Jordan Crandall on Mon, 1 Apr 2002 22:33:19 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] 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

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

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

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

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.


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."

Nettime-bold mailing list