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I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me

Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World

In a work that combines ingenious journalism and bizarrely encoded art, author/photographer/investigator Trevor Paglen uncovers 75 never-before-seen-in-public military patches that reveal a bizarre secret world of the American military. Paglen investigates classified weapons projects and intelligence operations by examining their own imagery and jargon, disclosing new facts about important classified military units—here known by peculiar names (“Goat Suckers,” “None of Your Fucking Business,” “Tastes Like Chicken”) and illustrated with occult symbols and ridiculous cartoons. The precisely photographed patches—worn by military personnel working on classified missions, such as those at the legendary Area 51—reveal much about a strange and eerie world about which little was previously known.

The author has also assembled an extensive and readable guide, based on extensive interviews with military sources and government records, to the patches included here, making this volume perhaps the best available survey of the military’s black world—a $27 billion industry that has quietly grown by almost 50 percent since 9/11.


TREVOR PAGLEN is the author of Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights (co-authored with AC Thompson); Blank Spots on a Map; and Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes. He lives in Oakland and New York City.

“A glimpse of [the Pentagon’s] dark world through a revealing lens—patches—the kind worn on military uniforms…. The book offers not only clues into the nature of the secret programs, but also a glimpse of zealous male bonding among the presumed elite of the military-industrial complex. The patches often feel like fraternity pranks gone ballistic.” —William Broad, The New York Times

”Trevor Paglen gets into the black heart of America’s black sites. There is no better guide to this great American mystery.” —Robert Baer, former case officer at the CIA and author of See No Evil: The true Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism

”Of course, issuing patches for a covert operation sounds like a joke…but truth be told, these days everything is branded. Military symbols are frequently replete with heraldic imagery—some rooted in history, others based on contemporary popular arts that feature comic characters—but these enigmatic dark-op images, in some cases probably designed by the participants themselves, are more personal, and also more disturbing, than most.” —New York Times Book Review 

”The iconography of the United States military. Not the mainstream military, with its bars and ribbons and medals, but the secret or ’black projects’ world, which may or may not involve contacting aliens, building undetectable spy aircraft, and experimenting with explosives that could make atomic bombs look like firecrackers. Here, mysterious characters and cryptic symbols hint at intrigue much deeper than rank, company, and unit.” —UTNE Reader

”An impressive collection.” —Justin RoodABC News

”I was fascinated… [Paglen] has assembled about 40 colorful patch insignia from secret, military ’black’ programs that are hardly ever discussed in public. He has plenty of regalia from the real denizens of Area 51.” —Alex BeamThe Boston Globe

“Gives readers a peek into the shadows … Department of Defense spokesman Bob Mehal told Newsweek that it ‘would not be prudent to comment on what patches did or did not represent classified units.’ That’s OK. Some mysteries are more fun when they stay unsolved.” —Karen Pinchin, Newsweek

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