“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.

Planning

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.

Place

Hackers

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.

Information

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.

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!

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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:

    Good job at understanding the meaning of a metaphor. Gold star for you!

  10. Goblinmerchant Says:

    What is poor is your grammar. And good job making the post public again, that should score you all kinds of points.

  11. Winch Says:

    What sort of explorer waits for an invite? Do you actually understand the usage of 'hack' in this piece, or are you jumping on the bandwagon and making assumptions. Anybody that's actually been down there would recognise that bolt choppers on a blast door would be like using a plastic knife on a rump steak. It ain't gonna hack it.

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Is there a reason that you all write like retarded 12-year-olds sending a text message on a pre-paid cell phone with a broken space button on the keypad?

    Perhaps instead of blindly attacking a blog posting that was clearly over your head yesterday, you should have been out in the streets with us fighting your government for the education you so desperately need.

  15. 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,

  16. 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.

  17. fred smith Says:

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

  18. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Sound ominous. Do you think they will bring snacks?

  19. Grammarpolice Says:

    I've only just noticed this reply to Root's comment, it really has made my day.

    Brad, if the best you can do to counter any of these comments is to attack people for their grammar, then maybe you should read your previous comment and think carefully about why it might not be a good approach for you.

    While you are at it, maybe an appraisal of your particular style of writing is in order.
    I think you could do yourself a lot of favours by paying extra attention to your written English. It might also be worth reconsidering your approach to compound sentences. Your misuse of commas is especially concerning.

    I look forward to seeing an improvement in your written English over the next few months. A little more care at this stage can go a long way.

    D-

  20. 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.

  21. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Mofo,

    As promised, since you have taken the time to type out a response rather than a reaction, I am happy to do the same. Obviously in the above posts I was reacting to nonsense with nonsense.

    When I published this report, I was contacted by Speed asking why I had not given credit to those who provided us with the initial information. I apologized, explaining that I had only met one, very helpful, person outside the area who had given us directions and sent us on our way and was not aware that others had provided us with info. I quickly updated the report to thank Stig, Speed, Tommo and 28 Days Later which immediately earned me a lifetime ban from the forum, 3 weeks of consistent hate mail and, absurdly, a death threat. As I said above, I responded to trash with trash. The only person who responded with a coherent argument (before you) was Urbanity, who I have immense respect for, and we had a long public, productive discussion on a facebook thread after which I locked down the post.

    But this is where is gets good. Someone from 28 Days Later then quickly posted the google cache address in the comments (see above) effectively making the report public again after I had taken it down. Like I said, surely 12-year-old retards, chasing their own tails.

    In regard to your “quality” comments, I am not a photographer and don’t apologize for my photographs, they are taken to capture not the place but the experience of being in places, the focus of my research. I don’t do site “histories”. I have a BA in history and an MA in archaeology and spent many years working for government and private industry writing history reports and am utterly uninterested in doing that. Others can and I hope they do, I do something different and dare I say something new, which is my choice. Freedom of choice is of course, in the end, what urban exploration is all about.

    In regard to access, I will again apologize if publishing this piece if will lead to a site closure. That said, the site is not named, nor is the area, my blog does not get many hits (mostly from you lot now days!) and I very much doubt anyone has noticed these photos, which again point to the gross overreaction on the part of 28 Days Later (not the first time I might add). Finally, I will just remind you that through craftiness and patience there is always a way into every site and if you work hard enough, you will still get in. Case in point ;)

    I want to conclude with a small rant of my own. This whole affair has obviously been gold for my thesis and I am actually considering writing a entire chapter about it. 28 Days Later has such a strange philosophy, it looks like a mixture of military totalitarianism and Bush-like “us vs. them” mentality. This propensity to force tribalisation of the UK urban exploration community, rather than pulling everyone closer, is very strange indeed and it is no wonder most of the world’s best explorers have lifetime bans. It seemed that any response I posted, whether deferential, combative or absurd, all provoked more fury. Once I was demonised, there was no point in even engaging the issue anymore, which was really counter-productive.

    Not to say that there should be a “community” as such, but I really have to wonder what the motivation is to push away those who do things slightly differently or make different sorts of contributions. In the end, as I said, UrbEx is all about choice and we will choose to move forward, as we always have, and keep exploring great sites from LA to Paris, London to Poland.

    Thank again for the comment.

  22. Goblinmerchant Says:

    D-

    Please see my response to Mofo. As I said to him, I responded to trash with trash and was happy to actually get a decent comment. I quite enjoyed yours as well, thanks!

    I will certainly take a second look at my propensity for comma plethorisation – it may well be out of order. In regard to my bombastic style, that's just how I do. I get a lot of comments from people begging for it to get continually weirder as well, I suppose it's just a matter of taste!

    Thanks again for the comment, I am going to bust some drains here in LA, then I will hit the grammar books with care ;)

  23. 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;) )

  24. 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.

  25. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Yeah, I obviously don\’t know who root is, I am not very involved with forums and this whole episode has reminded me why that is. I appreciate that you understand my writing is more fantastical than actual and agree that it would have been best for everyone of different pictures were used for this post. Funny thing is, it really wouldn\’t have made much of a difference, the report had nothing to do with the place!

  26. Goblinmerchant Says:

    You raise some very good points here Urbanity and as usual you will send me back to the corner to think a section of the thesis through again. My objection to the community notion is that urban exploration is, importantly I think, horizontally structured. There are not supposed to be any “leaders” and it really bothers me that one person would attempt to run a UrbEx totalitarianist regime in which they decide what is “non-public” and have exclusive rights over content and membership policies. This is, in my mind, not much improved when there is a moderator board. Despite all the criticism levelled at me here (mostly justified), the varying access levels of forums, secret discussions, boards and meeting, what essentially amounts to a “cool kids club”, all comes off as far more smug and elitist than this blog!

    I knew I would not be participating in forums the first time I posted content which a moderator took the liberty of “editing”. The shock that someone would dare attempt rewrite my thoughts or censor my photos was the reason this blog was born. I suppose I have now learned one of the drawbacks of having complete creative control.

    I agree that my comment about “the world’s best explorers” was a bit uncalled for but I still maintain that the forums create more tribalism than solidarity. If new explorers need a place to meet, they should try facebook as I did 2 years ago – worked a charm to make my first contacts after spending months getting berated on the forums (by people who I now call friends I might add!).

    And for the record, with 18,000 registered users, I think UER is the largest forum of it’s type?

  27. 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 [...]

  28. Otter Says:

    Now those, are some funny ass comments.

  29. Goblinmerchant Says:

    :D

  30. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Still waiting for the police to show up 16 weeks later…

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