Secret Military Technology

On 60 Minutes, in an interview with Scott Pelley, reporter Bob Woodward claimed that the U.S. military has a new secret technique that’s so revolutionary, it’s on par with the tank and the airplane:

Woodward: This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders, that is one of the true breakthroughs.

Pelley: What are we talking about here? Some kind of surveillance, some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you’re looking for, the leadership of the enemy?


Woodward: It is the stuff of which military novels are written.

Pelley: Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?

Woodward: Yeah.

It’s here, 7 minutes and 55 seconds in.

Anyone have any ideas?

EDITED TO ADD (9/11): One idea:

I’m going to make a wager about what I think Woodward is talking about, and I’ll be curious to see what Danger Room readers have to say. I believe he is talking about the much ballyhooed (in defense geek circles) "Tagging, Tracking and Locating" program; here’s a briefing on it from Special Operations Command. These are newfangled technologies designed to track people from long distances, without the targeted people realizing they are being tracked. That can theoretically include thermal signatures, or some sort of "taggant" placed on a person. Think Will Smith in Enemy of the State. Well, not so many cameras, maybe.

Posted on September 10, 2008 at 11:35 AM192 Comments


rich September 10, 2008 11:48 AM

book pimping?

otherwise wouldn’t he behave like a real journalist and actually tell the story instead of hinting at it?!?

Rich September 10, 2008 11:55 AM

Whatever it is, it doesn’t appear to be working in the Afghanistan border regions with Pakistan. That narrows the possibilities.

bigolewannabe September 10, 2008 11:55 AM

At the risk of getting (more) conspiracy-theoretical, this reminds me of Dr Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14 astronaut) talking about aliens a while ago.
I can imagine a careful unveiling of our Death Star laser if we have to admit that ET gave it to us.

PCJ September 10, 2008 11:57 AM

Where is the result?
If they really had something super secret and super effective, wouldn’t we have been more successful in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Mark Williamson September 10, 2008 11:58 AM

revolutionary like the seqway? (which while being cool was not quite the paradigm shift its makers claimed it was going to be) – my money is on this being something like UAV’s.

Lulu September 10, 2008 12:00 PM


Not if he thought it would endanger people who… shouldn’t be endangered. (ie. Novak’s story about Plame: pretty low, regardless of who leaked it to him.) I know ethics in journalism is rare, but it is theoretically possible, and we are talking about Woodward who has some passing reputation for whistle blowing when appropriate.

Bruce Schneier September 10, 2008 12:03 PM

“If they really had something super secret and super effective, wouldn’t we have been more successful in Afghanistan and Iraq?”

Maybe this is what “more successful” looks like.

en4rab September 10, 2008 12:14 PM

Im going to go out on a limb and suggest the military have just discovered that mobile phone companys will sell location data on anyones mobile for bags of cash no questions asked.
Perhaps they have now fitted GSM monitoring kit to cruise missile so they can kill you by homing in on your IMEI

Myst3rym4n September 10, 2008 12:21 PM

Maby a microwave satelite using a fokused beam to kill terorists. Targets are found by looking up terrorist in the yellow pages and tracing the phone.

It’s probaly something illeagal.

mcb September 10, 2008 12:23 PM

How about a non-nuclear hard-target kill capability using a terminally-guided tungsten penetrator delivered using a fractional orbit over the South Pole so as not to anxietize the Russians and Chinese? Targeting is the trick though, so the total package probably includes some sort of low Earth orbit four-legged gait analysis that can differentiate a tarted-up pitbull from a Revloned pig…

David September 10, 2008 12:25 PM

In my military days, we had a rule of thumb…if the public finds out about anything deemed “top secret” by a military source “who has to remain anonymous” then it is either a misdirection or 20 years out of date.

DGSaunders September 10, 2008 12:27 PM

Well of course it’s viral warfare; what else could it be? They have the DNA of the people they want to kill, tailor the virus so that it only kills the person they want, transmit the disease to the underlings, then BAM.

Miesmuschel September 10, 2008 12:28 PM

A breakthrough in cryptoanalysis of a widely used crypto algorithm? Being able to eavesdrop on anybody would certainly be stuff of which military novels are written.

Bryce September 10, 2008 12:30 PM

Writing, for the pen is mightier than the sword.

(I’ll take “the penis mightier” for four hundred, Trebek!)

Taco September 10, 2008 12:34 PM

Military novel stuff?

A combination of:

  • Persistent cell phone/pda digital signature tracking – Poindexter’s TIA fully prototyped and operational in a small country under our military control. Having a database that records where most of the the population is 100% of the time would allow extremely powerful post-mortem investigation.
  • Field-mobile Terahertz scanning. Passive full-body searches allow you to identify potential targets and collect biometrics for later correlation.
  • Advanced PsyOps. The ability to deeply interrogate, co-opt, and release low level enemies as field assets within hours.

I think these are the Tom Clancy novel capabilities I would want if I were trying to “win”.

Timmy303 September 10, 2008 12:38 PM

Anyone have any ideas?

Yeah: a fading journalist’s desperate attempt to recover relevance and credibility after having the rug pulled out from under him by the facts on national television several times in a row.

Derick September 10, 2008 12:39 PM

I agree with the hyperbole. Otherwise, this reminds me of a late night news teaser – “We have a story so awesome that you won’t want to miss it but we can’t tell you what it is yet. Keep watching.” Stuff like that drives me crazy because I just want to know and it’s always something stupid.

Besides, if the method was so top secret, even mentioning it would be top secret too. Woodward should have said “I can neither confirm nor deny the military has a really cool way of finding terrorists.”

NewTech September 10, 2008 12:41 PM

It’s an un-manned surveilance craft that looks like a housefly. Able to penetrate any security perimeter, record, and/or transmit.

Back to work.

Joe Onetime September 10, 2008 12:43 PM

Know what he is referring to? Yes.

Well, I don’t know for sure what he is referring to (there are a number of technologies being employed that he could be referring to), but I have a really good idea. And my response is “Meh.” It isn’t that big a deal, and nothing you haven’t seen on “24” or in a Clancy Spy Novel… but it is being employed in real life. (I saw it being used on “24” and just assume that it was used in a Clancy novel as well).

Earth changing? Meh. Warfare changing? No.

It is easy to counter with precautions, but effective against someone who doesn’t know it is being employed. For the counter measures you just have to watch “Burn Notice”.

Tom September 10, 2008 12:44 PM

I say hyperbole.

But if I were to speculate, and I limit myself to something subtler than giant bombs – I would have to agree with DNA-based biological. I wouldn’t imagine that the enemy would keep that a secret though, they have nothing to gain by not trying to stir up opposition and controversy. I did just read a military novel on it too.

Otherwise, I would say something like passive biometric scanning of crowds.

moo September 10, 2008 12:45 PM

It’s probably remote-controlled drones that can dive-bomb and self-destruct, taking out a terrorist leader and a dozen nearby innocents all in one shot.

Fred P September 10, 2008 12:49 PM

I’d guess small remote-controlled robotic creatures.

I fear that it’s something that’s secret purely because it’s in violation of international law – hey, wait – he’s talking about assassination. Assassination is in violation of international law in and of itself.

Dan Philpott September 10, 2008 12:50 PM

It’s probably the technique they used to react to their digital Pearl Harbor so successfully. How do we know it was successful? Because nobody knows what the digital Pearl Harbor was or what the technique is. Circular logic is the military’s friend.

Fred P September 10, 2008 12:52 PM


Interesting – I was assuming an injected neurotoxin as a payload, largely because it would be less mass.

Nukem September 10, 2008 12:53 PM

A low-earth orbit microwave gun which cooks everything under its flight path, except for the good guys who are wearing Faraday shield ponchos.

regis September 10, 2008 12:53 PM

“The program — which Woodward compares to the World War II era Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb — must remain secret for now or it would “get people killed,” Woodward said ….

While he would not reveal the details, Woodward said the terrorists who have been targeted were already aware of the capabilities.”

so, er, from whom does it need to be kept secret? the taxpayers funding it?

Tangerine Blue September 10, 2008 12:57 PM

Anyone have any ideas?

10) a scramjet tank
9) Palladium-fusion-ring powered flying suits of armor
8) Fembots
7) Clone Army from the spawn of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace and Bruce Schneier
6) Spacefaring Water Bears
5) Invisibility Cloak
4) Unmanned Aerial Bumblebees
3) Microscopic Black Holes
2) New concept dubbed “Diplomacy”
1) Happy Rainbow Ponies

Noble_Serf September 10, 2008 12:59 PM

I hope it’s Virginia Farm Boys with duffle bags full of cash payin’ off the locals, and a healthy mix of folks from the military talking to people who know stuff while they fix wells, repave roads, put up street lights, and hand out hershy bars.

If it’s some high-tech gadget, it will create a new single point of failure when it breaks or is easily defeated.

Team America September 10, 2008 1:00 PM

If it’s revolutionary, it must be this:

The military will simply ignore the terrorists and the terrorists will be bored to death.

Carlo Graziani September 10, 2008 1:02 PM

Bob Woodward doesn’t strike me as a particularly knowledgeable authority on miltary tech. He may think he knows something, but I imagine he’d be easy to snow by an inside source with an agenda. I doubt he’d be able to ask the kind of skeptical technical questions he’d need answered to really evaluate this sort of claim.

So my guess is, someone in the Pentagon is peddling some secret program, and angling for budget resources. A quiet word to Woodward, who shows a little ankle on their behalf, and presto, some cred for the program among those who actually know what it is.

Noram September 10, 2008 1:03 PM

Mayby some sort of nano-RFID. Put them in a weapons stockpile, don’t clear it, let the insurgents dig it out, scan everyone in the streets.

How about that?

greg September 10, 2008 1:03 PM

They found a way to read minds, or more accurately, aggression from a distance – then they shoot the person.

Sooner or later, problem solved.

peri September 10, 2008 1:07 PM

Actually I just read a Wired article yesterday that had a believable speculation:

“I’m going to make a wager about what I think Woodward is talking about, and I’ll be curious to see what Danger Room readers have to say. I believe he is talking about the much ballyhooed (in defense geek circles) “Tagging, Tracking and Locating” program; here’s a briefing on it from Special Operations Command. These are newfangled technologies designed to track people from long distances, without the targeted people realizing they are being tracked. That can theoretically include thermal signatures, or some sort of “taggant” placed on a person. Think Will Smith in Enemy of the State. Well, not so many cameras, maybe.”

you can read Wired article here:

or here’s the “Tagging, Tracking and Locating” briefing linked from the article:

Chris September 10, 2008 1:08 PM

I have absolutely nothing to base this on, but the phrasing reminds me of the old Stargate program (the spook one, not the scifi series). Psychics in secret labs drawing pictures that supposedly reveal the location of hidden bases, etc. Everyone in the program had drunk the koolade so all of their failures were proof of the viability of the program (so close!), and the rare “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” hits had to convince everyone! Never mind basic questions like just how accurate the guesses were, if they could have matches by chance, etc.

Normally I wouldn’t entertain this idea for a moment. Those programs might have gotten a little bit of attention from some believers, but they were never taken seriously (afaik).

But we have a reality-challenged administration here, especially when it comes to this war. I find it a lot harder to casually dismiss the possibility that the revolutionary discovery really is some psychic bullcrap.

(That said, I agree that it’s probably some existing technology that’s been ramped up and made to sound more innovative than it really is.)

Anonymous September 10, 2008 1:13 PM

Given recent advances on the airborne tank buster laser, why does anyone think such things are so farfetched? There are advances in drones, weapons, augment armour, tactics, that are well beyond what the public is aware of. Look at how long the SR-71 or the F-117 existed before anyone knew about them…

chabuhi September 10, 2008 1:16 PM

AC-130 Spectre/Spooky with ridiculously fab facial-recognition systems.

Automated, personalized killing.

It could be the next Twitter!

Nomen Publicus September 10, 2008 1:22 PM

a) killer jokes in Eid cards

b) Kevin Bacon’s friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend knows where everybody is and is now employed by the US army as a target spotter.

Max Kaehn September 10, 2008 1:23 PM

Highly trained guys with sniper rifles, GPS locators, and earpieces that let them get up-to-the-minute updates from the guys running the surveillance drones. But if they call it new tech, it drives everyone crazy speculating on what it could be.

Petréa Mitchell September 10, 2008 1:24 PM

I’ll guess that it’s a somewhat smaller, longer-lasting, more nimble, and/or more situationally aware UAV. (One of the limitations of currently known military UAVs is they have no way to detect other aircraft in their vicinity.) I’ll guess further that while a substantial improvement on previous UAVs, “breakthrough” is a bit strong.

Fred P September 10, 2008 1:33 PM

@Joe Onetime-

Perhaps Woodward knows his military history well; as in

“Pelley: Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?

Woodward: Yeah.”

Means not the use of the tank in WWII or the airplane in WWI, but the tank of WWI or the airplane of the First Balkan War.

Anonymous September 10, 2008 1:39 PM

My guess is that it is the technique of affixing explosive to migratory birds. Then, when the birds reach the target — boom.

P September 10, 2008 1:52 PM

Fake camels with C4 humps?
“Just for Men” beard dye laced with cyanide?

Or maybe just the usual technique: call in air strikes on weddings, funerals and other gatherings, in the hope that someone on their wanted list was in the crowd.

Prohias September 10, 2008 2:11 PM

Interception of all cell phone conversations, filtering for certain words, and geo-location of the callers — in real time.

Davi Ottenheimer September 10, 2008 2:24 PM

It’s the reverse of what you are probably thinking.

Seems to be little more than evidence that Rumsfeld’s plans have all failed and are being scrapped.

Going back to the drawing board and using simple intelligence gathering from on the ground informants can be called secret technology to give the illusion of progress, as well as help protect the informants.

MrUpsetter September 10, 2008 2:25 PM

I would guess, nothing special, apart from adapting existing weapons and tactics to very, very quickly (instantly?) strike a target once it’s been identified?

Perhaps the military has simply perfected an overall process, where they have people continually collecting and processing incoming intelligence, identifying targets, and directing drones, bombers, troops, to engage them, totally seamlessly.

Perhaps it could already be done with what the military already has — the “secret” being, there’s no secret at all.

Anonymous September 10, 2008 2:28 PM

My guess would go to UAVs with face recognition software and cameras discerning enough to run it.

Arclight September 10, 2008 2:29 PM

Sounds like simply applied signals intelligence, same technology we’ve been making use of since WWII. The game changer is that the HF/VHF/Mobile/Sat Phone/Telecom intel is being correlated and made quickly actionable.

This sort of thing probably works a lot better in a small theater of operations with a much higher “bad guy-to-friendly” ratio that we have domestically. See Bayes theorem…

apollo September 10, 2008 2:37 PM

It’s a brand new giant particle accelerator that will create an infinitesimally small black hole and suck the whole world in followed by a big bang creating a parallel universe and the whole process starts all over again. Who knows, this may already be the 3rd time we’ve tried it.

Just to throw everyone off, much of this device is located in perennially neutral Swizerland.

atroon September 10, 2008 2:38 PM

I’m guessing some sort of satellite-based person-distinguishing/tracking system that works inside buildings but not under mountains; something keyed to an individual EM signature. Couple that with the ‘wireless taser’ on higher power and you can have a man-portable ray-gun which will only shoot the right target.
What, 6:30 am already?

peter September 10, 2008 2:44 PM

I saw the documentary and I took it a bit of thought and here is what I think:

  • satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and GPS built into cell phones, all working together with a supercomputer that is able to predict through simulations what’s going down or what’s out of the ordinary. Instant

Sean O'Hara September 10, 2008 2:49 PM

Grey-goo nanotech tailored to the DNA of terrorists and then dumped in the water supply?

Or Woodward talked to some guy who knows that the NSA has this supercool computer that like can calculate the position of every person on Earth to within one meter.

Because we all know that the military would reveal a sooper sekrit weapons system to Bob Woodward and trust him to keep it secret.

Skorj September 10, 2008 3:01 PM

Serious idea? There’s a technology that the military was working on that we stopped hear about 10 or so years ago, which means it was either abandoned or is in the field righ about now.

The new weapon: good visual terminal guidance for GPS bombs. Effectively, give the bomb a picture of a building with a window circled (and it’s GPS coordinates) and the bomb will fly through the window.

That’s actually pretty hard to do, and while it doesn’t sound earth-shaking, the implicaitons are pretty neat. You can target indivual enemy leaders with very small munitions released from a plane miles away (or a somwhat closer drone) with no spotter on the ground. Just a satellite photo and good intel is all you need.

Given our ability to keep ROVs over a city 24/7, this would allow very rapid strike capability with minimal callateral damage.

Monty Python September 10, 2008 3:13 PM

An Arabic translation of:

“Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! … Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput.”

Andrew September 10, 2008 3:21 PM

Phoenix project gets it in one. This time with sophisticated sensors, real and robust network analysis, “enhanced effectiveness interrogations,” and a variety of assassination technologies.

It’s not about the technology. It’s about the intelligence. It’s very easy to capture or kill someone. It’s a lot harder to get the RIGHT person.

That is what we use courts for in America. The police have to have probable cause to make the arrest, then the courts decide if they were right.

In counterinsurgency operations generally, and especially where the rule of law is considered unimportant, the tendency has been until now to randomly capture and occasionally kill people. Some deterrent value, but undermines the rule of law and damages stability. Random targeting has little effect as a deterrent.

This also begs another question: what do you do with the captives? Even a ruthless regime will hesitate to murder them; even Stalin had to have the gulags. This is still a problem; no one wants Islamic radicals in their gulag.

The breakthrough probably has to do with reducing randomness in the targeting system. That to me implies that the breakthrough is actually in questioning and interrogation . . . a “real” and reliable lie detector used without the suspect’s knowledge. If the interrogator wears an earbud, the suspect will never know what hit them.

That combined with the network analysis (gathering HUMINT and TECHINT and giving it relative weights) gives an accurate picture of The Insurgency; tells you who to target next; and how to take down nodes without.

It must feel like being on the inside of a crushing vice. All of a sudden, contacts don’t answer and resources are unavailable. You can’t make contact with your own cells. Your cell leader is evasive and unresponsive, then goes silent. Then, when you do something dumb (like make a mobile phone call one too many times), WHAM! Either capture, or sniper’s bullet / Hellfire missile in the chin, depending on whether you ‘know anything’ or not.

I’d almost feel sorry for them, if murdering innocents wasn’t a top agenda item.

sean September 10, 2008 3:23 PM

A “friendly fire multiplier” that consists of a UAV with optical face recognition coupled to the latest AI technology. It can recognize a human well enough to take anyone out, just not the person you’re trying to target. The TSA will be getting civilian versions to patrol our air terminals in six months.

-ac- September 10, 2008 3:45 PM

Whatever it is, it isn’t limited to use against the “scary targets.” This interview was definitely fear-mongering, and will likely be used againse American citizens in the near future. If the LHC doesn’t toast us first. 😉

Infosec Update September 10, 2008 3:48 PM

My guess would be a smart bomb guidance system or some form of targeting system based on mobile phone signatures, heat signals or the influence of the FSM’s noodly appendage.

Anonymous September 10, 2008 5:03 PM

What are the biggest problems of the war on terror?
1) Identifying who is actually involved.
2) Identifying where they actually are.
3) Identifying what is actually going to happen.

All of these problems are much more severe when a terrorist cell is off the network versus on the grid. When they are on the grid, it’s fairly easy to map out a somewhat accurate graph view of the terrorists.

Even in Pakistan, it’s not hard to go after a cell, once we know who and where they are. It’s hard to apply the same tactics that are winning the war in Iraq to Pakistan, because until a country has been through Al Qaeda style Sharia, it seems like a romantic idea.

When terrorists are off the grid, and delivering messages by riders on horse, it’s much harder. My guess is therefore that it is some combination of a decentralized peer to peer awareness system – who is in range, and what are they up too, as well as a fancy identification systems. That puts them back onto the grid and fair game for the NSA.

khass September 10, 2008 5:29 PM

For some reason this reminds me of the book Ender’s game. One of the characters (Peter Wiggin) uses the internet to analyze various transportation schedules (freight and passenger trains and the like IIRC) to determine military movements and intentions (paraphrasing here). Could Al Qaeda be exposed this way?

M.Python September 10, 2008 5:37 PM

Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

Kent September 10, 2008 5:43 PM

Yes, as I commented yesterday in the article about gait analysis, it’s gait analysis, using shadows from overhead aerial surveillance.

Unmanned aerial drones are able to watch insurgents during all daylight hours. With gait analysis, they can automatically identify specific individuals (even if they don’t yet know their identity) in daylight by analyzing the movement of their shadows. Once they identify specific individuals, there are other drones that can take them out with missiles, or they can send people in to kill everyone in the place.

If they no longer see that specific gait, then they know they’ve taken someone out.

They might also have a similar infrared system for night use. With infrared, they aren’t looking at shadows, but perhaps the foreshortened body images are sufficient, or else they can analysis the heat signature from footprint trails.

Day or night, any insurgent outside in the open is tracked, identified, and eliminated.

Gait analysis, baby, it’s the future of warfare and domestic tranquility.

ice weasel September 10, 2008 6:55 PM

woodward and continues to be a shill for, well, just about anyone. This week he one thing, next it’s something it’s something else. Come on, this is the guy who was fooled by the bush administration on WMD. He’s not that bright despite a nifty movie.

mr. smith September 10, 2008 7:11 PM

Seems to me that guy doesn’t have too much of a clue. But he could be referring to the the future force program or really anything coming out of DARPA.

Maybe he saw the computer generated animations of the new combat UAVs, with remote sensors deployed via artillery and so on. The thing is those are only ideas floating around. Until someone gives the go ahead it will not become reality.

Personally I like the future force 2020 personal armor, it just looks cool. Most sites have removed it but I still found a copy at:

The Raptor and the JSF may probably be the last manned fighter jet. There are a lot of prototypes in that area. If you want to check it go to youtube and search for skunk work, that is a research branch. Their MPUAV is a nice design. Also lighter than air research had some interesting designs by using transparent plastic. It give extremely low radar, heat and visual signature, with a camera on it and can stay up there for a very long time. Makes a nice surveillance platform.

The navy has some projects like DD21 and so on.

Anyway, although all these are very nice and such, I don’t see the magic wonder weapon that will cleanse an enemy that hides among the population.

ElectronicMessiah September 10, 2008 8:14 PM

Perhaps the TSA is involved in helping search for terrorists…Lord knows they’ve got the entire list of them.

Adrian September 10, 2008 9:44 PM

High fructose corn syrup in an endless supply of junk food. Within a few short years the enemy will be so fat they can’t run away and hide. OTOH, they’ll find it easier to blend in with westerners.

another bruce September 11, 2008 12:32 AM

it’s a uav. there’s an article in today’s los angeles times about a company called aero environment which makes advanced uav’s for the military (and whose stock has started to, uh, take off).

J.B. Zimmerman September 11, 2008 1:34 AM

skorj: Um, that existed, on the Tomahawk cruise missile. It was called DSMAC, for Digital Scene Matching and Correlation, and was used for ‘terminal guidance.’ The whole ‘fly through a window’ thing was straight out of the military’s ‘isn’t this cool!’ speech. It was nixed mostly, I think, because people felt it was really hard to get adequate pictures of said windows unless the target was something really fixed, like, you know, an airbase, and GPS made it irrelevant.

My guess:

“Look at the facts! Very high power. Limited firing time. Infinite range. Alls you’d need would be a large spinning mirror and you could vaporize a human target from space!”

“This…is not good.”

(L. Hollyfeld and C. Knight, for those who dunno).

Paul Larson September 11, 2008 3:38 AM

FINALLY… the Real Genius of Chris Knight makes the press. The satellite based laser system is finally a reality.

Stoffe September 11, 2008 5:55 AM

A ray that turns regular people into al queda leaders is the only possible solution to that conundrum. How else would you be able to kill them in Iraq?

Poncho September 11, 2008 6:18 AM

Briefing: Slide 12
RF Full-Wave Rectenna
Of course that means rectal-antenna.
I think that wouldn’t be much appreciated by surveillance targets.

Anonymous September 11, 2008 6:19 AM

“We have something that does something with something, and it is great!” That’s how vapour looks like.

BF Skinner September 11, 2008 6:30 AM

Suitcase’s full of cash (I’m talking Bluebacks) and one way tickets out of Iraq to the French Riviera for snitchs and 2 dozen of their close personal friends?

Rich Wilson September 11, 2008 10:09 AM

No idea.

But I bet they could pay a heck of a lot of school librarians, music teachers and art teachers with the money spent on it.

Alan September 11, 2008 10:16 AM

Actually, this is pretty nice technology. You capture a suspected associate, then tag and release. Then you follow their movements “up the food chain”. Sorta like tracking wildlife, except you make the tag as undetectable as possible…

Davi Ottenheimer September 11, 2008 11:17 AM

@ DanT

Thanks. Good insight. That led me to this:

“The goal is to explore solutions and operational constraints associated with biometrics data analysis and rapid identification by means of ad hoc self forming sensor unmanned vehicle (UV) wireless networks.”

Perhaps combined with this:

“…background subtraction to produce high-quality silhouettes for use in human identification by human gait recognition, an identification method which does not require contact with an individual and which can be done from a distance”

Or this:

“…low-resolution uncooled IR camera in conjunction with a low computational-cost classification scheme can be embedded in a robust face recognition system to efficiently address the issue of authentication in security-related tasks.”

Put them together and you get groups of unmanned/drone devices using biometric identification to locate targets based on data provided by informants (i.e. humans acquiring mobile phone photos or movies).

brasscount September 11, 2008 12:33 PM

I think between this thread, the one on Wired and the one on slashdot, its possible to make inference attacks on darn near any theoretical military development. Of course you have to filter through the sarcasm, paranoia and red herrings.

Man, I dig the intertubes… 🙂

patdab September 11, 2008 1:32 PM


“So what is being alleged is essentially that the United States (Rumsfeld & Paul Bremer) installed on the Debaathification Commission a secret agent of Iran who was running Iran-backed death squads based on the information to which he became privy by virtue of being on the commission! The same article carries allegations by Ahmad Chalabi that the car used in the attempted assassination against him last week came from an Iraqi government ministry.”

Bill September 11, 2008 2:00 PM

The technology isn’t the important part, though perhaps there’s some new helpful technology (like tracking cell phones) in addition to good old-fashioned spying (which the CIA hasn’t been very competent about the last few decades) or torturing captured suspects (which America doesn’t do, at least in America.)
This is about finding and assassinating enemy leaders, like the Phoenix Program did in Vietnam. Don’t let the technology distract you.

CIA September 11, 2008 5:12 PM

Okay, so we didn’t see what you did at lunch yesterday, Bill, but that doesn’t mean we are incompetent.

Jaded soldier September 11, 2008 9:02 PM

I’m guessing it’s a bunch of farm boys from Nebraska that got put in charge, and allowed to do their job without Bureaucratic interference. Maybe they invented a “tag and drag” electronic tracking ray gun/sensor gadget woopie bag! But you know what wins these wars? Things haven’t changed much since Napoleon. You need excellent leadership (which the Army and Corps are desperately running short of) and well intentioned good people from modest home towns, i.e. Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Dakotas.

Everyone knows if you get the uppers at CIA, NSA, Pentagon or any D.C. duchebags involved you get a Bureaucratic pissing match over who’s in charge and who will get a promotion that eventually gets and has gotten alot of good people killed!

You know the super secret weapon Washington and this military needs?????: George Patton! In fact, Clone 20 of him, put 19 in D.C. to deal with the jerkoffs and one can lead the rest, over there. HOOAAA! Knock some heads together!

Oh, yea… Bob Woodward… F%$ You!!!

rip September 12, 2008 8:29 AM

In enemy of the state, the locator bugs were reasonably sized, (dime/quarter) little circuits that were in the belt, shoes, watch,pants, etc, all of which could only have battery life, rf range of very little capacity. Such things can and probably do exist, and probably have a functional life equal to the amount of time you wear your pants before you change them.
In ‘the recruit’ the devise was a piece of scotchtape, visible for the cameras, if its too small, it dosent work in movies well. This thing could not have much onboard electrical power, so it may have to work like a cavity resonator, and would work in an environment with thousands of monitoring points pre installed. Huge expense when cell phone records and credit card info is cheaper to buy from Choicepoint, the nigerians accomplice.
things like quantum dots would be difficult to apply discriminatingly and would cause as much collateral damage as any other bushist strategery Bioreactive taggants, are the same thing as somozas national guard executing anyone with bruises because bruises prove you are a combatant. The same strategy was used by franco in the spanish civil war. As to the viral targeting, Israel has worked on this to eliminate arabs, but the problems were due to the fact that israelis are still somewhat semitic themselves, with kazar and european mixed in. That hasent shown promise for them.

amish mechanic September 12, 2008 2:23 PM

Since Bruce is fond of movie script analogies, this brings to mind two classics:

RoboCop — “Today, 3 ex-Presidents perished in Santa Barbara when a space based laser malfunctioned.”

Brazil — Buttle vs. Tuttle (close enough for some automated systems)

ToraBunikii September 13, 2008 8:55 AM

The journalist wanted to see if he could set a record on the number of totally inane postings in mr scheier’s blog. He succeeded.

Wesley Parish September 13, 2008 9:02 AM

I know what it is! Faecal recognition, previously tested with Bush and Cheney’s photographs. It was one hundred per cent accurate!

(I don’t care for this though:
“The program — which Woodward compares to the World War II era Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb — must remain secret for now or it would “get people killed,” Woodward said”.

Not having a clue about who your friends are versus your enemies, and you wipe out massive numbers of civilians? In Iraq, in Afghanistan? Oh, I get it. They’re not Americans, which means they’re not people.

Racist mass-murders. My faecal recognition is working overtime.)

Thad Beier September 13, 2008 10:03 AM

I think that it’s pervasively deployed solar powered radio microphones with a huge array of computers listening in. You could make these by the millions, distribute them by air drop, and really start to get a handle on everything that is happening in a region.

I thought this was a good idea a few years ago. Now, of course, it’s in the current Batman movie 🙁

DrJon September 13, 2008 10:19 AM

Taco has it right this is likely a combination of cell phone tracking with some kind of mobile terahertz camera/scanner.

Cliff September 13, 2008 10:25 AM

He may be referring to the capability to film an entire area over time and preserve those films (electronic in form of course). Then if an insurgent acts, one can trace back (in time) through the archive to see where the person came from. Using computers, I am sure this could be done in a manner such that attempts to disguise one’s comings and goings would not be effective, since computers could scan through all possible entry events and paths back in time until the “perpetrator” was identified, and traced back to all of their locations at prior points in time, back to some pre-defined time.

Imagine this technology being used to suppress revolt against a US government that had turned totalitarian…. People would have no means to revolt against oppression. It is sad that we are refining these techniques in the laboratory of Iraq. While it is good for us in terms of success in Iraq, it bodes ill for the future of democracy in our own country. After all, do you trust our government to not use this against those who disagree with current policies?

Ponzy September 13, 2008 11:17 AM

it IS a Psyops operation. one of the most cherished tenets of warfare is that to win you must keep the initiative to yourself, or wrest it from the enemy. If the terror guys react to this info, by hiding deeper, keeping staff meetings to a minimum both of people involved and of sheer frequency, they are both reacting to something you’ve done and diminished their ability to keep things moving on the ground.

Mind you, they’d have to be not too smart, if they believe Woodward.

Wowee September 13, 2008 1:04 PM

Heres another followup article in the LA Times:,0,1960509.column

Columnist Tim Rutten speculates that deployment of this new technology to Pakistan hints that the administration is going for an “October Surprise”, the final killing or capture of Osama bin Laden. He also confirms the link to the Woodward story, that this is the same technology, and further amplifies how big a role this may have played in recent Iraq successes, versus the “surge”.

Supposedly it can identify (or at least track) people even when they are inside buildings. IR can’t do that, can it? It sounds more like an active taggant of some sort. Of course there is likely an element of misinformation being leaked.

John Doe September 13, 2008 4:54 PM

Some of you have come very close, but still haven’t hit on it. In more ways than one, I regret revealing the following:

The human nervous system gives off small but recognizable electrical signals. Due to the unique qualities of the human brain, in combination with minute (and sometimes, profound) differences of the human body and the nervous system, each human gives off a unique electrical signal.

For many decades now, we’ve had the technology to track faint signals from space probes that we’ve sent out. This technology has advanced now by an order of magnitude, to the point that UAV’s (and even platforms in Earth orbit) can pick up and identify individual human signals. When these signals have personal identities attached to them, usually, so far, due to the efforts of ground observation teams, these signals are tagged with names and can be followed virtually anywhere (although there is a theoretical limit to signal tracking in shielded environments such as caves, mines and tunnels).

Whilst the military may be over-the-moon with the application of his technology, it is presently unable to appreciate just how devastating it’s potential really is. Like the technology of nuclear warfare, this “top secret” information will eventually become universal (the science behind it is really fairly fundamental) and data banks on signal identities will be compiled, stolen, bought and sold and hacked into. We will all be tracked, every movement recorded and with adaptive evolution, even the basic elements of our lives will be known like open books, from when we’re happy or sad to when we’re engaging in sexual activity.

Bob Dylan wrote a lyric long ago “If they knew what I was thinking, they’d put my mind in a guillotine” and that will be the ultimate evolution of this technology. When pre-determined combinations of parameters present themselves, a government might decide that a citizen has become a member of “the enemy” and will automatically terminate that individual with a form of signal feedback that will interrupt the signals of the nervous system to such a degree as to stop the brain from transmitting it’s own intra-net signals, such as that which keeps the heart beating.

It should be obvious to all of you just how oppressive this kind of technology would be if it fell under the control of political zealots of any stripe. Unfortunately, the rudiments of it are already being used in the field, and the “gee whiz’ factor of it will insure that funding will be dramatically ramped up for it (regardless of which party gains power) and will therefore continue to advance and increase at a rapid pace. Be forewarned.

David Newberger September 13, 2008 5:37 PM

If you think about it in terms of speed and adaptability. The current systems the consumer users would fit the bill. Private Twitter Feeds for clandestine tracking. No one person would see this person more then 1 time. GPS is in almost everything now. Would it really be that hard to track the GPS signal of a device. Google Earth or Google Maps. Pownce for Private file sharing. In my humble opinion they are using off the shelf consumer based system for most of this. And in most cases it’s the simplest solution that usually fits the bill. These consumer based tools are simple.

Ajax September 13, 2008 6:19 PM

Why not just full continuous 24/7 UAV video coverage digitally stored. Get a Nice big rewind button so you can backtrack any single event to its source then ffwd the divergent tracks to find other combatants. Lots of car bombs trying to get into the compounds and lots of known bad guy areas so you don’t have to footprint too many areas.

krasicki September 13, 2008 9:12 PM

I think the answer is much more obvious and far less sophisticated than many would like.

About a year ago, there was a report of a mass prison break-out in an Afghani prison (and this release of prisoners probably happens under many guise). In any case, common-sense dictates that these prisoners have been unwittingly fitted with some kind of RFID transmitter.

And common sense dictates that the likelihood of prison breaks as profuse as those reported can happen without immediate recapture.

God only knows if they in fact are terrorists or not but my suspicion is that the military allows these free-range captives yo interact with whoever they return to and then exterminate them all.

holycow September 14, 2008 2:38 AM

We’ve had the secret tech all along, in plain sight. Yep, Chuck Norris has finally been unleashed.

Cdnguy September 14, 2008 7:54 AM

How long before this technology is turned on the American people?

Can you say reallsoonnow?

Excuse me, someone is at my door.

Richard Steven Hack September 14, 2008 8:04 PM

She’s called Cameron and she used to be a ballerina when she was human.

Seriously, if they had something that worked, why would they dump a load of Spec Ops boys on the Pakistani border and kill a bunch of innocent Pakistani civilians? Other than to start a war with Pakistan to keep the military contract money flowing, of course, as the Iraq war winds down…

The notion that Woodward is spouting here that the US “crippled the Iraq insurgency” is bullcrap to begin with. We KNOW what slowed the insurgency – the Sunni were fighting both the Shia and the US and losing because they were fighting on two fronts. So they stopped shooting at us and decided to take $300 a month and the promise of being integrated into the Iraqi military instead (which, by the way, Maliki has reneged on.) So Woodward is full of it. He’s taking some nonsense from the Pentagon as Gospel and you’d think a reporter would know better – except one that is basically Bush’s mouthpiece.

F.Baube September 15, 2008 6:43 AM

It’s a massive network of sensors. They look like rocks, lying pretty flat to the ground, and can be airdropped or otherwise scattered anywhere, but mostly near well-worn trails. They observe their surroundings (audio but probably no video) and transmit in bursts when something interesting is within earshot. They can be programmed to recognise certain voices, such as (of course) OBL. When told to change to targeting mode, they transmit in real time, giving estimated range and direction, so that Predators can drop some surprises. On command they can self-destruct.

Allow me... September 15, 2008 3:59 PM

Allow me to do a little speculation:

The actual answer is relatively mundane and very frightening at the same time. It’s a synthetic aperture radar that can “see” through most common roofing and wall material and can create an image which looks a lot like a side-scan sonar but sharper due to the shorter wavelength. The kicker, and this is the important thing, is large/dense/angular metallic objects like heavy weapons and fragmentation bombs show up as very bright spots and are thus easy to spot. You can fly over a village and see which huts and barns contain large weapons, and once confirmed by a secondary method (boots on the ground or arial surveillance) a missile is fired and people die. Normally, they wait until there are a maxima of people in the building before firing as normally these people aren’t stupid enough to sleep in these places — this is where the loiter time of the predator comes in. There’s a lot of fancy software to filter out false targets and to keep a running inventory of the contents of homes, which for example can tell the user when weapons are being marshalled in advance of an attack. The system is also good for spotting many types of IED as traditional camoflage is useless against penetrating radar, and it can also spot enemy sentries armed with AKs or RPGs — so much so that this job is highly undesirable with the local gentry.

Another portion of this sensor fusion is integration with long-term, wide area IR monitoring. It basically shows you a trail where any human has walked — the more people who have walked the path, the brighter the color. Various visualization options are available, including one where the paths decay over time. Operationally, if you are following a gomer on the ground, and he lingers in an area which is featureless but shows multiple human tracks, then it’s likely an underground weapons cache hidden under a rock or camel shit or whatever. Then the bombs come flying in.

So far, so good. The problem is going to be that (1) the gomers will start using metal sheets in walls and roofs which make imaging less effective (but it still penetrates; how exactly is the big secret); and (2) it won’t be long before the FBI is “experimenting” with the building-penetrating radar, basically flying a grid over US cities looking for clandestine drug labs, large weapon caches, and anything else that seems deviant to them. They will create a database of homes, and create a census of how many humans live in them, how many weapons they seem to have, and whether they have a hydroponic garden in the spare bedroom. No warrant is required as there are court decisions already which say that busting pot growers based on their homes’ infrared signature is hunky-dory. Most American homes have wood/stucco walls and wood or tile roofs, which are easily penetrated by the modern systems. Note that they only need to see through either the walls or the roof, so it doesn’t help you if only one is shielded.

Now it’s really time to put on the tinfoil hats!

Bill McGonigle September 15, 2008 6:54 PM

Remember when Israel let a bunch of terrorist prisoners go a few months back and everybody was shouting, “what a bad deal!”? I made the point at that time, “not if they’re being tracked.”

Hip Hop Conspiracy September 15, 2008 8:49 PM

It’s a large yellow cat, rev 2.0 They had to “decommission” rev 1.0 because he kept playing with the insurgents before he killed them.

paul vincent zecchino September 16, 2008 5:25 AM

A ruse. A pipe dream.

Woodward acted hinky during interview. Did he seem on the level to you? He didn’t to me, as if he were pulling a gag or trying to conceal the fact his garters fell down.

Half-expected he’d claim new weapon involves “Double Secret Probation”.

Hinky. Woodward just acted hinky.

Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
16 September, 2008

Ammie September 18, 2008 4:36 PM

If the stuff Bob Woodward is talking about is Secret, how is he allowed to talk oabout it or mention it??? Would it not be better to leave it a secret?

Sys Admn September 19, 2008 8:14 AM

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the secret weapon were a database tracking the social network and locations of suspected terrorists? Use it to target the leaders and “accidentally” disrupt attacks, and you could wreak havoc. It’s not clear that the release of such a secret would make a difference, but you can’t get the public excited about a ‘secret weapon’ that isn’t sexy.

Alternate Irony: it’s been noted that the intelligence community has adopted open source collaboration tools – what if the secret weapon was Media Wiki?

Jon Williams December 1, 2008 8:01 PM

Silly Bob, its always funny when an attempt is made to compare something in order to elevate its greatness while being very sparse on the details.

Billy January 21, 2009 8:19 PM

Holy crap I figured it out!@!!!! They must have uncovered Osama’s myspace page, infiltrated his friends list, and are following him on Twitter

fifa ultimate guide February 25, 2013 2:05 AM

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on
the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking
about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something informative to read?

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.