructure of power created by and emanating from one nation-state, currently the United States of America. Seamus Deane writes in "Imperialism/Nationalism" that, "The many forms of imperialism have in common an expansionist economic system -- capitalist or communist -- that claims to have its roots in a universal human nature" (354). As an empire the United States is constantly seeking to increase its influence and power via the spread of democracy and capitalism. Note George W. Bush's statement to the people of Iraq, before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, that the United States, "will tear down the apparatus of terror and help you to build a country that is prosperous and free…the time of your liberation is now" (www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/04/iraq). Through its recent military actions -- Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq -- and its rhetoric, the United States government has expressed a desire to rid the world of "rogue nations" and any threat to global stability. Deane notes that empire,

In all its forms, it is immensely flexible in its internal structures, global in its homogenizing ambitions and range. It is also -- with the exception in modern times of the Japanese and Ottoman Empires -- a peculiarly Western form of domination, extending from the sixteenth century to the present day" (354).

This imperialism must not be confused with the colonialism of old as it carries with it a concern and responsibility for the whole world and expresses its power through a "coherent organizational form" (Deane 354). Colonialism, while concerned with economic and thus military control of some international markets, was not concerned with the overall picture. Empire carries "the mantle of 'responsibility' for the globe" (355). Hardt and Negri are correct in noting the importance of contemporary international and supranational organizations -- IMF, Worldbank, the United Nations -- that aim to spread human rights and free markets, but ultimately the power of these organizations is limited without US support and consent.

<7> The expressed "concern and responsibility" of this US Empire is indeed the democratization of the world via the spread of economic free markets -- the proverbial McWorld. It is a difficult mission but one backed by awesome military might. Michael Ignatieff explains that, "Being an imperial power, however, is more than being the most powerful nation or just the most hated one. It means enforcing such order as there is in the world and doing so in American interest. It means laying down the rules America wants" (24). Ignatieff's proposal acknowledges the awful truth that, like a wild-west sheriff, the center of the empire, the center of global rule, must "lay down the law." This is done through physical control -- the military -- and intellectual control -- control of discourse.

<8> The United States is the "center" at the moment for the same reasons that Great Britain with its capital London was the center of the British Empire -- military, economic, and political dominance. London was the seat of government from whence the soldier's orders came and also where a discourse of power and law was created and disseminated. This imperial discourse, and here I use the term discourse in the Foucauldian sense as filtered through the ideas of Edward Said meaning a method or "style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over" others, can be expressed in many ways (3). I note above the importance of textiles in spreading the message that the Mongols had created an empire. The designs embroidered on the textiles and the textiles themselves created discursive practices that influenced the discourse concerning the Mongols. As these materials traversed the empire, all who saw them or used them received a message: "We are here and we are wealthy and strong!" Said writes, "In any society not totalitarian…certain cultural forms predominate over others, just as certain ideas are more influential than others" (7). A cultural hegemony gave the imperial discourse of the Mongols its "durability" and "strength" (7). A cultural hegemony currently allows for the control of contemporary discourse by the United States of America.

<9> In "New Perspectives on U.S. Culture and Imperialism," Donald E. Pease notes the United States' imperialism has in the past, "depended for its efficacy on a range of cultural technologies" (22). I would propose that the ability to control contemporary discursive practices is in many regards a "cultural technology," one that the United States has perfected. US power is exemplified by its unique ability to "lay down the rules," as Michael Igntieff notes. In one fell swoop, George W. Bush labeled three countries -- Iran, Iraq, and North Korea -- the "Axis of Evil," and changed the way they are discussed by many people and news outlets. Discourse is indeed a powerful instrument. It is "the means by which institutions wield their power through a process of definition and exclusion" (Storey 96). The discourse controls what is talked about, how it is talked about, when it is talked about, and so on. In Archaeology of Knowledge Michel Foucault notes,

Within every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures whose role it is to avert its powers and dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality. (216)

The controllers of discourse, like the archons of ancient Greece, exert an amazing power and serve an important function in the empire. Through the rhetoric of speeches, television, news media, products, and shows of military strength, the discourse of American power and superiority is spread throughout the world. I would contend that some of the more subtle expressions of this discourse, ones more concerned with intellectual rather than physical control, are often left unexamined. One such "subtle" expression of US power that feeds this discourse is a well known but little-discussed archive located on the CIA home page called "The World Factbook."


<10> 2002 marked the 55th anniversary of the CIA and the 59th year that the United States government has published The World Factbook which was first published as a classified document in August of 1962 and was eventually unclassified in June of 1971. The first edition published for the public was produced in 1975 and has been available since then through the Unites States Government Printing Office. Now it is also available online. According to the Central Intelligence Administration website, The World Factbook is now in the public domain. This "Factbook" is the direct result of an initiative begun shortly after World War II to gain a better understanding of world geography and culture for military purposes:

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought home to leaders in Congress and the executive branch the need for integrating departmental reports to national policymakers. Detailed and coordinated information was needed not only on such major powers as Germany and Japan, but also on places of little previous interest. In the Pacific Theater, for example, the Navy and Marines had to launch amphibious operations against many islands about which information was unconfirmed or nonexistent. Intelligence authorities resolved that the United States should never again be caught unprepared. (The World Factbook)

To invade a country, one must know what languages the locals will speak and what geographicconditions will be encountered.

<11> The Central Intelligence Agency calls the facts gathered in The World Factbook "finished intelligence." Finished intelligence is "the final product of the Intelligence Cycle ready to be delivered to the policymaker" (The World Factbook). This cycle begins with information, or what is termed "raw data." Once verified, this "raw data" becomes "intelligence." The World Factbook is "finished intelligence" gathered by approximately sixteen United States government organizations [2]. This intelligence is then compiled and categorized by the CIA for its own benefit and that of politicians and the military. The 2002 edition of The World Factbook site, www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html, the most current edition available, is essentially a database with basic "intelligence" on almost every country and territory in the world. On the home page intelligence-seekers may simply click on the "select a country" link and scroll down to select a country. At the beginning of each country's listing is a map of the country and its flag. The intelligence is then presented in eight categories: introduction or background, geography, people, government, economy, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues.

<12> All intelligence appears objective. A glance at the page for "Afghanistan" reveals a straightforward introduction to the current situation in that country. A sentence or two is devoted to the conflict with the Soviet Union and the subsequent control of the Taliban, though there is no mention of the Taliban's repressive policies. Further on in this introduction one discovers a phrase made popular by President Bush since September 11, 2001: "ongoing military action to root out remaining terrorists" (italics mine). Nonetheless, the intelligence gathered appears even-handed as the United States is noted as "the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels" (The World Factbook). Noticeably absent is any analysis of the history of a country, save for the bits and pieces available in the introduction. This could be attributed to a lack of space - The Factbook is still available in print thus there could be a need to limit its content -- or perhaps for more nefarious reasons. For example, note what's missing from El Salvador's introduction:

El Salvador achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and from the Central American Federation in 1839. A 12-year civil war, which cost about 75,000 lives, was brought to a close in 1992 when the government and leftist rebels signed a treaty that provided for military and political reforms. (The World Factbook)

No mention is made of the Central Intelligence Agency's role in the "12-year civil war." That piece of history is quietly absent.

<13> The expunging of certain historical "facts" is an issue that pervades The World Factbook. An analysis of the introductory sections of several entries reveals the limitations of the information provided in this compendium. The purpose of The World Factbook is to provide current information for policymakers, government officials, and military planners, not necessarily to provide them with history lessons. This, however, leads to an ahistorical view of the world, and could lead to poor diplomacy and bad policy. It is a blatant editing of history. Consider the following introduction to Chile:

A three-year-old Marxist government was overthrown in 1973 by a dictatorial military regime led by Augusto Pinochet, who ruled until a freely elected president was installed in 1990. Sound economic policies, first implemented by the Pinochet dictatorship, led to unprecedented growth in 1991-97 and have helped secure the country's commitment to democratic and representative government (The World Factbook).

This entry suffers from a tinge of amnesia. The CIA, acting on behalf of the United States government, was heavily involved in the ousting of the above-mentioned "three-year-old Marxist government" which, at the time, was led by democratically elected Salvador Allende [3]. Chile's economy improved under the dictatorship of Pinochet but many suffered while he ruled. Reprisals -- human rights violations -- were common and on October 16, 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London on charges of violating international human rights laws. That history is overlooked. Cuba's entry, as one might expect, is particularly egregious. Cuba's history begins with Fidel Castro leading "a rebel army to victory in 1959." Then, according to The Factbook, "his iron rule has held the country together since then." The inclusion of the adjective "iron" and the exclusion of Cuba's history prior to Castro, gives the reader a particularly narrow vision of Cuba's past. It is this sort of vision, perhaps, that would lead a politician to continue to support the embargo on Cuba.

<14> Other introductions gloss over current US military interventions. For example, the entry on Colombia notes the links between the drug trade and the "insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government." No mention is made of the use of DEA and US Armed Forces personnel actively involved in the conflict. This is a messy conflict as the lines between those who are drug dealers and those who are part of the "insurgent campaign" of Leftist guerillas are constantly blurred. A minor investigation of US military involvement in Colombia could raise the question: is the US seeking to halt the drug trade or is the US seeking to halt a Leftist revolutionary movement as it did in Chile?

<15> The entry on Iraq has been updated and includes two sentences regarding the most recent invasion of Iraq. The World Factbook claims,

Continued Iraqi noncompliance with UNSC (United Nations Security Council) resolutions during the past 12 years resulted in the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime. Coalition forces remain in Iraq, helping to restore degraded infrastructure and facilitating the establishment of a freely elected government.

This infrastructure was in "degraded" by US bombs and the candidates for this "freely elected government," that has yet to be established, are being selected by the United States Government. Indeed, the compilers of this archive quietly exclude certain facts -- particularly the CIA's own interest in Iraq during its war eight year war with Iran -- that might lead a reader to question US foreign policy and also might lead that reader to question whether or not any of this information is to be trusted. If an objective historical view of the country is not presented, much of the other data is rendered meaningless.

<16> The enormous amount of data in The Factbook does, however, give the site a commanding presence, especially when coupled with the solid and powerful aesthetics presented by the 2002 edition. The quasi-video game quality of the 2002 site, with its blues and grays, rivets and metallic borders, could easily be used for the layout of a fantastic military quest-game set in the future. Indeed there is a certain Terminator2 or The Matrix quality to this otherwise ho-hum site composed mostly of information tables. The commanding presence of this design lends a potent materiality to the site's gathered intelligence.

<17> A quick search around the World Wide Web reveals that the United States is not the only country in the world with government web sites. The other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- The People's Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and France -- each have various sites of their own, though none have a site quite like The World Factbook. Technically, China does not have a government site in English. Theirs is a site, www.china.org, run outside of the country with the government's blessing. This site does not contain intelligence about other countries; it is more or less a promotional site for tourism in China. The Russian Federation has an official government site though the English site is not running. Like China's site, Russia's does not contain international intelligence. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of many French government sites, does not contain international intelligence, but one may purchase "country monographs" with information tailored to French nationals desiring to live abroad.

<18> The site most like The World Factbook is a page entitled "Country Profiles," located on the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office site. There are, however, two key differences between the "Country Profiles" page and The World Factbook. First of all, The World Factbook is, apparently, more popular. A Google search of The World Factbook's home page URL, www.cia.gov, reveals 6,780 sites link to it [4]. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office site's URL has 6,460 [5]. By comparison, the United States State Department, more or less the US version of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has over 35,900 sites linked to it. A Google search of The World Factbook's URL reveals another sign of The World Factbook's popularity -- the plethora of "national sites" that cite the information provided therein. Links to the CIA's site were found on macedonia.org, haitiguide.com, a personal site about Croatia [6], and a guide to investing capital in Africa, africanconnection.org, among many others.

<19> A second difference is the most obvious - The World Factbook is located on the CIA's website while the United Kingdom's "Country Profiles" page is connected to a somewhat more benign agency. The CIA is anything but a benign agency and more than a passive intelligence-gathering arm of the United States government. The CIA creates clandestine allies, operates secretly within the borders of other countries, and is generally involved in espionage. With this site, archive and empire merge in an unusual but palpable way.


"Suitcase Bomb #29" 1996 [7].

The Polemics of Intelligence

<20> The artist Gregory Green creates art that examines the ways in which technology might be used to empower individuals who feel politically oppressed. From one vantage point a photograph of a work table with various bomb-making materials strewn about is simply art. From another vantage point, it is a photograph of potential terror. Green seeks through his work to examine the repercussions of a society dominated by a powerful hegemony in which the individual lacks the opportunity to speak freely and is denied access to information. In an essay meant to accompany one of Green's exhibits, Saul Ostrow examines the significance of Green's pieces. He notes that, "Both data and our access to it now define who we are. We find the relation between those 'in the know' and those who are not a dominant subtext in our culture" (7). When the individual feels left out of the process of "knowledge creation," he or she may feel powerless, voice-less, and respond with acts of terror. Ostrow points out a particularly frightening aspect of this power dynamic, the "relationship between the military and the development of various modes of modern communication and surveillance and their present function as an effective form of social control" (39). And thus he offers that "it is not a paranoid delusion to believe that those who control the networks and discourses by which we come to understand and operate in that world have undue control and influence over us" (7).

<21> So is it a paranoid delusion to be concerned about the location of The World Factbook and its ties to the CIA? To be overly concerned would be somewhat "delusional" as it would assume that this "factbook" is the most important source for information regarding other countries around the world. Of course, this is not true. The United States is not the sole possessor of knowledge regarding world affairs, neither is the internet, and most world-citizens have access to numerous sources of information in a variety of media. But pundits have, as of late, touted the recent actions in Iraq, as the first "internet war," a war controlled by computer-based networks of information. The military -- and the media -- rely less and less on radio and phone to relay information. This means perhaps that electronic archives are becoming increasingly important as sources of information and thus deserve closer examination. It is, I believe, a cause for concern if fewer people have access to information especially when the information they do have access to is limited.

<22> This raises questions regarding who has access to this e-archive in the first place and what this means for the dissemination of knowledge. The editors of The Politics of the Electronic Text note,

If advances in electronic technology served simply to widen the gap between those able to buy expensive equipment and database packages and those less fortunate, making the pursuit of scholarship wholly dependent on the ability to pay, that would indeed be cause for concern... (7)

Beyond this debate regarding access to computer technologies -- the digital divide -- is the problem raised at the beginning of this essay: who controls and edits the archive? Voss and Werner note that, "The architecture of the archive and the sentinels who control access to its interior suggest that the conservation and transmission of knowledge has been, at least historically, the prerogative of a few chosen agents, of a coterie of privileged insiders" (i). Thus the architecture of The World Factbook is the privileged world of the computer and the computer programmer. These insiders, expressing their "archonic" power and effectively "conserving" and "transmitting" knowledge ultimately work for the United States Government, more specifically, they work for the Central Intelligence Administration.

<23> In John Willinsky's, Empire of Words: The Reign of the OED, the author analyzes the methods used in composing this archive of the English language, in particular the dictionary's use of citations from specific texts to better illustrate a word's meaning. Willinsky writes, "By attending to who and what the citations represent...we can better understand the sources of linguistic authority that have, from Victorian to modern times, given shape to the English language in this particular form" (4). The first edition of the OED was based on a process of "conserving" and "transmitting" in order to come up with a selective tradition based mostly on, according to Willinsky, the Bible and Shakespeare (5). As an archive the OED not only provides definitions and citations to over 300,000 words, "It defines the scope of the English language, attesting to both its historical reach and global currency...Through its use of supporting quotations for each entry, this dictionary defines who has given the language shape and meaning, then and now" (7). In essence, the sources of the citations give the dictionary and the words cited, greater meaning. A discourse is created through these citations, one that permeates the greater project. Willinsky writes that his examination is based on the desire that those who consult the OED will do so with a greater awareness of the dictionary's "citation program" (8). He writes, "I am proposing that this widespread faith in the dictionary of dictionaries deserves to be informed by a better grasp of who has been called to authorize and underwrite the definition of the language in the first instance" (9).

<24> Who has been called to "authorize and underwrite" The World Factbook? Certainly the countries written about have not been, or if they have, there is no indication that this is so. This raises another problem with the Factbook that it is in the nature of the CIA, an intelligence gathering body, to work in secret. Thus it may be impossible to gain access to the true sources of some of the information provided. What happens, then, when we cite information from this website, this archive? Willinsky notes that citations are often used for one's own purposes, to support or affirm a particular idea. Thus when one cites a text, one adds "to the potency of both the cited text" and to one's self (194). When The World Factbook is cited as a source of information, a transference of power, that goes both ways, occurs. The cited is empowered because someone is claiming it as an important source of information. The "citee" is empowered because his or her idea is now supported and thus, apparently credible.


<25> Thucydides wrote that, "It is in the nature of powerful countries to act powerfully." As the United States' military influence spreads across the globe, what he meant becomes clear. Power is often wrested from the hands of weaker countries by brute force -- by shock and awe. And at other times, power is slowly pulled away by fits and starts through simple incursions into the cultural networks of a country. The American empire, if we agree to call it such, acts powerfully through a myriad of cultural incursions around the globe every day. Via the minutiae of contemporary consumption -- from CNN to Coke, Nike to Brittany Spears, McDonalds to "Friends" -- the United States asserts its overwhelming cultural hegemony. Of greater concern, perhaps, are examples of control over a discourse left by seemingly benign impressions on international networks of information. The World Factbook is merely one expression of this control.

<26> I write that the Factbook is a "benign impression" with complete sincerity. I do not believe that its creators consciously set out to create a way of speaking about countries around the world. Michael Ignatieff notes that,

The 21st imperium is a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy...It is an empire without consciousness of itself as such, constantly shocked that its good intentions arouse resentment abroad. (24)

This does not mean, however, that the United States does not act as an empire. The most recent invasion of Iraq was called "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Expressing its concern for the entire world, the United States has set out to rid it of terrorists, and in the case of Iraq, to bring democracy, to bring freedom, to those without it. These actions are in keeping with those definitions of empire presented above. Controlling knowledge and information by the presentation of one archive located on a government website is simply another manifestation of imperial power. Whether the CIA intended it to or not, The World Factbook holds a privileged place on the World Wide Web. Of "country guides" on-line, it is, according to Google, the most popular. This is of some concern. Indeed, control of the discourse by the center of an empire inevitably leads to a poverty of debate, and we are left with the CIA's synchronic view of the world.


<27> As of late, much can be said of the web's capabilities for opening up the "public sphere." The massive demonstrations held worldwide on February 15, 2003 proved that the computer and its related technologies is an incredible organizing tool functioning outside mainstream and state-controlled media outlets. On that day, millions of people marched and rallied worldwide to protest the impending war on Iraq. In New York City somewhere between 200,000 to 500,000 people gathered. In comparison, the famous August 28, 1963, march for civil rights in Washington, DC, brought together about 200,000 people, after preparing for almost a year. The rally in New York City was planned in only a few months. That such a massive demonstration could occur is quite amazing.

<28> But how then can the web be used to house archives of information created by and for public use that are not under the control of a some dominant power -- a country, a university, an elite library? How could an archive of information about countries around the world, like The World Factbook, be created while destroying any semblance of cultural hegemony? This would be an archive created via complete public participation -- at least the public that has access to computers and to the internet. No one person would have complete archonic power -- no dominance over any other. Information could be deposited in the archive and monitored by those actively participating in the project. An example of what I propose can be found at www.craigslist.org. Craig Newmark has created a vehicle for the public to post information about job openings, apartment listings, and generally any information that would be found in a newspaper's "Classifieds" section. This, however, is a free service controlled and monitored by those who use the site. If a posting is offensive, it is flagged as such and moved or removed. If a posting is in the wrong place, again, it is flagged as such and moved. Certainly such a site has its flaws, but it is, I believe, a step in the direction of greater public and democratic control of the web. It is a model for future attempts to provide information to the public that is not under the thumb of a hegemonic super-power [8].


[1] As a verb, "to archive" is the process of creating an archive. [^]

[2] The 2002 edition contains information provided by Antarctic Information Program (National Science Foundation), Bureau of the Census (Department of Commerce), Bureau of Labor Statistics (Department of Labor), Central Intelligence Agency, Council of Managers of National Antarctic, Defense Intelligence Agency (Department of Defense), Department of State, Fish and Wildlife Service (Department of Interior), Maritime Administration (Department of Transportation), National Imagery and Mapping Agency (Department of Defense), Naval Facilities Engineering Command (Department of Defense), Office of Insular Affairs (Department of the Interior), Office of Naval Intelligence (Department of Defense), US Board of Geographic Names (Department of the Interior), and theTransportation Command (Department of Defense). [^]

[3] See http://www.disinfo.com/pages/article/id1482/pg1/ for a recent analysis of the CIA's involvement in Chile. [^]

[4] A Google search of "cia+world+factbook" came up with 155,000 sites. [^]

[5] A Google search of "FCO + Country Profiles" revealed 2,430 sites. [^]

[6] http://public.srce.hr/~mprofaca/crocia.html -- Incidentally, this sites webmaster notes that the people of Croatia speak Croatian not Serbo-Croation as The World Factbook reports. [^]

[7] http://www.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/bostonarts/2002/green.html [^]

[8] Another more destructive means of controlling the flow of information is one embraced my computer hackers throughout the world. As Ostrow notes, there are some who feel left out of the process of "knowledge creation." The easiest way to solve this problem, according to some, is to literally bring the systems down and reconfigure the "archives." In March 2003, shortly after having shown the bodies of dead American soldiers during the news broadcasts, the website for Arabic news-channel al-Jazeera was hacked into and all visitors to the site were redirected to a page consisting of a US flag and the words, "Let freedom ring" (Achrati). While I do not condone such actions, it is inevitable that they will occur with greater frequency as more people gain access to computer technologies.[^]

Works Cited

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