That Time Activists Tried To Destroy GPS With An Axe In The 90s 

That Time Activists Tried To Destroy GPS With An Axe In The 90s 

If you had heard of GPS in 1992, you likely heard about it because of the Gulf War. For the first time, GPS was used to precisely guide missiles to Iraqi targets. With this context in mind, it perhaps makes more sense why two activists would want to hack a GPS satellite to pieces.

Over at the Atlantic, artist and writer Ingrid Burrington (who also made this delightful guide to internet infrastructure) has written a fascinating reflection on GPS’s origins.

Today, most of us can’t imagine living without GPS, a benevolent security blanket that keeps us from ever getting lost.

But hindsight is 20/20. In 1992, it was less obvious how useful GPS would be for your average citizen. What was obvious was how useful it was to the military. The program that developed what became GPS was originally called the Defence Navigation Satellite System (DNSS).

Enter the “Harriet Tubman-Sarah Connor Brigade”, an act of civil disobedience that Burrington describes in her piece for the Atlantic:

On May 10, 1992, the activists Keith Kjoller and Peter Lumsdaine snuck into a Rockwell International facility in Seal Beach, California. They used wood-splitting axes to break into two clean rooms containing nine satellites being built for the U.S. government. Lumsdaine took his axe to one of the satellites, hitting it over 60 times.

They were arrested and faced up to 10 years in prison for destroying federal government property, causing an estimated $US2 million in damage. Ultimately, Kjoller and Lumsdaine took guilty pleas and were sentenced to 18 months and two years in prison respectively for an act of civil disobedience they named “The Harriet Tubman-Sarah Connor Brigade.”

Burrington also tracks down Lumsdaine, whom she asks to reflect on his act of civil disobedience two decades earlier. Lumsdaine is completely unrepentant, but his stubbornness also belies a piece of wisdom: We can’t be blind to the origins, unpleasant as they may be, of the technologies around us.

Read the full piece at The Atlantic.

Picture: GPS Satellite, via US Government