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Why Glass can't Google at Guantánamo

I'm heading back to Guantánamo for next week's war court hearings so it seems timely to explain Google Glass' internet capabilities. 

I can tell Glass to search the web, to Google, with a voice command. I can use it to nearly instantly post a picture or video I've taken with it -- via Google+, Twitter and YouTube. It can stream back to me videos, recite the weather in my ear, and give (at times kooky) directions.

But all of that requires WiFi. And not any kind of WiFI. It uses one-step or no-logon WiFi, something that's increasingly hard to find. 

Get it? The increasingly password-protected WiFi out there is an obstacle. At my office, for example, our security system only lets me connect to WiFi using both a user name and a password, a two-step logon. And my Explorers version of Glass cannot do that. So, for continuous service, I run my Glass off a personal hot spot on my iPhone. I keep it in my pocket, and tether it by Bluetooth.
Which brings me to why I can't go live with it at Guantánamo. The base has no U.S. cellphone service. At Gitmo, I can't ask it to Google something, can't instruct it to post a photo, can't dictate an email to my boss and then send it.

You read that right: The 45-square-mile U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo gets no U.S. cell service. Call my cell, and it won't ring there. Leave me a voicemail, and I cannot retrieve it. On U.S. soil, or just about anywhere else with my international plan, my iPhone is a smart phone. At Guantánamo, it's dumb. It's an alarm clock, a flashlight and a camera that won't ring and won't text. Forget FaceTime from inside the tent where the Pentagon puts journalists reporting on the war crimes trials.

At Guantánamo, my internet comes out of an Ethernet cable that costs $150 a week. There's only one place where I can plug in to it -- inside a room at a wreck of a hangar near the tents on an abandoned airstrip the troops call "Camp Justice." I have a desk, an Ethernet cable and an old-school telephone -- with a wire coming out of it.

MugThe base does have a local cellphone provider there, with a small internal tower system. It provides a scratchy phone line that sometimes rings, mostly doesn't and has no WiFi capabilities. In the Camp Justice sketch at right by court artist Janet Hamlin I'm holding a satellite phone that gets no WiFi and such inconsistent service at Guantánamo that I gave up bringing it years ago.

OkellyThere is one WiFi system on base -- in a few select sites like the bar, bowling alley, coffee shop and air terminal. But it has a two-step logon system. Glass can't latch on. So, this trip, I won't know if the Google Glass voice in my ear will answer in Spanish or Tagalog or Creole, the predominant languages on the base besides English once Filipino and Jamaican guest workers replaced the Cubans.

In short, any Google Glass photos or videos you do see from Guantánamo won't be posted live, directly off the device. The only way I'll be able to post is by USB-port-tethering Glass to a laptop, like a drive, and dragging an image on to my desktop.

Except at Guantánamo there's one more step: Military censorship. The base with a church, golf course, school for sailors' kids and some of the best scuba diving in the Caribbean is also a closed military zone. The Pentagon only lets reporters and photographers visit after they've agreed, in writing, to submit all imagery to censorship. At the base they call it opsec, Gitmo-speak for an operational security review. Soldiers "doing opsec" systematically study each frame to search for a forbidden image -- like a prisoner's face, a security camera or any soldier who doesn't want his or her picture taken. If they spot one, they delete it.

Dumpster1Opsec is kind of like a mantra at the Navy base, new-millennium-shorthand for the World War II slogan "Loose Lips Sink Ships."  Ask a question that touches on a sensitive topic, and a commander might hiss "opsec." Even the dumpsters at Camp Justice sometimes carry a warning.  I got the image at right cleared through opsec.

What I can't show you is the building where next week's hearing takes place -- the place where alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is to face eventual military tribunal justice. I can tell you what it looks like. (A barbed-wire-ringed warehouse.) I can tell you where it's located. (Just to the right of the op-sec-approved photo below, on the other side of the second row of jumpsuit-orange barriers.)

But if, while I'm walking around wearing Glass, my camera captures even a slice of the warehouse-like courthouse, you won't be able to see it. That's because the soldiers who serve as my escorts are obliged under the rules to delete it. And since my WiFi won't work there, there's no possibility my Google Glass will inadvertently post it.



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