by Tom Burghardt
16 June 2009
Tom Burghardt is a researcher
and activist based in San Francisco. He publishes in Covert Action
Quarterly and Global Research, an independent research and media
group of writers, scholars, journalists and activists based in
Montreal. His articles can also be read on Dissident Voice, The
Intelligence Daily and Pacific Free Press.
He is the editor of
Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning,
distributed by AK Press.
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 air-strikes targeting al-Qaida and Taliban
A drone, guided by the signal from the chip,
destroys the building with a salvo of missiles scattering body parts
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
It is assumed that U.S. technological preeminence, referred to
Airforce Magazine as "compressing the
kill chain," will assure American military hegemony well into the 21st
a 2001 study,  brought together analysts from
a host of Pentagon agencies as well as,
...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
"enhanced" driving license
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
chips embedded in commodities are all aspects of a control system within
securitized societies such as ours.
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)
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
"hundreds of millions of dollars
researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of 'Tagging tracking and
locating' (TTL) gear,"
Long regarded as an urban myth, the military's
deployment of juiced-up RFID technology along the AfPak ('AfPak' is a
neologism created within US foreign policy circles to designate Afghanistan
and Pakistan as a single troublesome area.) 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
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.
Government Systems, Inc. makes a radio frequency-based "Bigfoot
Remote Tagging System" that's the size of a couple of AA
But the government has been working to make
these terrorist tracking tags even smaller (below insert).
Inside the Military's Secret Terror-Tagging
by David Hambling
June 3, 2009
The story that the CIA
uses tiny homing beacons to guide
their drone strikes in Pakistan may sound like an urban myth. But
this sort of technology does exist, and might well be used for
exactly this purpose. It might even have been the "secret
weapon" that Bob Woodward said helped the American
military pacify Iraq.
The military has spent
hundreds of millions of dollars
researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of "Tagging
tracking and locating" (TTL) gear — gizmos
designed to keep covertly tabs from far away. Most of these
technologies are highly classified. 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
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.
Sandia National Laboratories have carried out development on "Radar
Responsive" tags, which are like a long-range version of
the ubiquitous stick-on RFID tags used to mark items in shops. The
Radar Responsive tag stays asleep until it is woken up by a radar
pulse. The tags in Wal-mart have a range of a couple of meters,
Sandia's tags can light up and locate themselves from twelve miles
This document from 2004 describes
the tags as being credit-card sized and with a "geolocation
accuracy" of three feet. The radio waves penetrate buildings.
Suggested application include "search and rescue, precision
targeting, special operations." The selection of aircraft used to
illustrate the system includes a Predator drone.
The reports from Pakistan suggest that the CIA knew which village to
strike, they just needed to locate the exact building (descriptions
like "third house on the left" can be dangerously ambiguous,
especially when viewing from the air). A Radar Responsive tag would
be very handy for guiding a strike from a drone a few miles away.
Nor is this the only technology out there. A 2002 Defense Science
Board report on counter-terrorism mentioned, among other things, the
possibility of using
invisible chemical dye to mark
terrorists, so they could be spotted using a suitable viewer.
The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review — the Pentagon's
once-every-four-years grand strategy document — included a
section on defeating terrorist networks,
which mentioned the importance of tagging and tracking both
terrorists and their gear. Two methods suggested are
tinier-than-tiny radar tags, and
dynamic optical tags.
Darpa, the Pentagon's way-out
research arm, spent years developing these,
"small, environmentally robust,
retro reflector-based tags that can be read by both handheld and
airborne sensors at significant ranges."
They rely on
small silicon reflectors which
return a laser signal — as long as that signal can be seen from the
"Each Dynamic Optical Tag or DOT
is an inch across and based on a 'quantum well modulator,'" the
"They are read using a laser
interrogator, which can be mounted on an aircraft; the laser
'wakes up' the tag, which sends a return signal at over 100
kbps. This can be simply the ID of the tag, or it can be data
that it has recorded - for example, details of where it has
traveled since last interrogated, or recorded video or audio."
Covert radar tags were described in
a 2004 report by the National materials Advisory Board.
Inkode, a company that also provides
cheap RFID tags for supermarkets,
has developed a means of embedding aluminum fibers in paper and
other materials. The fibers are described as 6.5 millimeters long
and 1.5 micrometers in diameter.
"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 fibers can be embedded in "paper, airline baggage tags, book
bindings, clothing and other fabrics, and plastic sheet." Eight
thousand fibres can be embedded in a typical 8˝ by 11 inch piece of
paper, which could be seen by radar at a similar distance to a
So even something as small as a
cigarette paper could be detected through walls, uniquely identified
and precisely located from a tactically-useful distance in order to
direct a missile strike.
This 2007 briefing from U.S.
Special Operations Command hints at research into even more exotic
ways to keep tabs on a target. Technology goals include spotting a
"human thermal fingerprint at long distance," "augmentation of
natural signatures: e.g. 'perfumes' and 'stains.'"
also mentions a "bioreactive taggant" that is a "current
capability." next to the words in a picture of a
We do not know if any or all of these technologies are actually in
use. After all, mobile phones are also a good way of locating an
individual from long range, and there are numerous other sensors
that can be used to direct a strike.
But technologically speaking, the
miniature homing beacon calling in CIA drone strikes is not just
another urban myth.
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.
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.
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.
2007 Interview of
on his discussions with
Nicholas Rockefeller eleven months before the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The Guardian revealed May 31 that over the last 18 months more than 50
drone attacks have been launched against "high-value targets."
claims to have killed nine of al-Qaeda's top twenty officials in north and
"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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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."
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
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
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
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.
Understanding Information Age Warfare