Many military programs are "black" or so top secret that they appear only as a single line item in the Department of Defense's expense report.
But just because they're secret, it doesn't mean that they are without style or a sense of humor. Photographer Trevon Paglen has stumbled upon a strange way of documenting these black ops: each and every one of them has wonderfully strange military patches, the kind worn on uniforms:
“It’s a fresh approach to secret government,” Steven Aftergood, a security expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said in an interview. “It shows that these secret programs have their own culture, vocabulary and even sense of humor.”
One patch shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. “To Serve Man” reads the text above, a reference to a classic “Twilight Zone” episode in which man is the entree, not the customer. “Gustatus Similis Pullus” reads the caption below, dog Latin for “Tastes Like Chicken.”
Military officials and experts said the patches are real if often unofficial efforts at building team spirit. [...]
Trevor Paglen, an artist and photographer finishing his Ph.D. in geography at the University of California, Berkeley, has managed to document some of this hidden world. The 75 patches he has assembled reveal a bizarre mix of high and low culture where Latin and Greek mottos frame images of spooky demons and sexy warriors, of dragons dropping bombs and skunks firing laser beams.
“Oderint Dum Metuant,” reads a patch for an Air Force program that mines spy satellite images for battlefield intelligence, according to Mr. Paglen, who identifies the saying as from Caligula, the first-century Roman emperor famed for his depravity. It translates “Let them hate so long as they fear.”
Wizards appear on several patches. The one hurling lightning bolts comes from a secret Air Force base at Groom Lake, northwest of Las Vegas in a secluded valley. Mr. Paglen identifies its five clustered stars and one separate star as a veiled reference to Area 51, where the government tests advanced aircraft and, U.F.O. buffs say, captured alien spaceships.
And now, Trevor has published photographs of these military black ops patches in a book, aptly titled "I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me," which itself is a translation of a patch for a Navy black project.