Ukraine, network warfare, our cyborg future...
We all live in a networked cyborg world, part of a vast interconnected machine — mediated through computers run by consumerism-crazy corporations embedded within an aggressive transnational security state.
When I was working on my book Surveillance Valley I kept reading about various futuristic visions for computer-aided living and warring — and about how these systems could project and protect and expand the American way of life. These ideas started taking off after World War II, when computer technology got more and more accessible. One of the early ones that dealt war and that wasn’t just envisioned but actually got built overseas was called IGLOO WHITE, a computerized system of surveillance meant to cut off and destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Here’s an artists rendering of it — provided by U.S. Army Research and Development News Magazine in 1972:
Back then IGLOO WHITE was the cutting edge in cybernetic man-machine weapons technology — a system that extended the sensory and destructive power of simple humans like pilots or soldiers. With this new networked gadget, with its various wireless sensors and IBM computers and info beamed across miles and miles into a control center with nobs and digital maps and displays, an Air Force crew running a bombing raid could look below and penetrate the jungle cover. They could see the enemy even as it hid behind solid objects. The system had sensors that could even detect enemy urine! The American Man was one with the Machine and the Machine made these American Men into Gods. Sorta like like that war-crazed human-robot from Moderan.
“I am a Stronghold master, BIG, in the armor plate of total invulnerability. My ammo is stacked in heaps roundabout, and I can win ANY war. My blasters stand itchy on the GO pad, ready, at the speed of a metal thought, to launch for TOTAL SMACK. As it whirls the world in space our planet stands out bold now and surely indestructible, coated as we have plasto-coated it, with nothing to grind it away at the big middle and nothing to wear it out at the far hubs. And I do not have to envy stones now, nor stone pillars. Nor animals either. I am harder than the stones were and more mind-set than the animals. SCIENCE HAS MADE A MAN! NEW-METAL MAN! Science has coated and made clean the dirty EARTH-ball for him to stand on.”
Or at least that was the idea. In reality, it appears most of the info from the IGLOO WHITE system was crap. It gave off faulty signals, was easy to dupe and confuse, and led the mighty U.S. Air Force to drop their loads on non-strategic jungle — incinerating and poisoning nature and killing and displacing civilians, while not doing much damage to Vietnamese fighting capacity. The Air Force claimed to destroy more trucks than were believed by the U.G. government to exist in all of North Vietnam. Ha. That’s computer-guided efficiency.
IGLOO WHITE was developed with a bit of help from ARPA, the agency that was back home at that exact same time funding the development of the first version of the Internet — the ARPANET. This networking technology would, on the one hand, form that backbone of global military and intelligence communications for the United States and, on the other hand, be shortly privatized and would eventually grow into what we now know as the Internet.
This military part of the Internet is vast and always there but is easy to forget because we don’t interact with it. Yet it’s really no different from the commercial Internet we do use. The two are connected — they’re practically one and the same. They just have different log-in credentials. So there’s “network-centric warfare” everywhere around us these days — wired and wireless networks stitched together to create a globe-spanning information system. Or at least that’s the dream.
Once in a while you get a news story that reminds you that this thing exists out there — churning through information, using it to target enemies, storing it for some use in the future…or probably for no use at all, other than to facilitate renewed corporate contracts and bigger military budgets and to satisfy our hoarding instinct.
I just came across a recent New York Times article about that part of the Internet — the military warfare part. Apparently there’s a new Internet-connected information weapon that was developed in Ukraine with help from NATO. This one has what appears to be a crowdsourced component, with civilian insurgents/spotters plugged in as a squishy, distributed flesh-and-blood radar system — to be layered on top of the usual advanced spy satellite data. Gotta put those civilian ARPANET-connected smartphones we all carry in our pockets to use! It’s like Waze but for war. The Man-Machine.