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<nettime> fingering the trigger
Jordan Crandall on Tue, 2 Apr 2002 05:47:13 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> fingering the trigger


So many details to sort through these days.  Details that are easily lost
in an informational onslaught whose force is as overwhelming as firepower.  
If this information force is artillery, then details contain our defenses.

In the midst of the immense power of the networked forces in Afghanistan,
a detail, which has since been lost in the battalions of news flows.

Early February 2002.  One man, said to be foraging for scrap metal on the
ground in Afghanistan, is shot down dead by an unmanned aerial vehicle --
a pilotless Predator drone.

The Pentagon defends the attack.  It reports that the Predator had watched
the man and his accomplices for several hours before the decision to fire
the missile was made.  During this time, it was determined the men had
been involved in "suspicious activity."

The Pentagon even suggested that, at one time, the man was suspected to be
bin Laden himself.

The observation was conducted jointly with the CIA, with whom the Pentagon
has worked closely throughout the war.  At the same time that the Pentagon
defended the attack, however, it also tried to distance itself from it.  
It reported that the decision to fire the missile was made by the CIA.

A single antitank missile, fired from a pilotless drone operated remotely
from an intelligence agency suddenly endowed with a capacity to shoot.

A pilotless reconnaissance drone, which can loiter over a site for about
18 hours, beaming a continuous live feed of video to personnel nearly 10
time zones away.  A pilotless reconnaissance drone whose operator sits
hundreds or thousands of miles away from its cockpit.  A continuous
image-flow filtered through networks of interpretation.  A pilotless
reconnaissance drone now armed with Hellfire missiles.  Missile and video
camera sitting side-by-side, pointed toward the ground, both aimed to
capture, mounted on the belly of a windowless airplane.  
Recording-launching. Seeing-aiming-firing.  A realtime flow aligns with,
contains, produces a target.  A suspect coalesces within a distributed
capacity to fire upon it. An identity construed.  A target-object to be
seen, saved, destroyed.  A projectile sent to seal the deal.  A radically
new perspective-as-control-technology.  A perspective that obliterates all
perspectives.

Positions adhere.  At the site of the trigger-switch, "I" stand "here,"
"against" an enemy.  Here/there, us/them, agreement/opposition.  A
contested body appears.  The battlelines are drawn.  A border is laid out,
fortified, to convey the cessation of the battle.  The battle never
ceases.  The camera-weapon, linked to its seer-fighter, helps to stage new
occupations. It marks places of war. Trigger click, camera click.  Frozen
in an image, or replaced by one.

"Report any suspicious person," a now-familiar recorded voice intones over
the loudspeakers at US airports.  "Report any suspicious activity."
Vigilance is to be demanded.  Our consorts are to be suspected.  The
authority to intercept migrates into a murky realm.  If there is no
specific finger on the trigger, does the trigger now fire the human?  "It
is our mission to let the rifles live," a Palestinian militant intones.  
A trigger exists through which I am fired.

What remains in the battlefields of directed sight?  I want to find new
details, new weapons, in this oscillation between object and target, image
and artillery, sensing and shooting.

*

Through the pilotless agency of the drone, the CIA has since fired dozens
of missiles at suspected Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, to little public
awareness.  (And interestingly, sometimes to little military knowledge.
According to The Washington Post, Air Force liaison officers monitoring
Afghanistan at the CIA headquarters have been occasionally "surprised to
see an explosion, only to learn later that the CIA was firing a missile.")
It is odd that there has been so little questioning of the CIA's newfound
authority to fire missiles.  Why?  There are technicalities:  since a
drone technically has no pilot, so it can slip through the ropes.  There
is history:  the Predator was originally conceived only for reconnaissance
missions, and the addition of missiles has only been a very recent
development (in fact, the missiles were jury-rigged to it and a
laser-target system was literally taped to its nose).  And there is public
reception:  to the American public it really doesn't matter anyway.  One
could perhaps see how such authority could have been granted by default.  
It's difficult to keep up with the mergings.  The lines between military
personnel, combat machinery, and artillery blur in a networked battlefield
where satellite systems, remote detection technology, precision-guided
weapons, and cyborg soldiers communicate in reatime.  A battlefield where
intelligence plays as crucial a role as striking power and where
ever-narrowing windows between detection and engagement are demanded.  
Things get passed over our eyes in the delirious rush for the need for
security.  We are lulled into acquiescence, since any opposition seems to
deliberately court danger.  Who would want to endanger one's fellow
citizens?  In any case few choose to argue with the astounding success
rates reported by the Pentagon.  The CIA's use of armed Predators has
achieved the military's long-standing goal of reducing the time from
"sensor to shooter" to almost zero.

But this newfound authority of the CIA is something much more.  It is one
more instance in a growing landscape of boundary erosion between the
intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and the military, each of which
has long been clamoring for increased authority.  If the CIA is working
with the military closely enough that it has been given the authority to
fire missiles, and if the FBI and the CIA -- both of which have also been
given increased domestic powers -- are developing new alliances with each
other and with the police force, and if the U.S. armed forces are
increasingly granted authority to intercede in domestic affairs, then we
have to wonder about the new rules of engagement to which the "decision to
fire" will be subject.  We have to wonder about this as a host of agencies
working in collaboration take aim with new authority across the domestic
and international fronts.  Collaborations that, as witnessed in the
ongoing tensions between the military and intelligence agencies, are not
without their own little wars.  We are certainly not talking about one big
happy family.  So while we have boundary-erosion, we have tensional
linkups and assemblages.

Here is a new defining "Institution."  It is not defined in business or in
military terms but in terms of provisional assemblages among intelligence,
enforcement, economic, and defense agencies, linked very specifically to
local indoctrinations.

Weapons, defenses, and fighting capacities arise out of individual,
cultural, and machinic negotiations.  The military does not simply produce
a weapon to meet a need; a weapons-capacity arises in a cultural-machinic
field and the military organizes itself, aligns itself, around it.  A
drone arises out of a field shaped by continuous tradeoffs between
protection, visibility, mobility, and firepower.  Its capacities morph --
suddenly it is a missile-equipped drone, suddenly it is a hybridly-piloted
one -- and fighting doctrines, careers, organizational strategies realign
themselves accordingly.  At the same time, the conventions shape the
device.  All rework the capacities of the human.  There are continuous
flows between humans, armaments, and systems of combat.  There are flows
and assemblages, and the modulations they allow.  New forms of vision,
representation, and coordination mediate these changes. What sees, what
"captures," and with what capacity does it touch the trigger?

*

Already involved with domestic border security and the War on Drugs, the
military has recently been given powers to shoot down planes suspected of
being hijacked; it has been working to secure American ports with the
Coast Guard; and it has been involved in the patrolling of airports.  The
Pentagon will soon announce plans for a new unit -- a kind of "homeland
command" -- that will be involved in shaping the military's domestic
missions.  (Perhaps it will be connected to the Office of Homeland Fear.)  
In spite of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which bars the military from
having any role in domestic affairs, it is increasingly believed that
there are no legal barriers to the use of American armed forces against
the populace.  It has already happened during the LA riots of 1992 and the
Seattle protests of two years ago, and it is on the increase in the light
of new terrorist threats and suspicions.

The military has already been collaborating with Hollywood and academia --
witness the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC, a joint venture
with the Pentagon, which focuses upon the development of advanced military
simulations, not only for the defense industry but for film studios and
videogame designers who want to make more compelling games, theme park
rides, and special effects in film.  The Pentagon is now collaborating
with the television industry on several military-themed shows.  A new
series called "AFP: American Fighter Pilot" and its series "JAG" will
offer the first and perhaps only visual version of the military tribunals
that the public will ever see (since they will not be televised).  On VH1,
"Military Diaries" will explore the life of soldiers, 60 of whom were
given video cameras to tape their daily activities.  A reality-type show
called "Profiles from the Front Line" is being planned.  All have been
produced with the support and cooperation of the Pentagon, who
collaborates on scripts as well as loans equipment and sites.  News and
entertainment are already intertwined.  With the Pentagon's new strategies
of withholding and managing information, it can now give the "scoop" to
the entertainment realm to get its message across.

But I'm not talking about "militainment" so much as I'm talking about the
militarizing of the civilian realm.  Not necessarily in terms of a
populace itself endowed with the ability to shoot laser-guided weapons, of
course, but in terms of its ability use force -- it is only a matter of
what kind of force we are speaking of, and of how it is backed with an
apparatus of war or work, fueled by the technical capacity of a time.  
Embedded of course, in a calculus of rights.  But I'm speaking of
something more than this -- a kind of conditioning, an orientation of the
sensorium, and the establishing of a civic vigilance allied to the needs
of the institution. I'm talking about a human made adequate for combat,
whether in the sense of fighting on the battlefield or in the sense of
becoming conditioned to its logics.  The modulations of this "civilian
soldier" provide a glimpse of the everyday shaping of corporeality, as
well as the shaping of the terms and means of battle itself.

We align eye, viewfinder, and trigger in an act of aiming -- a
conditioning of sight, an organization of perception and attention within
conditions of combat.  Think about these modulations in terms of the
history of perspective technology.  Think in terms of the relays between
perception, technology, and the pacings of the body.

But we are aimed at, we are constituted, in other acts of looking.  These
are analysis and control systems in which the body is situated, where
visual networks and observing agencies displace the primacy of an
originary, embodied seer.  It sees us as a nexus of data, materiality, and
behavior and uses a language of tracking, profiling, identifying,
positioning, and targeting. (If there is an eye-viewfinder-trigger, there
is an agent-database-accounter.)  Within the circuitous visualization
networks that arise, one never knows which "side" one is truly on, as seer
switches to that who is seen; targeter switches to that which is targeted.

So to reposition the anthropocentrism of the civilian-solider within these
networks is to think models which are not only about aligning target and
viewfinder, or system and subject, but which are about establishing relays
between individual or public patterns of behavior and systems of
accounting or management.  In other words, an apparatus of not only
detecting patterns and generating alignments, but of binding patterns or
routines into technologies of registration and control.  Following this
are the issues of division, sedimentation, and ownership that are involved
in the ensuing processes of "capture," compartmentalization, and
friend/enemy distinction -- along with ideologies of protection,
violation, and preventivity.

Report any suspicious persons.  Report any suspicious activity.  Think
about the contemporary analogues to the civilian duck-and-cover drills,
the bomb shelter preparations, witnessed in the public's behavior in
response to the numerous terrorist alerts since 9/11.  Stockpiles of fear,
guaranteeing a steady demand for security.  Patriotism and Panic have long
been used as Management Tools to institute mass suspicion, alarm, and
vigilance.  Fear is used to push policy.  It is everywhere exacerbated.  
Citizens are coerced into an extreme form of nationalism and "macho
militancy" under a security and defense apparatus that becomes ever more
deeply linked to (and an expression of) a cultural imaginary.  It takes
root in a climate hostile to internal dissent (where, in fact, dissent is
equated with "aiding the enemy," or a kind of terrorist act in and of
itself).  In a nation that has little first-hand experience of the horrors
of war, is increasingly detached from the repercussions of its acts, and
is still easily aroused by a sense of righteous entitlement, the displays
of armaments paraded before us take on the resonance of religious
statuary.  The monitoring apparatus blanketing the skies becomes like the
all-seeing eyes of God.  We are no less defending ourselves against the
"evildoers," our President tells us, as the Catholic Church once did.

But I am not satisfied with this stance.  I want another weapon.  I am
looking for another detail.  It oscillates between benevolence and threat,
attraction and repulsion, eros and mars.  It is a weapon against another
danger.  It can't be used to rail against the evildoers of oppression,
becoming an oppressor in another way.  It prompts one to dig deeper.
Sophisticated technologies of control and submission are never as one-way
as they seem.  As they twist ever more deeply into psychosexual
imaginaries, they spawn countless new kinds of groundlevel practices that
slip under the radar.  Artistic alternatives are needed that call for a
recognition of the complexity of human relationships and impulses, which
rarely fit neatly into our analytical categories.  A mode of observation
is always met with a strategy of display.  Contemporary artistic or
aesthetic practices need to move toward a deeper understanding of aspects
of the human psyche and its acts of detection, deception, and exhibition,
where observation networks fuel new power dynamics and new spaces of
invention.  We need to ventriloquize these dimensions, moving toward a
revived politics of seeing. What is needed is not only a study of
militarized dimensions of seeing, for example, but of all of the factors
that join to give rise to a militant sensibility and its eroticisations of
conquest, as played out in the realm of sensing and depiction systems.

At first, the unmanned drone was fiercely resisted by the Air Force.  It
felt it would pose a threat, causing it to lose some of its authority to
other services.  The capacity of pilot could be transferred elsewhere, for
example to the CIA.  But even more deeply, and not so often spoken about,
is the fact that it threatens the macho warrior mystique of the pilot --
the Top Gun status of the American man, who fights his enemy alone for
God, family, and country and is poised to be Hero.  The man brandishes his
own weapon, he fingers it, he does not sit by at the keyboard while the
machines fight.

I am thinking of that man's stroking of the trigger.

*

America displays its intimidating arsenal.  An armed colossus the likes of
which you have never seen.

The gaze of power, one-way, unquestioned, absolute -- a projectile that
designates... "terrorist," a category that serves to vanquish any
standing, any gaze, any voice, rendering this object as something to be
seen only, targeted.  To be seen, not heard.

Symbols of the divinity, unrepresentable, unseen but ubiquitous.
Omnipotent.

*

The Predator is cute.  It is benevolent, even sexy.  In stands in contrast
to the masculine hardware of the military.  Bulbous, sensitive, seemingly
soft, it is an easy target itself (it is unguarded, easily shot down).  
It has no eyes.  It does not seem to have a capacity for vision, and
what's more has no Top Gun at its helm.  It seems to be empty.  It was
originally built only for seeing.  It sees in a manner to which we have no
access.  We don't know its codes of representation.  It is a feminized
body that has entirely appropriated the male right to look.

There is always eros in an act of watching.

Sgt. 1st Class Roger Lyon, a 10th Mountain Division intelligence
specialist, says the Predator drone is a nice thing to have in combat.
"It's a comforting sound on the battlefield, when you're going to sleep
and you hear that sound of the Predator engine, somewhere between a
propeller airplane and a lawn mower, knowing it is looking out for you."



jordancrandall.com




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