FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Signature Targeting Comes Home to Roost

by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY

Isla di Elba, Italia

At the core of the drone program is the theory of signature targeting.  It is a theory based on the idea that analysts can discern “enemy combatants” from an analysis of outward indicators of patterns of behaviour.

As a practical matter, this approach requires the construction (really a primitive synthesis) of some kind of template describing the universe of behaviour indicators before the fact.  In step 2, analysts can compare the observed indicators implicit in a suspected target’s individual behaviour to that predicted by the template.  Step three is to make some kind of assessment — usually a subjective probabilistic calculation — of whether or not the target is a valid target.  The calculation is subjective because the indicator is based on an array of assumptions buried deeply in the template.

In its more sophisticated — read pseudo scientific — incarnation, the comparison can be done mathematically on a computer using artificial intelligence algorithms.  Often this effort involves statistics, including sometimes Bayesian statistics, to give the targeting “analyst” an estimate of the statistical ‘confidence’ in the result of the calculation.  The mechanistic nature of this approach raises the possibility that millions of data inputs can be analyzed on a machine without human intervention, with the results summarized in a neat powerpoint briefing, and presented to an overworked decision-maker, who does not have a clue about the deeply buried subjective assumptions underpinning seemingly objective nature of the calculations.

The operative word in this application of artificial intelligence theory is “artificial” because a real intelligence appreciation, as the American strategist John Boyd showed, resides in a decision maker’s Orientation.  Boyd’s theory of Orientation involves a balanced interplay of an ever-evolving synthesis growing out of many-sided, continuing analyses, which cut into a problem from many different angles.  The objective is  insure that one’s Orientation matches the ever-changing requirements of the changing and often menacing external environment.  I worked closely with Boyd while he was developing these ideas.  For readers not familiar with his ideas, my presentation, Evolutionary Epistemology, is a personal interpretation of his basic theory of knowledge generation.  The goal is understand how one evolves an adaptable Orientation to support Observations and Decisions that work in changing conditions of the real world.  Readers interested in learning more about Boyd’s ideas can find them explicated in CoramFallowsRichards, and Ozinga. Boyd’s own words (beware, they are cryptic) can be found in the Boyd Compendium.

Boyd’s theory of Orientation is crucial for understanding why an algorithmic template based artificial intelligence is so stupid, and so easy to game by all sides, for all sorts of nefarious purposes.

When viewed through the lens of Orientation, the template described above is merely a hardwired (non-evolving) Orientation based on a one-sided analysis.  The fatal flaw in this conception is fundamental: Template based artificial intelligence schemes confuse analysis with synthesis. (BTW … ‘Connecting the dots’ is a popular phrase making the same mistake — which is the central reason we never seem to be able to connect the dots!)

The confusion of analysis with synthesis in template-based decision making scheme sets the decision maker up for incestuous amplification, which occurs when the preconceptions implicit in the template drive the both the analyst and decision maker to see what he/she wants to see, rather than what is.  The epistemological flaw is basic: Logically, the template requires the analyst to know every possible pattern of a target’s behaviour before the fact. The unrealistic assumption of godlike omniscience reduces the subtle problem of target identification to a simple one of comparative analysis (‘observations’ vs. those predicted by the template) and leads naturally to a mechanistic statistical analysis, together (usually) with a determination of acceptable confidence levels.

In the best of worlds, this kind of hard-wired orientation can be true only if the target is too stupid to adapt unpredictably to the changing conditions that threaten its existence — i.e., if the ‘target’ is an unthinking automaton with no incentive to survive or win.  But human beings are adaptive, thinking, creative, and therefore unpredictable creatures with a will to live:  Already, for example, there are signs some Al Qaeda wannabees are trying to evolve counter-measures to drones — some laughingly simple and sure to be effective — to neutralize what little effectiveness drones might have. (We already know drones are killing too many civilians and producing highly counterproductive grand-strategic blowback effects).

No doubt, at this point some readers may be wondering where I am going with mumbo jumbo about the mindlessness of confusing synthesis (and creativity) with analysis (and predictability).  Well, I urge you to read carefully this important McClatchy report by the inestimable Jonathan Landay.   Landay explains in mind numbing detail how you and every American are now in the process of being ‘templated’ by your neighbors and coworkers.  Landay shows how your friends and colleagues are being enlisted to feed indicators into the crosshairs of unseen templates concocted by anonymous, mindless, artificial intelligence apparachiks in the Federal Government and their privatized accomplices in industry, all of whom are cashing in on the self-organizing politics of money in a cultural evolutions that depends on a compliant American citizenry, anesthetized by fear.

Welcome to the Amerikan Deep State, presided over by the most superficially attractive president since John Kennedy, where signature targeting is coming home to roost in your living room, brought to you by the not-so-creative geniuses in NSA, Microsoft, DOD, DHA, Booz-Allen, etc.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

 

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail