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Automobility and the driving force of warfare: From public safety to national security
Jeremy Packer, 2007
Conference lectured at the Symposium "Architectures of fear. Terrorism and the Future of Urbanism in the West" CCCB 17-18 May 2007


“The increasing mobility and destructive potential of modern terrorism has required the United States to rethink and rearrange fundamentally its systems for border and transportation security.”

Tom Ridge, First Director of the Department of Homeland Security (Department of Homeland Security, 2002)
"The Department of Homeland Security is committed to further securing our nation's highways, mass transit systems, railways, waterways and pipelines, each of wich is critical to ensuring the freedom of mobility and economic growth."
Department of Homeland Security Press Release (Department of Homeland Security, 2003)

Such proclamations mark a considerable shift in the primary concern of U.S. government agencies whose work it is to monitor, regulate, and govern transportation technologies.1 In short, rather than primarily focusing on avoiding accidents, the new mandate is to deter terrorists. What I want to accomplish in this essay is to explain how such a shift is being enacted through the automobile and what this may mean for future driving practices. Secondarily, this essay is an attempt to formulate a theoretical framework adequate for understanding this new formulation for the governance of automobility in the United States specifically, but with the considerable chance of such formations spreading across the globe due in no small part to the global war on terror.2 Dangers arise when attempting to characterize the emergent, to, in essence, predict the future. In their essay “A History of the Future”, James Carey, the founder of the American strain of cultural studies within the field of communications,3 and John Quirk argue that much critical insight can be gained through an examination of predictions about the future (Carey and Quirk, 1989). As they maintain, such an undertaking does not provide guidance in accurately predicting what shall come to pass. Rather, it reveals how the blind faith in the imagined potential of technology, very often communications technology, to solve contemporaneous problems, covers up the political and economic motivations behind such applications. They characterize this faith in technology to lead us into a better tomorrow the “rhetoric of a sub-lime future” (Carey and Quirk, 1989, p. 180).

By foregrounding Carey’s insight, the following examination of past and contemporary imagined futures of the automatically driven and guided automobile provide insight into two interrelated processes. First, expectations and formulations of how to seamlessly join the driver, automobile, and driving environment expose underlying theories of governance. Such a history makes evident a shift from a disciplinary apparatus to that of something akin to control society. Second, an understanding of the imagined problems to which automobile governance might be applied makes evident a change in the political rationality of said governance. The U.S.’s response to the events of 9/11 have configured the automobile as a new site for the conduct of warfare. The political rationale for governing automobility is no longer only that of ensuring the safety of each driver as in a pastoral formulation of state-citizen responsibilities. Under the auspices of the war on terror and in the perpetual period of “the new normal”4 all terrain is imagined as a battlefield; drivers and their automobiles are cautiously approached as potential ene-mies and allies. Ultimately, such an investigation of the specific technological assemblages imagineered5 to combat such a thorny problem as suicide bombers or the increasingly popular subset, the car bomb, can potentially provide a means for making the sublime seem rather grotesque. Carey and Quirk provide appropriate context here as well. They note that in 1929, HG Wells imagined that the British Empire was a precursor to a World State and “the royal military equipped with the latest technology of communication and transport as the forerunners of a ‘world police’ able to dispatch quickly to any trouble spot to quell insurrectional activity” (Carey and Quirk, 1989, p. 184). In the new formation of Empire, the U.S. military sees all communication and transport technologies as potential weapons in the global war on terror. The communications-enabled, tracked, and guided automobile serves as merely one such example.

The imagined future of the automobile has a long history and it is dominated by one feature. Automobiles will be made to drive themselves. Drivers will be freed to conduct all forms of business and leisure from the seat of their automobile; not having to concern themselves with the tedium of paying attention to stop signs, highway exits, and the always present danger of other drivers’ errors or ire. The dream of such a future has been part of the American popular imaginary for three-quarters of a century. Yet, such imagined futures have been entirely dependent upon a network of communication, control, and command technologies (C3) that could create a degree of surveillance and control over the automobile population historically only imagined in dystopic science-fiction narratives. Recent scholarship has begun to examine current technological advances in the C3-automobile couplet. Dodge and Kitchin (2006) have thoroughly examined how the automation of drivers and the driving environment have radically altered the governance of what John Urry calls “the ‘system’ of automobility” (2004). They make evident how a vast array of C3 technologies work to more actively produce “safety through software” (p. 10) as well as hardware (cars, roads, etc.) which ultimately create a system of “automated management”. More generally, they are interested in how this complex of technologies is establishing new modes of self-disciplining and governance while altering how drivers imagine and move through space. Mimi Sheller (forthcoming) draws upon a dense complex of work (Featherstone 2004, Katz 2000, Thrift 2004) oriented by investigations into the phenomenological and embodied practices of the driver-automobile/human-technology couplet as they are reoriented due to the presence of C3 technologies in automobiles. She argues that the more profound effects upon everyday life and driving are infrastructural as the apparatus-produced agency is “increasingly impersonal, and ominously distributed amongst software, vehicles, and algorithms (25)”. In this sense, Sheller pushes for a broader perspective that examines the power relations ingrained and maintained by these emergent technologies. What I want to add to this dialogue concerns the political dimensions and centrality of automobility in changing citizen-state relations and how a wartime state of exception further embroils drivers into a global network of power relations. The importance of automobility in these processes can be witnessed in how the Office of Homeland Security expects to fight national security battles in the United States and in how the U.S. military approaches war theaters abroad. Automobility is an integral element in both. This is not the first time the automobile has figured as a key component in fighting war, nor is the rhetoric of war new to explaining how to govern automobility. Two such metaphors will now be used as a starting point for examining the shift from public safety to national security.

Discipline to intelligent control

For U.S. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower the still-recent success of military and civilian operations and organization during WWII provided a two-prong model for attacking the perceived danger posed by the expected post-war growth in automobility. The first prong was exemplified in a photo and caption from the 1949 drivers education manual Man and the Motor Car (Whitney, 1949).6 The photo features a group of soldiers marching in perfectly synchronized order, while the caption reads, “In wartime we practice self-discipline for the common good. Driving also calls for selfdiscipline for everyone’s safety” (Whitney, 1949).

On the opposing page, Man and the Motorcar presented a second war-infused metaphor for understanding the importance of automotive safety: the atomic bomb.

A photo of a mushroom cloud rising above the waves of what can only be imagined by an American audience as a far-off tropical land, featured this caption, “Today’s great problem is modern man’s control of power”. This second metaphor was both timely, seeing as the atomic bomb was newly configuring global relations of power, and prescient, given the political changes in the U.S. that have followed the attacks of 9/11/2001. As Whitney explained over 50 years ago, “inteligent control” (italics in the original) was the means for dealing with “power” whether it be “obtained from atomic fission, or from the combustion of a gasoline-air mixture” (Whitney, 1949, p. 4). This shift in emphasis from “self-discipline” to “inteligent control” mirrors the broad shift described as that from a disciplinary society to a control society (Deleuze, 1995). Automobility provides not only a useful example for understanding how such a shift has been occurring, but it will be argued that recently formulated means for controlling automobility are experiments for the more general control of mobile populations. Strange as it may seem, the automobile’s power is no longer simply metaphorically related to war. For the War on Terror and U.S. Homeland Security, the automobile needs to be controlled precisely because it has come to be problematized as a bomb.
Altering driving behavior over the past 100-plus years through scare tactics, traffic rules, education programs, and surveillance has been a massive undertaking by a cluster of invested governing agencies. I have previously shown (Packer, 2008) how a series of safety crises have created different problematic mobile populations which have been the target for disciplining. Women, youth, motorcyclists, transportation laborers, and racial minorities have all been represented as automotive threats to themselves and others. As groups who historically have been lacking in political, economic, and cultural capital gained access to automobility or created different forms of automobility, their mobile behavior was popularly represented as dangerous. These “threats” were almost exclusively responded to in terms of traffic safety and police surveillance. If the danger they posed is instead understood in terms of how increased mobility disrupts social order, then safety, at least partially, needs to be understood in political terms. One question that follows is: “How has safety been used as a means for altering or maintaining asymmetric relations of power?” This is not just a question though of who gets to drive and with how much latitude as if the equation is simply automobility=freedom=equality. Automobility and the freedom it promises need also to be understood as an obligation. The systems of automobility in the United States and other highly industrialized countries very often nearly demand that one must drive a car. Thus, the disciplining of mobility organized through traffic safety is a means for keeping other interconnected economic and social systems running smoothly, including systems of social inequality.
With this said, the relationship between the state and citizen under a rubric of safety could be described as a sort of paternalism, or what Michel Foucault has described as pastoralism (Foucault, 1982). In this conception of automobility, each paternal subject of the state, the “safe citizen” (Packer, 2003), is looked after as an individual subject worthy of care and protection as an integral part of the population as a whole, even if safety campaigns were at the same time maintaining other forms of social and political inequality. There is an assumed symbiotic relationship between the two in which what is good for the individual subject further benefits the population more generally. Health, or the maintenance and creation of the productive capacity of the body – biopower, provides a good example. The general health of the society, the “public health”, depends upon the relative health of the individuals of which it is comprised. Healthier individuals, for instance, minimize the spread of communicable disease, decrease the overall strain placed on the health care system, which allows for the better allocation of medical resources, which leads to healthier individuals, and so on. Traffic safety has been similarly imagined and in fact is, in some governmental quarters, treated as a public health issue. In order to create a safe driving environment, each individual’s driving behavior is targeted for alteration both for their own benefit and the benefit of other drivers. Thus, a safe driving environment depends upon safe individual drivers, and the safer the environment, the safer each individual. Two coalescing changes in the political formulation of citizen to state are altering this formulation for the governance of automobility. The first will be characterized as a shift in how automobility, and mobility more generally, is problematized. The second alteration was initially popularized in the 1930s, but has really gained administrative force since the 1960s when technological solutions to traffic safety were beginning to be imagined as more effective than driving behavior modification.7 Increasingly, the technological solutions as noted above are enabled by C3 networks with the military often initiating their development.

The most notable attacks against the United States’ hegemony have been carried out with or on transportation technologies. The 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are the most spectacular examples of a transportation technology being turned into a weapon – becoming a bomb – but it is only one among numerous cases in which transportation technologies have been and continue to be used as weapons against U.S. interests: for example, Beirut 1983, Twin Towers 1994, Oklahoma City 1995, USS Cole in 2000, etc. As Mike Davis explains in his history of the car bomb (Davis, 2006), the first such attack was carried out by anarchist Mario Budo directly across from the JP Morgan Company on the corner of Broad and Wall Streets in the heart of the U.S. financial district in New York. The blast killed 40 and wounded more than 200. Tactically it struck a metaphorical blow at the heart of U.S. financial hegemony. The car-bomb, or what has more recently been termed Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), has since been a weapon of choice for the IRA and liberation forces in Palestine and elsewhere. The military has spent considerable energy collecting data in order to understand the role and effectiveness of VBIEDs in combat and non-combat scenarios and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives has done extensive testing on their effectiveness at remote facilities in New Mexico. Such a focused effort in understanding the effects and pervasiveness of the various forms of the car bomb point out both the concern of U.S. military and police forces regarding these threats and in a related fashion provides evidence of the incredible destructive power of the car bomb in the arsenal of the “poor man’s air force” (Davis, 2006). One Office of Homeland Security website uses this very chart to provide the answer to the rhetorical question posted directly below that reads “What happens in Iraq can’t happen here?” (Morgenstern, 2006) Such scare copy that connects the war in Iraq to the battle over Homeland Security is part of the logic that animates this new formulation of conducting automobile warfare everywhere. Various forms of mobility, as points of reaching the mass and as signifiers of the global reach of capital, have also been the object of attack (most notably the airplane and train). Under Section 801 of the first PATRIOT Act (Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), attacks on mass transportation systems were newly criminalized as acts of terrorism, not simply crimes unto themselves.

Whether at border crossings, airport terminals, roadside police interrogations, ports, or security checks at government buildings, what is often referred to as “freedom of movement” has become one site where the “homeland’s” security is seen to be at risk. Conceptions of who has such freedom, how, when, where, and with what velocity it can be enacted, has all changed. As the epigraph above from the Department of Homeland Security’s website makes clear, there is a heightened sense that modern terrorism demands a rethinking of how to govern the U.S. transportation system. This rethinking is not purely defensive. The system is also imagined as a productive force for ensuring homeland security as a number of programs call upon the automobile citizen to expand the capacities of state surveillance.
For instance the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) calls for citizens to keep an eye out for potential terrorist activity while driving, asking them to use cell phones to alert police forces of suspicious activity. The 300,000 transportation industry workers in the United States were called upon by the American Trucking Association and the Department of Homeland Security to take part in Highway Watch which would conscript truckers as part of a mobile surveillance system. Such governmental attempts have been used in the past to link automobility and mobile communications into a mobile surveillance system, including widespread attempts to organize Citizens Band Radio users to monitor the roadways in the 1970s (Packer, 2002). But in the past, automotive behavior was itself the object of surveillance. This isn’t to say we are simply facing a more repressive form of power in which we are constantly being told “No. You cannot enter (or leave) here”. Though for many this has been the case. 8 Rather, how mobility is governed has changed. It is in essence a question of “how has mobility been differently problematized?” For one, the space of governance has changed significantly. The advent of the Office of Homeland Security and the Global War on Terror, as much as the first attacks on the U.S. mainland in nearly two centuries, have turned all of global space, all terrain, into a war zone. As such, we must ask to what degree the logic of national security now organizes policing mechanisms in the U.S. and abroad. Further, when the secrecy of terrorists’ identities creates a situation in which combatants “cannot be known,” in any field of battle, this means all will be policed as if they are potentially terrorists. At the same time, all citizens are asked to join in the War on Terror as part of Homeland Security initiatives. This alteration and bifurcation in the relationship between the state and citizenry is particularly telling in terms of automobility.

One of the problematic elements of such attacks for a military operating under the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) and biopolitical formations of Empire, is that the suicide bomber makes apparent “the ontological limit of biopower in its most tragic and revolting form” (Hardt and Negri, 2004, p. 54). Where RMA military strategy minimizes its own military casualties in acknowledgement of the productive capacity of life, the suicide bomber inverts this notion to acknowledge and exploit the destructive (resistant) capacity of life. As a problematic of governance, the suicide bomber exposes the limits of disciplinarity as a means for governing at a distance; that is, organizing, regulating, and making productive the mobility of individuals and the population alike without direct or excessive governmental control.9 If all automobiles are potential bombs, then in a time when the U.S. government is operating under a state of perpetual warfare, governing at a distance can not merely depend upon panopticism and disciplinarity as a means for creating docile citizens. In a biopolitical order, the pastoral relation of state and subject makes life the end-goal of and motor for creating a productive population and, thereby, nation (Foucault, 1978). When life is not equally invested as a desired ends by both state and citizen, life is not only that which must be groomed and cared for, but rather treated as a constant and immanent threat which needs diffusing or extinguishing.10

The governance of automobility then needs to be understood in terms of this new problematic, mobility as immanent threat. In the “new normal” of perpetual war, the subject is no longer treated as a becoming accident, but a becoming bomb. For the regime of Homeland Security in the United States, it is not the safety of citizens that is at stake, but rather the stability of Empire’s social order most generally, and more specifically the security of the U.S. state form.11 It is a war in which the state form fears all that may become problematic, become bomb. So the new mode of problematization treats all mobilities as potential bombs and thus technologies of control are being developed and applied to the automobile as a means for addressing such perceived threats.

Auto-control society

Control society is an emergent formation of power that according to Gilles Deleuze corresponds to a “particular kind of machine … cybernetic machines and computers” (Deleuze, 1995a, p. 175). Their modus operandi is not, as this quote might seem to imply, technologically determined. In order to understand the complexities and contours of this new formation “you must analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component” (Deleuze, 1995a, p. 175). Disciplinarity has in many ways structured earlier forms of automobility. Even though the space of automobility is not limited by clearly demarcated spaces of confinement, the processes of surveillance, testing, knowledge-production, repetition, self-reflection, internalization of the gaze, and the partitioning and regularity of space, worked in an attempt to produce docile mobile subjects. Beginning with the use of radio in the 1920s, the transistor in the 1960s, and truly gaining speed alongside the personal computer revolution of the 1980s, the use of C3 to guide and monitor automobility for safety took root (Dodge and Kitchin, 2006; Packer, 2006a). This application of command and control technologies as first witnessed through the integration of two-way radio in police cruisers, allowed for the coordination of movement from a distance while increasing the range of surveillance. In this sense, the desire to control specific fleets of vehicles, like those of the police or taxi companies, has been in operation since the late 1920s. For the most part though, the application of cybernetic and computer technologies has been seen as the ultimate tool for fixing an unsafe automobility system. In this imagined future, driver error would be eliminated from the equation through the creation of fully auto-controlled automobiles. The imagined future of the automobile system answered to the dreams of a perfectly efficient and perfectly safe driving environment. Under the truth regime of Homeland Security, auto-control imagines itself as the ultimate sapper. Space is not a minefield, mobility is a mine.

One element of the model of the control society is the management of access to space. That is, the ability to be mobile, to move from one place to another can be governed at the level of the individual. Within a disciplinary regime, this access took place in terms of the precept; particular forms of mobility operated according to the rules of conduct in that space which couldn’t necessarily disallow access to mobility in general or to particular spaces according to who but rather only according to how. For instance, driving might be governed according to population (only those aged 16 and older) and by the rules of conduct of the road (at certain speeds, in certain directions, in particular types of vehicles). Thus, automobility and the spaces open to it were controlled according to a set of precepts which were surveilled and in theory internalized. It was only at particular checkpoints, most notably borders, through secondarily anti-drunk driving road blocks, and in cases of witnessed rule infractions, that the who of mobility came into being through technologies of verification,12 most notably the drivers license, but also technologies such as proof of insurance, automobile registration and license plates. As will be noted below, these forms of verification can be made mobile and not just activated by the checkpoint. However, through the integration of various communications, insurantial, verification, and information technologies the precept/surveillance couplet can be replaced by the password.

As Deleuze argues, we need to see into and before the dawning of this control society in order to prepare modes of resistance. He looks to Felix Guattari’s imagined future in which all must use an electronic card to move into and out of particular spaces. This card can be made to provide access on one day, but not the next or only at specific times through particular entrances. It is not the precept, the rule for conduct that determines access, but rather the constantly modulatable password, actualized via the pass-card. If we take this future as our ground zero, we can move in time in two directions. Forward, we can imagine not simply specific sites through which one must pass, nor cards which stand in as a sign of one’s identity. Rather, as recent science fiction movies Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997) and Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002) suggest, the body, in conjunction with biometric recognition technologies, becomes its own technology of verification (Gates, 2005). But, in both of these movies there are still checkpoints or mobile surveillance forces that must surveil and search space for individuals. In simple terms it is still the space that is the site of control, not the very mobility of any given individual or population. For this second possibility to come into being, all of space would be a perpetual checkpoint. In Deleuzean terms, this space would be neither striated nor smooth, but smoothly striated. Striated space is that which has been organized according to a set of rules and patterns for how the space can be used, traversed, and even imagined. Smooth space has no such rules. There would not be a grid covering space according to a set of coordinates as if on a map with boundaries, but rather each and every point in space would always be the center of spatial organization for the individual at that point. Forces of control would always have the potential to be focused upon every occupied point, but ideally do so through the occupant as opposed to a spatial apparatus. Mobility would become that which is the imagined “site” of control, not space. Furthermore, the trace of movement would become the predictor for what might happen in the future. For this to happen, all mobilities would have to be fully monitored, a data-base of recorded movement would need to exist, an algorithm would make predictablesense of such movement, and all mobilities would need to be potentially remotely controlled. That is the dystopic vision of a control society future: all individuals remotely controllable. And in fact, Minority Report provides just such a vision when the automobile John Anderton – the movie’s protagonist played by Tom Cruise – is using to escape an unjustified police arrest, is remotely controlled in an attempt to bring Anderton to the police station and “justice”. The automobile, so long envisioned by Hollywood as a mode of escape, was turned into a mobile jail cell.

Historical homelands and future combat zones

It is in the past and the past future, that we can see the beginnings (for technological, military, economic, and political reasons) of this future auto-control society. The automobile in the United States currently accounts for over 90% of travel and, excepting for wartime rationing, its use has increased annually for over 100 years running.13 Even given the various nightmare scenarios regarding its ultimate demise, this astounding saturation of use continues to gain. Acknowledging the enormity and ubiquity of automobile use and its continued growth, an obvious point of investigation into the technologies and machinic arrangements of the (be)coming control society is automobility. The automobile has been a site for remote control innovations for years and it has primarily been achieved via a network of communications technologies. As noted above, it was most often done at the behest of safety and economic efficiency. What follows is a brief history of some of the developments and imagined plans for creating a fully controlled automobile/highway system. More importantly, it is through an examination of these imagined futures that we can witness just how deeply rooted and widely spread the desire for auto-control society has been over the past century. Furthermore, contemporary imaginings regarding the automobile are taking place in two distinct arenas. First, there were a number of pre-9/11 initiatives for what have generally been called Automated Highway Systems (AHS), Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), or more specifically the Intelligent Vehicle Highway System (IVHS); research and development upon which began in the early 1990s via a billion U.S. dollars of start-up capital from the U.S. Congress. Second, the U.S. military is currently developing a program they call Combat Zones That See (CTS) touted for initial use as part of the U.S. military’s operations in Baghdad. These two historically and technologically overlapping initiatives need to be thought of in tandem as a set of theaters for experimenting with implementations of control society. It is not simply that there is a desire to control automotive conduct, but increasingly under the logic of perpetual war, the more far-reaching consequences are that the automobile acts as the site for experimentation on the control of all bodily mobility.

The history of the imagined future of the automobile tells us much about not simply the future, but the underlying cultural, political, and economic logics that continue to animate dreams of technological and social mastery over everyday life. Central to nearly all these envisioned futures is the fully automatic automobile or what is often called the driverless car. In these visions, driver becomes passenger in his (gender specificity used here for historical accuracy) technologically chauffeured, streamlined, mobile “rocket ship”. As recently as 1997, our already recent past of 2005, was predicted as the year of commercial viability of an AHS (Electronics Weekly, 1997). This is not too surprising. As begun at the 1939 World’s Fair, predicting the driverless automobile has been an integral part of envisioning and marketing the future.

As one of the earliest, and certainly the most widely cited and recognized of these, GM’s Norman bel Geddes-designed “Highways and Horizons” (more often called “Futurama”) exhibit, provided what would become a fairly common sensibility of what this future world might look like. In this vision, cars were radio controlled – a feat accomplished in 1924, in which the car was said to be driven “as if a phantom were at the wheel” (New York Times, 1925). Somehow the frightening otherworldly nature of these technological feats would soon disappear. The set of six enormous dioramas were viewed by Fair visitors from their moving seats which ran on a track surrounding the exhibit. Futurama envisioned a highway system that seamlessly drifted into, through, and back out of the rapidly expanding “Midwestern City of 1960”. The driverless automobile and its attendant highway system was not only the engine for suburban expansion, but also an individuated coach to the furthest reaches of the U.S. where mountains, the monotony of the plains, and vast bodies of water all would easily be surmounted in a mere 20 years in the future. Thus, the automobile would motor commerce and family adventure; free markets aligned with the freedom of movement said to be part of the natural make-up of everyday-Americans’ frontier spirit. It is vitally important to note that it is a vision of the automobile as a vision of the future. The automobile was conceived of as the key to both understanding and implementing a supposed better life, a freer, yet controllable future.
GM would revisit the future numerous times over the next six decades, most notably with their 1964 update of Futurama again at the New York World’s Fair. During the 1950s the future popped up all over the place for GM. In particular their Firebird series of cars (the “laboratory on wheels”) with its turbine engine, was presented as “an amazing experience in automatic car control”. In addition to showing up at promotional events and GM’s various Motorama exhibits, the car appeared in GM’s 1956 women-targeted short Design for Dreaming (produced by Victor Solow), in which the driver proclaims “Firebird II to control tower, we are about to take off on the highway of tomorrow”, at which point the happily middle-class couple drive into the future. The Firebird’s electronic guidance system was said to be ready for the “electronic highway of the future” which GM, along with GE and others, flirted with throughout the decade. Given the post-war/cold-war intermingling of scientific exuberance and anxiety, GM’s auto-future is no great surprise as it offers up a vision of social progress through better science and personal satisfaction through the consumption of the fruits of that science. But, at a time when the Interstate Highway System was just beginning to really take off in its already-antiquated, non-electronic form, the notion that what America needed was a new system, prior to the implementation of the original, seems now more than simply a bit far-fetched. What does become clear is the long-standing desire for a truly free, yet electronically controlled freeway system. The freedom derived from the task of driving is, however, always dependent upon an obligation to an electronic system. This electronic highway would pass from designer’s dream to traffic engineer’s Holy Grail.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Urban Freeway Surveilance and Control: State of the Art (or more accurately, art of the state) presented an auto-centric conception of how auto-control might look. This particular vision of control appeared in 1972, before a number of events radically changed the driving environment, including the OPEC oil crisis, extensive emissions controls, and safety standards that were just beginning to appear.

Furthermore, the use of on-board computers, GPS systems, black boxes, and other communications devices had not yet fully arrived. In other words, much of the regulatory and technological forces currently at play simply didn’t exist or had yet to be integrated into the automobile. Yet, their understanding of power points to some of the underlying methods and goals of such “surveillance and control”. The automobile quite clearly functions as the central focus of such initiatives and in essence operates as the sender, message, and receiver in a communicative network encompassing the automobile driver and “central control”. In their description of proposed intelligent highway systems the network was organized with the automobile at its center and was surrounded by “Vehicle presence detectors”. Three important points can be gleaned from a closer analysis of how the automobile figured as the central figure toward which the freeway system was to be focussed. First, “presence” is primary as it is the space which is imagined to both pre-exist the vehicle and to supersede its importance. After all, it is the “freeway” being surveilled and controlled while the vehicle is treated as a potential problem, as a disrupting force in that spatial system through its potential to create inefficiencies – via breakdown, accident, or collective congestion. Second, each automobile represented nine specific groupings of technologies including, though not limited to, photoelectric, infrared, sonic, radar, inductive loop, magnetic, pneumatic, hydraulic, chemical, and smoke detectors. Thus various communicative forms are made conspicuous to the freeway monitoring systems. (Can we think of the exhaust system as a medium and CO2 emissions as a message or sign? We must if we are to understand how these elements “speak” to each other.) The freeway is not only imagined as a track on which cars are guided and moved along, but it is turned into a surveillant recognition machine in a control network. Lastly, this recognition is just one element in what is imagined as a circulatory system akin to that in the human body in which various other systems recognize and respond to potential blockages, inadequacies of flow, the movement of contaminated elements, or even full blown rupture. The system is then what is at stake, and in many ways it is a closed system. Individual mobilities are merely an element to be managed for the relative health of the whole.
In most aspects this was still the operative logic for AHS right up to 9/11/2001. Government-granted research money and the promised profits of a new market fueled extensive research, development, and public relations’ hype. News stories told of a not-too distant future where highway deaths would be radically diminished by eliminating human error from the system. Furthermore, the cost benefits of developing a far more efficient automated system compared to that of building more highway lanes was said to make undeniable fiscal sense. Within the economic sector, AHS was described as a boom industry worthy of capital investment and was said to be a quantum leap for efficiency and the minimization of productivity losses. On the consumer level it was sold as a means for expanding freedom and ensuring greater safety. AHS would turn the car into an efficient networked mobile office and a safe media-savvy family room. These networked capabilities were not only a consumer-driven “option”, they were also the means by which this newly automated highway could be made to function. As in early models of highway management, a command, control, and communications (C3) system was envisioned as the synaptic trigger connecting dreams with realities.

The history of the “convergence” or “synergy” of communications and automobiles goes back much further than is often imagined.14 GPS units, satellite radio or even GM’s OnStar system are merely a few of the recent combinations of communications and automotive technologies. But, as explained in regards to 1970’s “art of the state,” the automobile has been understood as primarily a mobile communicative actor in a larger system. Yet, the automobile wasn’t exactly a networked actor, but rather a sign emitter. In the newer version of AHS/IVHS, adjacent automobiles speak to each other while also speaking, more broadly, to the system. This networking capability is that which has made and will continue to make the expansion of surveillance and ultimately control possible. The system doesn’t just depend on the networking capability. Rather, the networking is the system. As such, the theory for how to create a workable AHS/IVHS system has changed radically over the past 30 years. Rather than building a groundup central control system, newer attempts have been envisioned via the networking and integration of already existent technologies which include, mobile telephony, GPS, light-emitting diodes (LED), satellite radio, black boxes, digital video recorders, computer processors, as well as a host of internal engine, tire, weather, and performance monitors. These technologies and others have been used most extensively in private-sphere fleet applications and more obviously by the military (more on this later). Integrated Communications and Navigation is the industry catch-all for such “services”. “Every new wireless location tool that has appeared in the marketplace has been used in fleet-tracking systems of one variety or another”, claims one industry website (Fall Creek Consultants, 2005). The economic gains associated with employee and asset surveillance and control have pushed trucking firms and rental car companies to the forefront of such applications. The network is altered by and integrative of existent technologies and adaptable to new ones as they come on board. Of equal importance, each car is no longer imagined as a problem to be overcome (how to avoid congestion, breakdown, the accident), but rather the very means by which the system comes into being. Each automobile is a mobile intelligence-collecting machine, data-processing unit, and capable communicator that passes along information to other cars; all of which is then further collected, made predictive, and acted upon by a smart highway.
In control society, the stability and maintenance of a system is not necessarily what is at stake. In fact, it is precisely adaptability and mutability that signify and fuel “its” health or success. It is a constantly unfolding set of assemblages in response to changing scenarios, goals, and speeds. Yet the rhetoric used by Homeland Security’s first leader, Tom Ridge, was that of systems maintenance: “The Department of Homeland Security is committed to further securing our nation’s highways, mass transit systems, railways, waterways and pipelines, each of which is critical to ensuring the freedom
of mobility and economic growth “(Department of Homeland Security, 2003). Through Ridge’s words, rhetoric diverges from tactic, while maintaining the ironic stance on freedom of mobility. Securing here is seen as a form of stasis; in Texas they might say, “to hold down the fort”. But, what happens when the state form shifts from the fortification of a position, to fortifying a means of control? How can we think of security not in terms of homeland defense, but in terms of offensive mobilizations? Can automobility become a means for an extension of control, not simply a threat to a fortified position?

If the auto-mobile individual was subject to the normalizing power of traffic safety, what animates the subject of national security? Deleuze suggests that in a society of control the individual is replaced by the dividual; a modulating subject adjustable to differing expectations for productivity, consumption, and political conduct. The vision of a control society which Deleuze describes is one that demands flexible agents, while the rhetoric of free-market neo-liberal apologists equates flexibility with freedom and choice. This disconnect marks a point of seeming contradiction in discussions between the freedom-inducing potential of auto-controlled mobility and its network-dependent formation. In this formulation, freedom is not counterpoised to power, as if power is only that which limits freedom. Rather, freedom of movement is both the problematic for control and the motor that powers its expansion, in Foucauldian terms power is always productive. It is through the mobile subject that expanded and flexible forms of productivity, consumption, and control are made possible. Yet, as the Department of Homeland Security has made so abundantly clear, mobility is also seen as a threat to the very infrastructural networks by which the mobility of U.S. capital and military expansion/excursion are enacted. It thus should come as no surprise that the most autonomous, adaptable, and modulatable form of personal mobility – automobile travel – is a preeminent battlefield in the war of terror domestically and abroad. It is abroad that we now turn.

In July of 2003, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), announced it was looking to 1) create Combat Zones That See (CTS) and 2) recruit private industry to do the Research and Development work necessary for such creation. The Department of Defense’s “high risk,” “high payoff” (DARPA, 2003a) research arm wanted to “produce video understanding algorithms embedded in surveillance systems for automatically monitoring video feeds to generate for the first time, the reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting information needed to provide close-in, continuous, always-on support for military operations in urban terrain” (DARPA, 2003b). DARPA claimed these objectives were technologically feasible15 and, more importantly, militarily necessary where “Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) are fraught with danger” (DARPA, 2003). What DARPA called for in essence was the full surveillance of mobility in a circumscribed zone. What would seem to be a monumental administrative and technological task was according to DARPA not simply possible, but accomplishable with fairly simple and readily available technologies, items they call COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf). CTS is an appeal to already existent private industry surveillance specialists to create an allseeing and all-knowing surveillance apparatus. An apparatus that DARPA hoped would provide the exact sort of intelligence needed in the RAM-inspired wars which are built around intelligence collection and the minimization of a loss of American lives. The specific way CTS will operate and the means by which it will do so, provides evidence for clarifying three integral logics of the terror war.

First, as numerous civil liberties watchdogs and military specialists have made clear, CTS could easily be transferred not only from a war zone to the homeland, but from urban centers to expansive spaces. As one Pentagon researcher claims, the program “seems to have more to do with domestic surveillance than a foreign battlefield and more to do with the Department of Homeland Security than the Department of Defense” (Shachtman, 2003, p. 2). If we believe this sort of military intelligence regarding CTS then we must treat the war in Iraq as in part an experimental theater in which tactics for future modes of homeland governance are being invented, tested, honed, and advertised. That is, the use of such technologies and their attendant media spectacularization, make ready not only the technologies, but the American media audience which is being primed for their eventual use at home. As argued above, in this new state of war, the state of exception, all terrain has become a battlefield. The war on terror is not simply being conducted on enemies abroad, but upon citizens in the homeland. So it can be no surprise that after CTS is battle-tested abroad, it very well could be implemented in the U.S.

Second, the operation of CTS is built upon already existent technologies and easily transferable to the U.S. context. As with IVHS, the strength and affordability of these technologies is their networkability. Simple technologies can be made complex through their integration. CTS combines digital-surveillance cameras directly linked to a processing unit, which transmit already analyzed and compressed data, thereby significantly reducing the amount of bandwidth needed if all the data captured by camera were transmitted to a central processor. Via a network of video cameras the entirety of a spatial field of governance could in theory, be completely and entirely surveilled in real time. This alone is not groundbreaking. Yet, it is partially the availability of such technologies that makes for their easy application. David Lyon (2003) makes evident that such new applications have been widespread in the U.S.’s war on terror. It is instead the recognition software under development for automobiles and movement which is new. Even this though is simply an extension of facial recognition technology. However, with facial recognition technology the “face” or identity of a conspicuous subject comes from a previously existent data base. Some process of identifying a particular individual or population as dangerous is used to create a compendium of risky identities, which facial recognition technologies comb searching for recognizable threats. With CTS however, identity is replaced by mobility; past (the accretion of one’s deeds) is replaced by the future (that which might be done).

Lastly, mobility itself has now been given an identity. Not simply the individual who is mobile, but in this instance, the automobile (not necessarily the driver) is provided with an “intelligence” or is made into an acting being. The activity of the being is used to predict future actions (movements and targets) of each particular vehicle. This tracking and predictive element could be viewed as an additive form of intelligence collection to be placed into the mix with other forms of dataveillance to more fully construct knowledge about the subject. Or, as I’m arguing, this mobility could be replacing the individual as the means by which dangerous identities are formulated. This production of a predictive mode of mobility assessment creates a risk identity for that mobility which in no way depends upon the individual driver. The identity of the driver is of no consequence; traditional identity categories come not to matter, only movement. As DARPA states: “Predictive modeling, plan recognition, and behavior modeling should alert operators to potential force-protection risks and threat situations. Forensic information (where did a vehicle come from, how did it get here?) should be combined and contrasted with more powerful ‘forward-tracking’ capabilities (where could the vehicle go, where is the vehicle going) to provide operators with real-time capabilities to assess potential force protection threats. MPA should assist operators in correlating and identifying links between seemingly unrelated events” (DARPA, 2003). Recognition is dependent entirely upon pattern recognition based on movements in space and time. Through a series of ever-modulating algorithms, themselves based upon the movements within the system, the imaginary future is created. In essence, the identity of a threat is the prognostication of future “force protection threats”, not in terms of a terrorist, but rather “vehicles”. Identities are produced through assessment algorithms of mobilities. It is not who is a threat, but what vehicular movement can be used to predict a threat. This is not to say that traditional identity categories used in profiling will disappear. But, in a state of perpetual warmindedness, when it is unclear who may come to next threaten U.S. hegemony, evermodulating hybrid threat-identities are likely to be produced.

In the U.S. Homeland, we can see some early uses of such identities as other emanations of C3 hybrids are beginning to appear in an as-yet networked fashion. Some of these are taking place in relation to crime control, another via insurance companies’ offer to decrease rates for safe drivers, at least one by Homeland Security itself, and in a related way the militarization of the driving population itself might be seen as a part of this process. One of the prime organizing forces of normalizing automobile conduct has been and continues to be the insurance industry. Two current examples will show that, as they’ve been at the forefront of earlier safety campaigns, they are currently using risk analysis to imagine a future world in which C3 can control their own financial future and the auto-mobile future more generally. One such push by the insurance industry is the expanded use of what they call “bait cars” (Eisler, 2004). These are automobiles that can be fully tracked and controlled from afar by the police, which are placed in crime-susceptible areas for the sole purpose of “baiting” citizens into stealing them. As of early 2005 over 100 police departments around the U.S. are using such bait as a means to cut down on automotive thefts. Insurance companies provide “bait cars” for police departments in many instances and the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s spokesperson made clear that “everyone – me, you, even President Bush”, saves money as a result of such a program. The supposed economic benefits are said to support the use of entrapment techniques and more insidiously legitimate the use of police tracking and control devices for the benefit of fighting crime. This sort of technology can already be purchased as a crime-prevention option for some cars and is part of the package of services provided by GM’s OnStar system which allows for remote tracking and some elements of control, such as turning the engine on and off or locking/unlocking its doors.

Another measure in experimental use is most succinctly described by the website “Why Not”, which offers up ethically challenging technology scenarios for the internet citizenry to debate and vote upon. Here is the scenario:

Create a combination of technologies (GPS, radar or sonar, automotive system monitoring, video cameras, weather devices) to monitor everything your car does and its environment. Monitor location, speed, brake application, use of turn signals, seatbelts, radio, road conditions, etc. Use this information to apportion liability in the event of an accident or as evidence in court for defense or prosecution.

Insurance companies would offer lower premiums to drivers who choose to have these technologies (collectively called “black box”) installed. They would be paid for by insurance companies out of greater profits or drivers out of lower premiums. Safe drivers would choose to install the black box to be rewarded for their safe driving. Drivers with black boxes would presumably drive more safely.

Eventually, insurance companies might only insure drivers with black boxes. Then every driver would have to have one and every driver would drive more safely, saving billions in property damage, litigation and medical expenses, not to mention addressing a leading cause of death among healthy young people (Whynot.net, 2004).

The logic that economic self-analysis, coupled with the eventual pricing out of the market of the “unsafe” (or the poor) is seen as the ultimate means by which to save lives. The insurance industry has in fact begun just such incentives-based programs on a limited scale. One major concern with such technologies is their obvious potential to be integrated into a command and control scenario in which all automobiles on the road could be monitored and controlled. This neo-liberal solution to traffic safety places the onus upon the market and consumers to “freely” choose whether the system will come into being. And in case you are wondering, as of early 2007, the “yes” votes outnumber the “no” votes 4 to 1, on “whynot.net”.

This “new normal” is both a historical period, hence “new”, but one that predicts its own longevity, it is now “normal”. The question remains to what degree safety as the animating logic for governing automobility will indeed be replaced by concerns over national security. Regardless of the extent to which it comes to define how automobility comes to be governed and the longevity of its application, a number of key concerns need to be reiterated in terms of what the effects of such a transformation might be. Most generally safety has been used as a means for legitimating a number of restrictive measures on the mobility of subjugated populations over the past 50-plus years in the United States. This by no means undermines the relative gains made in the survival rate of traffic accidents or the number of fatalities per 1,000,000 miles driven (the most widely used statistical measure). It does however seriously call into question the legitimacy of safety as the only means for determining policy initiatives regarding automobility. Furthermore, care has been taken to expand the debate beyond a simple binary opposition between freedom and rights vs. regulation and public good. Automobility provides a perfect example for how freedom and regulation operate in a symbiotic relationship, not simply in opposition to each other. Of far greater importance, debate regarding safety and automobility needs to acknowledge how different populations are adversely affected and unfairly targeted by many safety crises and subsequent crackdowns.

For instance, during the late 1960s and early 1970s hitchhiking in the U.S. was a means for youth to organize and build community across vast spaces and in specific locales. It also aided in amassing radical protesters throughout the U.S. during a period often glorified for just such political engagement. Lastly, it provided a form of mobility necessary, where none existed, to the everyday lives of young people making their way through a life-period generally characterized by relative economic disenfranchisement. In spite of, or more likely due to, these uses, police, legislators, and public interest groups joined forces to outlaw, villainize, and severely curtail hitchhiking by citing concerns for the safety of young people, young women in particular. Such an example points out the limitations of thinking about mobility purely in terms of individual rights. When particular forms of mobility are a means of constructing and maintaining community and cultural affiliation, as well as a possible means for activating political participation, the simple discourse of individual rights fails to acknowledge the complexities of culture and power. As such, it is both a violation of civil rights to unduly profile any given segment of the population for harassment, citation, and possible arrest (the three are very intricately linked as one very often leads to the other). But of equal or greater importance, this sort of profiling is an attack on the very mechanism through which these groups build, perform, and negotiate their cultural identities and their place in the larger society in which they operate. When examining the effects of post 9/11 racial profiling, we need to examine closely the economic, cultural and political effects such profiling has upon the profiled in terms of their ability to maintain the international community ties that so often mark the space of their already liminal existence.

Before concluding a few points of clarification are in order. First, it is necessary to recognize that three very different trajectories have been discussed here. Traffic engineers have been invested in creating an AHS for decades and they’ve done so primarily through a systems theory approach with public safety as their guiding principal. With the advent of C3 networkability and the onset of post 9/11 U.S. national security concerns, they have changed focus considerably toward a technologically “lighter” solution that carries more egregious social and civil liberties consequences. Two potentially overlooked aspects of networked technologies are 1) that every actor’s involvement helps spread the reach of the network and 2) every actor’s behavior is used to determine what sorts of behavior are flagged as undesirable or to consider a sign of what Foucault calls “dangerousness”.16 In terms of the automobile, the first point is rather obvious. The more cars on the road equipped with a host of surveillance cameras processing data about other cars means that surveillance and dataveillance will automatically increase. The second outcome is a bit more abstract. In order for predictive modeling to work, a vast amount of repeatable data patterns need to emerge. As such, “non-threatening” data patterns are as important as “threatening” data patterns – insofar as without the “non-threatening” there would be no way to measure the “threatening”. Thus, regardless whether one desires to take part in what some might see as civil liberties infringements – by virtue of being networked one is not just taking advantage of the system, one is making the system work. This it seems to me is the inevitable outcome of such a future. Driving conduct will not only be surveyed and modified, but will be used to modify that of others. And this in a roundabout way leads to a point regarding how we become networked. There would appear to be two models of implementation. One is linked to the rhetoric of the free market and consumer choice. Either because of the benefits of such C3 technologies or by virtue of the perceived “savings” in insurance costs, the savvy consumer will lead the way to greater safety and national security. The second model is the top-down model that invokes the dread of Big Brother, especially when one considers its military roots. Given the off-the-shelf and easily networked nature of all the technologies at play, it will not be particularly easy to recognize where consumer choice ends and state policing begins.

Though the history of various automobility safety crises often tells the story of oppressive restrictions and surveillance, this past may yet pale in significance to the forms of surveillance and control that seem to be arising through new communications, command, and control technologies coordinated and animated by national security concerns. The proceeding examples of just a few of the ways these technologies are currently being implemented provide insight into where the governance of highly mobile populations is headed. Particularly frightening to U.S. drivers is the prospect that what currently passes for a counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, could come to be used as a means for controlling the population of the “Homeland” as well. But, it is important not to miss the insight regarding how the economic logic of neo-liberal governance, coupled with risk analysis, may be equally insidious in the creation of a remotecontrol automobile society. Automotive design and production, the free-market logic of consumer desire, and a belief in “market efficiency” all feed off the rhetoric of personal control and freedom. Yet, these purported freedoms and personal control are entirely dependent upon global positioning systems, vast networks of communications devices, an ever-widening and more integrated surveillance apparatus, and an increasingly intelligent command center. In other words, just as the rhetoric of freedom has been used in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere to justify a war in Iraq and more generally a global war against terrorism, it is also being used to produce consumer desire for new dependencies upon control mechanisms. These control mechanisms accord with what James Carey and other historians of communication long ago termed the “third communications revolution” in which knowledge production and the control and manipulation of information were to provide the next future. Though Carey wrote about the hidden perils behind such promises in 1970, his assessment seems equally as relevant today. As such, I give him the last word.

Modern technology invites the public to participate in a ritual of control in which fascination with technology masks the underlying factors of politics and power. But this only brings up-to-date what has always been true of the literature of the future. This literature, with its body of predictions, prescriptions, and prophecies, is a cultural strategy for moving or mobilizing or arousing people toward predefined ends by prescribed means (Carey and Quirk, 1989).

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Notes
1. Sections of this essay have previously appeared in “Becoming Bombs: Mobilizing Mobility in the War of Terror” (Packer, 2006b).

2. It should be noted that the U.S. is also borrowing tactics already established in numerous war-zones and sites of civil strife. In that sense, the “spreading” around the globe is an already emergent fact. But, the sheer size of the automotive population in the United States, its leading role in the war on terror, and the specific historical changes taking place in the U.S. are the focus here.

3. John Durham Peters suggests such an eminent position in the field (Peters, 2006).

4. For a characterization of how the “new normal” reconfigures politics see “Public secrecy and immanent security: A strategic analysis” (Bratich, 2006).

5. Walt Disney coined this neologism to describe the work done by Disney’s engineers and designers who worked to create different “worlds” within the Disney theme parks, most spectacularly in their World of Tomorrow. I borrow the term to suggest some elements of this melding of engineering and futurology.

6. Albert Whitney’s Man and the Motorcar was the most popular drivers’ education manual in the U.S. for many years and survived numerous updates during its numerous editions that began in 1936 and continued to be used after its final 1964 edition.

7. The publication of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed: The designed-in dangers of the American automobile in 1965, the congressional hearings that led from the publication, and the resultant creation of the National Traffic Safety Agency mark this shift (Nader, 1965).

8. It bears mentioning that in some cases, Guantanamo for instance, in terms that Foucault called domination rather than power in the last interview he gave before his death (The Final Foucault) access to mobility and the legal-juridical apparatus is completely denied. They essentially cannot act through any acceptable channels to resist, effect or reformulate their situation. In absolute terms they may, depending upon how complete their confinement, have the “power” to take their own life, thus usurping the state’s sovereign potential to do the same, but for all intentions and purposes they are powerless. Deleuze suggests this return of sovereign forms may be an integral part of the changes coinciding with the dawning of the control society. “It may be that older means of control borrowed from the old sovereign societies, will come back in to play, adapted as necessary” (Deleuze, 1995b, p. 182).

9. For a historical explanation of how the articulation of transportation and communication technologies operates as the activating mechanism for such transformations, see Packer, Jeremy (2006a).

10. Even the notion of grooming and “caring for” gets inverted, as part of the preparatory program of the suicide bomber is cutting one’s hair, shaving, shining ones shoes, and generally perfecting the presentation of self for the afterlife.

11. See Hardt and Negri (2001 and 2004) for an analysis of the emergence of Empire, the U.S. military’s centrality to its current formation and the role of biopower.

12. For a description of “technologies of verification” see ROBERTSON, Craig (2006).

13. The number of miles driven per capita rose over 50% between 1970 and 2000 (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2003).

14. These notions of synergy and convergence, specifically in relation to communications and automobiles, is critiqued for the simplistic notion of what comprises a technology in J. Hay and J. Packer, “Crossing the Median.” We argue that the automobile, GPS, or even the car radio are themselves an amalgam. The automobile in this sense is an ever-changing arrangement of technologies, cultural forms, and governmental programs. It is an always in-process imaginary potential that is altered through its attachment and integration with other technologies. GPS is not simply added to the automobile, it makes the automobile a new technological form (Hay and Packer, 2004).

15. “‘There’s almost 100% chance that it will work’, said Jim Lewis, who heads the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, ‘because it’s just connecting things that already exist’” (Schachtman, 2003, p. 2).

16. For a fuller analysis of the relationship between algorithmic modeling, dangerousness, and Homeland Security see Packer, Jeremy (2007).