The Paris Review

Something Always Remains

Some people collect rocks. Others collect stamps. Peter Merlin, a former NASA archivist who’s become a leading expert on military aircraft and Area 51, collects the physical remnants of government secrets. As he explains in the artist Trevor Paglen’s new book, From the Archives of Peter Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist, Merlin’s chief animating impulse is fairly simple: “Something always remains,” meaning that every project, no matter how clandestine, leaves a trace—a scrap of metal, a security badge, a commemorative mug. Merlin has amassed a trove of such traces, which are often the only public evidence of highly classified operations. These crumbs offer rare insight into the shadowy machinations

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