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Covert Capital

Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia

Andrew Friedman
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 428
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  • Book Info
    Covert Capital
    Book Description:

    The capital of the U.S. Empire after World War II was not a city. It was an American suburb. In this innovative and timely history, Andrew Friedman chronicles how the CIA and other national security institutions created a U.S. imperial home front in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. In this covert capital, the suburban landscape provided a cover for the workings of U.S. imperial power, which shaped domestic suburban life. The Pentagon and the CIA built two of the largest office buildings in the country there during and after the war that anchored a new imperial culture and social world. As the U.S. expanded its power abroad by developing roads, embassies, and villages, its subjects also arrived in the covert capital as real estate agents, homeowners, builders, and landscapers who constructed spaces and living monuments that both nurtured and critiqued postwar U.S. foreign policy. Tracing the relationships among American agents and the migrants from Vietnam, El Salvador, Iran, and elsewhere who settled in the southwestern suburbs of D.C., Friedman tells the story of a place that recasts ideas about U.S. immigration, citizenship, nationalism, global interconnection, and ethical responsibility from the post-WW2 period to the present. Opening a new window onto the intertwined history of the American suburbs and U.S. foreign policy, Covert Capital will also give readers a broad interdisciplinary and often surprising understanding of how U.S. domestic and global histories intersect in many contexts and at many scales. American Crossroads, 37

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95668-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The suburbs of northern virginia once formed part of the nation’s capital. They weren’t suburbs then. They were a mix of farms, parade grounds, colonial ports, and small incorporated towns and villages. Still, their lands joined with the topography of Maryland to create the District of Columbia’s square political boundaries. Each state willed its acreage as a gift, as a testament to the project of the nation. Majestically linked by the Potomac River, the square is still visible on any map.

    In 1846, in a racialized protest leading up to the Civil War, Virginia took its land back. Like many...

  4. ONE The Covert Intimacies of Langley and Dulles
    (pp. 29-82)

    Many observers seem unsure as to whether “Langley” is a place or an idea. Just as “Washington” is a synonym for the executive branch and Congress, Langley is often the CIA writ large: Langley thinks, Langley acts, Langley feels. But the CIA complex is a three-dimensional place. Its placement and proximities in local and distant space, its architectural form and everyday use were the result of strategic choices made by some of U.S. imperialism’s major theorists and activists, who saw Langley as the space necessary to manage a newly sprawling empire in the days of the Cold War.

    Eight miles...

  5. TWO At Home with the CIA
    (pp. 83-122)

    In rangoon, burma, in 1952 and 1953, in the wake of the Chinese revolution, Donald and Jane Wilhelm enjoyed “an unusually good family life” in a five-bedroom house with two bathrooms. Large ceiling fans stirred the air over their teak furniture. “Due to a semi-caste system of labor,” nine servants waited on them, including two gardeners. Fresh flowers and polished floors graced the atmosphere every morning. In the country to make “converts to democracy,” they had left their modest home on North Harrison Street in Arlington so Donald could take an official position as U.S. advisor on a Point IV...

    (pp. 123-162)

    Imperial space is often imagined through a binary relationship between metropole and colony, in which power trickles from center to periphery, and both retain their location. As an American suburb, Northern Virginia would appear to be sealed off from these relationships by design, as a domestic, residential space inherently defined by the gap between the foreign and the domestic. In the U.S. context, the assertion that this nation has a non-territorial empire also tends to sideline spatial analysis or to draw it away from civilian places to the harder military manifestations of American imperial space—bases and coaling stations, for...

  7. FOUR The Fall of South Vietnam and the Transnational Intimacies of Falls Church, Arlington, and McLean
    (pp. 163-219)

    Recently returned from the fall of Saigon, CIA analyst Frank Snepp sat in a brand-new apartment complex on Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia. The complex stood at the metropolitanized DC edge of the Dulles Corridor. It was September 1977. Just up the street from the Pentagon, he was finishing his memoirs.

    Snepp’s apartment was one of 218 in a complex built by the Richmarr Development Company, one of the area’s largest builders. Since the mid-1950s, the company had helped turn Arlington’s smattering of World War II–era garden apartments, duplexes, and military housing units built to serve the house of...

    (pp. 220-293)

    In 1987, observers noticed a new skyline in the suburbs of the covert capital. The seventeen-story Tycon Towers I, designed by the architects John Burgee and Philip Johnson and the whimsical developer James T. Lewis, surged over the trees. At the height of his fame as the inventor of the postmodern skyscraper and designer of the corporate towers that visually marked the Reagan years, Johnson chose Tycon Towers as a new challenge, his only skyscraper in the 1980s built in the suburbs. Its gargantuan, faux classical detailing, its superscale freestanding columns done in Virginia brick and said to be the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 294-306)

    In 2006, observers noticed a new built environment in the suburbs of the covert capital. Investigative journalists, charting the “War on Terror” in the wake of the September 11th attacks, found a militarized landscape in Northern Virginia’s “glass-and-steel office boxes . . . distinguishable only to the true connoisseur of suburban blandness.” Some focused on the foggily named contractor California Analysis Center Inc. (CACI) in the Edge City of Ballston. Known locally as “Captains and Colonels Inc.,” the company, which arrived in the Dulles Corridor in 1972, came into focus for its work at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison after “two...

    (pp. 307-308)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 309-380)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 381-416)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 417-419)