Vault 7

Vault 7

This photograph is one of a series that follow a CIA "familiarization" document - a guide for covert agents arriving in Frankfurt. The document was released by wikileaks in April 2017 as part of the largest ever publication of documents on the CIA. I followed the document around Frankfurt as if I was a covert agent myself.

The documents reveal how the CIA has gained political and budgetary pre-eminence over the US National Security Agency (NSA), and found itself building not just its now infamous drone fleet, but a very different type of covert, globe-spanning force – its own substantial fleet of hackers. By the end of 2016, the Centre of Cyber Intelligence had over 5000 registered users and had produced more than a thousand hacking systems, “trojans”, viruses, and other “weaponized” malware.

But these documents also reveal something else, something perhaps even more interesting than the cyber capabilities of the CIA – they provide a telling insight into the culture among the agency, of the normality and ordinariness of the people that work and operate there. They reveal an almost absurd level of banality, a culture so far flung from our Hollywood influenced; idealised perceptions of what it is to be a “spy”. So much is the case, that at points, in reading through the documents I even began to question their authenticity.

The concept of exploring a city photographically through a top secret CIA document was an interesting process in itself. Ultimately I aim not only to present and play on this banal absurdity that these documents reveal, but also to challenge our conceptions of how such an organisation is run, and to question it’s integrity. The project is especially interesting to me, as it has been produced for a module on my MA course – which is focused on documentary photography, however, with this project I have attempted to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality – pushing the genre of documentary photography, the term “conceptual documentary” I think suitably applies.

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