Enzo Titolo

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shark & Awe - The Costs of FULL spectrum dominance on the US

I love Asia Times. I love it so much that I'm reprinting an article by Tom Engelhardt with my annotations in (parenthesed italics).

But since I have such a peripatetic brain, this article called to mind a BBC article beyond meatspace about the Pentagon's literal plans for full-spectrum dominance. I cite that article inside italicized [[square brackets]].

'Shark and Awe'
By Tom Engelhardt

The US already has "stealth" aircraft, but what about a little of the stealth that only nature can provide?

(At first, this concept was shocking to me: using animals to fight our wars! But then again, the Asyrians used elephants to conquer ancient Palestine, the Cavalry used horses, birds were used as messengers in WWI, BF Skinner taught pigeons to guide missiles in World War II, and we used German Shephards at Abu Ghraib.)

Navy SEALs, move over - here come the navy sharks. According to the latest New Scientist magazine, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the blue-sky wing of the
Pentagon, has set yet another group of American scientists loose to create the basis for future red-in-tooth-and-maw Discovery Channel programs.

(ahh, DARPA, the people who brought us the forerunner to the Internet, DARPANet, which was to connect scientists after a devestating nuclear war knocked out communications and transportation systems. But that was the Cold War, and that was a good idea. Since then Gore really did help convert it to peacetime uses, driving some massive US-based innovation and entrepreneurship.
I think of how much I relied on the Internet in the terrified weeks after the bombings of the WTC and the Pentagon in 2001, and then the unfolding Anthrax attacks on the east coast... I hope that the Internet still stays up, free, and informative if there is another catastrophe, and that it is not hacked by terrorists or militarists from the US or anywhere else so people can communicate directly and get the news...
Truth being the first casualty of war, I doubt it, though...
With DARPA being the original agency that Iran-Contra Anti-hero and almost convicted co-conspirator John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness used to launch the massive database used to detect terrorists and terror plots, it seems that the Internet as threat-medium is on the neo-cons' radar as something to destroy.
It wasn't enough for Bush2 to stomp on the bursted tech bubble, they have to militarize anything good about network technologies and make anything like blogging more and more a liability to bloggers. Did you know that if somone finds any blog offensive, then the blogger could be convicted under a law new against harassment? The right wing slipped that one in.)

(Back to the military, in a recent strategy document, "Informations Operations Roadmap 2003" (signed by DoD Secretary Rumsfeld), they labeled the Internet as a threat that should be fought. The overt implication was that enemies could bring down networks or spy with the Internet, or perhaps they could hack sites and spread disinformation. But I also read into the strategy that there was a homefront to the war as well. That is, if you are a dissenting citizen, excercizing First Amendment rights, then you citizen, could have your site or email shut down, or you could be considered and treated as an enemy/conspirator, even if you are patriotic and law-abiding...."[[When it describes plans for electronic warfare, or EW, the document takes on an extraordinary tone. It seems to see the internet as being equivalent to an enemy weapons system. "Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will 'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system," it reads. The slogan "fight the net" appears several times throughout the roadmap."....
From influencing public opinion through new media to designing "computer network attack" weapons, the US military is learning to fight an electronic war....And websites that appeared to be information sites on the politics of Africa and the Balkans were found to be run by the Pentagon....And, in a grand finale, the document recommends that the United States should seek the ability to "provide maximum control of the entire electromagnetic spectrum".
US forces should be able to "disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum".

...The US military seeks the capability to knock out every telephone, every networked computer, every radar system on the planet.
Are these plans the pipe dreams of self-aggrandising bureaucrats? Or are they real?
The fact that the "Information Operations Roadmap" is approved by the Secretary of Defense suggests that these plans are taken very seriously indeed in the Pentagon.
And that the scale and grandeur of the digital revolution is matched only by the US military's ambitions for it.]]

My sense is that the military wants to stuff the Genie they founded on Coca Beach in the 1960s back to the bottle.
I miss the days of the Peace Dividend when the military let the Internet go and grow, when English majors and Comp Sci Geeks could finally find good work and good pay developing the web. We had the first sense of hope and growth for young people in this country since they killed the Kennedy Brothers.
If the poop really hits the fan next time around, Terror Threat Level Red, probably what will happen to the Internet is the equivalent of the former Soviet Union cutting into TV programming, playing only military tunes whenever a Premier died and the Politburo was sorting out the transition.
That is, the military either will accidentally shut the Net down completely, or they will have it on some sort of 'safe mode' with pre-approved news providers, and most traffic restricted to big business and government use.
Back to the military's planned dominance of the animal kingdom for US' Earth and Sea supremacy...)

In this case, they are planning to put neural implants into the brains of sharks in hopes, one day, of "controlling the animal's movements, and perhaps even decoding what it is feeling". In their dreams at least, DARPA's far-out funders hope to "exploit sharks' natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails. By remotely guiding the sharks' movements, they hope to transform the animals into stealth spies, perhaps capable of following vessels without being spotted."

(Pretty cool. Maybe they can eat enemies in really horrific ways. Teach their friends and those who harbor them a lesson... Even better, give them fricken laser guns! We can get them from afar. Much cooler than drones.)

So far they've only made it to the poor dogfish, "steered" in captivity via electrodes keyed to "phantom odors". As it happens, though, DARPA-sponsored plans are a good deal lustier than that: next stop, the blue shark, which reaches a length of 4 meters. Project engineer Walter Gomes of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island, claims a team will soon put neural implants "into blue sharks and release them into the ocean off the coast of Florida". To transmit signals to the sharks, the team will need nothing less than a network of signaling towers in the area. This has "anti-ballistic shark system" written all over it.

(Now, paranoiacs' theories of Ultra Mind Kontrol isn't too far off into the future...)

Actually, it's not the first time the US military has invested in shark technology. As Noah Shachtman of DefenseTech.org pointed out in July, "The navy has tapped three firms to build prototype gadgets that duplicate what sharks do naturally: find prey from the electric fields they emit."

(Finally, we understand why fire ants infest eletrical systems.)

One of them, Advanced Ceramics Research Inc, limned the project's potential benefits this way: "If developed, such a capability might allow for the detection of small, hostile submarines entering a seawater inlet, harbor or channel, or allow objects such as mines to be pinpointed in shallow waters where sonar imaging is severely compromised."

And then there's that ultimate underwater dream, the Microfabricated Biomimetic Artificial Gill System, that could lead to all sorts of navy breakthroughs, perhaps even - if you'll excuse a tad of blue-skying - blue shark/human tracking teams, or if not that, then lots of late-night-TV Aquaman jokes.

Of course, the US Navy has been in nature's waters in a big way for a while with its Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. There, it trains bottlenose dolphins as "sentries" and mine detectors. Such dolphins were "first operationally deployed" in Vietnam in 1971 and a whole Dolphin Patrol (like, assumedly, the shark patrol to come) is now on duty in the Khor Abd Allah waterway, Iraq's passageway into the Persian Gulf. To the embarrassment of the navy, a dolphin named Takoma even went "AWOL" (absent without leave) there in 2003, soon after the invasion of Iraq began.

(Some say Dolphins are the smartest animals...)

DARPA funds research into weaponizing creatures that inhabit just about any environmental niche imaginable - including bees capable of detecting explosives;

(Bees detecting explosives? How about swarms of bees landing on Osama and stinging him to death? But talk about blow-back: what if the killer bees turn on US?)

"eyes" patterned after those of flies that might some day make "smart" weaponry even smarter; gecko wall-climbing and octopus concealment techniques; and electrode-controlled rats capable of searching through piles of rubble. In addition, between nature and whatever the opposite of nurture may be, there's been an ongoing military give-and-take. Consider, for instance, BigDog, highlighted in the same issue of New Scientist. Compared to a pack mule, goat or horse, this "robotic beast of burden" is being developed by Boston Dynamics to haul over rough terrain at least 40 kilograms of supplies soldiers won't need to carry, while being able to take a "hefty kick" in the legs without crumpling to the ground.

(Big Dog is reminiscent of the Imperial Walkers from Star Wars. In fact, the US is morphing into the Empire.)

From sharks to robots, from hacking into your nervous system to manipulating the weather, the Pentagon seems determined to exert "full-spectrum dominance", especially over that top-of-the-line primate, us. To achieve this, it sponsors blue-sky thinking with a vengeance. Nothing that moves or breathes on the planet, it seems, is conceptually beyond conscription by Uncle Sam into possible future war scenarios.

This is undoubtedly what happens when you have an administration that considers the Pentagon the answer to all America's problems and gives it a US$439.3 billion budget to play with - and that's exclusive of actual war-fighting money (which, for Iraq and Afghanistan, at an estimated $120 billion for the year, will come in supplemental requests to Congress). And remember as well that the fiscal 2007 Pentagon budget does not include the $9.3 billion the Department of Energy will put into nuclear weapons or a host of veterans-care benefits, all of which bring the budget at least close to the $600 billion range. Analyzing the 2006 budget, economist Robert Higgs estimated that all military-related outlays - that is, the real Pentagon budget - totaled closer to $840 billion.

Even taken at face value, the 2007 Pentagon budget accounts for more than half of the $873 billion in federal discretionary spending - the funds that the president and Congress decide to spend each year. For 2007, education, the second-largest discretionary budget item, amounts to just over $50 billion, a piddling sum by comparison. But there is probably no way to put any version of the Pentagon's finances into perspective. Militarily speaking, it throws other military spending on the planet into the deepest shadow. As Frida Berrigan, senior research associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center and co-author of Weapons at War 2005, points out, "The Pentagon accounts for about half the world's total military expenditures of $1.04 trillion, spending alone what the 32 next most powerful nations spend together."

(Meanwhile if you use a wheelchair, you better not try to leave most NYC subway stations. Or if you are unemployed and need a doctor, forget it. Or if you live in a housing project, you don't have someone guarding your building, even though you need it the most. Or if you are lower-middle class you don't qualify for subsidized housing.)

The United States is also by far the planet's largest exporter of weapons and military hardware. An annual Congressional Research Service report found that, in 2004, global weapons deliveries totaled nearly $37 billion - with the United States responsible for more than 33% of them, or $12.4 billion - and it hasn't gotten better since.

No other country puts anything like such effort, planning and dreaming into the idea of projecting planet-spanning military power, caught so grimly in that phrase, "full-spectrum dominance". To Pentagon minds this seems to mean: from 20,000 leagues down to 30 kilometers up (and everything that creeps, crawls, swims or flies in between). The phrase first gained attention with the release in 2000 of the US Air Force's Joint Vision 2020 statement - a supposed look into a future world of US war-making.

It's one of those terms that sticks with you - and not just because of the full-spectrum weaponry that's now on the drawing boards, ranging from hypervelocity rod bundles meant to penetrate underground bunkers from outer space (ominously nicknamed "rods from God") to the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV), "an unmanned maneuverable spacecraft that [by 2010] would travel at five times the speed of sound and could carry 1,000 pounds [454 kilograms] of munitions, intelligence sensors or other payloads" anywhere on the planet within two hours, or that permanent base on the moon the administration of President George W Bush has called for by 2020 (and the array of Star Wars-style space-based weaponry that would ring it).

Full-spectrum dominance turns out to include even the US, where in 2002 the Bush administration established the United States Northern Command (Northcom), whose website at present has the following from a visit by assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense Paul McHale as its reassuring quote of the week: "I'm leaving with a clear sense of confidence in the vision and planning of Northcom to deal with any emerging threat, whether an occurrence of pandemic flu, a 2006 hurricane ... or a terrorist attack still being planned by our adversaries."

While the Pentagon quietly begins to take over tasks that once were delegated to civilian agencies, its blue-sky weapons planning extends into the distant future. Take, for instance, the Air Force Futures Game 05, held for several days last October in the Dulles, Virginia, office of consultants Booz Allen Hamilton. The exercise was dedicated to "looking at scenarios for the year 2025", especially one in which a nuclear weapon is loose in a "Middle Eastern country" and a major war is in the offing. Like many other Pentagon war-gaming exercises, this one was largely committed to confirming the usefulness of as-yet-non-existent or hardly existent weaponry, especially in the areas of "space access" and "electronic warfare". According to Colonel Gail Wojtowicz, US Air Force division director of future concepts and transformation, the gamers were "also looking at one of the trickiest issues the air force or another service may have to face: what the Pentagon can do on American soil". Indeed.

Military analyst William Arkin wrote about these particular air-force games, meant to boost "laser, high-powered microwaves, and acoustic weapons", at his Washington Post Early Warning blog. Such blue-sky exercises, he explained, advance new weapons systems (and their corporate sponsors) "along the familiar development path of boosters and patrons feeding information to war gamers who feed study participants who feed researchers who feed manufacturers. At the end of the day, it is hard to tell whether high-powered microwaves and laser came into being because someone conceived it out of need or because its existence in the laboratory created the need."

To support letting inventive minds roam free outside normal frameworks is in itself an inspired idea. But I bet there's no DARPA-like agency elsewhere in the government funding the equivalent for education 2025 or health 2025 or even energy independence 2025. To have this happen, I'm afraid, you would have to transform them into Northcom war games.

Now it's true that much blue-skying may never come to be. Those US Navy stealth sharks may not patrol America's coasts and a good, swift enemy kick to some unexpected spot on BigDog's anatomy may fell the "creature", if budgetary or high-tech wrinkles don't do the trick first - just as an unexpected series of low-tech blows to the United States' full-spectrum military has left the Pentagon desperate and its army unraveling in Iraq.

Wouldn't it be nice, though, if official blue-sky thinking didn't always mean mobilizing finances, scientists, corporations and even the animal kingdom in the service of global death. Wouldn't it be nice to blue-sky just a tad about life?

Tom Engelhardt is editor of Tomdispatch and the author of The End of Victory Culture. His novel, The Last Days of Publishing, has recently come out in paperback.

(The author offers special thanks for Pentagon facts and figures in this piece to Frida Berrigan of the World Policy Institute's invaluable Arms Trade Resource Center.)

(Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt.) [all bold was Enzo's addition]


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