Rumors the U.S. military has created a secret weapon that can decimate al-Qaida insurgents in Iraq and be used to hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan have been heating up military/technology blogs in the week since Bob Woodward began conducting interviews for his latest book, "The War Within: Secret White House History 2006-2008.”
In the book and subsequent "60 Minutes" interview, Woodward hints that the military’s success in creating a death ray resulted partly from a technology breakthrough that the famed Watergate reporter likens to the creation of the tank or the first atomic bomb.
"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-Qaida in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders — that is one of the true breakthroughs," Woodward told CBS correspondent Scott Pelley.
“It's some kind of surveillance?" Pelley said. "Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you're looking for?"
“I'd love to go through the details, but I'm not going to," Woodward replied. "If you were an al-Qaida leader, and you knew about what they were able to do, you'd get your ass outta town."
But although Woodward described the technology as top secret, reporters and techno-enthusiasts on any number of defense Web sites say it’s been well-known for many years.
Though the military never has fully discussed the details, accounts gleaned from declassified briefings describe an advanced communications ability that allows soldiers to indentify bad guys positively and target them visually and sonically.
In short, they can see and hear as clearly from the sky now as they could in looking for someone face-to-face. The technology also apparently allows them to see through walls and roofs in targeting terrorists. The missiles themselves used to kill insurgents may be able to lock on to these biological signatures.
The military term for the new tactics and technology is “Continuous Clandestine Tagging, Tracking, and Locating.”
In a November 2007 declassified briefing available on the Internet, U.S. Special Operations Command leaders discussed methods using “existing state-of-the-art technologies in nanotechnology, chemistry, and biology” to kill enemy combatants. The breakthrough appears to involve technology that uses a person’s voice, skin emissions, heat signature — perhaps even the beating of their heart — to target a missile.
Like something out of a science-fiction film, the military now apparently can use “biometrics and unique mechanical defects … natural signatures: e.g. perfumes and stains” to find al-Qaida’s leaders over long distances of hundreds of miles. In order to do this, small sensors would be dropped in target zones that would search for these signatures.
Although that scenario sounds cool, and the briefings routinely mention “cell-based sensing” and “bio-engineered signature translation,” many experts and bloggers are still on the fence about the perceived breakthrough.
“I don't know what Woodward has been presented with, or what he knows of these capabilities, but I'm not convinced it's as dramatic a technological breakthrough as he seems to suggest,” Sharon Weinberger wrote on Wired magazine’s DangerRoom blog. “That said, I suppose it could be, but it looks like we'll have to wait to see more details."
The technology apparently is behind the escalation of U.S. military actions involving Predator drone aircraft and commando teams hunting insurgents in the mountainous Pakistan tribal regions. The Los Angeles Times reported on Sept. 12 that new devices — roughly the size of a shoebox and so few in number they must be moved from plane to plane — are behind several recent strikes.
“Officials said the previously unacknowledged devices have become a powerful part of the American arsenal,” The Times story reported, “allowing the tracking of human targets even when they are inside buildings or otherwise hidden from Predator surveillance cameras.
“A military official familiar with the systems said they had a profound effect, both militarily and psychologically, on the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq. ‘It is like they are living with a red dot on their head,’ said a former U.S. military official familiar with the technology who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because it has been secret. ‘With the quietness of the Predator, you never knew when a Hellfire [missile] would come through your window.’”
But while this may be news to Woodward and other mainstream reporters, bloggers expert in defense issues say the technology has been discussed publically for nearly a decade.
“Despite claims by The Washington Post that these techniques “have not been reported publicly,” many — if not more than Woodward realizes — have been written about in technology stories by publications like Aviation Week & Space Technology dating back to 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, and even before, as they were designed, tested, blended and fielded,” David A. Fulghum writes on Aviation Weeks’ Ares defense technology blog.
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