Saturday, October 4, 2008

Paradigm shift on asymmetrical warfare?

Lots of buzz and chatter about a potential break through in Iraq. Some folks, Bob Woodward [one of the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal back in the '70s] are saying that the whole "surge" being responsible for the drop in violence there is crap, and in reality it's a new system that involves remote sensors, drones and special ops.

Theories abound. Clearly, if this is true it's some kind of remote sensing technology, coupled with tracking and essentially a real-time database available to decision makers in-theatre. One thing I've heard over and over is that it can "see through walls," tracking the bad guys inside buildings and vehicles as well as out in the open. Think of it this way: Now, when they get a heat signature of you, it reads the unique properties of your individual heat signature, perhaps coupled with some other data such as physical characteristics or the unique low-power signals being given off by your cell phone. Now you're in the database. If your signature turns up at a bombing, or in a structure or vehicle with other identified nogoodnicks, suddenly you're tagged. Now anytime you show up they set you as a threat level, and at some point they decide that this might be a good time to take you out, either from the air or pick you up and take you in. And it should be mentioned that everyone you've been hanging out with is now tagged too, and their threat levels are being analyzed as well.

So, let's apply the Outside Context lens here. Ok, this is great for the US in Iraq. Holy crap, we just might come out of this thing with a win, or at least a draw, but not least if we do withdraw, we can keep they system up and running remotely, with drones and aircraft and spec-ops, keeping the National Guard folks back home where they belong. Huge boon to American military resources.

But, bigger than this is the fact that the principle of asymmetrical warfare may have suddenly gone away. How big is that? Well, consider that it's been around since Roman times, if not before: the idea that you could strike at the occupying force then blend back into the crowd where it would be either impractical or seem excessive to strike back effectively. This technique was a mainstay of the 20th century- the American experience in Vietnam, Palestine, the Troubles in Ireland, Armenia, Afghanistan, Much of Latin America and it is the bedrock upon which Al Quaeda's tactics are grounded in. In every case the very nature of this type of warfare is dependent on the fact that the members of cells can be communicated with and yet not identified by the occupying force.

If you suddenly can fly a drone, piloted from an airbase in Nevada, over a remote section of the world and see if anyone from your database is there without them knowing about it, and especially if you can get cell phone ID's at that moment and intercept those communications, the wheels come off terrorism as we know it. Unbelievable, simply unbelievable.

But don't start getting all excited yet- because the potential to misuse this technology is also huge. Sure, it would be great if they could have flown this kind of system over Logan and Newark Airport's before 9/11, but how do I feel about every move made here in the US being monitored? Or even randomly monitored? And once we've screened for terrorists, why not for sexual predators? Why not for other kinds of criminals? Why not for people who might want to buy a burrito, so we can send them a text message that there is a 2 for 1 deal at the Mexi Palace around the corner? Slippery slope? Yes, it is a slippery slope, and it think that is a harbinger of things to come. In the end we will trade our privacy for security.

No comments: