Historians of ideas usually attribute the dream of a perfect society to the philosophers and jurists of the eighteenth century; but there was also a military dream of society; its fundamental reference was not to the state of nature, but to the meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine, not to the primal social contract, but to permanent coercions, not to fundamental rights, but to indefinitely progressive forms of training, not to the general will but to automatic docility. -- Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (1975).
A small, informal group that engages in a completely legal and non-violent form of protest, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) shouldn't be spied upon by anyone. What point is there in spying upon a group that displays itself in front of surveillance devices? And yet no one would be surprised if the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department (NYPD) was keeping tabs on the SCP. Used for decades to spy (legally and illegally) upon all kinds of political dissidents, the NYPD's infamous "Red Squad" telephoned the SCP the day before one of its performances. But apparently the Red Squad's years of experience in the field, zeal for law and order, and knowledge of the local terrain aren't sufficient to deal with the likes of the SCP, a group that requires surveillance by the United States military.
Because it is being watched by two kinds of surveilling eyes, the SCP feel it necessary to produce an analysis of military surveillance that would complement and enrich the group's analysis of surveillance by civilian law enforcement groups, which is part of its discussion of generalized transparence. (Note well that Michael Ignatieff, the author of Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond, a stimulating new book to which we will return several times in the course of this essay, writes that "the conduct of war has become more transparent in the last 75 years. . . .")
As far as the SCP is concerned, military-style surveillance was first mentioned in the group's statement to the lawyers, which says in part:
Though these [surveillance] cameras [which are mounted in public places by the police] are ostensibly being used for the purposes of "security" and law enforcement, their operators are not showing probable cause or compelling state interest before installing and using them; they are not getting warrants; and they are not specifying what evidence they expect to obtain by using them. Worse still, the operators of these cameras don't in fact have reasonable grounds for using them to search the particular individuals and groups that happen to come within their sight! All they have is the notion that someone might do something illegal in that particular location. Since it isn't known who that "someone" will be, everyone is treated as a potential criminal. In short, the operators are acting as if they were military personnel, not civilian authorities. Rather than generating intelligence that is "high grade" (i.e., evidence) and thus admissible in a court of law, they are generating huge quantities of "low grade" intelligence that needs to be sorted, analyzed and processed into a usable form. Especially when it is rendered usable, this intelligence isn't subject to the rules of discovery: its contents are kept secret, even if no criminal activity ever took place.
Satisfactory though this limited description may be, it certainly merits further elaboration, because it doesn't make clear the overall picture. At the same time that civilian law enforcement authorities are illegally making use of military-style surveillance, the American military is illegally surveilling and compiling huge quantities of data about domestic political dissidents. (The former activity violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the latter the spirit, if not the letter, of the Posse Comitatus Act.) It isn't clear if recent changes in the military have provoked changes in civilian law enforcement, or the reverse, or both. Certainly the two institutions are "converging" or "evolving" in the same direction: toward an integrated Military/Police State, which fights all the time but, in the name of "humanitarianism," uses deadly force sparingly.
If this alarming trend is allowed to continue, that is, if the police become thoroughly militarized and the military thoroughly politicized, we will certainly be ruled by fascists. And so, to increase the effectiveness of the SCP as anti-fascist activists -- to make something of the fact that the group's "theater of operations" encompasses the dramatic as well as the military, the local as well as the global -- the group herein offers the following explorations.
The totalitarian Military/Police State on the horizon has its origins in the first "total war," that is, in World War II, during which the totality of each side's resources were enlisted in the conflict. In previous wars, in World War I, for example, only certain sectors of the warring nations -- their military forces, financial resources and certain key industries -- were involved. Limited forces were committed because the war only threatened certain limited strategic interests (colonies, borders, economic markets or national pride). But in World War II, it was commonly believed that the war -- Germany's desire for world domination (total victory) -- threatened the very survival of the nations involved in it, and so each nation fought with the totality of its resources.
A kind of total war continued to be fought after the end of WWII and the cessation of hostilities, but one that didn't involve military conflicts. This paradoxical "Cold War," as it came to be called, was fought between the two nations (or "superpowers") that possessed the weapon that ended WWII: the atomic bomb. Though it wasn't used in combat after 1945, nuclear weaponry -- by virtue of its unprecedented destructiveness -- threatened the totality (the very survival) of the nation against which it was used. Indeed, as "the arms race" between the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the members of the Warsaw Bloc (the Soviet Union and a few others) grew faster and longer, nuclear weaponry threatened the very survival of every nation on the face of the earth. "If you can keep your opponent's nation intact," counsels the Tang Dynasty's military theorist Jia Lin, "then your own nation will also be intact." But destroy your opponent, and you also destroy yourself.
Strangely enough, nuclear weaponry also threatened to put an end to war itself. By the early 1970s, America's politicians and the leaders of the so-called "military-industrial complex" had come to the realization that additions to or enrichments of the United States' prodigious nuclear arsenal were no longer producing any discernible political or strategic advantages in the Cold War. Even more significantly, this prodigious nuclear arsenal wasn't helping the U.S.A. to win the "hot," conventional war in Vietnam, just as it was of no help in Korea. It seemed that the only way out of this double-bind (conventional weapons wouldn't defeat the Russian Army if it attacked Western Europe, and nuclear weapons couldn't be used against the North Vietnamese for fear of further outraging the American electorate) was to reverse part of the apparent "evolution" of the conflict, to fold part of it back upon itself -- that is to say, to begin concentrating again on the production of conventional weapons, all the while continuing to develop and produce new nuclear devices and delivery systems. Despite or precisely because it couldn't be used for fear of killing too many people, nuclear weaponry -- or, rather, the global deterrent of "mutually assured destruction" -- was believed to be keeping the whole world at peace, despite the persistent existence of "local wars" in Vietnam, Algeria, Israel, et al.
To break out of the double-bind, the new "precise" weapons would have to be lethal, but could not cause intolerable numbers of civilian casualties or destroy civilian facilities and infrastructures; nor could they expose their users to either physical harm, public scrutiny or criminal prosecution. According to Michael Ignatieff, "the dawn of the new age of precision weaponry can be dated to the US Air Force's destruction of the Thanwa Bridge in Vietnam in 1972."
Unable to take [the bridge] out with manned aircraft [Ignatieff writes], the Air Force improvised a missile which could be fired from an aircraft and then guided to its target by a technician viewing images of the target beamed back from a [live] television camera attached to the nose of the missile [...] Within ten years, the Americans had developed a small arsenal of these precision weapons, using lasers, computers and gun cameras to guide them to their targets. The best known of these was the Cruise missile, an accurate, unmanned system which could be fired from ships or planes at ever-increasing distances from its target.
Before 1972, precision targeting -- truly precise weaponry -- was infrequently utilized in weapons delivery systems. Though America's intercontinental ballistics missiles were designed to be guided by radar to their targets, precision wasn't a crucial factor in their delivery: the hydrogen bombs inside the ICBMs were so powerful that one simply needed to come close to the target to completely destroy it. The other parts of America's famous triad of nuclear weapon systems -- long-range bombers and deep-sea submarines -- were also "imprecisely guided" or aimed at their targets.
Within the ten-year span (1972 to 1982) Ignatieff speaks of, the United States also spent tremendous amounts of money on developing its spy satellites, laser technology and electronic intelligence-gathering capabilities. By the end of the 1980s, thanks to the massive increases in military spending under Ronald Reagan, the American military had developed an arsenal of non-nuclear precision weaponry that was so large and so superior to Russian conventional forces, that it was a major factor in the Soviet Union's decision to admit defeat in the Cold War. But these weapons, deadly and sophisticated though they were, did not compare with the accuracy and destructiveness of the Tomahawk Cruise missiles and other "smart" bombs used in the Gulf War or the 1999 air war over Serbia.
Ignatieff rightly emphasizes the political and moral significance of the "risk-free lethality" of precision weaponry, which kills the enemy's forces from a great distance, doesn't endanger the lives of the forces that deploy it, and even seems to render the use of ground troops a thing of the past. He shows that the existence of risk-free lethality has made world war possible again. Illusory or not, the very idea -- the spectacle -- of risk-free lethality has lowered the political costs of using overwhelming military force. As Ignatieff shows, the rediscovered ability to go to war -- the "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) set into motion by the invention and successful deployment of precision weaponry -- puts the so-called democratic nations in a morally untenable position. Take the United States, for example. It has never used its precision weapons against a truly powerful nation; it has only used "surgical strikes" against weak adversaries, such as Granada (1984), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), Iraq (1992), Somalia (1992), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), the Sudan and Afghanistan (1998), Serbia (1999) and Afghanistan (2001). In each of these "operations other than war," the U.S. has either acted out of "humanitarian concerns" (to stop ethnic cleansing or aggression against neighboring states) or to punish "rogue" nations for attacking Americans or violating international law. But in each instance, the U.S. has acted in violation of the law -- in violation of the law of its own land (the War Powers Act, passed in the wake of the illegal, undeclared War in Vietnam) as well as such international laws as the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Convention.
Unfortunately, Ignatieff doesn't emphasize precision weaponry's unique relationship with television. This relationship is equally as significant a feature of precision weaponry as its political and moral implications, because the degree to which precision weaponry revolutionized contemporary warfare is the precise degree to which contemporary warfare is, today, based upon television.
As the reader will see from what follows, we will be using the term "television" somewhat loosely. For us, television is an imaging system that uses a video camera to create images out of visible light. (One might also call television an information system that stores its data as visual images.) In this regard, video cameras are similar to photographic cameras, cinematic cameras, digital cameras, web cameras and videophones, all of which use visible light to create "readable" images. (Some cameras use materials other than visible light to create images: infrared cameras use infrared light; thermal cameras use heat; ultrasound cameras use sound waves; X-rays cameras use X-rays; etc. etc.) Despite the great differences between them, each of these cameras can be used for the purposes of surveillance; each can be used as a surveillance camera.
(Cameras in general, and surveillance cameras in particular, proliferate these days because contemporary society -- the society of the spectacle -- increasingly encodes all of its data, information, knowledge and lived experience as visual images. This isn't simply an "ideology" or an "imagocentrism"; this is how society actually functions. In the "heavy" industries, the ones upon which all of society depends, robotic cameras are used to monitor massive flows of oil, water, gas, radioactivity and heat-energy. With the invention and widespread use of cameras capable of optical character recognition, even the written word, e.g., the printed page, becomes an object that can be scanned, digitized and rendered as a visual image. Though the virtual realms of computerized "cyberspace" are, strictly speaking, nonvisible -- to say that they are "invisible" implies that they are merely hidden -- they too have been rendered easily recognizable as "icons" and other visual images by Graphic User Interfaces, which are used by almost every computer operating system on the market.)
Television in the strict sense -- the TV we all know and love -- has been in use in one form or another since the late 1930s/early 1940s, when first German and then American military forces experimented with it on a limited basis. (The Germans used two-way TV systems in their Post Office, and the US Navy and Air Force put TV cameras and transmitters into a few radio-controlled bombs.) Technically speaking, television can be used in both open-circuit systems, in which the TV signal is broadcast over the "airwaves" and so can be picked up by anyone with a TV receiver, and closed-circuit systems, in which the signal is not broadcast at all, but sent via satellite or cable to a limited number of receivers. Open-circuit TV is by far the better known of the two kinds of systems. In 1972, only those who had seen a sporting event or some other program for which one "paid per view" or the security cameras in operation around the nation's banks, railroad yards and federal buildings would have been familiar with CCTV. Indeed, television is still so closely associated with open-circuit systems that the acronym OCTV has never been used, has never been necessary.
All through the Cold War era, the Department of Defense made extensive and consistent use of infrared pictures taken by orbiting satellites and manned spy planes. Though these photograph-like images took some time to create, transmit and receive, they were extremely detailed and thus quite useful to military strategists. Television, by contrast, produced relatively unclear images, and so wasn't used much. (It seems this began to change around 1970, which is the date at which the authors of a paper entitled Development history of real-time imaging active gated TV begin their history of the US military's use of sophisticated "video imaging detection and ranging" systems. ("Gating" makes it possible to see through snow, rain, fog and other air-borne particles that would easily thwart the human eye and most video cameras as well.) Installed on hydrofoils, these television systems were able to identify targets and their locations for the weapons delivery systems, which were not on board the hydrofoils, but on larger naval vessels.)
But what television could do -- what the hydrofoil-gunship teams and the successful attack on the Thawna Bridge proved it could do -- was relay usable images back to headquarters instantaneously, in "real time." Furthermore, thanks to satellites and other signal-relay devices, these "live" images could be viewed by anyone with a TV set, no matter how far away the receiver was from the transmitting video camera. Infamous for its insistence on fighting its enemies from a "safe" distance (cf. George Orwell's comments in Homage to Catalonia), the American military found the unique appeal of television impossible to resist.
Only thirty years later, the military has become thoroughly televised. These days, nearly every military exercise involves television cameras, digital photography, lasers or some other imaging system designed to enhance or extend the human being's ability to see. Night-vision goggles are now standard-issue among U.S. military pilots. Weather permitting, bombing runs over Iraqi "no-fly zones" can be executed at night or during the day. Fully automated, high-tech video cameras are now used in "unmanned" (totally automated) devices such as missiles, airborne drones and satellites, as well as in "manned" vehicles such as helicopters, spy planes and tanks. And, of course, surveillance cameras and CCTV systems are used to "watch out" for cease-fire violations, border incursions, behind-the-lines operations, problems in refugee camps, and intrusions into military installations.
As a matter of fact, the military -- especially its intelligence and counter-intelligence agents -- just can't get enough television and other high-speed, long-distance imaging systems. The demand for "hand-held digital imagery and hand-held video will increase," predicts U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Colonel Perkins in a recent report on human intelligence (HUMINT) and counter-intelligence (CI) operations in Bosnia. "Combat camera crews, the Task Force historian, soldiers manning critical checkpoints, and soldiers inspecting containment areas all had digital cameras along with every CI and HUMINT team."
Ironically, between WWII and 1972 -- when the Air Force used it to destroy the Thanwa Bridge -- television had been taken up, researched and developed by civilian society. Unlike the "super" technologies of unmanned, orbiting satellites and nuclear weaponry, television -- or, rather, video cameras and recording units -- were widely available in 1972 as consumer products among the civilian population. Compared to satellite photography and atomic bombs, television was cheap to produce and didn't require secrecy, neither during its production nor after its installation. Indeed, when it came to warfare, television was an agent of anti-secrecy. Much to the consternation of the White House and the military-industrial complex, television coverage made the Vietnam War transparent to the eyes of American citizens, and thus helped galvanize domestic opposition to both the War and the idea that America should be the "policeman of the world."
Because television was a civilian technology, the development and widespread acceptance of precision weaponry after 1972 led to a fundamental change in the relationship between the military-industrial complex and the non-military domestic economy. Prior to the Revolution in Military Affairs, the direction of technological innovation went from the military to civilian society, and rarely in the opposite direction. Objects or technologies first created in secrecy by the military, which had unparalleled access to money, technical expertise and advanced research facilities, later found widespread use by the civilian population. (Among many possible examples, let us mention in passing the ones that have the greatest bearing on the subject at hand: the Internet (formerly known as the network operated by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, a division of the Department of Defense) and America's orbiting network of Global Positioning Satellites, both of which were created in the early 1970s and designed to protect and ensure the survival of the U.S.A. in the event of an attack by the military forces of its enemies, and both of which can and are being used as "super" surveillance devices.) This unidirectionality of technological innovation served to protect both the military and civilian society. That is to say, it protected the security-obsessed military from the prying eyes of the civilian population, and it protected the civilian population from the costs, risks and dangers involved in "cutting edge" research and development.
Because of precision weaponry's reliance on television, technological innovation needed to flow in both directions, that is, back and forth between the military-industrial complex and such non-military entities as private companies, public utilities and university research centers. By the 1990s, this two-way flow was fully established. As a result, the military and civilian society have grown closer together; their economies are virtually the same. For both the military and civilian society, the technology of television has become central to modern life, highly flexible, reliable and inexpensive. Indeed, the American military buys most of its video cameras and computer systems from the same companies that sell cameras and computers to private groups and "ordinary" consumers.
But the military has, of course, made sure that it has maintained the "upper hand" in this "civilized" partnership. For example, though it allowed the Internet and the network of Global Positioning Satellites to be declassified and commercialized, the military still maintains exclusive control over several unique and completely secure computer networks, and still uses the once super-secret ECHELON system to intercept every single message sent over the GPS network. As a result, the stategic partnership between soldier and citizen hasn't lead to a narrowing of the contemporary battlefield, but to its widening.
As Michael Ignatieff points out:
Precision guidance also changes the objective of war [...] Instead of attrition, the aim of post-modern warfare is to strike at the nerve centers -- command posts, computer networks -- which direct the war machine. A blinded enemy -- without computers, telephones or power -- may still have forces capable of attack, but he [sic] no longer has the capacity to order them into battle. Command and control can be attacked both by direct missile bombardment and also by information warfare: electronic jamming, release of computer viruses, disinformation and propaganda. Destroying the credibility and reliability of the data on which the enemy bases his [sic] decisions becomes just as effective as killing his [sic] people or wrecking his [sic] cities.
Retired U.S. Army General John B. Alexander, author of Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twentieth-First-Century Warfare (1999), agrees. He explains that:
Dennis Richburg, Technical Director and Information War expert for the U.S. Air Force Air Intelligence Agency at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonion Texas defined Information Warfare as "Actions taken to preserve the integrity of one's own information systems from exploitation, corruption, or destruction while at the same time exploiting, corrupting, or destroying an adversary's information systems." Note that the definition encompasses all information systems, not exclusively military systems.
As the war in Kosovo demonstrated, information warfare can also be fought with and against civilian television stations. For his part, Slobodan Milosevic used TV to influence public opinion in both the NATO countries and among his own people. Ignatieff reminds us that
[At the start of the conflict,] the West [didn't] appreciate that Milosevic could afford to lose military assets because he was not fighting with conventional military means. Instead of fighting NATO in the air, he fought NATO on the air-waves. By allowing CNN and the BBC to continue broadcasting from inside Serbia, he hoped to destabilize and unsettle Western opinion with nightly stories of civilians carbonized in bombed trains [...] He gambled his regime on the tenderness of Western hearts, on the assumption that the Western public would not allow the air campaign to become murderous.
Milosevic also gambled on the assumption that the American public wouldn't tolerate more than a few deaths among its fighter pilots. Though not a single American soldier died in the war over Kosovo, Milosevic was right: he managed to hold on to his regime all through the war and for a year afterwards. Milosevic did so in part because he realized that, to once again quote Michael Ignatieff, "the media becomes the decisive theater of operations . . . when war becomes a spectator sport," as it had for America in the aftermath of the Gulf War. In such a media war, keeping images of "a single American serviceman's body being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu . . . off the screen becomes a central objective of the [American] military art." Though the U.S. military did make several highly publicized "mistakes" (including bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade), Milosevic failed to get fatal images on CNN and the BBC, and so the air-war continued long enough to force his hand.
But Milosevic, or, rather, the Serbian Army, did manage to tarnish the gleaming image of America's invincible air forces and precision weapons, which were at times neutralized by tactics that relied heavily on devices more closely associated with the dramatic theater than the military "theater" of operations: camouflage, deception and decoy. "[The Serbian Army] built fake bridges and applied heat-reflecting camouflage paint to the real ones so as to throw off the target acquisition radars," Ignatieff reports. "Pilots would strike what they thought was a tank and watch an inflatable rubber decoy deflate like a pricked balloon."
(Perhaps the SCP needs to develop the equivalent of rubber decoys that become tanks when exposed to prying eyes! The SCP might also learn from the tactics of the Hizbullah guerillas who, according to an article posted to the Israel Wire on 10 November 2000, are using mirrors to reflect sunlight into the lenses of the sophisticated surveillance cameras mounted atop armored personnel carriers and pointed at Hizbullah positions near Israel's border with Lebanon. The reflected light blinds the cameras, rendering them temporarily useless.)
As for NATO, it "used" television in at least three different ways: 1) as a way of guiding missiles to their targets; 2) as a device to spread propaganda; and 3) as a "legitimate" military target.
The NATO command [Ignatieff writes] sought to strike the television system [in the heart of downtown Belgrade] in order to weaken Milosevic's capacity to communicate with his domestic support, and secondarily to put the transmitters out of action as military relays [...]. The strike raised difficult issues, because it seemed to be an attack on the media itself -- on freedom of speech -- and therefore would be unpopular with the Western media. Within the NATO command, allies were at loggerheads, with British lawyers arguing that the Geneva Conventions prohibit the targeting of journalists and television stations [...]
Quite obviously, the "popularity" of NATO's murderous strike among the Western media was of no importance whatsoever. As Colonel Alexander points out,
There always will be tension between the military and the media. Great care must be taken when developing a compelling story, to insure that the basic facts are true [...] Reliance should be placed on seasoned reporters who have developed a sense of responsibility, ethics, and loyalty. Unfortunately, too many young reporters believe that all institutions are inherently dishonest and the only role for the press is that of an adversary.
In other words, the news reporting sections of the Western media have been thoroughly compromised by the presence of "advisors" from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, and consequently don't give a shit about "freedom of speech" or the murder of civilians in an undeclared war. But note well the following anecdote told by Lieutenant Colonel Perkins, the Army counter-intelligence spy:
The Usora Bridge incident which occurred [in Bosnia] in early August 1996 is an example of timely, accurate and high quality reporting that was collected and processed faster than the Cable News Network (CNN). A smaller bridge built by the United Nations near the Usora Bridge was badly damaged after a charge had been thrown onto it from a moving vehicle. A tactical CI [counter-intelligence] and HUMINT [human intelligence] team immediately responded to the incident and arrived at the scene, interviewed witnesses, took digital photographs of the damage and, within one hour, passed the Brigade and the TF Commander accurate information. The [entire] national Intelligence Community had the final Intelligence Information Report (IIR) with digital photographs within four hours, with most of that time having been taken for imagery annotation. Hence, the standard for CI and HUMINT team was to beat CNN and tell the real story (emphasis added).
You don't need to infiltrate, manipulate or intimidate the Western media when you've got a news network of your own that is faster than CNN, which, precisely because of its speed, has produced "the CNN effect." (As defined by Colonel Alexander, the CNN effect is the fact that soldiers can no longer "act recklessly without fear of being instantly reported." To the extent that the soldier must act within the bounds of international law and basic human decency, the CNN effect "influences" real world events and thus the decisions made on the basis of them.) But a super-fast network such as the one described above would be very useful if you wanted to give CNN live footage that was being digitally altered as the events unfolded or were being staged in real-time, and yet have CNN (and thus the rest of the Western media) believe that the footage was untouched, and thus genuine, precisely because "no one" could have doctored it so well, so quickly.
To return one last time to NATO's murderous air strike on Belgrade's television system. It "raised difficult issues," as Ignatieff says, because it was carried out by hypocrites who knew perfectly well that the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague would never hold them accountable for their war crimes. Thus, it becomes clear that, despite the intention of its post-nuclear sponsors to produce a weapon that could actually be used against an enemy, precision weaponry and the Revolution in Military Affairs it started don't lead to a strategic narrowing of the battlefield, but to its tactical widening. So-called collateral damage -- the wanton and unconscionable destruction of property and mass murder of innocents -- becomes a predictable, even an inevitable outcome, despite the much-vaunted "intelligence" of these weapon systems and the good intentions of those "democratic" hypocrites who use them to further "humanitarian" objectives. And so the "risk-free" aspect of precision weaponry is strictly one-sided: it applies to the attacker and not to the enemy attacked. Only robots and professional liars can claim that precision weaponry is less barbaric than nuclear weapons, which at least had the (dubious) merit of endangering everyone, and not just the citizens of the so-called rogue nations.
At this point, let us note that we've accounted for two things that might otherwise be inexplicable: 1) the strong and enduring interest of the U.S. military (in general) in the web site maintained by a tiny group of non-violent activists such as the Surveillance Camera Players; and 2) the fact that interest in the SCP isn't limited to the Army, but is shared by the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and several intelligence and computer security divisions, as well.
The on-going surveillance of the SCP's site is part of an information war-game in which the Department of Defense has cast the SCP as one of the "players." Perhaps the name of the game is technical surveillance countermeasures, which, according to the DoD,
refers to the use of electronic surveillance equipment, or electronic or mechanical devices, solely for determining the existence and capability of electronic surveillance equipment being used by persons not authorized to conduct electronic surveillance, or for determining the suspectibility of electronic equipment to unlawful electronic surveillance [DoD Directive 5240.1-R].
The piece-meal nature of the DoD's technical surveillance countermeasures against the SCP -- e.g., the facts that "too many" entities are coming to visit, that several of them find it necessary to return a second and sometimes even a third time, and that the "bunchings" in the visits are irregular and follow no discernible pattern -- suggests that the wargame is proceeding without a dedicated, funded program.
But the SCP is not conducting unauthorized electronic (or video) surveillance against anyone! Note well the concluding paragraph of the group's essay on generalized transparency:
"reciprocal transparence" is a fatal strategy, one akin to arming everyone in the name of fighting against trigger-happy cops. The form and content of the SCP's plays can become as transparent as they want or need to be, but the group should never use cameras to inflict reciprocal transparence on any surveillant. We don't want to make a career out of performing in front of surveillance cameras! We want to ban them, not have them used as reversable tools in a never-ending struggle for "accountability." If there is anything healthily opaque about the SCP, it may very well be our insistence that the new form of theatre we have invented is nothing more to us than a transitional form, a vechicle, a passageway to a new form of society in which we are "accountable," not for our use of surveillance cameras, but for our ability to do without them.
Then why would the Department of Defense make the SCP and, no doubt, many other little groups, players in one of its ad hoc wargames? Because the group defines itself as anarchist, and anarchism has been widely vilified and feared since the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Then why surveill the SCP's web site and not its performances? Because the site is mirrored by a server in Europe -- a fact that could hardly have escaped the attention of the National Security Agency's ECHELON interception system -- and so can be used to circumvent efforts to restrict or cut off the flow of (certain types of) information leaving the United States of America. And, finally, why would the DoD operate out in the open and thus allow the SCP to realize that its site is being surveilled? As Ignatieff reports,
[In advance of the bombing of the Serbian TV station,] the Western public was prepared for the strike by daily NATO briefings which characterized the TV station as a dual-use target, transmitting hate speech [anti-NATO propaganda] and military signals. By the time the target was struck, public opinion had been extensively prepared by Western background briefers. This too is a new development. In real wars of the past, belligerents concealed their intentions. In virtual war, on the contrary, both sides broadcast them. In real war, belligerents seek to inflict real damage; in virtual war, both sides seek to inflict perceptual damage in order to undermine civilian morale.
Though the Department of Defense isn't offering daily briefings on the subject of the SCP's Web site, it's obvious that American newspapers, television shows and on-line news services are full of demoralizing stories about computer hackers and terrorists and the danger they pose to both military and civilian computer systems and web sites. The members of the SCP aren't terrorists or hackers or even "hacktivists," but their group would surely look "suspicious" to the eyes of "the [gullible] Western public" if the DoD revealed that it had been surveilling the SCP web site every few days for months and months. Why would the DoD surveill them if they weren't doing something wrong? It was precisely to answer this question (before it was even asked) that the SCP decided to go public with the information, once it became clear that the DoD is in fact surveilling the group's web site.
Future wars may even escape the scrutiny of journalists and observers altogether [Ignatieff writes]. If the target is the enemy's computer or banking infrastructure and the only weapons are computer viruses, no one will know the war is being fought until it is over. This kind of war will present a real challenge to the vigilance and persistence of the media and citizens as well.
It should be clear to all by now that the SCP's vigilance and persistence are up to the "challenge" posed by information warfare, and that the morale of the group has not been undermined by the knowledge that its Web site is under constant military surveillance.
Let us now briefly explore the militarization of civilian law enforcement or, if you will, the "police side" of the emerging Military/Police State.
In the last thirty years, civilian law enforcement authorities in the United States -- a category that includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), as well as the various municipal and state police forces -- have, almost inevitably, become increasingly militarized. Once again, the Vietnam War marks a turning-point: for the first time in its history, the government of the United States was at war with a foreign power and, at the same time, confronted with growing domestic opposition to American military involvement in Vietnam. Some of the domestic anti-war groups, as well as a few of the militant African-American groups, were advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government itself. Faced with this unprecedented double-threat, the federal government, especially in the first Nixon Administration, pumped large amounts of money into the coffers of the country's domestic law enforcement authorities. Properly funded, these authorities were able to arm themselves "to the teeth," as one says. But the pre-revolutionary crisis of the Vietnam War passed and, with it, the threat of armed insurrection against the US Government. In order to keep fighting the war, new enemies were needed. This need became urgent in the years after the collapse of East European Communism and the Soviet Union itself.
In the last ten years, the carceral society has compiled an impressive list of mortal threats to its existence, all of which are deemed to be "beyond" the limited resources of traditional, locally based authorities: 1) drugs and gangs, first identified as a threat in the early 1980s, especially in Los Angeles; 2) illegal immigration, first identified in the mid-1980s, especially along the border with Mexico; 3) refugees and natural disasters, identified in 1992 when mass looting broke out in Dade County, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew; 4) foreign terrorist groups, identified in 1993 as a result of the bombing of the World Trade Center and the attack on the headquarters of the CIA; 5) domestic terrorist groups, identified in 1995 as a result of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City; and 6) organized crime, identified in the mid-1990s as a result of the appearance on the world stage of "the Russian Mafia."
(The Surveillance Camera Players, anarchists and anti-globalization groups would no doubt be placed -- fairly or unfairly, out of ignorance or in bad faith -- under the rubric of "domestic terrorist groups," along with the far-right militia groups. The presence of refugees and natural disasters on this list, which was derived from military sources, explains the anomalous fact that medical corps have been among the military entities surveilling the SCP's Web site. The doctors aren't interested in surveillance cameras so much as they are interested in medical imaging technology, and contingency plans and wargames that concern the number and kinds of casualties and refugee camps that will be caused by information war.)
Though we have carefully distinguished foreign terrorist groups from domestic ones, the reader should note that each one of the six threats listed above cuts across all boundaries (regional, national and international). In the view of the experts in the field(s), foreign terrorists depend upon contacts in the United States, and domestic terrorists depend upon contacts with people in other countries. To deal with these networked threats in such a way that both local and global agendas are accommodated, domestic law enforcement authorities have worked closely with military authorities such as the Special Forces, the US Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), the Navy Seals, and the U.S. Army 82d Airborne Division. Indeed, a good deal of the research into and development of high-tech police gadgetry is co-sponsored by either the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, the successor to ARPA).
Even more alarming is the fact that civilian law enforcement authorities have restructured and re-armed themselves according to military models. Like the "industrial" armies that fought in World War II, the civilian law enforcement authorities of today put great faith in numerical superiority, colossal logistical back-up, and massive and all-encompassing operations. In cities such as Los Angeles and New York, the police departments are bigger and better equipped than the armies of most advanced nations. These civilian authorities have at their disposal properly military weapons (fully armed helicopters and armored personnel carriers). Because these authorities are told and encouraged to believe that they are at war, they all-too-frequently act like an occupying army. Unreasonable searches and seizures, usually according to racial profiles, are routinely made on a mass scale. Criminal suspects are treated as if they were known enemies or "hostiles." Violence is all-too-often used excessively, that is, not only upon suspects who violently resist arrest, but also to signify moral outrage at particular crimes, to punish people the police have already judged to be guilty, and to avenge attacks on members of their own ranks. In several situations in which armed criminal suspects -- the American Indian Movement (1972), the members of MOVE (1985), Randy Weaver and his family (1992) and the Branch Davidians (1993) -- have barricaded themselves into fortified positions, American civilian law enforcement authorities have committed murder. In some American cities -- Detroit, for example -- the police shoot and kill more people each year than do the entire armed forces of the United States. The contrast with the "restraint" and "cleanliness" of post-modern military operations couldn't be more stark.
Despite their increasingly cosy relationship, the military and civilian law enforcement authorities are not "on the same page." During the period in which the military has been revolutionizing itself by becoming more "conventional," civilian law enforcement authorities have been "modernizing" themselves by conforming to the model of the Army as it was back in the pre-RMA, nuclear weapon days. At least five predictions can be made on the basis of this paradox.
1. Sometime in the (near) future, there will be a Revolution in Police Affairs (RPA) analogous to the post-1972 Revolution in Military Affairs, and it will bring America's militarized but still industrially organized police forces "up to speed" with the precision weaponry of the day. Michael Ignatieff writes:
Nuclear weapons can be miniaturized: their payloads so reduced and their guidance systems made so precise that they can avoid the indiscriminate destruction which previously made them unusable. Likewise, at the other end of the scale, there is no reason in principle -- other than cost -- why there cannot be precision-guided bullets, computer directed to their targets.
One can already hear the cynical arguments in favor of equipping the NYPD with precision-guided bullets, that is, computerized guns that would lock onto targets and guide bullets to them with much greater precision that any manual weapon previously used. Like military rifles, which were parodied 100 years ago by Alfred Jarry, "smart guns" will be extolled for their accuracy, and for the possibility that fatal "accidents" -- like the recent police-involved shooting-deaths in New York of Malcolm Ferguson and Patrick Dorismond -- can be avoided, indeed, made virtually impossible. "Smart guns" will be extolled as "humanitarian" because they will give police officers the ability to shoot the gun right out of the suspect's hand, without killing or even wounding him, just like on television!
2. The use of precision-guided bullets by civilian law enforcement authorities will produce the same results at the local level as those produced at the global level by the military's precision-guided missiles: though the number of "accidental" fatalities will decrease, the overall number of police shootings will increase; those who had been hesitant to fire their guns in the past will become much less hesitant to do so; violent action will be undertaken more often, not less, because the user will no doubt be able to fire the precision-guided bullet from a great distance; etc. etc.
3. The enthusiasm for "smart" bullets and the like will surely not be shared by all members of the domestic law enforcement establishment. It is important to remember that the Revolution in Military Affairs hasn't been uniformly welcomed by the various armed forces. Though it has had a lot of support from the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines, all of which have been involved in its testing, development and deployment, precision weaponry has been more or less openly resisted by the Army, precisely because it knows full well that the new digital weaponry does away with the necessity of ground troops, tanks, artillery units, and divisional (i.e., non-integrated) structures. The Revolution in Military Affairs has forced the Army to dismantle entire armored battalions and to start training the "grunts" to be high-tech spies who (predictably) create and analyze digital pictures and computerized reports (cf. "After the Tank," U.S. News and World Report, 18 September 2000).
Just as the Army has resisted the Revolution in Military Affairs, the rank and file of America's police forces will resist the Revolution in Police Affairs. They will see such post-modern technological wonders as computers that track "quality of life crimes," facial recognition software, and totally automated surveillance cameras and CCTV systems as replacements for, and not supplements to the eyes and brains of living police officers. More than that: the rank and file will see these technologies as little more than high-tech methods of enforcing discipline and "settling" other labor-related disputes within the police department. And so the rank and file, and perhaps some of the leaders of the police union, will reject the new technology. (Perhaps the SCP should write and perform a play that speaks directly to this possibility.)
4. The Revolution in Police Affairs, in addition to supporting the use of the usual array of deadly weapons, will encourage the widespread use of such "less-than-lethal" or "non-lethal" weapons as clubs, pepper spray and pepper guns, rubber bullets and tear-gas. (All weapons are potentially lethal; a number of people have died in police custody as a result of being sprayed with mace.) The model or precedent here would again be the U.S. military, which already develops and uses a great many non-lethal weapons. (As a matter of fact, Colonel John Alexander's Future War defines information war as one of the many non-lethal weapons currently available to the military.) One of the biggest supporters of local police departments that want to develop and deploy non-lethal weapons is the Army Research Laboratory.
Though non-lethal weapons may or may not be targeted precisely, they are, shall we say, precise with respect to purpose. They get the enemy's soldiers or the criminal suspect to surrender, to be arrested, to "go quietly." Is this not the most important thing? Colonel Alexander very wisely reminds his readers that the 19th century Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz insisted that, when it came to war, "imposition of will, not physical destruction, is the appropriate measure of success." In a sentence, this is the raison d'etre or justification for all weapons, whether they are nuclear or "conventional," military or civilian, lethal or non-lethal.
Like precision-guided missiles and "smart bullets," non-lethal weapons will widen the range of police violence, not narrow it. Those who had been hesitant to fire a deadly weapon will obviously be much less hesitant to fire a non-lethal one. The victims of increased incidents of non-lethal violence will not be powerful mobs (the Mafia, corporate insiders or political cronies), but weak mobs such as those that took to the streets of Seattle in November 1999 to protest against the World Trade Organization. As Colonel Alexander's book makes clear, non-lethal weapons are new to the military -- they cannot be used as a method of warfare -- but have been used for decades by civilian law enforcement authorities, especially when they are called in to quell serious labor disputes, unruly political demonstrations, riots and other civil unrest. Plastic and rubber bullets are especially popular; according to the Colonel, the British and the Israelis have apparently excelled at their development and use (in Northern Ireland and the occupied territories in Gaza and on the West Bank, respectively).
Ironically -- perhaps that should be ominously -- low-level non-lethal weapons such as mace, pepper spray and the like are universally available: they can be purchased and used by private individuals, police departments and armies (provided that these armies are engaged in "peacekeeping" operations and "operations other than war" -- or so says double-talking Colonel Alexander). Worse still -- as Robert Lederman points out -- anyone and everyone can buy a living virus (not a computer virus) or a bacteriological weapon from the American Type Culture Collection. Are these not echoes or anticipations of total war, of a world in which it is "every man for himself," in which every man, woman and child is his or her own army?
5. The Revolution in Police Affairs will involve the automation of surveillance cameras and CCTV systems. Today, almost all of these systems -- at least those operating in the United States -- are manually operated. That is to say, it is still necessary for human beings to zoom in, pan or tilt; to watch the TV monitor on which the images are displayed; to spot suspicious or illegal activities; to consult "wanted" posters and the like for matches; and to call in officers to investigate. As a result, some people encountered by the SCP haven't been worried by the proliferation of surveillance cameras in public places. They are confident that so much footage is being produced by these cameras that the police will never have sufficient "man-power" or time to watch it all. Or, rather, the police will only have time to watch "the real criminals" and won't have time to watch or invade the privacy of ordinary, law-abiding citizens. Thus the threat posed by the proliferation of cameras is an empty one: it's a bluff, pure and simple.
The Revolution in Police Affairs (RPA) will change all this. In a few places in England, which is by far the most surveilled nation on the planet, the RPA has already begun. Motion sensors, remote tracking devices, object and face recognition software, and networked databases have replaced human beings, or, rather, have drastically reduced the number of human beings necessary to surveill a large area around the clock. In the words of the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, which is working on the problem in tandem with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, automation is the future of video surveillance at all levels (commercial, law enforcement and military).
6. Despite the fact that it will involve the proliferation and automation of video surveillance systems, the Revolution in Police Affairs will undermine the support for such systems, and not just because the cameras will put cops out of work or under the glaring eyes of their bosses. Surveillance cameras, like nuclear weapons, "work" according to utterly "mad" concept of deterrence, which hasn't been abandoned, despite its failure during the Cold War. "Nations that know that their enemies are observing them are far less likely to threaten international peace through rash behavior," the arms control expert Jeffrey Smith writes. Substitute "capable of vaporizing" for "observing" and you see that Smith is using (mis)understandings of human psychology held over from the Cold War.
Whether it is applied to nuclear weaponry or surveillance cameras, the concept of psychological deterrence fails to take account of the plain facts that 1) people who have been driven insane (because they haven't been able to successfully internalize paranoia) will act as they please, undeterred by anything; 2) people who are deemed to be "rational" are still subject to engage in risk-taking or "rash" behavior; 3) risk-taking behavior is engaged in for a variety of perfectly "rational" reasons, including adrenaline-fueled "kicks," greed, over-confidence, sexual satisfaction and religious conviction; 4) people discover through "trial and error" that not all crimes are detected, that a few undected crimes can in fact be committed; 5) people also discover through "trial and error" that there are vague terrains between detection and punishment, i.e., that it is possible to be detected and yet not be punished; 6) people who are perfectly rational take the presence of systems designed to protect them as indications that, were it not for these systems, they wouldn't be safe, and so are ultimately alarmed and not comforted by their presence; and 7) people are lulled into a false sense of security when they are protected, and become more likely than normal to make a mistake that ends up creating a dangerous situation.
Just as nuclear weapons didn't deter military aggression in Korea or Vietnam or Israel (or Kuwait or Bosnia or Kosovo), surveillance cameras won't deter crime in America. We note that very few of the cities that have installed CCTV systems in public have also posted signs that inform the public that video surveillance cameras are in operation. (It appears that only Baltimore and Hollywood have installed such signs.) This is quite curious, for one would expect that -- if deterrence is in fact the principle reason that public CCTV systems are effective crime-fighting tools -- such signs would be everywhere, even in places in which there were no cameras at all. If psychological deterrence is in fact the primary means of fighting crime, then a sign would be just as effective as a real camera! Indeed, a sign would be a better crime-fighting tool than a video camera, because it costs much less money to install and maintain.
We take the nearly universal absence of warning signs as a tacit admission on the part of the police forces that have installed the surveillance cameras that they do not put much faith in the power of deterrence. Neither should we.
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998