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

 

More articles by:

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

January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John Campbell McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
Roberto J. González
Starting Them Young: Is Facebook Hooking Children on Social Media?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Between the Null and the Void
Andrew Levine
Trump After Bannon: What Next?
John Davis
Mud-Slide
Ajamu Baraka
The Responsibility to Protect the World … from the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Stirs the Methane Monster
Paul Street
Lazy Liberals and “the Trump Effect”
Carmen Rodriguez
Trump’s Attack on Salvadoran Migrants
Mike Whitney
Oprah for President, Really?
Francisco Cabanillas
The Hurricane After Maria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail