Grim Reapers


Sky News has a report on Launch & Recovery crews responsible for US/UK drone operations against IS in Iraq and Syria based “somewhere in the Middle East”.

Much of it will be all too familiar to most readers:

Relentlessly watching their prey. Monitoring every movement a high profile Islamic State target makes.

In the words of the American officer I speak to, “we are the unblinking eye”…

“We are going to be on that target as long as the weather allows and as long as the mission allows.

In many cases there is more than one asset on that individual.

“You know when he’s going to go to the bathroom, you know when he’s going to go to eat, you know when he’s going to go to prayer time.

“You know where he goes, his associates.

“That’s all about building that picture so that we know and we can project when he’s going and where he’s going to be.”

But the video embedded in the report repays close attention, not least for the brief glimpses of the video feeds from the drones themselves.

Drone airborne JPEG

The first two images (above) are clips from the video used by the pilot to control the aircraft – a view of the runway before take-off and an airborne view before control is handed off to the crew who will fly the assault mission from ground control stations in either the US or the UK – while the third (below) is from the imagery used to identify a ‘possible target’.  The comparison between this last image and the equally ‘High Definition’ imagery released from an Italian MQ-9 Reaper late last year is instructive: see my post here.


You can find updates on the UK campaign in Iraq and Syria at Drone Wars UK here and here.

As Chris Cole reports there, too, the use of remote platforms [RPAs] to strike targets in Afghanistan has increased dramatically following the draw-down of US and NATO forces:

Drones in Afghanistan 2016.001


It is surely not coincidental that last month the US Air Force renamed eight of its RPA reconnaissance squadrons ‘attack squadrons’:

‘Eight RPA reconnaissance squadrons [based at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, Whiteman AFB in Missouri, and Creech AFB in Nevada] will be redesignated as attack squadrons [and]… Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III authorized RPA aircrews to log combat time when flying an aircraft within designated hostile airspace, regardless of the aircrew’s physical location.

The changes were two of many recommendations that emerged as part of Air Combat Command’s Culture and Process Improvement Program, which seeks to address a number of issues affecting operations and the morale and welfare of Airmen across the RPA enterprise….

“Aerial warfare continues to evolve. Our great RPA Airmen are leading that change. They are in the fight every day,” Welsh said. “These policy changes recognize the burdens they bear in providing combat effects for joint warfighters around the world.”’

Kill Chain

COCKBURN Kill chain 1

Yet more on targeted killing/assassination: new from Verso and Henry Holt in March, Andrew Cockburn‘s Kill Chain: the rise of the high-tech assassins.

Kill Chain uncovers the real and extraordinary story of drone warfare, its origins in long-buried secret programs, the breakthroughs that made drone operations possible, the ways in which the technology works, and, despite official claims, does not work. Through the well-guarded world of national security, the book reveals the powerful interests—military, CIA, and corporate—that have led the drive to kill individuals by remote control. Most importantly of all, the book describes what has really happened when the theories underpinning the strategy—and the multi billion-dollar contracts they spawn—have been put to the test.

Andrew is the author of the brilliant Rumsfeld: an American disaster, and he’s also been writing around the issue of military and paramilitary violence for some time.  There’s an early review of Kill Chain from Kirkus here, and Andrew discusses writing the book in a short audio clip here.

If you can’t wait until March, there’s a taster in ‘Drones, baby, drones‘, which appeared in the London Review of Books (8 March 2012); if you aren’t a subscriber you can obtain 24-hour access free of charge.

Time and again, the military has claimed that advances in technology have finally made warfare predictable and precise. That was the promise of Igloo White in Vietnam [see my ‘Lines of descent’: DOWNLOADS tab], the video-game spectacle of the Gulf War, the war for Kosovo and the counter-guerrilla wars of the past ten years. Time and again, the military’s claims have been disproved. Will drones change everything? Robert Gates, secretary of defence from 2006 to 2011, expressed the official view in his address to the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation annual dinner last March. Confessing that he hadn’t initially done enough to quash resistance to innovation from ‘flyboys in silk scarves’, Gates said: ‘From now on, it’s drones, baby, drones.’

In the audio clip Andrew insists that the full-motion video feeds from Predators and Reapers are far less clear than most commentators make out, and in subsequent contributions Andrew has perceptively linked the fantasies of the God-trick with militarized vision more generally: see, for example, his ‘Tunnel vision‘ (about the comparative merits of the A10 and the B1 bomber) which appeared in Harper’s in February 2014 and ‘Flying Blind‘, which appeared on Harper’s blog in September.

I’m not convinced that the A-10 is able to ‘observe the battleground with such precision, and safely to target enemy forces a stone’s throw away from friendly troops’ as Andrew maintains, but his more general point is a sharp one.  Too often we forget that other aircraft rely on optical sensors and video screens too, not only Predators and Reapers, and that these political technologies differ from platform to platform, as the following slides from ‘Angry eyes’ indicate (where the captain of an AC-130 gunship in fact defers to the crew of a Predator):

Angry eyes VISION.001

Angry eyes VISION.002

And, as Andrew also makes clear, these technologies produce their own interpellations:

Video will often supply a false clarity to preconceived notions. One A-10 pilot described to me an afternoon he spent circling high over southern A ghanistan in May 2010, watching four people—tiny figures on his cockpit screen—clustering at the side of a road before they retreated across a field to- ward a house. Everything about their movements suggested a Taliban I.E.D.- laying team. Then the door to the house opened and a mother emerged to hustle her children in to supper.

“On the screen,” he explained, “the only way to tell a child from an adult is when they are standing next to each other. Otherwise everyone looks the same.”

“We call the screens face magnets,” remarked another veteran, Lieutenant Colonel Billy Smith, a former A-10 squadron commander who flew tours over Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. “They tend to suck your face into the cockpit, so you don’t pay attention to what’s going on outside.”

All of this intersects with my continuing work on militarized vision, and in the next several weeks I’ll be uploading a series of new essays that deal with drone strikes in Pakistan [based on my ‘Dirty dancing‘ presentations], the Sangin Valley in Afghanistan (a ‘friendly fire’ incident), and an air strike in Uruzgan in Afghanistan that was orchestrated by a drone [based on my ‘Angry Eyes’ presentations]. So watch this space…

Incidentally, ‘kill chain’ is both the extended, networked apparatus that leads from air targeting to execution – for all platforms, remote and conventional – and the injunction that is typed into US military chat rooms (mIRC) to close down ‘chatter’ that might distract pilots once they are cleared to engage (see my discussion here).

Under American Skies

I’ll be in Berlin in December for a conversation with James Bridle about drone wars and related issues, and I’m already looking forward to it since I’m a great admirer of his work. I particularly admire the way in which he challenges so many of our assumptions about ‘looking’ through his presentations about militarised vision and violence, and I’ve noted before the filiations between his various projects and Josh Begley‘s.

Tomas van HoutryveSo I was interested to read about photographer Tomas van Houtryves (right) project Blue Sky Days.  He begins with an arresting observation with which both James and Josh would be only too familiar:

‘Although a huge amount of [full motion video] footage has been collected [by US drones], the program is classified, and few people have ever seen images of the drone war and its casualties. This seems like a paradox in our thoroughly media-connected age. How can America be involved in a decade-long war where the sky is buzzing with cameras, and yet the public remains totally in the dark?’

But his response to the question is distinctly different: he repatriates the drone wars from Pakistan to the United States (here the most appropriate comparison is with Omar Fast‘s 5,000 Feet is the Best).

Tomas van Houtryve 1

To do so, Tomas travelled across America with a small quadcopter drone bought from attached to his camera.  His concept was simple, Rena Silverman explains in the New York Times:

Take the idea of foreign drone strikes and instead target similar domestic situations, putting them under surveillance using his drone in public spaces. He made a list of hundreds of different strike reports, gleaning as many details about the circumstances…

He rented a black car with tinted windows and placed himself, his drones, his batteries and lists in the car. He spent six weeks in late 2013 averaging between seven and 10 drone flights daily, sleeping in a different town every night. He would pull the car into an empty lot, get out, launch the drone for about five to 10 minutes — about as long as its power lasted — take footage, land the drone, drive away and recharge the batteries while en route to the next location…

He followed his list carefully, trying to imitate “signature strikes,” referring to a May 2012 New York Times article in which some State Department officials complained about the lax criteria for identifying a terrorist “signature.” The joke was that “three guys doing jumping jacks” could be enough suspicious activity for the C.I.A. to conclude it could be a terrorist training camp. In other words, targeting people based on behavior rather than identity.

Tomas van Houtryve 2 copy

He photographed people exercising in Philadelphia, their shadows long and pinned against the grid of a park. He noticed more “signature” behavior while driving through San Francisco, where he encountered a group doing yoga [above]. When Mr. van Houtryve recently printed the image, he asked viewers if they thought the subjects were praying or exercising. It was a toss-up.

Although these images are not quite ‘what drone attacks in America would look like’, as Pete Brook suggested in WIRED – Tomas’s drone was flying much lower (‘only about six stories high’) and these images are pin-point sharp: there’s none of the ambiguity of infra-red heat signatures here – none the less that last sentence really says it all.  Images do not speak for themselves and interpretation counts for everything – which is why, as I’ve repeatedly argued, it matters so much what pilots, sensor operators and image analysts are pre-disposed to see.

It turns out that a particular incident provoked Tomas’s project – the murder of Mamana Bibi at Ghunda Kala in North Waziristan on 24 October 2012, which I described here –  and also gives it its title.

Zubair RehmanIn October 2012, a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside her house. At a briefing held in 2013 in Washington, DC, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson, Zubair Rehman, spoke to a group of five lawmakers. “I no longer love blue skies,” said Rehman, who was injured by shrapnel in the attack. “In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”

There’s more from Tomas at Harper’s here, which originally co-sponsored the project with the Pulitzer Center, and you can see more of his drone’s eye view images at the National Geographic here.

There’s also a revealing interview conducted by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone here; it contains all sorts of interesting observations, but one in particular resonated.  Asked about the tension between the beauty of his photographic compositions and the horror of what he is seeking to convey, Tomas says this:

‘The base subject that I’m trying to raise awareness about and get people to think about in less abstract terms is the foreign drone war. If you take the time to read through the particular airstrikes, a lot of them are quite horrifying. But on the other hand, as a photographer, I know that beauty is one of the tools that we use to get people to look at a picture. Beauty has a lot of power, so there’s a tension between trying to seduce people with the language of photography, which is beautiful composition, and trying to reveal something that might be uncomfortable or difficult to digest, once people fully grasp it.’

Another of my art icons, elin o’Hara slavick, says something very similar about her mesmerising sequence of aerial images of places bombed by the US, Bomb after bomb (see also Brian Howe‘s discussion here and my own in ‘Doors in to Nowhere’ [DOWNLOADS tab], from which I’ve taken this passage):

‘She adopts an aerial view—the position of the bombers—in order to stage and to subvert the power of aerial mastery. The drawings are made beautiful “to seduce the viewer,” she says, to draw them into the deadly embrace of the image only to have their pleasure disrupted when they take a closer look. “Like an Impressionist or Pointillist painting,” slavick explains, “I wish for the viewer to be captured by the colors and lost in the patterns and then to have their optical pleasure interrupted by the very real dots or bombs that make up the painting.”’

A tart reminder that there are multiple ways of ‘just looking‘.

Predator View

I’m in Zurich – many thanks to Benedikt Korf for the invitation and the wonderful hospitality – for a seminar with Benedikt’s doctoral students on the long form version of ‘The Natures of War’ (they have what I hope is the penultimate draft; I’ll post the final version once I’ve reworked it after the seminar) and then a public lecture: ‘Angry eyes: the militarization of vision and modern war’.

Part of my argument in the lecture is about the narrowness of ‘Predator View’, so let me explain what I mean.  My starting point is the illusion that the use of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of remote platforms like the MQ-1 Predator or the MQ-9 Reaper produces a transparent battlespace: in effect, a version of Donna Haraway‘s ‘God-trick’, the ability to see everything from nowhere in particular.  The most succinct version of this is the treatment of laser targeting as ‘the eye of God’:

Eye of God.001

In fact, ‘Predator View’ is remarkably narrow. First, and most directly, a common complaint is that the view provided by its Full Motion Video is literally too narrow – ‘like looking through a soda straw’.  It’s for this reason that pilots and sensor operators also use FalconView, a Windows-based mapping tool that is supposed to provide them with situational awareness.  I’ve taken the image below from a presentation by Lt Col Paul Hastert (USAF) on ‘Spiral development in wartime’ – the screenshot is the FalconView image, the small square the field of view from a Predator – but the most detailed account of FalconView is Jon Lindsay‘s ‘”War upon the map”‘: User innovation in American military software’, Technology and culture 51 (3) (2010) 619-51.


There have been several later releases of FalconView, and a version is now even open source, so it’s probably not surprising that the US military also uses Google Earth.  In fact, in two of the air strikes I consider in detail it was, in part, juggling these different views that contributed to wrong targeting decisions.  (There are projects that provide a wider field of view – the nine-camera suite of Gorgon Stare is in operation and its second increment is already in use in Afghanistan – and others that integrate imagery from multiple sources, like Raytheon’s Zeus, which is intended to supplant FalconView as the ‘primary mission execution tool‘).

But in the air strikes that I consider those involved in these networked operations are also busy communicating via radio and – crucially – via the typed messages displayed in mIRC‘s online chat windows.  The image below is taken from the US military’s multi-service manual on Tactical Chat (see also the discussion at Public Intelligence here).

mIRC 3 chatrooms

In the case of the ‘friendly fire’ incident in the Sangin Valley in 2011, the pilot and sensor operator were unaware of crucial entries made by image analysts in mIRC and of private (or ‘whisper’) chats to the Mission Intelligence Co-ordiator.  That’s not entirely surprising.  Once permission has been given to engage a target, ‘KILL CHAIN” is typed into the room to minimise extraneous chatter that might otherwise visually distract and so ‘degrade’ the strike.  According to the Mission Intelligence Controller for the Sangin incident:

‘When we got a standby for a 9-line [strike briefing] we put [KILLCHAIN] in the mIRC room to shut down chatter so we can be heads down supporting the pilot and the sensor … as they are getting ready for a possible Hellfire shot our whatever action… That’s our job, to be their third set of eyes…’

That third set of eyes is vital, though of little use if its responses are shut down.  In this case the pilot was paying no attention to mIRC because he was fully occupied:

‘I did not see the chat in the main mission room after seeing muzzle flashes. From that point on, my focus was clear concise communications with the [Joint Terminal Attack Controller] and ensuing [Close Air Support] comms, 9 line etc. At this point I was also focused on keeping the aircraft in position to maintain FMV on the individuals. I was also getting the aircraft into the [Weapons Engagement Zone]. Winds were 30 knots out of the west so I had to make sure I kept the aircraft position and direction in cross check.’

All of this suggests that it is unduly narrow to focus the analytical gaze on the Full Motion Video feeds.

But there’s more.  Militarised vision is not limited to Predators and their successors, and it’s important to consider the clarity and resolution of the imagery captured and transmitted from other, conventional aircraft like the AC-130 (first image below), the B-1 bomber, F-15E strike aircraft or attack helicopters (second image below)  – again, this was important in two of the strikes I consider in detail.

AC-10 Uruzgan.001

MMS from attack helicopter - Uruzgan.001

This leads me to two other senses in which the critical emphasis on ‘Predator View’ is too narrow.  It’s a mistake to fasten on one incident – even what has become the iconic ‘signature strike’ coordinated by a Predator on three civilian trucks in Uruzgan – because that misses the continuities, repetitions and transformations in Close Air Support (which is where most of the mistakes are made).

Better, I think, to widen the analytical gaze, which is why I examine the Kunduz air strike on 4 September 2009 (in which no remote platform was involved), the Uruzgan air strike of 21 February 2010 (which was co-ordinated by a Predator but carried out by two attack helicopters), and the Sangin Valley air strike of 6 April 2011 (which was executed by a Predator).  The Granai strike is included because it trigged McChrystal’s Tactical Directive of 6 July 2009 to minimise civilian casualties: ‘‘We must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories – but suffering strategic defeats – by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage and thus alienating the people.’  In all three cases I’ve worked through thousands of pages of official investigations – one by the German Bundestag since the ISAF report remains classified (Kunduz), and the others by the US Army and US Air Force (Uruzgan) and the US Marine Corps (Sangin Valley).

4 US air strikes in Afghanistan.001

And finally, it is also necessary to consider the multiple viewing positions involved in networked military violence.  There is a de-centralised, distributed and dispersed geography of militarised vision whose fields of view expand, contract and even close at different locations engaged in the administration of military violence.  And in all three incidents it turns out that vital mistakes in the interpretation of imagery were made at operations centres in theatre on the ground.

This has prompted me to radically revise the argument I originally set out in ‘From a view to a kill’ (DOWNLOADS tab).  There my focus was on the geography shown in the first map below – like every other commentator I’ve read, incidentally – but I’ve now widened the angle to take in the geography shown in the second map and this substantially changes the story.

Dispersed vision Uruzgan (1).001

Dispersed vision Uruzgan (2).001

It was what happened at the operations centres at Special Operations Task Force 12 in Kandahar and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Bagram that turned out to be every bit as important as the Predator crew’s obvious desire to ‘go kinetic’.

I make similar arguments about Kunduz, where the F-15E pilots were clearly reluctant to strike and the ground commander and JTAC at the Forward Operating Base overrode their objections.

Sangin is even more instructive, because the official investigation of this ‘friendly fire’ incident that resulted in the deaths of two Marines largely exonerated both the Predator crew and the ground commander and JTAC at the operations centre – but a detailed, spirited counter-memorandum from the US Marines commandant refuted the findings line by line, castigated the attempt to pin the blame for what happened on the young, inexperienced lieutenant leading the patrol, and excoriated the ground commander and JTAC back at the patrol base.  More on this soon.

The (long!) essay on these  strikes is the last chapter I need to complete for The everywhere war. There is a strong sense, so I shall argue, in which it was the view ‘on the ground’ that mattered much more than any ‘light of God’ from above.  And as for transparency….

Angry eyes

GREGORY Angry eyes JPEG.001

As part of my project on Militarized Vision I’ve been drawing together my work on two air strikes in Afghanistan in which the full motion video feeds from UAVs played a central role.  The first was an air strike in Uruzgan on 21 February 2010, which was carried out by two combat helicopters but mediated by video and commentary from a Predator and other eyes in the sky (the most thorough press account is by David Cloud here).  The second was a  ‘friendly fire’ incident in the Sangin valley on 5 April 2011 when a Predator strike claimed the lives of two US Marines (you can find an excellent summary account by David Cloud and David Zucchino here).

The two reports I’ve just cited were published in the LA TimesCombat by Camera series, but a close reading of the two official investigations – thousands of pages obtained through FOIA requests – inevitably shows that the stories were more complicated than the tag-line implies.  Still, for all the differences there are some remarkably close parallels between the two, and these have prompted me to revise (in radical ways) the analysis I originally offered in “From a view to a kill” (DOWNLOADS tab).

Searching for a title for the presentations I’m giving on this in October and November, I half-remembered a song called ‘Angry Eyes’.  When I tracked down the lyrics (by Kenny Loggins) I literally could not believe my eyes.  He obviously wasn’t writing about the US Air Force (or the Israeli), but it requires no great leap of the imagination to switch from love to violence:

Time, time and again
I’ve seen you starin’ out at me.

Now, then and again, I wonder
What it is that you see

With those Angry Eyes.
Well, I bet you wish you could
Cut me down with those Angry Eyes…

You want to believe that
I am not the same as you.
I can’t concieve, oh no,
What it is you’re tryin’ to do


What a shot you could be if
You could shoot at me
With those Angry Eyes…

You tried to defend that
You are not the one to blame.

But I’m finding it hard, my friend,
When I’m in the deadly aim
Of those Angry Eyes.

So the presentations (here in Vancouver, and in Zurich and Bergen) will be called “‘Angry eyes’: militarized vision and modern war”.  As the image implies, there’s more to this than full motion video displays, and I’m also going to try to say something about the genealogy of what Paul K. Saint-Amour calls ‘optical war’ (and its distance from the corpographies of ‘boots on the ground‘).

More on all this later, when I’ve finished the essay that I am presently spinning off the presentations with the same title; it’s the last thing I have to do for “The everywhere war” (I hope).

Remote operations

I’ve noted on several occasions the multiple ways in which later modern war invokes medical metaphors to legitimise military violence (notably ‘surgical strikes’ against the ‘cancer’ of insurgency), and my preliminary work on medical-military machines has revealed all sorts of feedbacks between (in particular) trauma care by advanced militaries in war zones and trauma care by civilian agencies at home.


But these two paths have now intersected: in a paper on ‘Automated killing and mediated caringKathrin Friedrich and Moritz Queisner draw on studies of remote platforms and visual technologies – including my own – to discuss the automated killing of tumour cells using the CyberKnife system and what they call the the techno-medical ‘kill-chain’ that mediates between physician and patient.  They write:

Gregory uses the term kill-chain to characterize the setting of military interventions by unmanned aerial systems as “a dispersed and distributed apparatus, a congerie of actors, objects, practices, discourses and affects, that entrains the people who are made part of it and constitutes them as particular kinds of subjects.” Image-guided interventions in medical contexts share similar structural features and are also characterized by tying together a heterogeneity of practices, actors, discourses and expertise in order to achieve a precisely defined goal but without obviously stating their inner relations and micro politics.


Their central question, appropriately re-phrased, can also be asked of today’s remote operations in theatres of war (and beyond):

The fact that medical robots increasingly determine medical therapy and often provide the only form of access to the operation area requires us to conceptualize them as care agents rather than to merely conceive of them as passive tools. But if the physician’s action is based on confidence in and cooperation with the robot, what kind of operative knowledge does this kind of agency require and how does it change the modalities of medical intervention?

They conclude:

… since surgical intervention has become a computer-mediated practice that inscribes the surgeon into a complex setting of medical care agents, it is no longer the patient’s body but the image of the body that is the central reference for the surgeon.

As the operator of robot-guided intervention the physician accordingly needs to address and cope with the specific agency of the machine. In addition the visual interfaces need to communicate and convert their technological complexity to humanly amendable surfaces.

I recommend reading these arguments and transpositions alongside Colleen Bell‘s  ‘War and the allegory of military intervention: why metaphors matter’, International political sociology 6 (3) (2012) 325-28 and ‘Hybrid war and its metaphors’, Humanity 3 (2) (2012) and Lucy Suchman‘s ‘Situational awareness: deadly bioconvergence at the boundaries of bodies and machines’ (forthcoming at Mediatropes)…

There is yet another dimension to all this.  The U.S. Army has been at the forefront of telemedicine for decades – for a recent report on ‘4G telemedicine’ see here – but since at least 2005 the Army has also been experimenting with ‘telesurgery’ or ‘remote surgery’ in which a UAV platform mediates between the surgeon and the site of patient treatment: a different version of remote operations.  You can find early reports here, here and here (‘Doc at a distance’) and a more general account of ‘Extreme Telesurgery’ here.  Still more generally, there’s a wide-ranging review of US Department of Defense research into Robotic Unmanned Systems for Combat Casualty Care here.

If this is all too futuristic – even ‘remote’ – to you, then check out the Teledactyl shown in the image below, which was originally published in 1925.  Although there’s not a drone in sight, the seer was the amazing Hugo Gernsback, who also conjured up the radio-controlled television plane



Seeing Machines

VIRILIO Vision machineIn a series of posts on photography Trevor Paglen provides some ideas that intersect with my own work on Militarized Vision and ‘seeing like a military’.  First, riffing off Paul Virilio, Trevor develops the idea of photography as a ‘seeing machine‘:

‘Seeing machines is an expansive definition of photography. It is intended to encompass the myriad ways that not only humans use technology to “see” the world, but the ways machines see the world for other machines. Seeing machines includes familiar photographic devices and categories like viewfinder cameras and photosensitive films and papers, but quickly moves far beyond that. It embraces everything from iPhones to airport security backscatter-imaging devices, from electro-optical reconnaissance satellites in low-earth orbit, to QR code readers at supermarket checkouts, from border checkpoint facial-recognition surveillance cameras to privatized networks of Automated License Plate Recognition systems, and from military wide-area-airborne-surveillance systems, to the roving cameras on board legions of Google’s Street View” cars.

What’s more, the idea of seeing machines I’m sketching out here isn’t confined to the imaging devices and systems I’ve described in broad strokes. The definition extends to include the images (or data) produced by such imaging systems, the digital metadata associated with those images, as well as additional systems for storage, archiving, search and interpretation (either human or algorithmic). Finally, and crucially, seeing machines encompasses not only imaging systems, search, and storage capacities, it encompasses something a bit more abstract, namely the “styles” or “practices” of seeing that different imaging systems enable (i.e. the difference between what a view camera and an automated license-plate reading camera “want” to do and how they see the world differently).  Crucially, the definition of photography I’m proposing here encompasses imaging devices (“cameras” broadly understood), the data (“images” being one possible manifestation of that data) they produce, and the seeing-practices with which they are enmeshed.’

In a subsequent post on Geographies of Photography Trevor then links these seeing-practices to what he calls the production of space (and what I now prefer to think of as performances of space), and uses the example of the Reaper to illustrate what he has in mind:

What exactly is a Reaper drone? In essence, it’s a camera attached to a remote-controlled airplane. Sometimes it carries missiles. What’s particular about a Reaper drone (and other drones in its larger family, including the Predator and the Sentinel) is that airplane, pilot, navigator, analysts, and commander don’t have to be in the same place. The aircraft might be flying a combat mission in Yemen by a pilot based in Nevada, overseen by a manager in Virginia, and supported by intelligence officers in Tampa (geographer Derek Gregory has written about what he calls “Drone Geographies.”) The drone creates its own “relative” geographies, folding several noncontiguous spaces around the globe into a single, distributed, “battlefield.” The folding of space-time that the Reaper drone system enables is a contemporary version of what Marx famously called the “annihilation of space with time,” i.e. the ability to capitalize on the speed of new transportation and communications technologies to bring disparate spaces “closer” together, relatively speaking.

I think that’s more or less right: these new, networked political technologies of vision have been instrumental in the production of a non-linear and discontinuous battlespace, threaded by wormholes that connect one site to another.  But, as I’ll try to show when I eventually get to my post on Uruzgan, the process is far from seamless, the folds are more fragile than most of us realise, and the discontinuities and ruptures are as important as the connections for the administration of military violence.