In its final months, the Bush administration is pressing ahead with a new generation of spy technology designed to strengthen the U.S. military’s ability to detect and eliminate suspected insurgents in Iraq and elsewhere based on computer analyses of their movements and activities.
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has begun granting contracts to software firms to create algorithms that can be applied to the real-time video feeds from drone aircraft so the data can be sorted and stored on a wide range of human activities, from digging a ditch to climbing into a car to kissing someone.
The contracts represent the latest step in the Bush administration’s seven-year drive to develop high-tech spying capabilities that can be applied to a variety of situations and locales to detect terrorist or insurgent activities.
The new DARPA project would develop algorithms that would identify specific human activities – both by individuals and by groups – and evaluate if these actions suggested behavior that would justify a military response.
The list of activities that would draw attention to a single person include “digging, loitering, picking up, throwing, exploding/burning, carrying, shooting, launching, walking, limping, running, kicking, smoking, gesturing,” according to DARPA’s contract description.
For person-to-person activities, the project would identify and catalogue cases of “following, meeting, gathering, moving in a group, dispersing, shaking hands, kissing, exchanging objects, kicking, carrying together.”
Categories relating to vehicles include getting into or out of a car, opening or closing the trunk, driving, accelerating, turning, stopping, passing and maintaining distances.
According to DARPA’s description, the research project addresses challenges faced by intelligence analysts in processing and retrieving the vast amounts of visual data created by live video feeds from Predator drones and other aerial surveillance over Iraq and Afghanistan. By identifying and indexing specific actions, the analysts would be helped in evaluating potential threats and could retrieve video regarding similar behavior.
“The U.S. military and intelligence communities have an ever increasing need to monitor live video feeds and search large volumes of archived video data for activities of interest due to the rapid growth in development and fielding of motion video systems,” said the DARPA document, written in March but withheld from the public until September.
Kitware, a software company with offices in New York and North Carolina, won an initial $6.7 million contract for what is technically called Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool, or VIRAT.
In a statement about the contract award, Kitware projected that through its proposed system, “the most high-value intelligence content will be clearly and intuitively presented to the video analyst, resulting in substantial reductions in analyst workload per mission as well as increasing the quality and accuracy of intelligence yield.”
Anthony Hoogs, Kitware’s project leader, said, ”This project will really make a difference to the war fighter.”
To carry out the project, Kitware said it was teaming up with two leading military technology companies, Honeywell and General Dynamics, as well as a number of academic researchers. [See Kitware Awarded $6.7M DARPA Contract.]
Though this DARPA project is not expected to be completed until early next decade, other technological breakthroughs reportedly have helped U.S. forces identify and kill insurgents in Iraq.
In his latest book, The War Within, Bob Woodward writes that highly classified U.S. intelligence tactics allowed for rapid targeting and killing of Iraqi insurgent leaders, representing a more important factor in undermining the insurgency than President George W. Bush’s much touted troop “surge.” However, Woodward withheld details of these secret techniques so as not to undermine their effectiveness.
Still, there have been previous glimpses of classified U.S. programs that combine high-tech means of identifying insurgents – such as sophisticated biometrics and night-vision-equipped drones – with old-fashioned brutality on the ground, including on-the-spot executions of suspected insurgents. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Global Dirty War” and “Iraq’s Laboratory of Repression.”]