Δευτέρα, 13 Ιουλίου 2009

RFID “Death Chips.”


First it was cattle. Then it was pets. Then Mexicans. Now the tribal areas of Pakistan where the CIA is equipping Pakistani tribesmen with secret transmitters to call in airstrikes targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants. A drone, guided by the signal from the chip, destroys the building with a salvo of missiles scattering body parts everywhere. Will Americans and the rest of the "free world" be next? Long perceived as a crazy conspiracy theory, radio-frequency identification chips (RFID) have surreptitiously penetrated every aspect of society and may soon literally get under our skin for full-spectrum control. Back to Orwell ... "The future is now" as Burghardt admonishes! What Pentagon theorists describe as a “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) leverages information technology to facilitate (so they allege) command decision-making processes and mission effectiveness, i.e. the waging of aggressive wars of conquest. It is assumed that U.S. technological preeminence, referred to euphemistically by Airforce Magazine as “compressing the kill chain,” will assure American military hegemony well into the 21st century. Indeed a 2001 study, [1], brought together analysts from a host of Pentagon agencies as well as defense contractors Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton and the MITRE Corporation and consultants from ThoughtLink, Toffler Associates and the RAND Corporation who proposed to do just. As a result of this and other Pentagon-sponsored research, military operations from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond aim for “defined effects” through “kinetic” and “non-kinetic” means: leadership decapitation through preemptive strikes combined with psychological operations designed to pacify (terrorize) insurgent populations. This deadly combination of high- and low tech tactics is the dark heart of the Pentagon’s Unconventional Warfare doctrine. In this respect, “network-centric warfare” advocates believe U.S. forces can now dominate entire societies through ubiquitous surveillance, an always-on “situational awareness” maintained by cutting edge sensor arrays as well as by devastating aerial attacks by armed drones, warplanes and Special Forces robosoldiers. Meanwhile on the home front, urbanized RMA in the form of ubiquitous CCTV systems deployed on city streets, driftnet electronic surveillance of private communications and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in commodities are all aspects of a control system within securitized societies such as ours. As Antifascist Calling has written on more than one occasion, contemporary U.S. military operations are conceived as a branch of capitalist management theory, one that shares more than a passing resemblance to the organization of corporate entities such as Wal-Mart.
Similar to RMA, commodity flows are mediated by an ubiquitous surveillance of products–and consumers–electronically. Indeed, Pentagon theorists conceive of “postmodern” warfare as just another manageable network enterprise.
The RFID (Counter) Revolution
Radio-frequency identification tags are small computer chips connected to miniature antennae that can be fixed to or implanted within physical objects, including human beings. The chip itself contains an Electronic Product Code that can be read each time a reader emits a radio signal. The chips are subdivided into two distinct categories, passive or active. A passive tag doesn’t contain a battery and its read range is variable, from less than an inch to twenty or thirty feet. An active tag on the other hand, is self-powered and has a much longer range. The data from an active tag can be sent directly to a computer system involved in inventory control–or weapons targeting.
It is hardly surprising then, that the Pentagon and the CIA have spent “hundreds of millions of dollars researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of ‘Tagging tracking and locating’ (TTL) gear,” Wired
reports. Long regarded as an urban myth, the military’s deployment of juiced-up RFID technology along the AfPak border in the form of “tiny homing beacons to guide their drone strikes in Pakistan,” has apparently moved out of the laboratory. “Most of these technologies are highly classified” Wired reveals, "But there’s enough information in the open literature to get a sense of what the government is pursuing: laser-based reflectors, super-strength RFID tags, and homing beacons so tiny, they can be woven into fabric or into paper. Some of the gadgets are already commercially available; if you’re carrying around a phone or some other mobile gadget, you can be tracked–either through the GPS chip embedded in the gizmo, or by triangulating the cell signal. Defense contractor EWA Government Systems, Inc. makes a radio frequency-based “Bigfoot Remote Tagging System” that’s the size of a couple of AA batteries. But the government has been working to make these terrorist tracking tags even smaller. (David Hambling and Noah Shachtman, “Inside the Military’s Secret Terror-Tagging Tech,” Wired, June 3, 2009)
Electronic Warfare Associates, Inc. (
EWA) is a little-known Herndon, Virginia-based niche company comprised of nine separate operating entities “each with varying areas of expertise,” according to the firm’s website. Small by industry standards, EWA has annual revenue of some $20 million, Business First reports. According to Washington Technology, the firm provides “information technology, threat analysis, and test and evaluation applications” for the Department of Defense. The majority of the company’s products are designed for signals intelligence and surveillance operations, including the interception of wireless communications. According to EWA, its Bigfoot Remote Tagging System is “ideal” for “high-value target” missions and intelligence operations. EWA however, isn’t the only player in this deadly game. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s geek-squad, has been developing “small, environmentally robust, retro reflector-based tags that can be read by both handheld and airborne sensors at significant ranges,” according to a presentation produced by the agency’s Strategic Technology Office (STO). Known as “DOTS,” Dynamic Optical Tags, DARPA claims that the system is comprised of a series of “small active retroreflecting optical tags for 2-way data exchange.” The tags are small, 25×25x25 mm with a range of some 10 km and a two month shelf-life; far greater than even the most sophisticated RFID tags commercially available today. Sold as a system possessing a “low probability of detection,” the devices can be covertly planted around alleged terrorist safehouses–or the home of a political rival or innocent citizen–which can then be targeted at will by Predator or Reaper drones. The Guardian revealed May 31 that over the last 18 months more than 50 CIA drone attacks have been launched against “high-value targets.” The Pentagon claims to have killed nine of al-Qaeda’s top twenty officials in north and south Waziristan. “That success” The Guardian avers, “is reportedly in part thanks to the mysterious electronic devices, dubbed ‘chips’ or ‘pathrai’ (the Pashto word for a metal device), which have become a source of fear, intrigue and fascination.” According to multiple reports by Western and South Asian journalists, CIA paramilitary officers or Special Operations commandos pay tribesmen to plant the devices adjacent to farmhouses sheltering alleged terrorists. “Hours or days later” The Guardian narrates, “a drone, guided by the signal from the chip, destroys the building with a salvo of missiles. ‘There are body parts everywhere,’ said Wazir, who witnessed the aftermath of a strike.”
"It is a high-tech assassination operation for one of the world’s most remote areas.
The pilotless aircraft, Predators or more sophisticated Reapers, take off from a base in Baluchistan province. But they are guided by a joystick-wielding operator half a world away, at a US air force base 35 miles north of Las Vegas. (Declan Walsh, "Mysterious ‘chip’ is CIA’s latest weapon against al-Qaida targets hiding in Pakistan’s tribal belt,” The Guardian, May 31, 2009) But while American operators may get their kicks unloading a salvo of deadly missiles on unsuspecting villagers thousands of miles away, what happens when CIA “cut-outs” get it wrong? According to investigative journalist Amir Mir, writing in the Lahore-based newspaper
The News, “of the sixty cross-border Predator strikes…between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US Predator strikes thus comes to not more than six percent.” So much for “precision bombing.” But as CIA Director Leon Panetta recently told Congress, continued drone attacks are “the only game in town.” A “game” likely to reap tens of millions of dollars for enterprising corporate grifters. According to Wired, Sandia National Laboratories are developing “Radar Responsive” tags that are “a long-range version of the ubiquitous stick-on RFID tags used to mark items in shops.”
A Sandia “Fact Sheet” informs us that “Radar-tag applications include battlefield situational awareness, unattended ground sensors data relay, vehicle tracking, search and recovery, precision targeting, special operations, and drug interdiction.” Slap a tag on the car or embed one of the devilish devices in the jacket of a political dissident and bingo! instant “situational awareness” for Pentagon targeting specialists. As Sandia securocrats aver, Radar Responsive tags can light up and locate themselves from twelve miles away thus providing “precise geolocation of the responding tag independent of GPS.” But “what happens in Vegas” certainly won’t stay there as inevitably, these technologies silently migrate into the heimat.
Homeland Security: Feeding the RFID Beast
One (among many) firms marketing a spin-off of Sandia’s Radar Responsive tags is the Washington, D.C.-based
Gentag. With offices in The Netherlands, Brazil and (where else!) Sichuan, China, the world capital of state-managed surveillance technologies used to crush political dissent, Gentag’s are a civilian variant first developed for the Pentagon. According to Gentag, “the civilian version (which still needs to be commercialized) is a lower power technology suitable for commercial civilian applications, including use in cell phones and wide area tracking.” Conveniently, “Mobile reader infrastructure can be set up anywhere (including aircraft) or can be fixed and overlaid with existing infrastructure (e.g. cell phone towers).” One member of the “Gentag Team” is Dr. Rita Colwell, the firm’s Chief Science Advisor. Headquartered at the University of Maryland, College Park and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, according to a blurb on Gentag’s website “Colwell will lead development of detection technologies that can be combined with cell phones for Homeland Security applications.” Another firm specializing in the development and marketing of RFID surveillance technologies is Inkode. The Vienna, Virginia-based company specializes in the development of low power devices “for integration into all types of products.” According to a 2003 article in the RFID Journal, the firm has developed a method for “embedding very tiny metal fibers in paper, plastic and other materials that radio frequency waves can penetrate. The fibers reflect radio waves back to the reader, forming what Inkode calls a ‘resonant signature.’ These can be converted into a unique serial number.” Indeed, the fibers can be embedded in “paper, airline baggage tags, book bindings, clothing and other fabrics, and plastic sheet,” Wired reported. “When illuminated with radar, the backscattered fields interact to create a unique interference pattern that enables one tagged object to be identified and differentiated from other tagged objects,” the company says. “For nonmilitary applications, the reader is less than 1 meter from the tag. For military applications, the reader and tag could theoretically be separated by a kilometer or more.” The perfect accoutrement for a drone hovering thousands of feet above a target. More recently, the RFID Journal reports that Queralt, a Wallingford, Connecticut-based start-up, received a Department of Homeland Security grant to design “an intelligent system that learns from data collected via RFID and sensors.” Tellingly, the system under development builds on the firm’s “existing RFID technology, as well as an integrated behavioral learning engine that enables the system to, in effect, learn an individual’s or asset’s habits over time. The DHS grant was awarded based on the system’s ability to track and monitor individuals and assets for security purposes,” the Journal reveals. And with a booming Homeland Security-Industrial-Complex as an adjunct to the defense industry’s monetary black hole, its no surprise that Michael Queralt, the firm’s cofounder and managing director told the publication, “The reason this development is interesting to us is it is very close to our heart in the way we are going with the business. We are developing a system that converges physical and logical, electronic security.” "The core of Queralt’s system is the behavioral engine that includes a database, a rules engine and various algorithms. Information acquired by reading a tag on an asset or an individual, as well as those of other objects or individuals with which that asset or person may come into contact, and information from sensors (such as temperature) situated in the area being monitored, are fed into the engine. The engine then logs and processes the data to create baselines, or behavioral patterns. As baselines are created, rules can be programmed into the engine; if a tag read or sensor metric comes in that contradicts the baseline and/or rules, an alert can be issued. Development of the behavioral engine is approximately 85 percent done, Queralt reports, and a prototype should be ready in a few months. (Beth Bacheldor, Queralt Developing Behavior-Monitoring RFID Software,” RFID Journal, April 23, 2009). Creating a “behavior fingerprint,” Queralt says the technology will have a beneficial application in monitoring the elderly at home to ensure their safety. Homes are laced with humidity, temperature and motion-sensing tags that can for example, “sense when a medicine cabinet has been opened, or if a microwave oven has been operated.” In other words, the Orwellian “behavioral engine” can learn what a person is doing on a regular basis. But given the interest–and a $100,000 DHS grant, chump change by current Washington standards to be sure–corporate and intelligence agency clients have something far different in mind than monitoring the sick and the elderly! Indeed, the RFID Journal reports that “a company could use the system, for instance, to monitor the behavior of employees to ensure no security rules are breached.” Want to surveil workers for any tell-tale signs of “antisocial behavior” such as union organizing? Then Queralt may have just the right tool for you! “The workers could be issued RFID-enabled ID badges that are read as they arrive at and leave work, enter and exit various departments, and log onto and off of different computer systems,” the RFID Journal informs us. “Over time, the system will establish a pattern that reflects the employee’s typical workday.” And if a worker “enters the office much earlier than normal on a particular occasion,” or “goes into a department in which he or she does not work,” perhaps to “coerce” others into joining “communist” unions opposed let’s say, to widespread surveillance, the ubiquitous and creepy spy system “could send an alert.” Queralt is currently designing an application programming interface to “logical security and identity-management systems” from Microsoft and Oracle that will enable corporations to “tie the RFID-enabled behavioral system to their security applications.”
The Future Is Now!
This brief survey of the national security state’s deployment of a literally murderous, and privacy-killing, surveillance technology is not a grim, dystopian American future but a quintessentially American present. The technological fetishism of Pentagon war planners and their corporate enablers masks the deadly realities for humanity posed by the dominant world disorder that has reached the end of the line as capitalism’s long death-spiral threatens to drag us all into the abyss.The dehumanizing rhetoric of RMA with its endless array of acronyms and “warfighting tools” that reduce waging aggressive imperialist wars of conquest to the “geek speak” of a video game, must be unmasked for what it actually represents: state killing on a massive scale.Perhaps then, the victims of America’s “war on terror,” at home as well as abroad, will cease to be “targets” to be annihilated by automated weapons systems or ground down by panoptic surveillance networks fueled by the deranged fantasies of militarists and the corporations for whom product development is just another deadly (and very profitable) blood sport.
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The goal is to put weapons on time sensitive targets in “single-digit” minutes.
The Air Force wants to be able to strike mobile and emerging targets in fewer than 10 minutes so that such targets will have no sanctuary from US airpower.Cutting the time needed to strike such targets, known as time critical or time sensitive targets, has been one of Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper’s top priorities. It factored into the decisions to arm Predator unmanned aerial vehicles with Army Hellfire missiles and to establish a high-level warfighting integration office at the Pentagon. Three years ago, while still commander of Air Combat Command, Jumper raised the bar for destruction of emerging targets when he said, “I would challenge us to do it in single-digit minutes.” The need to act quickly is proven and may be growing. In the Persian Gulf War, Air Force and Navy pilots were frustrated in attempts to destroy mobile Scud launchers before the vehicles fired their missiles. US aircraft had an extremely small window of opportunity to destroy the missiles on the ground, and allied aircraft were unable to take advantage of that limited opening. The time it took to locate the launchers simply exceeded the time it took for the Iraqis to “shoot and scoot.” This failure stood in stark contrast to the success US aircraft had in destroying fixed targets with new precision weapons.In the years since, the Air Force’s arsenal of laser- and satellite-guided weapons has expanded, making fixed targets highly vulnerable. Consequently, adversaries have taken a page from Saddam Hussein’s Gulf War playbook and attempted to conceal targets or keep them on the move, under the assumption that anything in the open is vulnerable. When not in action, Serb tanks hid under trees during Operation Allied Force in Serbia, and al Qaeda and Taliban forces hid in caves during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Because enemies have learned to limit the amount of time they and their weapons are in sight and thus vulnerable, these mobile targets require a different approach. The Air Force must compress its six-stage target cycle of Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, and Assess, also known as F2T2EA, or, more simply, the “kill chain.” The service has been working to field systems and techniques that yield a vast improvement in effectiveness.
Time can be cut from each of the six stages in the kill chain, as well as from the “seams” between stages.
Gains in Precision Engagement
Through recent operations, USAF has gained experience in this area. Officials say there have been many successful attacks on time sensitive targets during Operations Northern and Southern Watch over Iraq, Allied Force over Serbia and Kosovo, and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Though attacking such targets is not easy, those who claim it’s impossible “would be pretty shortsighted,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf, USAF director of operational capability requirements.He acknowledged that emerging targets are “a challenge at night—and ... even more of a challenge when there is significant weather between you and the target.” However, the proliferation of satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and other all-weather precision munitions means such targets are no longer vulnerable only in daylight. Precision weapons are much more common today than they were in 1991, allowing a greater number of aircraft to hit targets that require exact placement. JDAM, the Air Force’s current weapon of choice, did not exist during the Gulf War and could be used only with the B-2 stealth bomber during Operation Allied Force in 1999. Today, JDAMs are available to a wider range of combat aircraft and have been shown in experiments to be capable of destroying targets on the move.Officials report that USAF needs to improve JDAMs and other coordinate-seeking weapons that use Global Positioning System satellites for guidance. Because GPS–guided weapons need precise aim points for accuracy, the processing times can be too long for the bombs to be of use against fleeting targets. Can GPS–aided weapons hit time critical targets in fewer than 10 minutes? “Absolutely,” Leaf said. “What’s key to that is eliminating time that is administrative in nature.”
Machine to MachineLeaf noted, “All that administrative data that we can [transmit from] machine to machine leaves the human in the loop free to do much more important things that the machines can’t do—like not get shot.” He called a high-quality data link “an exquisite efficiency.” It is a central feature in compression of the kill chain. USAF has had a long-term plan to equip all its combat aircraft with a secure data link system that provides command and control information via a data communications network. Officials say it’s expensive to install and integrate the systems, but it will produce dramatic operational benefits:
Increased target processing speed.
Improved accuracy.
Greater situational awareness.
Reduced voice communications.
Even the rudimentary data link currently aboard Block 40 F-16s at Aviano AB, Italy, shows the marked advantages that such systems can offer, said Leaf, who commanded the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano during Allied Force.Shortly after Allied Force, Leaf participated in two training flights—one with RAF Harriers and the other with F-16s bearing an early data link system—that highlight the difference. The RAF pilots were qualified, combat-experienced pilots in a capable weapons system, explained Leaf. However, he said, the training scenario, which called for putting bombs on an emerging target, was a “laborious process.”Directing the pilots to the target required step-by-step communication. Leaf said the directions went like this: “Do you see this bridge or this building? Now move so many meters south.” It took the RAF pilots about 10 minutes just to acquire the target. The F-16 training flight featured a similar scenario, but it had a very different result. Leaf said the F-16s had a rudimentary data link that provided the needed basics to engage the target, including heading and distance, elevation, description, and location. It took the F-16 pilots “less than a minute” to put “eyes on target” and attack, said Leaf.
The RAF pilots had to work down from “big to little,” while the F-16 pilots knew the exact information needed to begin their attack, he explained. That difference—10 minutes vs. one minute—was a huge improvement, observed Leaf. The Air Force already has equipped most of its F-15s with the Link-16 data link and F-16 Block 30 aircraft with the situation awareness data link. Officials said they expect to complete installation of the Link-16 system on all F-15s by the end of this year and then will proceed with F-16 Block 40 and Block 50 aircraft. Next up will be the service’s bombers, a few of which already have Link-16. Production versions of both the F/A-22 stealth fighter and the F-35 strike fighter will include Link-16 systems. USAF’s long-range tactical data link roadmap calls for completing the upgrades, including those for special operations aircraft and some airlift and aerial refueling aircraft, by 2010. Currently the service has Link-16 as well as other data links on its large intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft—E-3 AWACS, E-8C Joint STARS, and RC-135 Rivet Joint. Under current Pentagon plans, the other services also will upgrade their tactical aircraft with the Link-16 system. That and seven other “precision engagement/time sensitive targeting” initiatives were recommended in a precision engagement study by the Defense Science Board. Last spring, Pentagon acquisition chief Edward C. Aldridge designated the Air Force as the executive agent to implement the eight initiatives. (See box “USAF Leads Precision Engagement Initiatives,” below.) A key factor, though, is the target approval process itself, which the Air Force has been working to speed up.
“That continues to be an area we have to emphasize as much as the technical solution,” said Leaf. Allied Force, which had more than a dozen nations voting on possible targets, was a nightmare in that regard. It took an average of 14 days for each target to be approved. In a big war, Leaf said, the Air Force is “going to have to have as much as possible laid out ... before you head out the door” so that assets are properly assigned to a long list of possible targets. If an aircraft is available for a quick attack, and pilots are authorized to strike, timelines can be cut to near zero and tracking requirements kept to a minimum. “You can do it, but what’s key there?” Leaf asked. The answer, he said, is for the Air Force to have a “process in place to clear the targets [and] rules of engagement that say when we can employ.”
Working the Seams
Another avenue that will lead to compression of the kill chain entails eliminating what Jumper calls cultural “stovepipes” within the F2T2EA cycle. Stovepipes refers to specialized career fields, such as space, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and communications, that contribute data to the warfighter. Each career field has its own systems and methods of presenting the data. Jumper has said the service must remove the barriers between “tribal representatives” to get the “cursor over the target.” Having seams that data cannot flow freely across adds great amounts of time to the kill chain. At its Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment last year, USAF tested a new program, called ISR manager, intended to collect and combine data from the various systems such as AWACS, Joint STARS, Rivet Joint, U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, the Navy’s EP-3, and national sensors. The ISR manager is a Web–based software program that creates for the joint forces commander a consolidated picture of the battlespace, based on inputs from all those systems. However, service officials said the program needed more work before it could be fielded. The Air Force believes another system tested at JEFX—the experimental MC2A-X aircraft—will lead to a single-platform replacement for three of its present-day ISR aircraft: AWACS for air battle control, Joint STARS for ground target surveillance, and, possibly, Rivet Joint for signals intelligence. Air Force officials call the multisensor command and control aircraft a “critical enabler” in efforts to compress the kill chain. (See “Seeking a Triple Threat Sensor,” November 2002, p. 38.) The single multimission platform, coupled with Air Force plans to install sensors aboard aerial refueling aircraft, would alleviate the now chronic shortage of airborne ISR platforms brought on by a sustained high operations tempo. Last year, the Air Force created a new office to manage the efforts under way to provide seamless, integrated command, control, communications, computers, and ISR. The service established the position of deputy chief of staff for warfighting integration (XI), headed by Lt. Gen. Leslie F. Kenne. When the office was announced, Jumper said, “I have explicitly charged the new AF/XI to close the seams in this kill chain by integrating manned, unmanned, and space systems, thereby enabling commanders to create desired effects in the battlespace.”The service also instituted a task-force approach to develop requirements. (See “Seven Pillars of Airpower,” June 2002, p. 42.) The aim is to find the best way to achieve warfighting results, instead of focusing on specific systems in isolation. Jumper believes the service is “well on [its] way” toward breaking down the cultural niches. In fact, the service already has demonstrated that eliminating the seams between platforms can produce big dividends. During Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the service put live feeds of intelligence data from Predator UAVs directly into AC-130 gunships. The gunship aircrews were able to gain situational awareness of the areas they were going to strike as they flew to the target. They were able to start firing immediately instead of making a couple of preparatory passes. In the past, the intelligence data would have been filtered through analysts at an air operations center or even Stateside before being sent to the field. Through their ability to loiter over target areas for long periods, persistent surveillance platforms such as the Global Hawk and Predator UAVs have proved beneficial in the drive to shorten the kill chain. With mobile targets that can hide, “having a surveillance platform that can park overhead and stare until [the target] emerges again is of great value in maintaining that track until you have assets available that can kill it,” said Leaf. Surveillance is of little value, however, without a shooter on hand to attack the fleeting target. “If an airplane is 20 minutes away from a target, all the data links in the world are not going to make the kill chain nine minutes,” Leaf observed. “I’m sorry. That’s physics. There are laws that you can’t repeal in that case.” That is one reason Jumper advocated putting weapons on UAVs in early 2001. The service successfully proved Predators could fire Hellfire missiles. Air Force officials are now able to match up images from a Predator with coordinates in less than a minute. Operators now can fire a Hellfire missile in near real time. In Afghanistan, the US used armed Predators in several successful attacks. The Air Force is pursuing hunter–killer UAVs and, in the future, larger unmanned combat air vehicles with greater weapons load capability to strike pop-up targets. Ultimately, as Air Force Secretary James G. Roche has said, it will be networking the range of new systems from precision weapons to ISR platforms that will enable the service to reduce the F2T2EA kill chain to “timelines unimaginable just a few years ago.”

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