“Tying the Room Together”: DARPA’s Project Gandalf

In the 1998 Coen brothers cult film The Big Lebowski, southern California slacker Jeffrey Lebowski aka “The Dude,” bemoans the desecration of his living room rug by criminals out to collect a debt in a hilariously absurd case of mistaken identity. After the thugs urinate on his prized possession, The Dude is crestfallen because that rug “really tied the room together.”

Fast forward to 2008, only there’s no mistaking either the identities or what’s being “tied together” here. DARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) is seeking solicitations for “Project Gandalf,” according to an October 7 “Industry Day” announcement on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

In a bid to “tie the room together,” DARPA is developing a demonstration project that will provide “counterterrorist” special operators and spies, aka state terrorists, with

solutions to … radio frequency (RF) geolocation and emitter identification using specific emitter identification (SEI) for specific signals of interest. The ultimate goal of the Gandalf program is to enable a set of handheld devices to be utilized to perform RF geolocation and SEI on RF signals of interest to the Gandalf program. The specific goals and performance objectives associated with RF geolocation and SEI for the Gandalf system are classified. (“Gandalf Program, DARPA Industry Day Announcement,” Federal Business Opportunities, October 7, 2008)

That’s right, a hand-held cell phone tracking device that will enable security operatives to locate and take out opponents of the capitalist “new order” in global South or “hardened” heimat cities.

Sounds like a seamless way to “tie together” information culled by NSA trolls or the Justice Department’s Terrorist Identity Datamart Environment (TIDE), the “master list” from which all other federal agencies derive their own dubious watch lists.

The Gandalf Program is classified Secret/NOFORN, meaning only American firms whose personnel hold coveted U.S. Department of Defense “secret clearances or higher” need apply. The October 28, 2008 Industry Day will be held at the Rosslyn, Virginia headquarters of the Scitor Corporation. An appropriate venue if ever there were one.

Deriving its name from a Latin word meaning “to seek to know,” Scitor’s website has little in the way of useful information for the researcher, aside that is, from the usual banalities about “excellence” and “solving customer needs.”

However, a profile on Yahoo! Finance reveals that Scitor “hopes to aid you in your search for technological knowledge and harmony.” (!) There we also learn that the firm “offers a wide range of professional and technological services, including consulting work, risk management, software development and systems engineering.” Unsurprisingly, “Scitor works primarily for U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Defense.”

Founded in 1979, the company was acquired in 2007 by the private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners LLP. With $421.9 million in revenue in 2007, the company employs some 1,100 people with top secret and above security clearances. Their main competitors according to Yahoo’s profile are Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Services, Northrop Grumman Information Technology and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

But as investigative journalist Tim Shorrock revealed in his essential book Spies For Hire,

…Scitor, a CIA and defense contractor company…has become a $300 million company without creating a single ripple in the media. “It’s the biggest company you never heard of,” said a former NSA officer who knows the company well.

Scitor is a technology company that does extensive work for the U.S. Air Force in aerospace communications and satellite support services. The privately held company is also an important contractor for the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology… Within that directorate, two sources said, it is used primarily by the Office of Technical Services, the secretive unit that develops the gadgets, weapons and disguises used by spies. …

A Scitor contract with the General Services Administration posted on the GSA’s Web site lists the CIA among the company’s clients. It states that Scitor helps government agencies manage “major acquisitions and cradle-to-grave programs that are vital to national defense.” Those agencies include the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency, the NGA [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency], the CIA and the Pentagon. (Tim Shorrock, Spies For Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008, pp. 141, 142)

Clearly, DARPA’s cell phone tracking proposal falls well within the parameters of Scitor’s spooky brief.

While the “specific goals and performance objectives associated with RF geolocation and SEI for the Gandalf system are classified,” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist–or securocrat–to realize there’s real money to be made here.

Former Royal Navy officer Lew Page who unearthed the project for the U.K. online tech publication The Register, reports that “Project Gandalf” will supplement work “already done by surveillance aircrafts and/or drones.” The “new wrinkle” according to Page, “is being able to do it using handheld devices” at close quarters. Page writes,

So it would appear that a group of undercover operatives or special-forces troops dispersed near a target (perhaps a specific cell or satellite phone) might carry portable gadgets, presumably networked. The netted devices would be able to pick out the phone, radio or whatever they were after and track it. …

As far as the technology goes, the idea sounds feasible. Commercial pico/microcell gear, for instance–with all the capabilities needed to ID and locate cell phones–is already easily down to briefcase size. Satellite phones would be harder, of course. (Lew Page, “DARPA to Begin Mysterious ‘Project Gandalf’,” The Register, October 8, 2008)

As I wrote in “Niche Telecom Providers Assisting NSA Spy Operations,” enterprising capitalist grifters in the telecom industry are already “providing security agencies with real-time cell phone tracking capabilities.” What makes this research so insidious are the workarounds supplied–at a premium price–by under-the-radar companies to NSA or the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) not covered by any law.

Project Gandalf clearly travels along the same repressive continuum but with a twist. If the program pans out it will give security agents an “up close and personal” capacity, let’s just call it for the sake of argument, that real-world intel touch required to disrupt meetings or smash an organizing drive even as they’re taking place. Now that’s real progress!

Industry Day Goals at the upcoming October 28 meet and greet are threefold:

1) to familiarize participants with DARPA’s interest in RF geolocation and SEI technologies, 2) to identify potential offerors and promote understanding of the BAA proposal requirements, and 3) to promote discussion of synergistic capabilities among potential program participants. Information on the Gandalf solicitation will be available at: http://www.darpa.mil/ipto/solicit/solicit_open.asp following the publication of the BAA in FedBizOpps. Following the Industry Day, the web site will contain the unclassified Gandalf Frequently Asked Questions, unclassified presentations from the Industry Day, and information on how to obtain the classified briefings and Q&A.

As the European watchdog group Quintessenz has revealed, digital and telephonic privacy invasions represent a fundamental assault on “freedom of information, the right to personal privacy and data integrity, the right to communicate freely.”

With information on Thales “Autonomous facility for IP Monitoring,” aka IP Tr@pper, the Siemens Intelligence Platform, Force10 Networks “10 Gigabit Packet Filtering” presentation to the NSA “for high speed government surveillance,” to the Verint (formerly Comverse Infosys) “STAR-GATE interception system,” the Quintessenz project “ties the room together” on state and corporate assaults on our fundamental right to free speech and privacy.

As Antifascist Calling has previously reported (see: “America’s Cyborg Warriors,” July 23, 2008) such “technophilic” moves arise during a period when “restless natives”–on the contested, resource rich terrain of the global South and increasingly, within the Western “homeland” itself–are challenging the economic, political and social hegemony of “actually existing capitalism.” As Durham University geographer Stephen Graham wrote,

Here, attention should fall in particular on the ways in which biopolitical stipulations of the worth–or lack of worth–of human subjects are, quite literally, cast into the software code that operates increasingly automated and multi-scale surveillance, targeting and killing systems. Thus, the new technoscience of the urbanized RMA [Revolution in Military Affairs] concentrates on distinguishing ‘normal’ urban space-times and ecologies in the global north, so that the apparatus of an increasingly militarized police state can be used to discipline those deemed ‘abnormal’. (Stephen Graham, “Surveillance, urbanization, and the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’,” in D. Lyon, Theorizing Surveillance, Uffculme, Devon: Willan Publishing, 2006, p. 264)

And as we have seen in recent surveillance scandals in the U.S. and elsewhere, those deemed “abnormal” include: union organizers, antiwar activists, socialist parties, antiglobalization campaigners, environmentalists, animal rights activists, civil liberties and human rights organizations, the list goes on and on. Indeed, from the point of view of state security agencies and their outsourced corporate partners, potentially “abnormal” or at least politically “suspect” individuals encompass the vast majority of citizens.

Finally, as the West’s “terrorism industry” continues to grow at a rate directly proportional to capitalism’s economic decline, we can expect that enterprising corporate grifters will flood DARPA with proposals to make “Project Gandalf” a reality.

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.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Arch Stanton said on October 21st, 2008 at 11:57am #

    That’s a quite a grand Orwellian vision of the future; truly heartwarming. For a bit of a different take on these hideous nazi schemes see below.


  2. Bob said on October 21st, 2008 at 5:42pm #

    Let me see if I get this correct.

    Develop a hand held device that allows the good guys to track down the bad guys.
    From there the good guys can arrest or eliminate the bad guy.
    And this is bad?


  3. Tom Burghardt said on October 21st, 2008 at 7:16pm #

    Are these the same “good guys” who infiltrate and disrupt antiwar groups; racially profile “suspect” ethnicities; steal, loot and plunder entire economies; compile petabyte-size databases (one quadrillion bytes) on ordinary Americans; invade, bomb and destroy countries at will that have done us no harm; indefinitely detain and torture prisoners because the president said its “ok”?

    Are these the “good guys” you’re talking about here? The high-tech Mengeles who love their mochas at 165 degrees, can’t wait to get their hands on the latest Infinity or BMW coupe? Ski Vail religiously?

    No, Bob, what’s “amazing” is that there are people out there (just like you!) who can’t or won’t, see the direction things are going, proverbial frogs in the pot of water as the temperature’s slowly turned up, oh so gradually, imperceptibly really, until…

    Now that’s amazing!

  4. Stonefruit said on October 21st, 2008 at 8:59pm #

    I’ve been tracking the arrival of the technotronic police state in Amerikkka intently since 2002. The technology, the law, the nifty new “less lethal” weapons, robot guns, all of it. Everything Zbiggy said in “the Technotronic Era” seem to finally be in place and operational. Just the finishing touches now.

    What are all of these goodies for? Definitely not for keeping hard-workin’, god-fearin’ good Murkins safe from the Emmanuel bin Ladens of the world.

    Obviously the targets domestically are activists and their ilk.

    But now that it’s here, I’m of two minds about it. Could be that as long as beer, gas and basic cable remain somewhat affordable, most of the people will continue not giving a shit about anything other than their own stressed-out, overweight, overworked, consumerist zombie lives and they will either sit back and do nothing – or else cheer – as The Man picks off all of the activists with all of his new gadgetry.

    I’m sure they’ve already got their lists. The “legal” (sic) and quasi-legal infrastructure is in place. Homeland Security has their ENDGAME plan (charming title). All of the COG and false flag terror – ooops – I mean emergency response exercises, that May 2008 federal alphabet soup multi agency raid on the meat packing plant in Iowa, and using the JTTPs everywhere to federalize local police forces to harass vegans and other nefarious types have let them out the kinks. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team just arrived to provide the muscle with all of their less lethal toys in tow.

    Really, there are only maybe 50,000 of us floating around. How hard would it be? KBR has already built our rooms.

    Then there’s what Mos Def said awhile back. “The wanna think they got that all seeing eye in the sky. They can’t really do none of that. They just wishin'”

    Technologically, militarily, etcly, they can do that. They ain’t “just wishin’.” But it seems to me possible that now that the illuminati seem poised on the brink of realizing their ancient, millennia old dream of total pan-optic control, the very attempt to use it will instead manifest the absolutely insane amount of hubris, injustice and general venality require to even begin attempting to realize this evil dream and all of the karmic retribution due them will bring the entire edifice crashing down on their fucking heads.

    The ideas and aspirations of the “abnormal” “enemy combatant” activist types presently targeted by the pan-opticon of TPTB – those with ideas and aspirations of sanity, peace, social justice, sustainable futures and the like – may suddenly start to seem very attractive and sensible to the masses when the feds can’t keep cooking the books Enron-style, the Amerikkka economy collapses, Amerikkka’s $56 trillion debt (which includes social security) is defaulted upon, TPTB give us a third war of choice, and the lack of any natural resources to buy or steal anywhere drops the floor falls out from under the much vaunted “standard of living” Amerikkkan people (a standard of living which was never more than crumbs off the rich man’s banquet table anyway).

    The people may notice. They may get restless. Pitchforks and torches may be reached for.

    Or else I’ll see you in the camps. I hope we have cable at least.

    Always great stuff, Tom.

  5. Bob said on October 22nd, 2008 at 2:27pm #

    Your very articulate but you don’t seem to think things through.

    So all these evil people who conspire against us are who?

    Don’t tell me let me guess. I’ll bet they’re the Neocons (otherwise known as Jews)! They are the sinister black hand controlling world events. And they constantly spy upon unsuspecting civilians such as us, collect data and control our lives.

    Oh and lastly,since you know all about their nefarious schemes. Why haven’t you been snatched up and dealt with? Or did the aliens already release you?

    I’m sorry but I find this quite amusing.

    PS. I have never skied at Vail, but I’ve been told it is great. I’d like to try it someday.

  6. Drew said on October 22nd, 2008 at 2:39pm #

    Surprising hearing NWO paranoia spewing out of the leftwing, it usually comes from the cooky Christian right. Of course there is a key difference: the right claims big government (and satan) is behind the coming police state. The left claims private corporations and neocons are behind the coming police state. So basically its left or right on the fringe.

    Anyway, if this fabled police state comes I EMBRACE it. Not only will the police state clean up the streets by executing parasites from our population, but they will likely be eco-friendly and force everyone to go green. Maybe they will outlaw freedom of speech so that idiots won’t be able to spew worthless knowledge and corporations won’t be able to sell us useless and harmful products. Even better, they should require everyone to exercise, outlaw fast food, and wear business suits. No more ugly people left in America! I mean really, is fascism the nightmare everyone says it is? Of course not. Mussolini made the trains run on time.

  7. Timber said on October 22nd, 2008 at 3:42pm #


    Like most phony “conservatives,” you claim to hate “big government” only when it cares for the sick or the poor; when it props up the stock market, kills brown people, or uses force against the kind of movements that made America a decent place in spite of fascists, bigots, warmongers, and their attendant gold-diggers, you are big government’s advocate. And it’s not just that right-wingers are hypocrites, although they are; they’re assholes–people who feel no shame about choosing their own vanity and luxury and bigotry over common human decency.

    You mock the idea of ideas being made behind closed doors, or of any kind of “conspiracy,” but I have no doubt that you believe in defending industrial trade secrets (with state violence), or protecting the military and intelligence communities from any kind of scrutiny (with state violence) for fear that it might reveal them for the cheap goons, thugs, and corporate whores they are. What the f*ck do you think “top secret” or “classified” mean? Do you really think it’s all to keep some foreign boogeyman from finding out what’s going on?

  8. Bob said on October 22nd, 2008 at 5:56pm #


    I understand what top secret means, since I had one of those clearances a few years back.

    I note: You appear to be even denser than the average DV reader, which is quite an accomplishment, I’m sure your mother is proud.

    I don’t recall writing anything about hate, but I guess you know more about what I wrote than I do. And since I’m at it you forgot to call me homophobic. Try and get it right next time!

    Besides, no one has yet identified the conspirators by name, and I’m very anxious to know.

    Good evening, Bob

  9. AJ Nasreddin said on October 23rd, 2008 at 8:59am #

    Bob, no one needs to name names. All you have to do is see the infrastructure being put in place, the technologies prepared, and the general actions of the government – than ask: “What the hell is all this for?” It’s being built in America and not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Darfur – so they aint going to use it over there. If you include a study of history in your examination, then you’d have to conclude that shite is going to hit sooner or later.

    Drew, you have a very naïve understanding of what a police state is. It’s almost always about keeping the people in power rich and happy while the rest live in their excrement. America has been anti-eco, pro-fast food, and pro-corp. You actually think a police state is just going to do a 180?

    By the way Bob – is that your real name? Are you one of those involved in psych-ops? If you never even made it to Vail, you must have low security clearance – the real skiing is at Sun Valley.

  10. Bob said on October 25th, 2008 at 5:42am #

    No, my real name is Robert.

    Vail, Sun Valley,Teluride (spelling?), Big Sky, Mount Hood, I could go on, the point being; There is a lot of great skiing available to those who desire it.

    Since the left seems poised to assume power in the US. Why would the right set up a police state for them? Seems rather silly to me, unless they’re all just pawns in the “World Wide Jewish Conspiracy”!!!!

    And finally no I’m not one of those “psych-ops” guys, I do know a retire one though.


  11. AJ Nasreddin said on October 25th, 2008 at 11:46am #

    Bob, the skiing for me will always be at Sun Valley.

    As far as conspiracies go, the good ones are always too mysterious until they come out of the closet. Right and Left politics in America are almost the same – and from an outside perspective, many say most of American politics seems to be to the right of center. Some say Obama looks pretty rightwing. Anyway, it seems most of the people in politics are working together – despite any supposed party loyalties.

    Maybe the shadowy conspirators are the corporations, eh? International Corporations – New World Order? It’d make business sense anyway.

  12. Paul said on October 26th, 2008 at 4:00am #

    You are all miss informed . Animals have the right to be eaten, and political correctness has cut off the average white mans balls. If you can’t put your hand over your heart when they sing the national anthem get out of our country scumbag! Peta is a bunch of terrorist. I am a hunter, and they want to tell me it is wrong. They suck and can pound sand. Well do I have something to tell them I am an animal, and plant psyic plants feel pain when you eat them alive salt burns their eyes, and boiling them allive is cruel. Stop tourturing plants what did they ever do to you! They don’t like it! I am like dr.dolittle animals know that their purpose is for food and clothing. They are fine with their destiny. It is a companies job is to make money, and turn the economy. Get in their way and get you johnson kicked in the dirt. It has been that way for a very long time several hundred years. The nwo is a kgb myth used to demoralize American citizens. This is what they are fighting secret agents from foreign governments and jerk groups like peta. Most of the stuff on you tube is created by soviet, hesbala, chineese, or other foreign anti american sources. Get a grip on reality. Wake up and smell the coffee. Do something good for your country. Go fishing fish love being sufocated to death. They love the rush. I have been shot, and stabbed it dosent hurt that bad unless you’re a pussy. America is so civilized there are no animals in the inner cities, or in the boondox. Yeah it really sucks, but it really is not that bad. The name of the game for individuals, corporations, and governments is cover your tush that is all they are trying to do.

  13. Paul said on October 26th, 2008 at 4:16am #

    Try living in a wild area without society, and you’ll find out what you’re made of. You’ll learn self reliance intestinal fortitude, and how important it is to cover you but. So if you think America is so horrible leave. Go live in the Artic. No one cares what you do there.Even the eskimos have given into greed their in bed with Deberrs.

  14. AJ Nasreddin said on October 26th, 2008 at 7:49am #

    Paul, 2 sound-bites for you:

    It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.
    – Thomas Paine

    If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
    – Thomas Jefferson