Intelligence designed

LIMN 6

The latest issue of Limn is on ‘The total archive‘:

Vast accumulations of data, documents, records, and samples saturate our world: bulk collection of phone calls by the NSA and GCHQ; Google, Amazon or Facebook’s ambitions to collect and store all data or know every preference of every individual; India’s monumental efforts to give everyone a number, and maybe an iris scan; hundreds of thousands of whole genome sequences; seed banks of all existing plants, and of course, the ancient and on-going ambitions to create universal libraries of books, or their surrogates.

Just what is the purpose of these optimistically total archives – beyond their own internal logic of completeness? Etymologically speaking, archives are related to government—the site of public records, the town hall, the records of the rulers (archons). Governing a collective—whether people in a territory, consumers of services or goods, or victims of an injustice—requires keeping and consulting records of all kinds; but this practice itself can also generate new forms of governing, and new kinds of collectives, by its very execution. Thinking about our contemporary obsession with vast accumulations through the figure of the archive poses questions concerning the relationships between three things: (1) the systematic accumulation of documents, records, samples or data; (2) a form of government and governing; and (3) a particular conception of a collectivity or collective kind. (1) What kinds of collectivities are formed by contemporary accumulations? What kind of government or management do they make possible? And who are the governors, particularly in contexts where those doing the accumulation are not agents of a traditional government?

This issue of Limn asks authors to consider the way the archive—as a figure for a particular mode of government—might shed light on the contemporary collections, indexes, databases, analytics, and surveillance, and the collectives implied or brought into being by them.

The issue includes an essay by Stephen J. Collier and Andrew Lakoff on the US Air Force’s Bombing Encyclopedia of the World.  I’ve discussed the Encyclopedia in detail before, but they’ve found a source that expands that discussion, a series of lectures delivered in 1946-48 to the Air War College by Dr. James T. Lowe, the Director of Research for the Strategic Vulnerability Branch of the U.S. Army’s Air Intelligence Division. The Branch was established in 1945 and charged with conducting what Lowe described as a ‘pre-analysis of the vulnerability of the U.S.S.R. to strategic air attack and to carry that analysis to the point where the right bombs could be put on the right targets concomitant with the decision to wage the war without any intervening time period whatsoever.’

Bombing Encylopedia Coding Form

The project involved drawing together information from multiple sources, coding and geo-locating the nominated targets, and then automating the data-management system.

What interests the authors is the way in which this transformed what was called  ‘strategic vulnerability analysis’: the data stream could be interrogated through different ‘runs’, isolating different systems, in order to identify the ‘key target system’:

‘… the data could be flexibly accessed: it would not be organized through a single, rigid system of classification, but could be queried through “runs” that would generate reports about potential target systems based on selected criteria such as industry and location. As Lowe explained, “[b]y punching these cards you can get a run of all fighter aircraft plants” near New York or Moscow. “Or you can punch the cards again and get a list of all the plants within a geographical area…. Pretty much any combination of industrial target information that is required can be obtained—and can be obtained without error” (Lowe 1946:13-14).’

Their central point is that the whole project was the fulcrum for a radical transformation of knowledge production:

‘The inventory assembled for the Encyclopedia was not a record of the past; rather, it was a catalog of the elements comprising a modern military-industrial economy. The analysis of strategic vulnerability did not calculate the regular occurrence of events and project the series of past events into the future, based on the assumption that the future would resemble the past. Rather, it examined interdependencies among these elements to generate a picture of vital material flows and it anticipated critical economic vulnerabilities by modeling the effects of a range of possible future contingencies. It generated a new kind of knowledge about collective existence as a collection of vital systems vulnerable to catastrophic disruption.’

And so, not surprisingly, the same analysis could be turned inwards – to detect and minimise sites of strategic vulnerability within the United States.

All of this intersects with the authors’ wider concerns about vital systems security: see in particular their ‘Vital Systems Security: Reflexive biopolitics and the government of emergency‘, in Theory, Culture and Society 32(2) (2015):19–51:

This article describes the historical emergence of vital systems security, analyzing it as a significant mutation in biopolitical modernity. The story begins in the early 20th century, when planners and policy-makers recognized the increasing dependence of collective life on interlinked systems such as transportation, electricity, and water. Over the following decades, new security mechanisms were invented to mitigate the vulnerability of these vital systems. While these techniques were initially developed as part of Cold War preparedness for nuclear war, they eventually migrated to domains beyond national security to address a range of anticipated emergencies, such as large-scale natural disasters, pandemic disease outbreaks, and disruptions of critical infrastructure. In these various contexts, vital systems security operates as a form of reflexive biopolitics, managing risks that have arisen as the result of modernization processes. This analysis sheds new light on current discussions of the government of emergency and ‘states of exception’. Vital systems security does not require recourse to extraordinary executive powers. Rather, as an anticipatory technology for mitigating vulnerabilities and closing gaps in preparedness, it provides a ready-to-hand toolkit for administering emergencies as a normal part of constitutional government.

It’s important to add two riders to the discussion of the Bombing Encyclopedia, both of which concern techno-politics rather than biopolitics.  Although those responsible for targeting invariably represent it as a technical-analytical process – in fact, one of the most common elements in the moral economy of bombing is that it is ‘objective’, as I showed in my Tanner Lectures – it is always also intrinsically political; its instrumentality resides in its function as an irreducibly political technology.

KeptDark1As Stephen and Andrew make clear, the emphasis on key target systems emerged during the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany in the Second World War, when it was the subject of heated debate.  This went far beyond Arthur Harris‘s vituperative dismissals of Solly Zuckerman‘s arguments against area bombing in favour of economic targets (‘panacea targets’, Harris called them: see my discussion in ‘Doors into nowhere’: DOWNLOADS tab).  You can get some sense of its wider dimensions from John Stubbington‘s intricate Kept in the Dark (2010), which not only provides a robust critique of the Ministry of Economic Warfare’s contributions to target selection but also claims that vital signals intelligence – including ULTRA decrypts – was withheld from Bomber Command.  Administrative and bureaucratic rivalries within and between intelligence agencies did not end with the war, and you can find a suggestive discussion of the impact of this infighting on US targeting in Eric Schmidt‘s admirably clear (1993) account of the development of Targeting Organizations here.

Any targeting process produces not only targets (it’s as well to remember that we don’t inhabit a world of targets: they have to be identified, nominated, activated – in a word, produced) but also political subjects who are interpellated through the positions they occupy within the kill-chain.  After the Second World War, Freeman Dyson reflected on what he had done and, by implication, what it had done to him:

FREEMAN DYSON

But data-management had been in its infancy.  With the Bombing Encyclopedia, Lowe argued, ‘the new “machine methods” of information management made it possible “to operate with a small fraction of the number of people in the target business that would normally be required.”‘  But there were still very large numbers involved, and Henry Nash –who worked on the Bombing Encyclopedia – was even more blunt about what he called ‘the bureaucratization of homicide‘:

HENRY NASH

This puts a different gloss on that prescient remark of Michel Foucault‘s: ‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.’

Nash began his essay with a quotation from a remarkable book by Richard J. Barnet, The roots of war (1972).  Barnet said this (about the Vietnam War, but his point was a general one):

‘The essential characteristic of bureaucratic homicide is division of labor. In general, those who plan do not kill and those who kill do not plan. The scene is familiar. Men in blue, green and khaki tunics and others in three-button business suits sit in pastel offices and plan complex operations in which thousands of distant human beings will die. The men who planned the saturation bombings, free fire zones, defoliation, crop destruction, and assassination programs in the Vietnam War never personally killed anyone.

BarnetRichard‘The bureaucratization of homicide is responsible for the routine character of modern war, the absence of passion and the efficiency of mass-produced death. Those who do the killing are following standing orders…

‘The complexity and vastness of modern bureaucratic government complicates the issue of personal responsibility. At every level of government the classic defense of the bureaucratic killer is available: “I was just doing my job!” The essence of bureaucratic government is emotional coolness, orderliness, implacable momentum, and a dedication to abstract principle. Each cog in the bureaucratic machine does what it is supposed to do.

‘The Green Machine, as the soldiers in Vietnam called the military establishment, kills cleanly, and usually at a distance. America’s highly developed technology makes it possible to increase the distance between killer and victim and hence to preserve the crucial psychological fiction that the objects of America’s lethal attention are less than human.’

Barnet was the co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies; not surprisingly, he ended up on Richard Nixon‘s ‘enemies list‘ (another form of targeting).

I make these points because there has been an explosion – another avalanche – of important and interesting essays on databases and algorithms, and the part they play in the administration of military and paramilitary violence.  I’m thinking of Susan Schuppli‘s splendid essay on ‘Deadly algorithms‘, for example, or the special issue of Society & Space on the politics of the list – see in particular the contributions by Marieke de Goede and Gavin Sullivan (‘The politics of security lists‘), Jutta Weber (‘On kill lists‘) and Fleur Johns (on the pairing of list and algorithm) – and collectively these have provided essential insights into what these standard operating procedures do.  But I’d just add that they interpellate not only their victims but also their agents: these intelligence systems are no more ‘unmanned’ than the weapons systems that prosecute their targets.  They too may be ‘remote’ (Barnet’s sharp point) and they certainly disperse responsibility, but the role of the political subjects they produce cannot be evaded.  Automation and AI undoubtedly raise vital legal and ethical questions – these will become ever more urgent and are by no means confined to ‘system failure‘ – but we must not lose sight of the politics articulated through their activation.  And neither should we confuse accountancy with accountability.

Redacted

Uruzgan Intel

Much of my work on                has had to    with documents that have been heavily          like this – not only text but as you can see also       .

There’s a     discussion of          by             over at               here.  For further discussion, I’d recommend            ‘s ‘Beyond the           ‘ available here (if you’re      ).

The last Bastion

Camp Bastion Role 3 hospital (2008-9)

Camp Bastion Role 3 hospital (late 2010)

In between my other projects, I’m battling my way back to my current research on casualty evacuation.  Reading about the military hospital at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan – you can find a bare-bones’ (sic) summary of its development in a series of linked reports from David Vassallo here, here and here (the plans above document its expansion from 2008 to 2010) – I came across the ethnographic work of Mark de Rond:

Cornell University Press are publishing a monograph based on his work later this year – Doctors at war: an ethnographer’s account of life and death in a field hospital – though so far I’ve been unable to track down any more details of what promises to be an essential study of combat casualty care (and Mark’s key interest, ‘teamwork’ – hence his study of the Cambridge Boat Race crew).

Bastion casualty arrival

In the meantime, you can get a sense of what he calls ‘field work beyond the comfort zone’ from an essay, ‘Soldier, surgeon, photographer, fly’ that appeared in Strategic Organization 10 (3) (2012) 256-262, available open access here:

To treat major trauma effectively requires surgeons and anaesthetists to align their efforts in a context where the margin for error is small and the stakes matters of life and death. Yet even such close cooperation does not rule out rivalry. For leave these surgeons with little or nothing to do work-wise and they may turn on each other instead. Unable to sit still, some begin to interfere in the affairs of others or to compete for work. As one of the surgeons admitted: ‘He is fighting for work. I am fighting for work, each of us hoping the other will be late.’ Sebastian Junger described the troops he embedded himself with as so bored on occasion that ‘they prayed for contact [with the enemy] as farmers pray for rain’ (Hetherington, 2010: 15). Even when work is plentiful, surgeons may compete for the most interesting jobs.

As in Junger’s Korengal Valley, in Camp Bastion’s hospital periods of great intensity follow periods of boredom in which it is however impossible to relax or to put oneself to productive use; surgeons and warriors alike intentionally objectify casualties yet can feel callous for not caring more than they do. It is here that the extremes of busyness and boredom, significance and futility can change rapidly and unpredictably, and shift the balance between altruism and selfishness, pleasure and guilt, the thrill of warfare and cowardice. ‘In this kind of war’, wrote McCullin, ‘you are on a schizophrenic trip. You cannot equate what is going on with anything else in life. . . . None of the real world judgments seem to apply. What’s peace, what’s war, what’s dead, what’s living, what’s right, what’s wrong? You don’t know the answers’ (2002: 100–1).

I’m looking forward to reading Mark’s account alongside the remarkable work of David Cotterrell that I described in ‘Bodies on the line’ here.

The World’s E.R.

VanRooyen World's Emergency RoomAs military and paramilitary attacks on hospitals and medical facilities have increased – in Afghanistan, GazaSyria, Yemen and elsewhere – even as the number of casualties has soared, Michael VanRooyen‘s new book The World’s Emergency Room (out next month from St Martin’s) promises to provide an urgent overview of what has become a routinised violation of medical neutrality:

Twenty years ago, the most common cause of death for medical humanitarians and other aid workers was traffic accidents; today, it is violent attacks. And the death of each doctor, nurse, paramedic, midwife, and vaccinator is multiplied untold times in the vulnerable populations deprived of their care. In a 2005 report, the ICRC found that for every soldier killed in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 60 civilians died due to loss of immunizations and other basic health services.

The World’s Emergency Room: The Growing Threat to Doctors, Nurses, and Humanitarian Workers documents this dangerous trend, demonstrates the urgent need to reverse it, and explores how that can be accomplished. Drawing on VanRooyen’s personal experiences and those of his colleagues in international humanitarian medicine, he takes readers into clinics, wards, and field hospitals around the world where medical personnel work with inadequate resources under dangerous conditions to care for civilians imperiled by conflict. VanRooyen undergirds these compelling stories with data and historical context, emphasizing how they imperil the key doctrine of medical neutrality, and what to do about it.

Michael is a professor at the Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

From Kirkus:

A behind-the-scenes look at the nascent field of humanitarian medicine as it has evolved in recent years of civil wars, famines, tsunamis, and other natural and man-made disasters.

Since 1990, world conflicts and refugee crises have spurred the growth of a massive force of humanitarian aid workers—some 275,000 individuals with the United Nations and NGOs, most of whom lack the formal training needed to deal with complex events like the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake. In that 25-year period, more than 1,000 aid workers were killed in attacks on hospitals, medical staff, and civilian patients. VanRooyen, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the co-founder and director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, came of age professionally in the fields of emergency medicine and humanitarian medicine, which are the focus of this fascinating debut. “What the emergency room is to Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore, humanitarian medical relief is to the world’s crisis zones,” he writes. Whether in an unstable inner city or a failed state, doctors provide a safety net of emergency health care for people with critical needs. The author recounts his experiences on the ground as an emergency physician in Bosnia, Chad, the Congo, Haiti, Somalia, and many other countries and how he and like-minded colleagues have sought to professionalize humanitarian efforts, which have frequently been criticized as uncoordinated and wasteful. (The Haitian relief effort was a “humanitarian free-for-all,” he writes, involving novice agencies, inexperienced surgical teams, and “disaster tourists.”) In 2005, VanRooyen and others established the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a first-of-its-kind, universitywide effort to pursue research, training, and innovative approaches to humanitarian aid that could be leveraged to achieve policy changes. Despite the subtitle, the author devotes relatively little attention to the increasing dangers facing aid workers, focusing mainly on the need to establish rigorous standards for the field in order to prevent the malnutrition and infectious diseases that are the biggest killers in communities in conflict.

Playing the military-industrial complex

Michael Davis – not to be confused with the other Mike Davis – has a new game, The Military-Industrial Complex, which may well appeal to readers looking for other ways to delay and procrastinate.  You play the Minister for Civil Industry and War Production.

Military-Industrial Complex

This is how Jack Kotzer described the game:

You sit at a terminal with your face glued to the screens. If you press right, resources go to your defences, developing tech, and weapons. If you press left, resources go to your people, developing stickers, strip-malls, and new “very special episodes” of ALF about drugs to keep them busy all day. When you fund project for the people, Stalintron’s forces get closer to the border. If you fund the war machine, your populace starts itching for a revolution. Every few turns a wild card will appear, forces beyond your power that can temper either anxiety, such as your rival’s failures, a deal with Lord Triton god of the ocean, or the sexiest goddamn Bryan Adams album to date.

“The gameplay is designed in such a way that you can never win,” said Davis in an email to Motherboard. “You can just prolong how long it takes to lose, which is my ham-fisted pinko statement on the actual Military-Industrial Complex.”

As the image shows, it’s also a retro-tribute to the original Mac – available from the App Store.

Killboxes and drone shadows

After the AAG Conference in San Francisco next month I’m heading across to UC Davis for a conference on ‘Eyes in the skies: Drones and the politics of distance warfare‘, organised by Caren Kaplan (5 April if you’re in the area).  The event is sponsored by the Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Surveillance Democracies and the Mellon Research Initiative in Digital Cultures.

The program includes a presentation from Joseph DeLappe and a panel on his work.  His own presentation is on Killbox, a game on/about drone warfare.

Killbox is an online game and interactive installation that critically explores the nature of drone warfare, its complexities and consequences. It is an experience which explores the use of technology to transform and extend political and military power, and the abstraction of killing through virtualisation.

Killbox involves audiences in a fictionalized interactive experience in virtual environments based on documented drones strikes in Northern Pakistan.

The work is an international collaboration between U.S. based artist/activist, Joseph DeLappe and Scotland-based artists and game developers, Malath Abbas, Tom Demajo and Albert Elwin.

If you want to know more about kill-boxes, incidentally, I provided a detailed discussion in one of my commentaries on Grégoire Chamayou‘s Théorie du drone – you can find it here: scroll down –  and there’s a recent essay by Scott Beauchamp for the Atlantic on ‘the moral cost of the kill-box’ here:

Kill boxes might have been one strategic reason why the Gulf War only lasted 100 hours.

In particular, kill boxes proved an efficient way for the Air Force to dismantle opposing militaries. This worked in 1991, and again during the first years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In these early stages, using a kill box required positive identification of an enemy target, a process called PID, before engaging. “We have to visually identify the target and we have to determine whether it’s a hostile [military] target. We determine that it’s not friendly by using visual recognition features and through ground elements of the nearest friendly positions,” Air Force Major Greg Defore told National Defense Magazine in 2003. In other words: Servicemen look at who or what they’re going to shoot with their own eyes before shooting to make sure the person or object is actually the part of the enemy’s military forces. “You may be 100 percent sure that a vehicle is not a friendly and still not engage. It could, for instance, be a humanitarian food truck or a farm vehicle,” Defore said.

This strategy worked well during the initial invasion of Iraq, but only because the opposing team was wearing a jersey, so to speak. It was possible to look at a truck and know whether or not it was hostile. But as a conventional war degenerated into a complex quagmire of militants engaged in guerilla warfare, that sort of certainty wasn’t possible any longer. As Major James MacGregor explains in his paper, “Bringing the Box into Doctrine: Joint Doctrine and the Kill Box,” an officer from 1918 would have, with a little help, been able to understand the maps of the Gulf War: Enemy forces are here, friendly forces over here, that sort of thing. But today, the enemy could be anyone, anywhere. This type of warfare doesn’t naturally lend itself well to kill boxes. As the American military started using kill boxes in conjunction with drones in targeted killings, it effectively grafted a strategy from the past onto the present, a la Frankenstein. The military began using kill boxes in the so-called war on terror as a technique to exert force in “ungoverned spaces,” territories that are not controlled by a state and are populated by people who might not share American cultural values. Kill boxes are only used in places that are very different from the United States; military forces would never initiate a kill box Manchester or Ann Arbor, for example, even if a suspected terrorist lived there. Too many innocent people would be killed. The innocent people living in Afghanistan or Yemen, however, are apparently judged by a different standard. And this is the moral cost of the kill box: When used widely and indiscriminately, the tactic devalues human life.

75_drone-shadow-charlie-3

Joseph has several other projects that address drone warfare, the most interesting of which (to me, anyway) is his ongoing visualization of drone strikes around Mir Ali in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (see above):

A collaborative project to create a large-scale installation to map, via sculptural and electronic components, the history of ongoing US drone strikes in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. The work shown here includes 25 3-D printed paper reproductions of MQ9 Predator Drones, arranged in a pattern of documented drone strikes around the town of Mir Ali. This is a prototype for a much larger installation that, when completed, will feature over 405 paper drones – one each representing every documented drone strike in Pakistan. The drones will be arranged to create a map of drone strikes – each drone is individually lit by an addressable LED light which will go off in a staccato pattern – in the final installation the staccato pattern will be interrupted over time by individual drones strikes being highlighted in red and the incorporation of an LED panel on the wall that will note the location, date and number of people killed.

There’s a preview of the prototype, ‘Drone Shadow’, on YouTube: