What does surveillance look like?

Pair of Eyes

Period: Middle Uruk

Date: ca. 3700–3500 B.C.

Geography: Syria, Tell Brak

Medium: Gypsum alabaster

Courtesy of the Met

The nose of the predator

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., MQ-1L Predator A (A20040180000), Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.

The Predator


Title: UAV, General Atomics MQ-1L Predator A

Uses a satellite data link system to provide near real-time reconnaissance.

Used in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and in attacks against Al Qaeda forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, directed by CIA ground forces.

Humans are essential to flying it, more so than with most other combat aircraft.

Eye idol

Period: Middle Uruk

Date: ca. 3700–3500 B.C.

Geography: Syria, Tell Brak

Medium: Gypsum alabaster

Courtesy of the Met

Baker, D.J., and L. Zall. 2020. The MEDEA program: Opening a window into new Earth science data. Oceanography 33(1)20–31, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2020.104.

Environmental Sleuthing


The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) flew photoreconnaissance (spy) satellites for the purpose of – well – spying. This was the time of the iron curtain. The global data collection was stored, but not shared as it wasn’t declassified yet.

In the early 1990s, a collaboration between the US Intelligence Community, the Defense Department, + Senator Al Gore resulted in a program named MEDEA (from the Greek myth of Jason, Medea, and the Argonauts ) and this group gave access to a group of scientists who assessed the pace and scope of planetary change in the early 1990s.

The program doubled the existing ocean database and provided deeper insights into global change.


Title: Scherzo di Follia

Artist: Pierre-Louis Pierson

Date: 1863–66, printed 1940s

Geography: France

Person in Photograph: Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione (1835–1899)

Courtesy of the Met

Trade catalog, Crest Electronics, Inc., 1989, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

CCTV technology


The earliest use was in 1942 in Germany for the monitoring of V-2 rockets.

It was a big day for CCTV technology when video cassette recordings (VCRs) became widely available. You no longer needed a person to monitor the CCTV. You just pressed “record”.

Next came multiplexing technology! This allowed for multiple video signals from CCTV cameras to be combined and displayed on one monitor. 4 screens on one screen – score!

VCRs were eventually replaced by DVDs which were replaced by network video recorders (NVRs).


Title: The Eye, like a Strange Balloon Moves Toward Infinity, plate one from To Edgar Poe

Artist: Odilon Redon

Date Made: 1882

Geography : France

Medium: Lithograph in black on ivory China paper, laid down on white wove paper

Courtesy of the Art Institute Chicago, from the Stickney Collection.