Persistent Surveillance: The Persistent Surveillance Society

Dan Denning discusses Persistent Surveillance — the technological possibilities for making it happen, and the implications of using it not simply in military settings, but in nonmilitary ones as well.

“We need to know something about everything all the time. We need an illuminator, throwing into relief all the pictures and activities on the Earth’s surface. And then we need to be able to switch on the spotlight, or other alert systems, to dive deep”

Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence

“This system has to be never blinking, never straying. Our enemies can never be sure when they’re being looked at.”
 Rich Haver, Northrop Grumman Executive

 “I am the eye in the sky/Looking at you/I can read your mind/I am the maker of rules/Dealing with fools/I can cheat you blind.”
Alan Parsons Project

Dear Reader,

YOU ARE BEST advised not to attack the alligators in the “Biosphere,” otherwise known as the Gaylord Palms in Orlando. The alligators are undersized. A large man under the influence of an even larger amount of alcohol might be able to wrestle one or two into submission (they’re only about six or seven feet long), but the other eight gators would get him. Besides, the pen in which the gators are enclosed is undoubtedly under the watchful eye of cameras, although no cameras are visible.

You don’t see a lot of cameras at Disneyworld either. I went there last Saturday to visit an old friend from high school who’s worked in the Magic Kingdom for nearly ten years. Disney is the ultimate in aesthetic engineering. EPCOT, my friend told me, stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was Walt Disney’s dream, before death interrupted, to build an urban vision of the future in Central Florida.

Today, EPCOT is a series of future-themed rides that are a little long in the tooth. The World Showcase Tour is a little fresher. Situated around a lake are dozen or so miniature countries with authentic architectural reproductions and local music and cuisine. If I had known that I could have gone from Mexico to China to Norway to Africa to Japan to Italy to France to England in less than an hour, and still ended up drinking a Guinness in an English pub, I could have saved myself the trouble of traveling last summer.

But the real highlight of the Magic Kingdom, if you ask me, is Celebration, Disney’s planned residential community. It’s what Walt’s vision of the future has morphed into. Sitting in a bar with my buddy knocking back a few Sam Adams, it didn’t seem threatening, only sterile. But I did wonder if Disney is on the leading edge of the movement to turn suburban living into a quiet theme-ride all its own (maybe it’s like that already.) I also wondered if the residents of Celebration are under the constant but unobtrusive surveillance that my friend assured me blanketed the theme parks.

Following up on Jim’s essay earlier this week, I’ll take a short look at even more ambitious efforts to keep tabs on the planet earth with an “all seeing eye.” Go ahead, put on your tin-foil hat if you want. But at least hear me out.

And what do you think about the controversy over Ward  Churchill at the University of Colorado in Boulder? I’m from Colorado myself. Churchill, if you haven’t heard about it yet, had some pretty provocative comments about the people who died on 9/11. More on that below.

Finally, lots of reader mail this week. One good question is “What are your intentions with Whiskey & Gunpowder.” I assure you our intentions are mostly honorable. But I’ll expand on that if you’re wondering where this project is headed. But first…

The Persistent Surveillance Society

Jim’s piece yesterday pointed out vital economic networks can be appropriated, regulated, and exploited by the government, usually to the disadvantage of you and me. There may be plenty of innocent reasons for government interest in GPS. But the logical conclusion of government regulation of  the nation’s telecommunications network is government control over that network.

There are some real technical obstacles to that goal, as I’ll show you in a minute. But you should be under no illusions about the goal is. Let me present you with a few quotes from various government and military agencies that elaborate on the subject. All of the quotes fall under the term “Persistent Surveillance.” This nominally applies to the battlefield, or “battlespace” as it’s called. But you’ll see, if you accept that in a war against non-state actors, a war fought here in the homeland as well as in Baghdad, then the battlespace becomes every space. Every square inch of the earth’s surface is a theater in the war on terror. And every theater becomes a target of persistent surveillance.

The Defense Technical Information Center defines persistent surveillance as

A collection strategy that emphasizes the ability of some collection systems to linger  on demand in an area to detect, locate, characterize, identify, track, target, and possibly provide battle damage assessment and re-targeting in near or real-time. Persistent surveillance facilitates the formulation and execution of preemptive activities to deter or forestall anticipated adversary courses of action.”

This sounds mostly like military intelligence gathering in acknowledged war zones. However, there’s no reason the concept can’t be equally applied to say, urban war zones (Baltimore), or porous border areas. More on that later. First, more exact definitions.

The U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight plan from 2003 is the latest public document I could find explaining the Air Force’s vision for its surveillance, reconnaissance, communication, and intelligence gathering capabilities. On the subject, the plan says the Air Force of the future:

Will provide the capability to look deeply and persistently into areas that are  inaccessible to current platforms due to political restrictions, geographical constraints, or the technological limitations of legacy systems. The continuous global access of space-based radar (SBR) and the extended-loiter capability of the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), combined with the near real-time data transfer to multiple relevant command and control elements, will allow constant imaging  or tracking of all relevant mobile or fixed surface targets in any weather  conditions in all types of terrain as well as with urban areas.

Persistent Surveillance: Overcoming Political Restrictions

Now we’re getting somewhere. Our future force will be able to overcome political restrictions to continuously survey and target anywhere in the world, any time, in real time. You’re beginning to see the scope of the project. In fact, when I went to a UAV conference in Crystal City, just outside Washington D.C. in 2003, the phrase one presenter used was a “God’s eye view” of the battlespace, the battlespace, of course, being everywhere.

There are, obviously, huge military advantages to having what the military calls total situational awareness. You know where all your guys are all the time. And the better your intelligence gathering is, the more you know where the bad guys are and more quickly you can find them, target them, and, as the phrase goes “put lead on target.”

Our military has done a bang-up job of leveraging telecommunications and satellite technology to help lift the fog of war from the battlefield. But aspiring to know everything all the time about everything everywhere isn’t a bit, shall we say, presumptuous, not to mention frightening.

At root, it’s an enormous conceit that technology can give you a deity like knowledge of the world. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.

The all encompassing vision behind the goal of persistent surveillance has evolved into a discussion of practical means. The current emphasis is on three specific intelligence gathering platforms that would give planners the “God’s eye view” of the world they desire. First is space-based radar and satellites. Next are blimps, zeppelins, and lighter than air vehicles that loiter in a near-space orbit. Last are UAVs and manned air craft that loiter above the batttlespace, high or low, and gather various kinds of signal intelligence.

Space-based radar is unproven and very expensive. But it’s purpose is clear. A publicly-available fact sheet on space-based radar from the Air Force says, “The main objective of the SBR program is to field, beginning in 2008, a space borne capability for theater commanders to track moving targets.” The fact sheet elaborates, “The 2001 Multi-Theater Target Tracking Capability (MT3C) Mission Needs Statement (MNS) establishes the requirement for continuous multi-theater surveillance, identification, tracking, and targeting of ground-moving targets.”

It continues, “To satisfy these requirements, a constellation of space-based radar satellites will be needed. They must offer day/night, all-weather, near-continuous, global ground moving target identification (GMTI) search/track, and high resolution imagery; near real-time, direct downlink to theater of overhead GMTI imagery and collection, and collection of precision digital terrain and elevation data (DTED).”

Persistent Surveillance: Hollywood’s Most Radical Dystopia

Lots of jargon, but the picture is pretty clear. If you thought the Eye of Sauron was bad, this all seeing eye would be able to pierce just about anything. It would be Hollywood’s most radical dystopia come true.

The Federation of American Scientists says that “The proposed Space-Based Radar system would move the functions of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), Joint STARS (Surveillance, Targeting, and Attack Radar System), and River Joint aircraft into space. The purpose of moving these systems into space would be to increase coverage area (potential for nearly continuous worldwide coverage) and to reduce deployment time and the logistical costs related to current airborne systems.”

An interesting acronym that stands out among all this is MTI (moving target indication.) FAS says one requirement for SBR is “continuous moving target indication surveillance of slow moving targets in two Army Corps frontage areas. Continuous coverage is defined as around the clock with one-minute revisit rates, over an area of roughly 30,000 kilometers.”

A radar with that range and depth could, according to Noah Shacthman in a Wired News article, “track tanks, jeeps and planes, giving their locations to American bombers and fighter planes.” Hmm. I suppose, if those tanks were trucks, those jeeps were SUVs, and those planes were commercial airliners, and all of them were tagged with GPS, the space-based radar could conceivably track them too, if it was trained on them of course.

The Pentagon’s development plan for SBR a network of surveillance satellites which would give the military the ability to track moving targets and provide maps and imagery to U.S. forces anywhere in the world. It would be like the GPS, but instead of tracking it would be watching.

But the SBR would be part of a larger surveillance network that included, among other things, “near space aircraft” that operate above 65,000 but below outer space. What kind of aircraft? According to the Air Force, these would be helium-filled free floating balloons or remotely controlled glider-like vehicles.

There are some practical restrictions to all this. Pentagon studies estimate that an always-on global surveillance system would generate petabytes of data on a daily basis. A petabyte is over 1,000 terabytes and a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.

These high-altitude balloons would be capable of “stay and stare” surveillance. The military loves acronyms. Another description is High Altitude, Long Loiter, or HALL. There ARE civilian applications for HALL platforms. For example, a HALL balloon set up as a mobile phone relay would be the equivalent of 20-mile high cell phone tower. No more roaming charges!

The main attraction for the intelligence community is the relatively low-cost of an intelligence-gathering asset that can stay above an area for a long, long time. Longer than UAVs even. UAVs, however, remain the third tier of the surveillance network.

The Global Hawk can loiter over an area for 24 hours, is auto piloted, and cruises at 60,000 feet, beneath the blimps but well above commercial aircraft or surface to air missiles. The Predator UAV is more of a tactical platform. Just yesterday the Pentagon released footage of a Predator being called in to support a team of Marines pinned down by a sniper. The Predator, which is remotely piloted from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada by real pilots sitting in simulators, came on scene and flattened the building housing a sniper with its missile payload.

The Air Force says there are 58 Predators deployed in the world right now, but won’t say where. And there in lies the potential problem Jim brought up yesterday. Right now a Predator or a Global hawk or a Zeppelin at 60,000 feet or space-based radar could be looking at your neighborhood and you wouldn’t even know it.

Persistent Surveillance: The Silver Lining

The only silver lining to all these surveillance storm clouds that the surveillance network isn’t built out-yet. And it’s not tied in with the GPS network. Indeed, nowhere in any of the literature that I found does one GPS (Global Persistent Surveillance) shake hands with the other GPS (Global Positioning Systems.) But it may be only a matter of time.

The agency that brought real time imagining and mapping to Iraq was NIMA, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. I listened to a briefing from a NIMA official at the Crystal City conference. He described how NIMA was able to provide soldiers in the battlefield with detailed city maps showing where their forces were (blue) and where the bad guys were (red.)

NIMA has not yet incorporated GPS into is vision of persistent surveillance. An article by Glen Gibbons in GPS World from November, 2003 wonders why not. Gibbons writes, “Is there anything more ubiquitous, more real-time, more robust, flexible, and persistent than GPS for helping us know the Earth and showing us the way? Global in scope, integrated into almost every vehicle, aircraft, and ship that moves on or above the planet, in millions-soon to be hundreds of millions-of cell phones and portable computers. Indeed, perhaps there are more things in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in NIMA’s philosophy.”

Perhaps. And perhaps that philosophy itself will expand. If all the world is a front in the War on Terror, then all the world must be watched, all the time. Every neighborhood is a theater in the war. Right now, only the definition of what an enemy is prevents the bourgeoning surveillance network from being trained on domestic targets, all in the name of security.

It’s going to take a lot of bandwidth storage to transmit and store all the date gathered from a god’s eye view of the world. More bandwidth and storage than today’s communications infrastructure can currently support. But there are plans to solve those problems too…

Will this dismal future come to pass in America? Will a super-surveillance-network make it impossible for you live and move without the government watching and knowing just where you, or at least your Chevy truck are?

EPCOT didn’t turn out the way Disney imagined it. One man’s vision rarely outlasts his own life. But the vision of the Surveillance Society isn’t just one man’s dream, it appears to be one government’s long-term goal. Our government.

The media has become a potent weapon for anyone fighting aysmmetrical war because it does what Boyd and Sun Tzu (but not ClausewitzI think) recommended, namely, attacking an enemy’s morale and will to resist by attacking his brain.

Ward Churchill and the Ivory Pulpit

Next, Byron King and I had a brief exchange of e-mails the other day about asymmetrical warfare and Ward Churchill. We just didn’t realize we were talking about the same thing until we were done. Soon I hope to have our blog up and running so you can read these on the website instead of e-mails. For now, I’ll excerpt our conversation here.
The topic, by the way, is whether the American media has become the best weapon of terrorists in Iraq. Here’s what I wrote to Byron:

The Italian Marxist Gramsci talked about making a long march through the institutions to erode the support for free markets and liberty. He meant the media, the academy, the Church, marriage, the civil service, the language (own the definitions), and the entire culture.

Byron Replies:

The media attacks the will of the American public, indirectly, by being useful idiots and stooges for GI Joe Dolls and any terrorist rumor or staged event. The insurgents attack the will of the American public because they can’t really attack the strength of the American military. But the insurgents do pretty well. The media create a wedge between the public and the military by projecting our soldiers and marines and airmen and sailors as victims of a bad government policy.
How can the insurgents manipulation of the media be defeated? Well…the blogs pretty quickly sniffed out the fake G.I. Joe abduction. But the main problem is that the media a) wants to sell product, b) is institutionally opposed to the military and the war.
Check out Eason Jordan demagoguing to the crowd at Davos…and then refusing to allow the video of his comments to go public, and the wonks at Davos clamming up too.

It was more evolution than revolution. Implant cancerous ideas in the culture and let them metastasize over years. Take a look around and you see the cancer everywhere, in the anti-family movies Hollywood puts out, in Ward Churchill’s tenure-protected screeds, and in CNN news executive Eason Jordan’s unsubstantiated claim that the American military is deliberately targeting journalists. Jordan later back-pedaled, and his buddies in the rest of the MSM are doing their best to shush the matter up.

Market forces are not even trying to take those institutions back one at a time, they are destroying them. People choose Fox over CNN. People read blogs instead of the New York Times. The media that used to “speak power to truth” in the 60s and took down Nixon is now being outflanked, out worked, and out thought by asymmetrical bloggers.

Yep, the culture war is an asymmetrical war too. The big, heavy, dinosaurs are CNN and certain citadels in the academy. They still think credibility comes from size and authority comes from status. They are in big trouble.

Unfortunately, family and Church have been badly battered by legislature and court. But I’d suggest by looking at Europe, the effects of abortion and divorce on demand, childless couples, and massive state subsides for self-satisfying living are pretty obvious: diminishment. 

It’s as if these cultures decided to commit suicide after World War Two, figuring it was safer than producing diseases like National Socialism and Communism. It’s no wonder that all their future plans are about creating joyless pan-European institutions that will protect Europe and European from any conceivable harm.

The French Revolution proved you could effectively destroy institutions that took thousands of years to build up. I wonder how well the institutions of civil society in the West have held up to the counter culture and our relentless drift to socialism.

A good indicator will be what happens to Ward Churchill in Colorado. Colorado is a weird state politically. As you know, I grew up there. It’s anti-government Western libertarian on one half, and very liberal in Boulder and Denver. Many of these liberals are immigrants from California, tax refugees who’ve come to recreate their utopia beneath the Flatirons, but with the same illegal labor that affords you the time to have a conscience about injustice all over the world.

My prediction is that Churchill will be fired. In what other line of work is a man accountable to no one, not voters and not the marketplace? Judges for one, but the case for judges (some of them) not having to run for reelection is defensible and sensible.

But why should the public pay for teachers at a state University and then have no way of holding those public servants accountable? If we worked for a private school…I wouldn’t care. If you’re a parent or a student and want to pay money to listen to Ward Churchill call human beings who went to work one day and died in burning jet fuel “little Eichmans,” be my guest. 

My guess is that only a state-subsidized university could afford to pay someone like Churchill. The Churchill case could be to academia what Howell Raines and Jayson Blair were to the MSM, the first small stone in an avalanche of pent up public frustration with the biases and condescension that have been heaped down upon us from the Ivory Pulpit.

You said:  The French Revolution proved you could effectively destroy institutions that took thousands of years to build up. I wonder how well the institutions of civil society in the West have held up to the counter culture and our relentless drift to socialism.”

I remember visiting France back in the 1970s and touring towns that had some great old cathedrals…Rheims, Chartres, etc.  Many of the religious carvings of saints, angels, etc. on the doors were defaced.  Literally.  Somebody had taken a chisel and literally chopped off the faces of the saints, angels, etc.  I asked about it and the answer was always a French shrug, with the comment “it happened back during the Revolution.” 

A key part of the French Revolution was the systematic destruction of the icons and relics of the past, ancient regime.  (Same as in Red China, where Red Guards literally tore down many of the ancient structures.  Simon Leys documented this in several of his books on the Chinese Revolution.)  The hard core Islamicists promise the same thing if they ever take over nations in the Middle East.  Recall the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist carvings at Bamiyan, among others.  The Islamic Brotherhood promises that when it takes over Egypt, it will level the Pyramids, Sphinx, Temples of the Gods, etc. — all relics of the idolatrous past.

What we have seen in the West over the past 50 years seems to be a “slow motion French Revolution.”  The thesis of Cultural Marxism is to destroy the intellectual basis for the existence of the nation and its culture.  Dumb-down the schools and educational process.  Diminish history as mere tales of dead white boys.  Come up with the doctrine of a “living constitution,” with emanating penumbrae, etc. to justify using the power of the state for purposes of enforcing social change from the top (elite)-down.  

Diminish the classic role of established religion, replace it with New Age navel-gazing if necessary (but not if it is Falun Gong, and begins to pose a threat to control in a place like China).  Now we are also getting to the part where we chop off the faces of the statues, by taking down the relics of older days such as the Ten Commandments plaques in courthouses, or do it symbolically by changing the seal of Los Angeles to remove the image of the oil derricks and the Old Spanish Mission. 

Instead of the guillotine to chop off the heads of opponents of the Revolution, we have “hate speech” codes that will simply intimidate people and shut them up.  If they dare to speak up, they can be cited, arrested, made to do the “perp walk” for the TV, humiliated, shamed, and hauled before some judge who will give them a hefty fine for using the “wrong” words in discussion.

But you know what is going to change things?  The state (U.S. and Western states in general) is going broke.  No longer can nations afford to keep a high priesthood of academic Ward Churchills on the public take.  And much of this rise of power from the top down is due to abundant energy, most significantly by the historical availability of large amounts of relatively low-priced petroleum.  That’s gonna change. 

As cheap energy becomes scarce, and as the money to the fund social life of nations  begins to dry up, people will get back to making choices based on priorities.  And the priority of Cultural Marxism is probably quite low on the scale of things that most people believe is important.  Looking at a map, the equivalent of Red Counties will expand.  Blue Counties will shrink.

The Future of Whiskey

Finally, a note from a reader yesterday came asking if the separation from Strategic Investment meant we’d soon start charging for Whiskey & Gunpowder and then wondered if it would be worth paying for. My answer to him was this:

W&G will stay free. By design, W&G is meant to be a geopolitical e-letter, not so much about investment markets, but more, as you pointed out, a way of discussing big issues that matter to individual liberty. In a paid newsletter, there’s a rightful expectation of some value-added service to be delivered (like stock picking).

In a free e-letter we hope to add value, but of course it’s harder to measure when you’re not recommending stocks but ideas. So we don’t charge for it. We simply hope you enjoy it. And we hope, over time, to sharpen our focus on ideas, and when we have them, solutions to the problems we talk about.

One of our ideas, for example, is that there is such a thing in nature (and in the minds of men) as spontaneous order. It’s intelligent design without the benefit of an intelligent designer. If we had a mission statement, it would be artificial. So instead, our goal has been to give good people with interesting ideas a chance to talk together and write about what matters in the world.

We don’t really know what direction that will take us, or what shape it will take. But we prefer to let things grow organically, listening to the feedback of our readers and letting the ideas and the people drive the development, rather than a roadmap.

That makes for barking your shins on tables in the dark sometimes, if you’ve taken a wrong turn or fixated on an issue that isn’t all that important. Fail quickly is our mottto. In this we’re pretty empirical. You can learn more from experience than from a textbook, although some textbooks and other books ARE the collected experience of some very intelligent people…and so I think we can learn from books too.

Best Regards,
Dan Denning
February 11, 2005






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