Answering Your Questions: CIA Chips And Woodward's Secrets


Reader A:

Interesting story you linked to about the chips. Do you think this is the secret weapon Woodward has refused to describe?

Me:  It think one of them. 

For background, in one of his books, Bob Woodward referred to a secret and "lethal" special forces program to kill Iraqi militants, implying that the program, details about which he said he had been asked not to provide, was responsible for a significant chunk of the post-Surge reduction in violence.
For the record, here are three techniques that the U.S. military used in Iraq -- techniques that did not make it into Woodward's book. 

1. Biometric databases of Iraqis and insurgents
2. Physical tagging of insurgents 
3. Clandestine tracking and targeting of said insurgents.

They are interrelated.  Biometric tagging is not new to the covert world; the U.S. at one point sprayed invisible spy dust on the cars of Russian embassy personnel in Washington; FBI and CIA techs had cameras that allowed them to see the invisible trails, so they could follow the cars without seeing them.  In the 80s, 90s and today, affixing tiny RFID tags to cars is routine; countermeasure devices have gotten sensitive enough to detect them. It's basic spy v. spy.  Wired's Sharon Weinberger points to an unclassified special operations command briefing on clandestine tracking and targeting. 

Figuring out whom to track and how to track them required an enormous expenditure of resources. (Just what did all those thousands of National Security Agency sigint collectors assigned to Iraq  (or to monitor Iraq) do?)  Many of the entities involved in this program are probably among the non-disclosed elements of the Joint Special Operations Command. I'm thinking here about a group called the Army Tactical Field Detachment and those "Grey Fox" intelligence collectors that Woodward first wrote about in 2003. Working with Iraqi informants, these folks, assisted, I'm sure, by CIA paramilitaries, began to assemble a biometric database of insurgents. How? Not sure. Maybe they installed hundreds of cameras throughout insurgent controlled areas and applied sophisticated face and sound filters to the recordings. Maybe they planted listening devices in insurgent hangouts -- devices that responded to specific voice prints.  Maybe they installed surveillance microphones across key cities -- mics that could pic up and analyze a multitude of different voice prints at once. Once they got a "hit," air strikes or other lethal action would be called in on the theory that insurgents hung around with other bad guys. Maybe the good guys set up fake insurgent cells pretending to be the bad guys.  When intelligence professionals moan about not being able to brag about their successes, this is the type of program they're talking about. A critical intelligence-military-industry collaboration led to a meaningful reduction in violence...but the story can't ever be told.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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