As anyone who has worked there knows, Kabul is a tough place, redeemed by the charm of the people and the abundance of cheap taxis. But Trevor Paglen had trouble finding a taxi driver willing and able to take him where he wanted to go: north-east out of the city along an old back road reputed to be so dangerous – even by Afghan standards – that it had seen no regular traffic for more than 30 years.
Finally he succeeded in digging out an old man who had been driving a cab since before the Soviet invasion. “We started driving and we left the city behind and we’re out in the sticks,” he recalls, “and we end up in a traffic jam – not cars but goats. And we wait for the goats to go by and we see the shepherd, this very old man, traditional Afghan clothes, big beard, exactly what you’d picture in your head. But he’s wearing a baseball hat.
“The shepherd finally turns to look at us in the car – and on that baseball cap are the letters KBR. It stands for Kellogg Brown and Root – a company that was a subsidiary of Halliburton, which Dick Cheney was on the board of. The local goatherd is wearing a Dick Cheney baseball cap!” It was the final clue he needed that this particular bad road was the right road. There in the distance, behind a high cream wall and coiled razor wire, was what Paglen was looking for: the nondescript structures of what he says he is “99.999 per cent sure” is the place they call the Salt Pit: a never-before-identified-or-photographed secret CIA prison.