New DARPA surveillance technology project in search of algorithms to analyze video footage from Drone aircraft to analyze and monitor movements and behaviors of people below. Said to be in development for military use against insurgents and potential terrorists. Any bets on when it'll be 'adapted" for civilian use, like over American cities?
From Robert Parry in the Consortium News
In its final months, the Bush administration is pressing ahead with a
new generation of spy technology designed to strengthen the U.S.
military's ability to detect and eliminate suspected insurgents in Iraq
and elsewhere based on computer analyses of their movements and
The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA) has begun granting contracts to software firms
to create algorithms that can be applied to the real-time video feeds
from drone aircraft so the data can be sorted and stored on a wide
range of human activities, from digging a ditch to climbing into a car
to kissing someone.
contracts represent the latest step in the Bush administration's
seven-year drive to develop high-tech spying capabilities that can be
applied to a variety of situations and locales to detect terrorist or
new DARPA project would develop algorithms that would identify specific
human activities - both by individuals and by groups - and evaluate if
these actions suggested behavior that would justify a military
The list of
activities that would draw attention to a single person include
"digging, loitering, picking up, throwing, exploding/burning, carrying,
shooting, launching, walking, limping, running, kicking, smoking,
gesturing," according to DARPA's contract description.
For person-to-person activities, the project would identify and
catalogue cases of "following, meeting, gathering, moving in a group,
dispersing, shaking hands, kissing, exchanging objects, kicking,
Categories relating to vehicles include getting into or out of a car,
opening or closing the trunk, driving, accelerating, turning, stopping,
passing and maintaining distances.
According to DARPA's description, the research project addresses
challenges faced by intelligence analysts in processing and retrieving
the vast amounts of visual data created by live video feeds from
Predator drones and other aerial surveillance over Iraq and
Afghanistan. By identifying and indexing specific actions, the analysts
would be helped in evaluating potential threats and could retrieve
video regarding similar behavior.
U.S. military and intelligence communities have an ever increasing need
to monitor live video feeds and search large volumes of archived video
data for activities of interest due to the rapid growth in development
and fielding of motion video systems," said the DARPA document, written in March but withheld from the public until September.
Kitware, a software company with offices in New York and North
Carolina, won an initial $6.7 million contract for what is technically
called Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool, or VIRAT.
In a statement about the contract award, Kitware projected that through
its proposed system, "the most high-value intelligence content will be
clearly and intuitively presented to the video analyst, resulting in
substantial reductions in analyst workload per mission as well as
increasing the quality and accuracy of intelligence yield."
Anthony Hoogs, Kitware's project leader, said, "This project will really make a difference to the war fighter."
To carry out the project, Kitware said it was teaming up with two
leading military technology companies, Honeywell and General Dynamics,
as well as a number of academic researchers. [See Kitware Awarded $6.7M DARPA Contract.]
this DARPA project is not expected to be completed until early next
decade, other technological breakthroughs reportedly have helped U.S.
forces identify and kill insurgents in Iraq.
In his latest book, The War Within, Bob
Woodward writes that highly classified U.S. intelligence tactics
allowed for rapid targeting and killing of Iraqi insurgent leaders,
representing a more important factor in undermining the insurgency than
President George W. Bush's much touted troop "surge." However, Woodward
withheld details of these secret techniques so as not to undermine
there have been previous glimpses of classified U.S. programs that
combine high-tech means of identifying insurgents - such as
sophisticated biometrics and night-vision-equipped drones - with
old-fashioned brutality on the ground, including on-the-spot executions
of suspected insurgents. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Bush's Global Dirty War" and "Iraq's Laboratory of Repression."]
However, the marriage of advanced technology and military repression
has raised concerns among some human rights advocates that these
techniques could open the door to an Orwellian future in which
authoritarian regimes repress popular resistance.
with its mandate to push the envelope on the application of technology
for military and intelligence purposes, also has been caught up before
in controversies about balancing security against liberty.
2002, DARPA came under criticism when it unveiled plans for Total
Information Awareness, a project that sought to detect terrorist
activities by mining electronic data about virtually everyone on earth,
anyone who participated in the modern economy.
The plan was to map out "transactional data" collected from every kind
of activity - "financial, education, travel, medical, veterinary,
country entry, place/event entry, transportation, housing, critical
resources, government, communications," according to the DARPA Web site.
The program would then cross-reference this data with the "biometric
signatures of humans," data collected on individuals' faces,
fingerprints, gaits and irises. To run the sensitive project, the Bush
administration selected retired Admiral John Poindexter, who was
convicted of five felony counts in the Iran-Contra Affair (though a
conservative-dominated appeals court later reversed the jury verdicts).
Public and congressional outrage over this massive data-mining
operation supposedly killed the TIA program in 2003, but the National
Journal revealed in February 2006 that the project was ended in name only, kept alive within the secret budget of the National Security Agency.
One TIA component, called the Information Awareness Prototype System,
was renamed "Basketball" at NSA, but still provided the basic
architecture tying together information extraction, analysis and
dissemination tools developed under TIA.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration began deploying similar advanced
technology to Iraq with the goal of throttling the insurgency that was
challenging the U.S. military occupation.
In effect, Iraq was transformed into a test tube for modern techniques
of repression, including use of night-vision optics on drone aircraft,
heat resonance imaging, and firepower that is both deadly and precise.
The new techniques marked a modernization of tactics used in other
counterinsurgencies, such as in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Central
America in the 1980s.
Vietnam, U.S. forces planted sensors along infiltration routes for
targeting bombing runs against North Vietnamese troops. In Guatemala,
security forces were equipped with early laptop computers for use in
identifying suspected subversives who would be dragged off buses and
year, a conservative counterinsurgency expert sent me a video, spliced
together by the U.S. military in Iraq, showing how some of the modern
techniques worked in Iraq. The video showed night-vision aerial
surveillance of suspected "terrorists" as they moved in the dark with
what was described as a truck-mounted anti-aircraft gun, the muzzle
still warm from firing.
tiny figures of these "terrorists" then walked into a forested area
where they were mowed down by miniguns from an AC-130. Their truck also
was blown to bits.
Besides using Predator drones to monitor the movement of Iraqis from
the sky, massive amounts of biometric data have been collected on the
country's people for use in identifying suspected insurgents.
Explaining the value of this computerized database, Pentagon weapons
designer Anh Duong told the Washington Post that it gave valuable
information to soldiers on the ground.
"A war fighter needs to know one of three things: Do I let him go? Keep him? Or shoot him on the spot?" Duong said.
Though Duong is best known for designing high-explosives used to
destroy hardened targets, she also supervised this Joint Expeditionary
Forensics Facilities project, known as a "lab in a box" for analyzing
biometric data, such as iris scans and fingerprints, that have been
collected on more than one million Iraqis.
The labs - collapsible, 20-by-20-foot units each with a generator and a
satellite link to a biometric data base in West Virginia - let U.S.
forces cross-check data in the field against information collected
previously that can be used to identify insurgents.
Duong said the next step would be to shrink the lab to the size of a
"backpack" so soldiers who encounter a suspect "could find out within
minutes" if he's on a terrorist watch list and should be killed. [Washington Post, Dec. 1, 2007]
By identifying and indexing a wide range of human activities captured
on surveillance videos, the new DARPA project could augment some of
these other security projects, already in place or in development.
Regarding the video analysis, however, DARPA specifically prohibited
inclusion of biometric algorithms for identifying people by their gaits
or other individual features. However, those elements, which are being
developed separately, presumably could be added to the overall
technological package at a later date.