“We enjoy thumbing our noses at petty bureaucrats and puerile legislators, and their half-baked attempts to stop us going to the places where we go… places they built with our tax money.”
Predator, Sydney Cave Clan

Drop in

Watching the US government scramble to patch up the PR damage being done through Julian Assange‘s leak of 250,000 private cables got me thinking more about the political implications of my notion of place hacking. The hacker ethos is clearly aligned to libertarian socialism, at times straddling the intersection between libertarianism on the right and anarchism on the left. This intersection was evident in the hails of praise for Julian Assange from both Anarchists and from Ron Paul, one of the leaders of the US Conservative Tea Party movement.

So when we recently explored a Ministry of Defense nuclear bunker, I could not help but make the connection between the militant existentialist ideology, shared by other groups such as graffiti writers who assert, as Tim Cresswell writes, that “everywhere is free space” and the Wikileaks ethos of populist-enforced democratic transparency which I assume Jim Hightower, the celebrated American liberal populist, must approve of. Both system hacking and urban exploration are about making the invisible visible and technology helps us to force transparency in both virtual and meat space. I created a podunk media flurry in Riverside California, my home town, last summer by sneaking into March Air Reserve Base with my brother Pip and photographing the remains of millions of dollars of government investment rotting in an abandoned military hospital while they planned to spend $80 million to build a new one one the same base during an economic meltdown. It therefore came as little surprise when we cracked this bunker and found equal waste in the UK. Which we of course, in both cases, we loved for the surreal playgrounds they create.


For transparency

Dsankt writes on Sleepy City that “whether you’re hacking transit systems or computer systems they’re all fissured, all possessing those little cracks just wide enough to wriggle your dirty little fingers into and force to sneak a peek into what lies beneath the shiny smoothed over façade most take for granted every single day”. I have suggested “place hacking” as a phrase which encapsulates the different types of explorations we undertake (urban exploration, infiltration, draining, buildering, unauthorised spelunking, urban adventuring, underground parties, etc.) as well as the more intangible themes of localization of heritage, political subversion, critical spatial practice and “alternative” community construction and identification. But I wasn’t the first. As early as the 1980s, the term “hacking” was applied first to physical space by the Technology Hackers Association at MIT who learnt to pick locks and infiltrated the steam tunnels underneath the university. Students began climbing rooftops on campus, conducting freshman on what is called The Orange Tour. Only later was the term appropriated by the computing community. As Löwgren writes, “the word ‘hack’ was used to refer to… practical jokes or stunts. Its meaning shifted to the technology needed to perform the prank, and later came to mean a clever technical solution in general”.

The 7th entry under the term “hacker” in the New Hacker’s Dictionary defines a hacker as “one who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations”, importantly pointing out the physical foundations of the art.



We worked for hours into the night, checking the walls for hidden tunnels to gain access to the bunker and crawled out some hours later covered in mud, tumbling in front of two large security cameras. Figuring we had already been seen and praying that no one was watching them, we pushed forward, all scared witless but determined to know what was contained within. Alan Rapp writes in his MA thesis that the practice of urban exploration “provides a tart reminder that the areas that we have regular access to are not just quotidian, but also normative, if not repressive. The patterning that we can infer from the sanctioned environment is absent from the spaces that urban explorers go; they have been deprogrammed”. In the same way the “the techniques dérive and détournement offer the possibility to explore spaces in new ways, and to rearrange existing aesthetic elements into new forms of expression”, urban exploration fits geographer Alistair Bonnett’s description of offering “a new form of geographical investigation that can enable the revolutionary reappropriation of the landscape”.

But while the organization and politicisation of the practice may be novel, a question remains whether the practice itself actually is. Urban exploration, though it looks similar to the dérive, or surrealist parodies, has learned from the successes and failures of preceding critical spatial practices, leading to the creation of a network that is truly horizontally structured, without leadership and completely decentralized, while adopting an opaque public image of apolitical benignity, at times even presented as a type of heroic preservationism. Urban exploration, as a result of this decentralised power structure and well-groomed public image, is political in action but not in assertion, rooted in freedom of personal choice that comes across as what I see increasingly as libertarian in ideology aligned with the work of Wikileaks and individual anarchists. As Marc Explo recently told me on a trespass into the quarries of Paris, “I don’t need anyone to tell me that I am free. I prove that I am free everyday by going wherever I want. If I want to drink wine on top of Notre Dame, I do that, if I want to throw a party underground, I do that.” The impetus to do so becomes even stronger when we feel excluded from the government decision making process that we are paying for. And so, as Marc Explo asserts, where right are not given, they are simply taken.


Not offered

As Bonnett again points out, we tend “…to assign creative spatial behaviour to performance artists and other specialists in provocation.” He writes that he feels these groups somehow owned “the subversive imagination” but on closer inspection sees that “ordinary urban behaviour fairly sizzles with errant activities…” Indeed, as spectacular as urban exploration and infiltration may seem, it’s simply an act of walking, climbing, inspecting and recording, activities which are far from spectacular and certainly do not hold the same glamour that is assigned to the consumption of the records produced by these activities. Organized transgressions against normative daily behaviour, what Oli Mould and I have termed urban subversions are in fact rarely riotous.

Creative resistance may take the form of refusing to move in places where you are expected to, such as in a flash mob event where large groups of coordinated participants freeze in unison in public spaces designed for movement or in rural areas designated private property where groups such as the Ramblers Association of Britain hold yearly ‘Forbidden Britain’ mass trespasses, a simple act of walking somewhere you are not supposed to. Some spatial incursions into places do not even take place physically, such as Trevor Paglen’s visual trespasses onto United States military property through the telephoto lens of a camera, or his more recent work photographing US spy satellites that supposedly do not exist. Like many other activities, urban exploration, while conceptually provocative, is almost dull in practice, with many participants refusing to even acknowledge deeper implications. “Gary” told after reading some of my writing that, “what you do Brad, it’s just words, this doesn’t have anything to do with anything”.  I can’t fault “Gary” for preferring action over words.


Into action

Clearly, in an existential libertarianism framework where “freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you”, the desire to explore unseen space could be seen as a reaction to a growing existential angst in urban inhabitants. I see place hacking as a proportional response the the closure of the majority of urban space in combination with the blatant and frivolous waste of of tax money constructing structures like secret nuclear fallout bunkers designed to shelter only the corrupt government that created the potential of nuclear attack in the first place. And like Assange, I say hey, keep building that shit, keep wasting our money. In fact, keep trying to patrol and lock it up. We will be right behind you to liberate that space for absurdity and play. Your move.

Just words

This posting is dedicated to the kids who have been protesting to be heard and fighting the police in the streets of London this week. Apathetic generation indeed. Solidarity!


30 Responses to “Infiltrating the Ministry of Defence”

  1. Spungletrumpet Says:

    Woah! Must have taken some serious work to get hold of all those maps and stuff.
    Look forward to seeing more of this sort of thing! 😉

  2. Patch Says:

    Nah was reasonably easy actually, thanks to the darkplaces wiki being wide open. Not as wide open as the location though, despite being told by numerous others it was "locked down", presumably in an attempt to deter others from going along.

  3. urbanity Says:

    Place Hacked…
    …in more ways than one

  4. Nigel Street Says:

    " It therefore came as little surprise when we cracked this bunker and found equal waste in the UK. Which we of course, in both cases, we loved for the surreal playgrounds they create."

    You cracked the bunker? No I don't think so. You simply followed the same route in everybody else used, and the same publicly available maps.

  5. orangemike Says:

    you make it sound like you are pioneers. many of us have been in and out of here for years. the only difference is the rest of us haven’t crowed about it in a way that ensures increased security (and probably official interest) Well done you pretentious Prat. Place hacked? well yes hacked, damaged, ruined.

  6. The Ministry. Says:

    Sir, you are a comlete arsehole.

  7. Angry Explorer Says:

    You are a complete twat! We have known about this place for years. I have been waiting to be invited in to see it, and now you "hack" your way in. Thanks for fucking it up for those of us who have not been!

  8. Root Says:

    The pictures poor and report poor and the research poor, the report was nothing but an ego trip. You broke though a wall from an old quarry into an old quarry converted and once used which is now part abandoned part under care and maintenance. This is what proper cavers or mine explorers call an easy mundane underground trip.

    The unprotected report can be found here: <a href="http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ar9KYiYnAE2YJ%3 Awww.placehacking.co.uk%2F2010%2F12%2F05%2Finfiltrating-ministry-defense%2F+http%3A%2F%2Fwww.placehacking.co.uk%2F2010%2F12%2F05%2Finfiltrating-ministry-defense%2F&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk” target=”_blank”>http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=ca…” target=”_blank”>Awww.placehacking.co.uk%2F2010%2F12%2F05%2Finfiltrating-ministry-defense%2F+http%3A%2F%2Fwww.placehacking.co.uk%2F2010%2F12%2F05%2Finfiltrating-ministry-defense%2F&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

  9. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Well the general consensus here is that:

    A. Most of your friends probably don’t even know what consensus means so clearly you are speaking for them.

    B. I clearly could give a shit what you think, Mr. Bemused.

  10. ego maniac Says:

    Typical Yank mentality, We came we saw, we suck our dicks in public, No-one thinks what ya did was original or inovotive, The gimp mobiles obviously distracted you from any real exploring off the main roads hence theres no pics of anything thats really interesting, You diddnt get through 50door into tunnel that much is clear. Nice trip for a bunch of stoners.doh

  11. ego maniac Says:

    Have you forgotten you diddnt show anybody anything thats hasnt already been seen by the majority of locals who've been in there hundreds of times, You diddnt explore any of the radioactive areas or get near scc hawthorne so face it yank, You a desperate numpty searching for sheep to impress. So you riot, Big deal Grandma. " Its an englishmans right to underpromote oneself" The yanks arrarently love public masterbation,

  12. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Okay kids, here is your next assignment. First, read http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Argue-Essential-Speak… to learn how to construct an argument, then have a look at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Elements-Style-William-St… to learn how to write clearly and effectively. I look forward to your intelligent, well-thought out and insightful comments in a few months time.

  13. fred smith Says:

    watch out watch out the police are about have a nice day

  14. Mofo K Says:

    Rather than attempt to expand on the points these, intelligent, well informed, professional individuals have already put across, I will merely reiterate them, hopefully in an articulate enough manner to distract yourself from delving any deeper into the southern portal of your digestive tract.

    Your report, besides being self inflating pseudo-intellectual nonsense, accompanied by shoddy, uninspiring photography, is a prime example of the heavily detrimental lingual excrement that leads to these fascinating sites being sealed forever. It's no wonder the individuals who've posted above, who've all worked so hard to maintain access to such areas, are so justifiably irate. (Against whom your only self justification and defence lays in your superior grasp on the English language, rather than logic, and genuine intellect.)

    As mentioned, almost everyone in the local area, and many more throughout the UK interested in such locations, have visited this site throughout the years. It is not spoken of lightly, not because it is hard to access, but merely because everyone wants the currently simple and easy access the exploration community enjoy, to remain EASY and SIMPLE.

    All you've achieved is a light amble, a half baked look about, and a ridiculously turd laden report, that'll no doubt result in this fascinating local treasure being locked away for good.

    Congratulations Sir, I can merely pray your short sighted actions haven't ruined it for all the “12-year-old retards” (As you so maturely described them) whom have all fought so long to keep this bunker open. Without them, you'd have never had this opportunity, and thanks to yourself, people may never have it again.

  15. urbanity Says:

    I think you'll find it was Root from Dark Places who posted the cache address.

    Surely your comments about 28dl can be applied to every other UE and mine exploration forum out there, apart from the secret little islands of democracy that exist & I’m guessing the ‘can-openers’ have one – eh Brad;)? Assuming this is the case, then these little micro-communities also do very little to “pull everyone closer”. Most explorers I know owe some debt to a big forum in order to get themselves established. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a prime UE city and / or hook up with ambitious friends early on, then I can see how the initial usefulness wears off quickly. I guess from that point on it all depends on what you want to get from the community. I can’t see how your comment that “most of the world’s best explorers have a lifetime ban” stands up. Individuals with a claim to that kind of entitlement for sure don’t come from the world of UE. The decision to ban someone who has been a trusted member is the responsibility of individual moderators, not the collective, and in the case of 28dl, it’s perfectly clear that exposing non-public sites like Site 3 isn’t tolerated. Whatever it’s failings, 28dl remains the largest community of it’s type, bringing together hundreds of individuals taking part in an activity that as Siologen points out “comes from a foundation of rivalry and one-upmanship, barely disguised.” Logically then, a sense of community will never prevail – excellent news for those who can congratulate themselves with their überness at finally getting to level 12 pr0bex life ban. (Well done by the way Brad;) )

  16. Capt. Irony Says:

    I find it amusing that you (Brad) think root is on 28DL, root of course runs Dark Places. The owner of 28DL recently went off on a drunken (allegedly) rant about how he was going to blow 'every' wiltshire mine into the public realm on his site. Why? Because he himself had made a 'buggy' video of his chums whizzing around Site 3. The video got into the wrong hands of some irate sub brit members and dark places members who outed the 28DL site owners home address. Because the 28DL site owner had used the same name for the video hosting as he did for an old mechanic's site. I'm guessing the alleged 'buggy rides' you guys were talking about 'openly' were based on having seen this 'secret' video.

    Funny when you know the whole story, isn't it!

    If anyone ever read your blog reports, which i have done. They would recognise the humour and fantasy involved. Saying that, Site 3 should never have gone public. Sorry Mr. B.

  17. Place Hacking » Blog Archive » Hacking The London Underground Says:

    […] interesting sites, the consequences of revealing our presence there would likely have repercussions far more negative than positive. Marc Explo and I, walking though Clapham Common one rainy day a few months ago, had a talk about […]

  18. Otter Says:

    Now those, are some funny ass comments.