by Dr. Kingsley Dennis
March 31, 2008
Dr. Kingsley Dennis is a
Research Associate in the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe)
based at the Sociology Department at Lancaster University, U.K. His
research involves examining physical–digital convergences and how
these might impact upon social processes.
He is concerned with the digital
rendition of identity and the implications of surveillance
The Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges once famously wrote of a great
Empire that created a map that was so detailed it was as large as the Empire
itself. The actual map itself grew and decayed as the Empire itself
conquered or lost territory. When the Empire finally crumbled, all that
remained was the map. In some sense we can say that it is the map in which
we live; we occupy a location within a simulation of reality.
Although semanticists say that ‘the map is not
the territory’, within this digitized age the territory is increasingly
becoming the map and the separation between the physical and the digitized
rendition is blurring. In this context, to ‘know the map’ gives priority to
intervene upon the physical.
In recent years many of us have been scrambling
to get ‘on the Net’ and thus be ‘mapped’; within a few years we may find
that living ‘off the Net’ will no longer be an option.
It is my argument that the future direction of present technological
emergence is one that seeks to go beyond networks; rather it is towards
ubiquitous technologies that offer a complete immersive (or rather ‘sub-mersive’)
experience of a digitized environment.
With networks there is always the
possibility of moving into the grey and illusive areas in-between.
These are the areas where the networks do not,
or cannot, cover; neglected zones of poverty and risk, and insecure zones of
warlord regions, and smuggling zones. With immersive technological mapping
there may one day be no ‘spaces in-between’; the distinction between ‘in’
and ‘out’ dissolved; boundaries melted away under the digital gaze.
In this article I argue that the US
military-industrial complex is attempting to gain full dominance over the
complete information spectrum, including dominating the electro-magnetic
spectrum and the Internet, in order to gain full total coverage for purposes
of containment and control.
Moving Towards Full
As is now well-known, in 2002 the US Pentagon’s
DARPA (Defense Advanced
Research Project Agency) responded to the alleged lack of intelligence data
September 11th attacks by establishing the ‘Total Information
Awareness’ office, commandeered by John Poindexter 1.
According to Poindexter’s own words,
"We must be able to detect, classify,
identify, and track…This is a high level, visionary, functional view of
the world-wide system…The mission here is to take the competing
hypotheses from the analytical environment and estimate a range of
The objective is to identify common nodes,
representing situations that could occur, and to explore the probable
impact of various actions or interventions that authorities might make
in response to these situations."
The latest program in this surveillance project
is the Space Based Infrared System (called
SBIRS High) that
aims to track all global infra-red signatures as well as, what is termed,
‘counterspace situational awareness’ (Dinerman, 2004).
The 80s ‘Star Wars’ missile defense project of
Reaganite US security policy has been craftily converted into intercepting
today’s ‘enemy’: not necessarily rogue missiles, but information and
domestic ‘earth-bound’ security. The US military also has in operation the
IKONOS remote sensing satellite, which travels at 17, 000 mph 423 miles into
space, circumnavigating the globe every 98 minutes, with a 3-foot resolution
Such satellites belong to the private company
Space Imaging Inc (now
GeoEye), who work for the military due to US law that restricts
the US government operating upon their own soil (Brzezinski, 2004). Also,
the US military RADARSAT satellite uses radar to see through clouds, smoke
The US National Security Agency (NSA) utilizes top of the range
KEYHOLE-11 satellites that have a 10-inch resolution, which means headlines
can be read from someone sitting on a bench in Iran, although this
resolution remains officially unacknowledged (Brzezinski, 2004).
As an example of more distributed and networked ‘industrial/civil
surveillance’, many bridges within North America have acoustic sensors and
underwater sonar devices anchored to the base of the bridges to check for
the presence of divers, to prevent anyone from placing explosives on the
riverbed. These devices are then linked to a central hub for monitoring
Such post 9-11 fears have led to the
setting up of
USHomeGuard, a private company established
Jay Walker (founder of
Priceline.com), which utilizes over a
million webcams to watch over 47,000 pieces of critical infrastructure
across the US, eg; pipelines, chemical plants, bridges, dams.
are monitored continuously by observers working from home (Brzezinski,
Crandall sees this as a part of the emerging,
‘contemporary regime of spectacle… machine-aided process of disciplinary
attentiveness, embodied in practice, that is bound up within the demands of
a new production and security regime’
practice, as Crandall sees it, confirms a,
‘codification of movement’ and
‘manoeuvres of strategic possibility’, and leading to a ‘resurgence in
temporal and locational specificity’
This is directly
related with the US military construction towards an agenda of complete
coverage: in their terms, ‘full spectrum dominance’ 2.
In 1997 the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force
predicted that within three years,
‘we shall be capable of finding, tracking,
and targeting virtually in real time any significant element moving on the
face of the earth’
(cited in Crandall, 2005)
Perhaps a little premature yet it appears that the US military-industrial
machine is attempting to enclose the global open system; to transform it and
enmesh it within a closed system of total information awareness; to cover,
track, and gaze omnisciently over all flows, mobilities, and transactions.
It is a move towards a total system, an attempt to gain some degree of
mastery over the unpredictability of global flows through the core component
of dominating informational flows.
As part of this project the US military are
currently establishing a linkage of satellites into what has been dubbed the
military ‘Internet in the sky’, which will form part of their secure
informational network named as the Global Information Grid, or
First conceived in 1998, and now in
construction, $200 billion has already been estimated as a cost for both the
hardware and software (Weiner, 2004). This war-net, as the military also
term it, forms the core of the US military’s move towards appropriating
network-centric warfare (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 2001a; Arquilla and Ronfeldt,
2001b; Dickey, 2004; Weiner, 2004).
The chief information officer at the US Defense
Department was noted for saying that ‘net-centric principles were becoming
“the centre of gravity” for war planners’ (Weiner, 2004).
Some of the names
of the military contractors involved in this project include:
As part of this complete coverage – or ‘full
spectrum dominance’ – the US military hopes to be able to communicate and
control an increasing arsenal of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs)
and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), integrated into what they
are calling the ‘Multimedia Intelligent Network of Unattended Mobile Agents’
This in turn is part of a larger military
project on Intelligent Autonomous Agent Systems (Science-Daily, 2002).
Recently, a document entitled
Information Operation Roadmap was declassified
by the Pentagon and made public by the National Security Archive on January
26, 2006. According to this document the term ‘information operations’
The integrated employment of the core capabilities of,
...in concert with specified supporting and related
capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and
automated decisions-making while protecting our own. (DoD, 2003: 22)
The document continues by outlining how the US military needs to secure a
future electromagnetic capability,
‘sufficient to provide maximum control of
the entire electromagnetic spectrum, denying, degrading, disrupting, or
destroying the full spectrum of globally emerging communication systems,
sensors, and weapons systems dependant on the electromagnetic spectrum’
Clearly, the recommendation here is for
developing, and extending, current capabilities in order to have full and
complete dominance over all globally emerging telecommunications and their
This shift in military affairs involves re-strategizing informational
systems toward what the military see as a,
architecture’ to ‘help create a nimbler, more lethal military force to which
information is as vital as water and ammunition’
Brig. Gen. Robert Lennox, deputy chief of
the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, describes the military
‘one seamless battlefield, which is linked without the bounds of
time or space, to knowledge centers, and deployment bases throughout the
Beginning in 2008 the US Navy plans to replace its
Ultra High Frequency Follow-On satellite network with a Mobile User
Objective System which will provide voice and data communications
through wireless hand-held receivers as part of the Global Information
The ‘Internet in the Sky’ that will form part of
the GIG will consist of both AEHF and TSAT satellite programs (Dickey,
2004). Each AEHF satellite has the capacity to serve as many as 4,000
networks and 6,000 users at once; and the proposed TSAT satellites are
claimed to be ten times more powerful than the AEHF.
These proposals are currently underway as part
of the US’s ‘revolution in military affairs’ to develop not only a superior
battlefield information network but also to,
‘extend the information grid to
deploy mobile users around the globe, creating a new capability for combat
communications on the move’
As for the new generation of
surveillance satellites launched since 2005, when these systems are fully
operational the elite military complex will be able to gain precise
information not only upon alleged ‘enemies’ but also upon the movements of
almost any individual upon the planet, at almost any time, anywhere.
The complexity of security communications and
sensitive information is being targeted within military strategy in an
effort to enclose all; to survey the full spectrum of an open system in a
bid to collect and contain. In short, to transform the unknown into a known
closed system: the containment of the complex global system.
This also can be seen within the security of
complexity, circulation, and contingency.
Dillon considers that this ‘global security problematic’ is concerned with
the circulation of everything as in,
‘a systemically interdependent world
everything is connected or, in principle, is able to be connected, to
For Dillon, circulation shifts the new
global security problematic,
‘from a “geo-strategic” into an “ecological”
problem characterized by the escalatory dynamics of complex
The challenge of global security in this context
lies in the contingency between calculability and doubt. Dillon further sees
this as being behind the trend in US military affairs towards the complexity
‘the fascination of military-strategic science in the United
States especially with complexity, chaos, nonlinearity and the new science
of life introduced by the digital and molecular revolutions has proclaimed
as much since the early 1990s’
Security and power relations now clearly transcend traditional geo-political
boundaries. Security is both socio-technical and biometric, with the
security problematic becoming increasingly virtual and codified, ordered
with attempted control of disorder (Dillon, 2003). The militarization of
complex global open systems has serious implications for issues of civil
liberty, and notions of the surveillance state.
Such domains of complex interdependencies are radicalizing, in a
militaristic sense, information, communication, command, control, and
surveillance. The internal/external circulation and flows characteristic of
open systems (whether informational or physical) are under interrogation
from Western hegemonic, specifically US, military strategies in an attempt
to close them down, plug-up the pores of flows and to blanket-coverage all
These are the operations of clandestine
strategies that seek to contain the unpredictable and to map all
physical-digital movements and traces.
Emerging technologies that ‘locate’ and ‘trace’ present a world where,
object and human is tagged with information specifications including history
and position – a world of information overlays that is no longer virtual but
wedded to objects, places, and positions’
Such meshing of
the physical and the digital through the medium of sentient communicators is
what is foreseen here as steering towards a digitally-rendered global system
vulnerable to control via a technical-military elite.
This scenario is exactly that as envisioned by
ex-US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Brzezinski, in his ‘Between Two Ages - America's
Role in the Technetronic Era’ (1970), put forward the concept of a future
‘technotronic era’ whereby a more controlled society would gradually emerge,
dominated by an elite unrestrained by traditional values.
Brzezinski wrote that,
‘Power will gravitate into the hands of
those who control information’ (Brzezinski, 1970: 1), adding that
surveillance and data mining will encourage ‘tendencies through the next
several decades toward a technocratic era, a dictatorship leaving even
less room for political procedures as we know them.’
By gaining control over informational
technological communications Brzezinski outlined how this could help achieve
control and order over the public:
"Unhindered by the restraints of traditional
liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political
ends by the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and
keeping society under close surveillance and control."
(Brzezinski, 1970: 252)
Also important to consider is that many military
technologies become appropriated and absorbed into civil technologies. For
example, by 2003 a quarter of all rental vehicles at US agencies used some
form of GPS tracking: not only for driver-location but also for the rental
agency to know where the car has travelled, and its speed.
Also, cars with speakerphones can be enabled
from remote devices in order to listen in and eavesdrop on occupants in a
car under surveillance, as has been utilized by police forces in the US
(Brzezinski, 2004). This type of digitalized surveillance at-a-distance can
have serious implications upon increasingly surveyed, tracked, and mapped
It also suggests that technically-based northern
‘societies’ are being maneuvered towards a surveyed and sensored, or
Ecosphere: The Coming of a Synchronic Society?
The development of increasingly sentient ‘smart’ environments will go some
way towards creating a more systemic relationship of interconnections and
interdependencies between humans, objects/machines, and locality. This
possibility has led some commentators to speak of an emerging cybernomadic
landscape (Saveri, 2004).
Here, the emphasis is on an embedded sensory
world that will influence and fundamentally alter social practices.
Such a cybernomadic landscape has been defined, in a recent IFTF report, by three
primary forces of,
Similarly, De Rosnay sees this future as
a form of symbiotic humanity:
‘each person functions as a node in this
hyper-network. Symbiotic humanity is both the totality of the
network and one of its elements; it exists through the network and the
network exists only through it’
(de Rosnay, 2000: 143)
In all cases it
involves networking with, utilizing, and interacting with objects, something
which futurist and author Bruce Sterling refers to as a ‘synchronic
A synchronic society generates trillions of catalogable, searchable,
trackable trajectories… Embedded in a monitored space and time and wrapped in
a haze of process, no object stands alone; it is not a static thing, but a
(Sterling, 2005: 50)
And a ‘shaped-thing’ may in the future rely upon more efficient and
ubiquitous radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, now
often euphemistically termed as arphids. These RFID tags can be
networked into a global system of positioning and identification:
Your arphid monitors are hooked into the satellite based Global
Positioning System. Then your network becomes a mobile system of
interlinked objects that are traceable across the planet's surface, from
outer space, with one-meter accuracy, around the clock, from pole to pole.
(Sterling, 2005: 92)
A physical-digital augmented environment interlinked with objects is, as
Sterling states, based upon identification. Objects, as well as individuals,
need to be identified, both in their object-self identity as well as in
their positions. And yet this shift is not limited towards individuals or
objects; it also extends into Nature and the ecosystem.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
recently announced that it considered today’s computer maps of the Earth to
be inaccurate. Investment has been put into producing better computer
generated terrain maps of the Earth using both radar and laser scanning (Piquepaille,
2005), with a future view for placing radio-towers on the moon or Mars 3.
These updated moves towards securing a military
full spectrum dominance incorporate the latest known developments in smart
sensors whereby complex computerized devices at the miniature, or even
will be able to 24/7 monitor ecological, social, and/or biological
environments and people:
These new computers would take the form of networks of sensors with
data-processing and transmission facilities built in. Millions or billions
of tiny computers — called 'motes', 'nodes' or 'pods' — would be embedded
into the fabric of the real world. They would act in concert, sharing the
data that each of them gathers so as to process them into meaningful digital
representations of the world.
Researchers could tap into these 'sensor webs'
to ask new questions or test hypotheses. Even when the scientists were busy
elsewhere, the webs would go on analyzing events autonomously, modifying
their behavior to suit their changing experience of the world. (Butler,
Such a scenario, if realized, would drastically alter the material and
social fabric of the living world.
Deborah Estrin, director of the Center for Embedded Networked
Sensing in Los Angeles, California, sees,
‘the sensor-web revolution as an important
thread in a grander tapestry of global monitoring, which involves
billions of dollars being poured into projects to monitor the continents
For example, upcoming projects include:
The $200 million
EarthScope project from
the NSF: 3,000 stations are to be erected that will,
‘track faint tremors, measure
crustal deformation and make three-dimensional maps of the
earth's interior from crust to core. Some 2,000 more instruments
are to be mobile - wireless and sun- or wind-powered - and 400
devices are to move east in a wave from California across the
nation over the course of a decade’
The National Ecological Observatory
Network (NEON) is to be established at an estimated cost of $500
million. The plan is for a coast-to-coast NEON to,
‘involve perhaps 15 circular areas
250 miles in diameter, each including urban, suburban,
agricultural, managed and wild lands. Each observatory would
have radar for tracking birds and weather as well as many layers
of motes and robots and sensors, including some on cranes in
The ‘Interagency Working Group on Earth
Observations’, backed by the National Science & Technology Council
within the Executive Office of the President, US, has recently
published their Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth
Observation System (IWGEO, 2005).
Their vision is to discover, access,
collect, manage, archive, process, and model earth geological data
in order to better forecast such flows as weather, energy resources,
natural resources, pre and post-disasters, as well as a host of
other integrated processes.
In their words:
‘The Earth is an integrated system.
Therefore, all the processes that influence conditions on the
Earth are linked and impact one another. A subtle change in one
process can produce an important effect in another. A full
understanding of these processes and the linkages between them
require an integrated approach, including observation systems
and their data streams’
(IWGEO, 2005: 47)
Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation
System (IWGEO, 2005) discusses a vast range of geological
integrated monitoring systems. However, a caveat here is necessary, for the
above projects towards environmental mapping contain shades of a western
Cartography, as a pioneering navigational science and art, has long been
used for validating colonial expansion, Imperial incursions, and for
designating western territorial trophies. The geographical imagination is
continually formed as residues of knowledge build one upon the other as
images become re-appropriated for geo-political agendas.
The western global imagination has participated
in the de-centering of global geographies in past centuries, and may again
be party to later digital formations of knowledge gathering and
geo-strategies of dominance and power. As with the Plan for the U.S.
Integrated Earth Observation System which aims to monitor, track, catalogue,
and forecast global processes and movements, geographical spaces will be
subjected to a US-centric digital gaze.
Denis Cosgrove views such a gaze as,
‘implicitly imperial, encompassing a
geometric surface to be explored and mapped, inscribed with content,
knowledge and authority’
Emerging technologies in information-sensoring
indicate an authoritarian, predominantly military, strategy for Earth
monitoring. Increasingly, relationships between humans/devices/environments
are being merged, or steered, towards a new construction of social life -
one that embeds the individual, as a digitally-rendered identity, within a
global informational ‘grid-lock’.
If such an irreversible shift is made towards digitally-rendered societies
this would arguably ‘lock-in’ a form of monitored control society.
With such predictions of an increasingly sensored and enmeshed global system it is difficult to see how living ‘off
the Net’ will be a choice in the near future.
As this article has argued there are both overt and covert strategies within
the US military-industrial complex towards securing full spectrum dominance
over global information flows, which include dominating the electro-magnetic
spectrum and the Internet. Increasingly western technological societies are
moving towards developing sensored environments whereby information is
processed on individuals as well as securing geographical data.
This suggests a future whereby in order to move
legitimately an individual will be subjected to a complex network of
informational tracking and verification. This will undoubtedly see an
increased militarization of the civil sphere. Such a re-configuration of the
social, through increased dependency upon physical-digital systems, will
inevitably involve various structural relations of power.
For example, individuals not deemed ‘worthy’
will be denied the right of movement through digitally-controlled spaces.
This is not to imply that all acts of social passage will necessarily be
uncomfortably noticed by the general legitimized user. It is likely that
in-built strategies of marginalization will be increasingly ‘normalised’ as
part of shifting social practices: a regular state of affairs within a
twenty-first century beset by manipulated terror in-securities.
Further, there are indications that these entwined and embedded information
flows will seek to incorporate not only the physical and digital, but also
the biological. In other words, each unit of information will be sought to
be coded and therefore ‘secured’ under a full spectrum dominance agenda.
Goonatilake (1999) sees this as moving
towards a meta-communications environment that will merge human/genetic,
cultural, machine as information codes and which will serve as information
The future will thus result in intense
communications not only between machines and humans, but also with
genetic systems so that information in the three realms of genes,
culture and machines will result in one interacting whole. The three for
all purposes would be interacting as one communicating system.
(Goonatilake, 1999: 197)
We may soon be moving towards a momentous shift,
perhaps the most important paradigmatic shift our current civilization has
ever witnessed: a transformation into a digitally contained and controlled
This leaves the future vulnerable to extreme possibilities. Already there
has been much Internet ‘chatter’ about the potential this offers for
‘exotic’ containment and control practices, including the possibility that a
space-based, armed communications network is capable of beaming
electromagnetic pulse technology upon virtually any chosen spot on the
The potential here for mass
mind control strategies is severely
worrying and unnerving.
As we move towards the second decade of the twenty-first century we come
increasingly close to a crossroads:
One path indicates a move towards a deep
and entrenched militarization of the civil sphere where control and
containment are the order of the day
The other path leads towards increased
civil participation, engagement, and empowerment
It is perhaps a choice between global
emancipation or complete global grid-lock.
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Poindexter is an ex-retired Navy
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‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ is a key term
used in the Joint Vision 2020 report – a document outlining future
visions for the US Department of Defense. See
Even Google has attempted to get a slice
of the action by releasing Google Mars. See: http://www.google.com/mars/