Might Bob Woodward's Big Secret Be Tiny Unmanned Aerial Drones?

September 10 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Security   Year: 2008   Rating: 6 Hot

The WoodwardGate super-secret-weapon saga continues and the blogosphere is “abuzz”, pardon the pun – couldn’t resist, with speculation about what the “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” may consist of.

Fortunately, we’ve got a bunch of brainiacs here at Future Blogger that have helped us separate the more plausible wheat from the ultra-theoretical chaff. Some of their best guesses include:

Tiny Unmanned Aerial Drones: tk421 and a few other contributors have ventured that small, or even microscopic, automated drones or insects could contribute to the secret program. After all, the American govt has been hard at work figuring out how to either build microdrones or embed chips directly into actual insects.

Smart Dust the Size of Pepper Grains: According to commenter CheechWizard (gotta love the handle): It’s smart dust: RFID tags the size of small pepper grains, packaged in grenades, mortar rounds, artillery shells. Their cases are modeled after seeds and pollen that sticks effectively to animals & such, colored to match local dirt and grime. How it works:

Your unit is taking fire, so you call in a couple of rounds of artillery that cover the enemy position in tags. As your guys advance, the attackers fade away as usual. That night, helicopters scan the town, and within a couple of hours, the door kicker squads are rounding up your attackers and their friends at home.

Scanners are also located at checkpoints & available as portable wand units. Every munition’s smart dust will have its own RFID serial number, so you can keep track of who was where, and ignore ones too old to be reliable markers on your insurgent targets.

Airborne Tactical Laser: Brainiac rumurphy believes the recent success should be attributed to the ongoing, and successful, U.S. ATL program:

The ATL lasership system is designed to Locate, Target, and Kill effectively. Probably through the use of UAVs to locate and target by infrared.. and then the ATL Hercules laser plane comes in at a safe distance of over 5 miles away and instantly focuses a beam on the lit up target by the UAV. Reports have been said that the target’s clothes would combust and the victim would suffer severe instant trauma. I mean this makes so much sense.

It’s basically an AC-130 gunship with a 100 kWatt laser instead of guns. It has a range of 5 miles or more.. and the laser beam makes no noise and is invisible and makes an instant, precise beam.

Thermal Biometrics: Sharon Weinberger over at Wired extends our satellite argument by making the case for “the much ballyhooed ‘Tagging, Tracking and Locating’ program … These are newfangled technologies designed to track people from long distances, without the targeted people realizing they are being tracked.”

Conclusion: Seeing as Woodward indicates multiple “secret operational capabilities”, the answer is likely to be a robust network combining all or most of the above.

But what other components are we missing here?

Comment Thread (13 Responses)

  1. Hows this, remember that remote control cockroach and all the hullabaloo about the disappearing bees? Just thought I’d start us off with the least plausible.

    Posted by: tk421   September 10, 2008
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  2. Great minds think alike! That also crossed the sci-fi hemisphere of my brain. Could the bees be dying due to a virus engineered in a lab as part of an effort to control insects, aka the ultimate robots, embedded nodes and pervasive computers?

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   September 10, 2008
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  3. I think the technology might be related to the other comment Wordword made about the US knowing everything, or nearly everything, the Iraqi prime minister said. This would point to some new and very effective surveillance technology, which I guess would have to be tiny unmanned aerial drones, as these are the only things mentioned that can actually listen, right?

    Posted by: Mielle Sullivan   September 10, 2008
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  4. @ mielle – It could also be thermal or other sensing that is so fine-grained that it allows spoken words to be extrapolated based on the recorded motions.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   September 10, 2008
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  5. The new technology that the military is using is called Googlecast, which Google licensed. It is a megastructure of data that predicts and forecasts, moment to moment, all possible movements and strategies of an opponent. It basically allows our military to play battleship while seeing the opponents board.

    I heard that Google is developing a Googlegun which has physical and technical similarities to the iPhone, and it can call satellite bombers at will, while you are sleeping. It also can target enemies who have specific ideologies that you detest.

    Posted by: Peltaire   September 10, 2008
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  6. Or maybe self-aware/self-replicating nano-bots capable of faster-than-light/time travel are finally here?

    But seriously, if they have that new super secret magic capability, what stops them from finally catching/killing OBL?

    Posted by: johnfrink   September 10, 2008
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  7. @ Peltaire – Sounds a lot like Google’s Machine Automated Temporal Extrapolation, aka MATE, which they release this past April 1st. :P

    The GoogleGun, sorry to say, already exists….

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   September 10, 2008
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  8. But seriously, if they have that new super secret magic capability, what stops them from finally catching/killing OBL?

    Indeed. But maybe that’s the final Ace in the Hole, which would make for an early November to remember. :)

    Personally, I’m left wondering more about the other homeland applications of any such tracking technology – if indeed it’s not propaganda.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   September 10, 2008
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  9. I think what we’re all forgetting is that when the man referenced past technologies that changed the face of war it was tech that they weren’t afraid to mention. Yes, we have planes. Yes, we have tanks. Yes, we have the Bomb.

    The reason for the secrecy is probably that what he is talking about is an actual tactic, not a device. If the enemy knew we had miniature robots, what harm is that? If they knew we had a frickin’ laser, what harm is that?

    It’s probably nothing. It’s probably the tactic of taking out leader after leader, paying informants, and being persistent. If this was a technology as crazy weird as miniature robots, don’t you think soldiers in the field might let it slip that they were backed up by a swarm of robots?

    Posted by: John Heylin   September 10, 2008
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  10. @johnfrink – That’s the October surprise. OBL on a silver platter for John McCain.

    :)

    Posted by: Covus   September 10, 2008
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  11. Pollen sized tags cant have very good transmission range. You’d need a network of nodes to track in on them. A virus would be a silly way to gain control of bees. You’d “kidnap” them and chip some of them, remove their brains and replace them. Could even piggyback in an audio sensor.

    Why bees? Something you’d expect to find in an orchard, among trees. Good place to hide if your an insurgent. Even better, they’ve got their own power supply, can run at night with batteries, and they have a knack for finding pollen. Also provides a solution to the who gets killed if the information gets out. The poor beekeepers wouldn’t even know what they had.

    Posted by: tk421   September 10, 2008
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  12. As for the question of secrecy? If the pollenlike theory is true, then they’d have to have assembly technologies. Imagine the implications. They might never admit to it.

    Posted by: tk421   September 10, 2008
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  13. @ tk421 – Agreed that bees are an ideal surveillance species.

    re: Assmbler’s at the govt’s disposal—that would indeed be interesting from a variety of perspectives – faster computer chips, smaller devices, amazing micro tags, etc.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   September 18, 2008
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