Towards an Atlantic police state? (8) Surveillance is about warfare

Technically, the ability of the US and the Five Eyes and their partners to spy on their populations was greatly enhanced by the information revolution. It had its epicentre in the United States because only the US can finance such a development on a deficit basis and as part of its military outlays. In the 1980s the defence research agency DARPA was financing Stanford’s artificial intelligence (AI) research because the US by that time had plans to control all computer databases in the country. Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Admiral John Poindexter, who was involved in this, after the Iran-Contra scandal had to step aside; he would later become the head of the Total Information Awareness office at DARPA. 

As with Orwell’s ‘telescreens’, US IT advances were intended to work two ways: to collect information and to disseminate propaganda. In 1989, a strategy for information warfare (IW) was developed to intimidate adversaries and convince allies (including the public) that the US/Western cause is ‘just’. A network of contacts between the Pentagon’s most powerful spy agencies including the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) on the one hand and a number of private companies including Booz Allen (Snowden’s employer) on the other, was set up to make Total Information Awareness possible. All that can be known must first be known by US and Five Eyes intelligence.

In 1994  two Stanford PhD students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page (both meanwhile billionaire founder-owners of Google) made their breakthrough with the first automated web crawling and page ranking application under a DARPA project. That application remains the core component of what eventually became Google’s search engine. Throughout its development, Brin reported regularly to the MITRE Corporation, a leading US defence contractor (sponsored by the NSA, CIA, and the Director of Central Intelligence, to foster innovative research in information technology) and to the CIA’s Office of Research and Development, ORD). DARPA’s funding to Stanford, including Google, was explicitly about developing technologies for war and war-related intelligence. For whether we speak of Google, the Internet as its terrain of operations, or any other of the whole range of major IT innovations, they were all or mostly products of DARPA or otherwise defence-related public research.

John Arquilla in the late 1990s developed the concept of netwar or cyberwar at the RAND corporation and other military research institutes. Using concepts such as ‘networked warfare,’ ‘networked deterrence,’ ‘information warfare,’ and ‘swarming.’

With the global positioning system (GPS), the opportunities for surveillance were greatly enhanced. GPS, which relies on a 24 satellite support system, was developed for the Pentagon to allow the accurate deployment of military assets. Installed on smartphones it today produces permanent location data which are duly stored. US troops in Saudi Arabia in the run-up to the First Gulf War were using GPS to find their way in unfamiliar desert surroundings.

Key among military GPS applications is the drone, an invention of the Israeli aerospace engineer Avraham Karem. Karem moved to the US in 1977; there he developed the Predator drone for General Atomic, an offshoot of General Dynamics. The drone, using GPS and connected to a home base far away, would eventually develop into a means of surveillance carrying the ability to target the surveyed objective directly.

From the 1990s on, a ‘kill chain’ became available, based on Total Information Awareness and composed of drones patrolling conflict zones connected to command centres in the United States. These can then launch direct attacks. We tend to think of this as something typical of US operations in Afghanistan or after the regime change in Libya, in Africa (the key US drone base today is in Niger). But with the threat of a US/NATO war in Europe coming closer, it may also become a fact of life and death here.

Kees van der Pijl

For a complete text with full references see Surveillance Capitalism and Crisis

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