DARPA Engineering New “Home Invasion” Technologies

Just when you thought the Pentagon’s Dr. Strangeloves couldn’t design anything more devilish than they have already, new plans on the drawing board may help make the science of repression an ever-more lucrative market for capitalist grifters in the defense and security industries.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon geek-squad that designs insidious ways to kill people, has announced a new project, Harnessing Infrastructure for Building Reconnaissance (HIBR).

The Broad Agency Announcement (BAA09-08) published October 10, is seeking industry proposals for a suite of high-tech tools that will provide “warfighters” and “peacekeepers” with the uncanny ability to peer inside your apartment building, in what the agency claims would be an unprecedented opportunity to map rooms, stairwells and people in real-time–the better to “pacify” them.

When the project is completed, DARPA hopes it will have contrived a technology that can electronically bore into a 10-story building with a dual-level basement. According to DARPAcrats HIBR will develop,

…broad and diverse technologies necessary for external sensing deep inside buildings with the objective of providing a suite of sensing technologies for situational awareness both above- and below-ground suitable across a broad range of building environments. The component technologies must support all external ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] concepts of operations ranging from pre-mission planning through detailed assessment of targeted structures, and live updates during mission execution. (DARPA, Strategic Technology Office, “Harnessing Infrastructure for Building Technology,” BAA09-08, October 10, 2008)

Indeed, the Strategic Technology Office (STO) will fully “investigate individual technological approaches that leverage building infrastructure to opportunistically collect information for interior awareness. DARPA believes that opportunistic sensing may be exploited to infer urban interior building awareness using exterior observations.”

Readers of Antifascist Calling are well acquainted with the Pentagon’s unbridled lust for “situational awareness.” A DoD buzzword linked to the Rumsfeldian Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA, also referred to as “network-centric warfare”), “situational awareness” is a theoretical warfighting construct that proposes ubiquitous military control over the “battlespace.” This will be achieved by the deployment of “stealth” technologies, “precision” targeting via microscale sensor arrays and satellite geopositioning of military assets. RMA presupposes that America’s technological “edge” will translate into “full-spectrum dominance” over adversaries on land, air, sea and in space, thus assuring U.S. imperialist domination well into the 21st century.

Despite the cruel reality that automatic garage door openers, throw-away cell phones and decades’ old ordnance reduced the “up-armored” American military machine to twisted hulks of molten metal in Iraq and Afghanistan, the high-tech “revolution” will continue, indeed intensify!

Since the 1980s, forward-looking military theoreticians have cautioned that all the high-tech wizardry in the world will not defeat determined insurgent forces. This realization led to a rethinking of Army doctrine called Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) linked to “asymmetric” (guerrilla) warfare planning against well-entrenched partisans, particularly in cities.

They pointed to the examples of Algeria, Vietnam and El Salvador, particularly when guerrilla forces (FLN, NLF and FMLN) despite years of brutal counterguerrilla operations against their civilian infrastructures, launched bold urban offensives. While guerrilla forces in cities may have been defeated militarily, the political dynamics created by ubiquitous “facts on the ground” rebounded unfavorably on the U.S. and their allies.

Indeed, an American colonel reportedly said to Vietnam People’s Army commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, the brilliant tactician who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu (1954) and fought the Americans to a stalemate during the Tet Offensive (1968): “You know, you never beat us in a battle.” Giap replied, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

As the battleground shifted from opposing NATO and Warsaw Pact armies facing off against one another to global South, and perhaps in the near future, heimat cities, urban space was envisaged as a labyrinthian warren hiding “nests” of insurgents and other “enemies,” say the vast majority of citizens who don’t want to be “liberated” by imperialism.

A perusal of Joint Publication 3-06, Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations (JUO 3-06), published in September 2002 under the auspices of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provides an overview of Pentagon thinking as it relates to urban warfare planning. As the authors of JUO 3-06 aver,

Cities reduce the advantages of the technologically superior force. The physical terrain of cities tends to reduce line of sight (LOS) and the ability to observe fires, inhibits command, control, and communications capability, makes aviation operations more difficult, and decreases the effectiveness of naval surface fire support and indirect fire support. It also degrades logistics, and often reduces ground operations to the level of small unit combat. In addition, the constraints imposed by a need to minimize civilian casualties and preserve infrastructure further reduce technological advantage. (JUO 3-06, I-7, 8)

Despite the observations of Pentagon planners themselves, Rumsfeld’s “transformational” hubris with its over-reliance on “network-centric” means of waging counterinsurgent warfare came at a very steep price, particularly as the cost of invading and occupying resource-rich global South cities led inevitably to high U.S. casualty rates as local insurgencies successfully fought back. As we have seen, the political fallout on the home front in the wake of the disastrous Iraq occupation, increased geometrically as America’s high-tech military machine was countered by throw away items and low-tech ordnance applied in ingenious ways.

As Durham University geographer Stephen Graham observed,

The first key effort to redirect the RMA to the purported challenges of US forces attempting to dominate and control global south cities involve programmes designed to saturate such cities with myriads of networked surveillance systems. The dream of US military theorists is that this can be done to such an extent that any identified target can be automatically identified at any time and so exposed to high-technology tracking and killing powers of ‘network-centric’ weapons. Such visions imagine pervasive and interlinked arrays of ‘loitering’ and ‘embedded’ sensors as overcoming all the limits and interruptions that megacity environments place in the way of successfully implementing network centric warfare. (Stephen Graham, “From Space to Street Corners: Global South Cities and US Military Technophilia,” unpublished paper, 2007, p. 18)

Hence, outfits such as DARPA single-mindedly pursue technological workarounds to the innumerable political conundrums posed by occupation and resistance. But far from leading to a diminution of resistance, increasing levels of repression and violence at the heart of systems such as HIBR will inevitably have a boomerang effect. Thus HIBR, if technologically feasible, will be incorporated with other projects actively pursued by STO such as VisiBuilding. As I wrote in July,

VisiBuilding will address “a pressing need in urban warfare: seeing inside buildings.” This Orwellian project proposes to 1) determine building layouts; 2) find anomalous quantities of materials and 3) locate people within the building. VisiBuilding “will develop knowledge-deriving architectures for sensing people and objects in buildings” in order to “find which buildings should be searched, through detailed assessment of targeted structures for building layouts and behavioral analysis, live updates of building occupancy to support building raids, and finally post-mission analysis to find hidden objects or people.” (“America’s Cyborg Warriors,” Antifascist Calling, July 23, 2008)

DARPAcrats hope that once overhead drones, prepositioned sensors and data derived by satellites have zeroed-in on “which buildings should be searched,” HIBR will provide “peacekeepers” kitted out with additional suites of sensors, real-time architectural snapshots of every room, wall, stairwell and basement in the “target” building, as well as “the structural, electrical, plumbing, and ventilation systems.”

Accordingly, DARPA theorizes that “such information may be acquired through access to the exterior of buildings which may include direct contact with an exterior umbilical, but does not require contact or deployments within the building,” and that “multiple approaches may be required to provide complete building interior awareness.”

In other words, “approaches to acquiring such information may require active as well as passive sensing.” Meaning that “mission execution” may require previous intelligence gathering such as that supplied by infiltrators, provocateurs and other “mission friendly” assets bought-off by U.S. “liberators.” But as Dr. Steve Wright, an Information Technology professor at Leeds Metropolitan University wrote,

Peace enforcement implies coercion–including the kind of operations currently being undertaken in Iraq–while pacification operations imply a much more violent approach of wiping out dissent at any cost. These latter operations … may be regarded as completely illegitimate by the targeted population. In such a context, as a state loses legitimacy, it also loses authority and must deploy increasing levels of force in its enforcement activities, just to maintain the status quo.

During pacification operations, activities may go beyond the limits of the law and spawn a catalogue of human rights abuses including a crackdown on all forms of dissent, total surveillance and tracking of human rights defenders, ‘disappearances’, imprisonment without trial and a range of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatments of the civilian population, including torture and extra-judicial execution. (Dr. Steven Wright, “Violent Peacekeeping: The Rise and Rise of Repressive Techniques and Technologies,” Praxis Centre, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, 28 January 2005, pp. 1-2)

Needless to say, Wright has described the entire panoply of horrors unleashed by the United States across the planetary “battlespace” of imperialism’s “war on terror.” And as I have documented in numerous articles, the coercive and repressive technologies of surveillance and control deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq have most certainly migrated from the “network-centric” fantasies of Pentagon repressors and come home with a vengeance.

From warrantless wiretapping, data mining and satellite surveillance, to the “watch listing” of dissidents, others deemed “suspect” by the panoptic police state, to the “preemptive” targeting of activists and journalists during the recent Denver and St. Paul political conventions of the major capitalist parties, “keeping the lid on” is a major preoccupation of our political masters.

But as socialist historian Mike Davis sagely reminds us in Planet of Slums: “If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side.”

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.