Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hit squads

Bob Woodward tells us that the escalation in Iraq (known in marketing-speak as the surge) didn't have as much effect as the Sunni changes (marketing: Anbar Awakening) nor a previously unreleased program of assassination (thin marketing: secret killing). He also likens the assassination campaign to the Manhattan Project.

First, let me say that war is about killing. Targeting that killing is in fact better than not targeting it, so I have no problem in principle with assassination as a tool of war. (As a tool of statecraft? Another matter entirely.)

Assassination is not new. Fiction has been written and filmed about it, and maybe a little non-fiction, too. We used it in Vietnam, though less successfully than the Viet Cong.

That means that even though Woodward is keeping mum (he's a journalist who requires elite access, after all) about what exactly is new. But the stunning "Manhattan Project" label is a clue.

I think that this campaign must have involved massive technology, though not quite to the level of "Déjà Vu". My guess: Tons of electronic surveillance of every phone call, email, movement, and purchase of the Iraqis and massive NSA keyword searching and machine translation (since so many of our military speakers of Arabic were too gay to be welcome to help), followed by human translation of data-mined messages and fact bases.

In short, I'd guess that the military massively replicated what the Clinton administration had deployed in prototype against Osama bin Laden and the Bushists scaled up under John Poindexter and his Carnivore-building ilk to watch Americans. If so, it's quite a technical achievement, though it does call into question why we haven't cared enough to find bin Laden himself.

Update (9/3/11): I was a little bit off here but not much. See this new item for follow-up.

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