On October 29th, Hoover Library & Archives marked the opening of its new exhibition, Double Exposure: Russia’s Secret Police under the Last Tsars with a keynote address by journalist and intelligence expert Shane Harris. Harris, the prize-winning author of The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State and @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex has worked as a senior correspondent on national and cyber security issues for The Daily Beast and Foreign Policy magazine. His articles have also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal. Harris’ talk, entitled “The Internet is a Battlefield,” outlined the modern hacking and data mining apparati used by both state and insurgent entities. The topic of Harris’ talk provided a contemporary look at issues of surveillance and espionage introduced in Double Exposure, an exhibition which provides the first ever full-scale display of the documents, photographs, intelligence reports, and memorandums kept by the famed Russian Imperial secret police, known as the Okhrana. The Okhrana, the most accomplished of all major national intelligence agencies in the early twentieth century, pioneered many of the surveillance, espionage, and information-gathering techniques that would later be adopted by the KGB, CIA, MI5, and the Stasi.
During his lecture Harris explained that the fundamental drive of surveillance has not essentially changed from the early days of mail interception and ciphers to the current age of encryption breaking and information phishing: individuals and states continue to desire to know what targets write, say, and do, and with whom they collaborate. Citing examples from both the Bush and Obama administrations, Harris argued that cyber security and online espionage are eclipsing kinetic terrorism as the primary national security concerns of the United States. The possibility of what National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers has referred to as the “catastrophic effects” of cyber attack—the endangerment of power grids or nuclear weapons systems, for example—make cyber security an issue that will rise to prominence as America enters the presidential election season. As the US competes with China and Russia for dominance in the emerging arena of online espionage, the establishment of policies and norms for retaliating against cyber attack will perforce need to be established. By considering both the history of intelligence gathering and the technological innovations unique to the information age, military personnel, security administrators, and politicians can weigh the balance between national security concerns and personal privacy. Harris praised the exhibition, Double Exposure, as a timely reminder of the centrality of intelligence gathering on behalf of major nation-states, and the vast measures historically taken to understand and contain technologically advanced enemies.
The opening, lecture, and reception coincided with the anniversary of the collection’s dramatic unveiling, as evidenced on the front page of the Stanford Daily, featured above. On October 29, 1957, Stanford University made headlines around the globe by revealing that the invaluable archive of the Russian tsars’ secret police—long thought to have been destroyed shortly after the Russian Revolution—had in fact been shipped in 1926 to the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, and would for the first time be opened to the public. The records of the Okhrana uncovered the tsarist government's surveillance throughout Europe of its political enemies, including those who would become leading figures of the Soviet regime after 1917, including Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin. Following the revelation of the collection’s existence academics, former revolutionaries, and operatives on both sides of the Cold War made pilgrimages to Stanford to study this extraordinary cache of police files that includes mug shots of radical Russian émigrés in Europe, surveillance reports and photographs, purloined letters, code systems, and lists of pseudonyms. These unique documents emphasize how surveillance—the collecting of personal data for detailed analysis—has, for more than a century, played a dominant role in the relationship between insurgents and major nation-states.
Curated by Stanford historian and Hoover fellow Bertrand M. Patenaude and designed by Samira Bozorgi, Assistant Archivist for Exhibitions at Hoover Library & Archives, Double Exposure displays the wide range of material used by the Okhrana for intelligence gathering: reports from agents in the field, memorandums from the Paris office to St. Petersburg headquarters, dispatches, ciphers, correspondence of revolutionaries, and the countless photographs that became the principal tool for identifying revolutionaries. Altogether, the records provide the remarkably detailed and compelling stories of both the watchers and the watched, and locate the origins of the modern surveillance state. Visitors to Double Exposure will come away with a new understanding of how, a century before the dawn of the information age, intelligence gathering had become an essential tool used by political actors, both in authority and in opposition.
The Hoover Institution Library & Archives exhibition Double Exposure: Russia’s Secret Police under the Last Tsars opens Thursday, October 29, 2015, and runs through March 12, 2016. The exhibition is open to the public, free of charge, Tuesday–Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion (next to Hoover Tower) on the Stanford University campus.