More Dogs on Main: Surveillance underwear

Tom Clyde
More Dogs on Main
Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.
Tom Clyde mug

A friend sent me an article recently about the new developments in the surveillance business. I read the article a couple of times, and despite sounding like something from the Onion, it appears to be the real thing. U.S. intelligence agencies have been working on “smart underwear” for surveillance purposes. The budget for developing this wearable technology is $22 million to start, with the normal cost overruns, or should we say leakage, likely to run the costs higher.

So what distinguishes “SMART e-pants” (that is actually what they call it) from the tighty-whiteys sold in the convenient three pack at Walmart? They will contain audio, video, and geolocation recording devices. The National Security Agency will be able to hear and pinpoint the exact location of the wearer when the effects of that burrito are known. 

I suppose it would also be able to listen in on conversations in reasonable proximity to the high-tech undies. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is the best reason for going commando ever offered.            

SMART e-pants stands for “Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems,” which doesn’t really make it sound any less stupid. The technology isn’t limited to underpants.  Surveillance bras are entirely possible, too, and just off hand seem like a more reasonable place to start because there is less, well, let’s call it “static interference” there than in the drawers. 

It would also fit in jackets, shirts, or other clothing items. But the people at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the secret research arm of the intel world, decided to start out with the underpants because they are a bunch of 13 year olds with access to a $22 million budget.

Quoting from the article, underwear specialist Dr. Dawson Cagle said: “IARPA is proud to lead this first-of-its-kind effort for both the intelligence community and broader scientific community, which will bring much-needed innovation to the field of active smart textiles. The electronics are stretchable, bendable, comfortable, and washable like regular clothing.”

Yes, but are they stylish? Is this something James Bond would wear? Austin Powers, without a doubt, but Bond? Would Daniel Craig walk out of the ocean wearing SMART e-pants?

They are in the early development stages and expect to spend the next four years developing surveillance underwear before hitting the market. 

But in the short span of only four years, the spy agencies will have developed functional, washable surveillance underwear. While that seems like a long time, I think we are closing in on a decade on the planning of the wasteland formerly known as BoPa, before it was known as the Arts & Culture District, and now the five-acre planning area. That really seems less complicated than surveillance underwear. 

There’s no question that the neighborhood was underutilized land in a very central and high value location. There were functional businesses there, Maverick being the architectural high point, but Anaya’s Market was a popular, if homely, place conveniently located near its customer base.

The city decided to “fix” things before a private developer did something, and bought the land, closed up the businesses, tore the buildings down and let the weeds grow and the suspiciously colored dust blow. The costs skyrocketed, there was the plague that stopped everything, and years and years have passed with no decision. I know, let’s get a consultant in to do a master plan.

In study after study, the results have been more or less the same. Everybody wants everything without having to pay for any of it. 

The A&C plan was to have Kimball Art Center and Sundance anchor with iconic buildings that would probably cost $50 million, each. And then we all want walkable neighborhoods with charming cafes, bars, and quaint, locally owned shops lining the newly placed streets, with affordable housing (with mountain views) on the upper floors, and lots of parking. 

In other words, we want Main Street in the 1980s. There’s no discussion of how to pay for it or whether the anchors expect a subsidy because they are in the arts business. The full list of “wants” for the site is only possible if we build very tall buildings. And nobody wants very tall buildings.  There’s no way to put 15 acres of stuff on five acres of land without stacking it. 

The brownfield of broken foundations and junk is an embarrassment. It’s become emblematic of the inability to make decisions and implement things around here. There’s no reason to believe that this latest master plan will do anything other than set the table for the next master plan. There is a lot of potential for that site, and also the larger neighborhood. 

It’s all important. It’s impossible to do everything for everybody. Have they even considered the needs of left-handed, red-headed, goat yoga practitioners? But after this many years, just do something. The city owns it — there’s no developer to quarrel with. It should be easy. 

Make decisions, live with mistakes (part of the charm of Old Town is that there was no plan — it just happened), and move on. Somebody will inevitably get their surveillance underwear in a bunch over the plan, but do something.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.


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