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Bizarre Species

miércoles, 24 de noviembre de 2010

Secret Insignias From the ‘Black Ops’ World

Whatever impulse drives soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to commemorate their units with insanely random, over-the-top, or awesomely bad patches, we say: Cultivate it.

Trevor Paglen, a bi-coastal artist and author based in Oakland and New York City, brought bad military patches to new heights of glory with his 2007 book I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me. It's a collection of more than 100 insignias from the most secret of military units. The following are some of the best patches from a new edition of his book coming out.

Paglen's first book got coverage in a lot of newspapers and on The Colbert Report. So, any satellite operator or drone pilot wanting to immortalize their units would send along a patch for the next edition.

That didn't always thrill higher-ups. "I heard that one commander started a little witch hunt to find out who'd leaked a space-related patch to me," Paglen says. "None of these patches are 'classified' per se, but some were produced with an informal understanding that they wouldn’t be made public. I hope nobody got into trouble."

Paglen knows about some white-whale patches that he hasn't gotten his hands on yet. Know anything about Ibis Dawn, Scarecrow, Sundowner, or something that says Invisus cum libertas et iustitia omnibus? "If you have one of these," Paglen says, "I'd love to trade something cool for it, or even get a nice scan." Until he puts out yet another edition, these 10 designs have to stand as a high-water mark in awesomely bad military patches.

Like a Space-Phoenix From Hell

The Latin phrase below the Phoenix translates to "The Devil You Know." That's the rationale behind the spy-satellite operators at the National Reconnaissance Office, who peer into the workings of foreign military arsenals from hundreds of miles into space.

This patch, from National Reconnaissance Office Launch 49, puts a bold face on a failure: the Future Imagery Architecture, a $10-billion disaster in the guise of a satellite able to peer through heavy cloud cover. The end of Future Imagery Architecture meant that NRO had to continue with its KH "Keyhole" satellite family, many of which the United States uses to spy on Russian nukes. Launch 49 of the KH-11 series supposedly used spare parts from Future Imagery Architecture -- hence the Phoenix design.

Image: Courtesy Trevor Paglen

Special Projects Flight Test Squadron

No one patch may cobble together as many symbols as this one does. "Rat 55" is the call sign for pilots flying the T-43A, a radar testbed ("Rat," get it?) with an Air Force serial number ending in 55.

The rat's holding a pair of radar devices, one stretched outward and one near its butt, "both of which recall the radome configuration" of the plane. Other flight-test operators for classified aircraft wear patches with wizardy features, so presumably that's what's up with the rat's hat.

Confirmed: The Air Force Totally Hides Aliens From Us

You don't know how many Freedom of Information Act requests we've filed in the hope of finding the Alien Technology Exploitation Division, the intrepid souls who'll soon announce a sources-sought contract to develop the Hyperspace Blaster. Alas, they don't exist.

A former officer at Air Force Space Command tells Paglen that he and his friends had the patches made at their own expense after getting endlessly ribbed for working in a secure vault "where they kept the alien bodies." They wore them on their flight suits for months before a one-star general asked where he could get one of his own.

Special Projects Flight-Test Squadron

Welcome to Area 51.

Out in the Nevada desert, in a place called Groom Lake, the Air Force's most secretive organization tests its advanced prototypes. Supposedly, Lockheed's F-117A Nighthawk stealth plane went through Groom Lake's test facilities -- one of many flown by the Special Projects Flight Test Squadron, whose patch this is.

The diamond shape in the center of the undated patch "may refer to early designs of stealth aircraft," Paglen writes. Those planes are parked next to the dismembered Martians.

Space Spies Are Ready to Breach Your Borders

Paglen won't be able to find the origins of every patch he comes across. But rarely is a mystery more appropriate than in the case of the Sensor Hunters, whoever they are. Illustrated by one of MAD Magazine's spies, their brief(cases) include spying on the entire world, with swaggering disregard for nations' claims to control their own internal affairs.

The twinkling stars probably suggest these guys have something to do with space, but all Paglen writes is that they "devoted to reconnaissance and intelligence operations."

I Want to Believe (in the Navy's Communications Network)

The Navy uses a system of Boeing-designed space satellites to keep mariners connected with each other and home base while they're out at sea. The system is known as the Ultra-High Frequency Follow-On program.

If you squint enough, that kinda-sorta-maybe abbreviates to UFO. Naturally, some wise-cracking sailor -- Paglen doesn't specify whom -- had the idea to make this X-Files-inspired patch.

The More Secretive the Drone, the More Psychedelic the Patch

Groom Lake doesn't just house cutting-edge piloted planes. It's also home to the Desert Prowler, a Lockheed-designed drone shrouded in mystery since its 2005 launch -- and, perhaps, related to a different secret drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel aloft over Kandahar.

And since its remote pilots and crew can't exactly flaunt their involvement with the program, their patches will have to suffice. The Roman numerals for 9 and 11 partially bound the badge -- subtle! -- and the rainbow-emanating eye has a lightning bolt through it, suggesting that the drone is armed and ready to rain vengeance for 9/11 on presumed Kandahari insurgents. Wild guess: The lightning-bolted Omega in the thought balloon indicates the drone is dreaming of a violent end to its targets.

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