The Truth is Closer Than Fiction

Over the last decade, Hollywood has sensitised us to totalitarian technology. Blockbuster movies portray our heroes and heroines using the weapons of the new millennium: Militarised police forces keep citizens safe; android warrior personnel, part human, part robot are gainfully employed as global peacekeepers; prisoners are incarcerated in high tech electronic jails, controlled with implanted microchips, while the free population is kept under surveillance through the use of biometric identity systems. Science fiction perhaps? Reality yes! Much of what we see on the big screen is not the latest fantasy of Hollywood script writers, but is based on fact. Any film maker wanting a picture of the future need look no further than existing military technology and research.

A recent report published by the European Parliament, “An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control”, shows just how far these new technologies have come, and how they are being actively employed against citizens in countries across the globe. The report warns of “an overall technological and decision drift towards world wide convergence of nearly all the technologies of political control”, including identity recognition; denial; surveillance systems based on neural networks; new arrest and restraint methods and the emergence of so called `less lethal’ weapons. Developments in surveillance technology, innovations in crowd control weapons, new prison control systems, the rise of more powerful restraint, torture, killing and execution technologies and the role of privatised enterprises in promoting such technologies pose a grave threat to our immediate and future freedoms. Trade in Technologies of Control Cutting edge developments made by the Western military-industrial complex are providing invaluable support to various governments throughout the world. The report “Big Brother Incorporated”, by surveillance watchdog Privacy International, presents a detailed analysis of the international trade in surveillance technology. Privacy International says it is concerned about “the flow of sophisticated computer-based technology from developed countries to developing countries -- and particularly to regimes where surveillance technologies become tools of political control.” The international trade in surveillance technology (known as the Repression Trade), involves the manufacture and export of technologies of political control. More than 70% of companies manufacturing and exporting surveillance technology also export arms, chemical weapons or military hardware. The justification advanced by the companies involved in this trade is identical to the justification advanced in the arms trade -- i.e.: that the technology is neutral. Privacy International’s view is that in the absence of legal protection, the technology can never be neutral. As “Big Brother Incorporated” points out, “even those technologies intended for ‘benign’ uses rapidly develop more sinister purposes. The UK manufactured `Scoot’ traffic control cameras in Beijing’s Tianamen Square were automatically employed as surveillance cameras during the student demonstrations. Images captured from the cameras were broadcast over Chinese television to ensure that the ‘offending’ students were captured.” Privacy International cites numerous cases where this type of technology has been obtained for the express purpose of political and social control. ICL (International Computers Limited) provided the technological infrastructure to establish the South African automated Passbook system, upon which much of the function of the regime depended.

In the 1980s Israeli company Tadiram developed and exported the technology for the computerised death list used by the Guatemalan police. Reported human rights abuses in Indonesia - particularly those affecting East Timor - would not be possible without the strategic and technological support of Western companies. Among those companies supplying the Indonesian police and military with surveillance and targeting technology are Morpho Systems (France), De la Ruue Printak (UK), EEV Night Vision (UK), ICL (UK), Marconi Radar and Control Systems (UK), Pyser (UK), Siemens Plessey Defence Systems (UK), Rockwell International Corporation (USA) and SWS Security (USA).

Tools of Repression for ‘Democratic’ States

We should not forget that the same companies supplying regimes with repression technology, also supply ‘democratic’ states with their totalitarian tools. Leutcher Associates Inc. of Massachusetts supplies and services American gas chambers, as well as designing, supplying and installing electric chairs, auto-injection systems and gallows. The Leutcher lethal injection system costs approximately $30,000 and is the cheapest system the company sells. Their electrocution systems cost $35,000 and a gallows would cost approximately $85,000. More and more US states are opting for Leutcher’s $100,000 “execution trailer” which comes complete with a lethal injection machine, a steel holding cell for an inmate, and separate areas for witnesses, chaplain, prison workers and medical personnel. Some companies in Europe have even offered to supply gallows. In the 1970’s, J.A. Meyer of the US Defence Department suggested a countrywide network of transceivers for monitoring all prisoners on parole, via an irremovable transponder implant. The idea was that parolees movements could be continuously checked and the system would facilitate certain areas or hours to be out of bounds, whilst having the economic advantage of cutting down on the costs of clothing and feeding the prisoner. If prisoners go missing, the police could automatically home in on their last position. Meyer’s vision came into operational use in America in the mid 1980’s, when some private prisons started to operate a transponder based parole system. As per usual, Britain has followed suit and a similar 'tagging' system is now operational in the UK.

Whilst the logic of tagging is difficult to resist, critics argue that the recipients of this technology appear not to be offenders who would have been imprisoned, but rather low risk offenders who are most likely to be released into the community anyway. Because of this, the system isn’t cheaper since the authorities gain the added expense of supplying monitoring devices to offenders who would have been released anyway. Electronic tagging is however beneficial to the companies who sell such systems. Tagging also has a profitable role inside prisons in the US and in some prisons, notably, DeKalb County Jail near Atlanta, where all prisoners are bar coded. ‘Non-Lethal’ Technology of Control The increasing militarisation of police forces throughout the world is reflected in the spread of “less lethal” weapons such as pepper gas. Benignly referred to by the media as “capsicum spray”, pepper gas was recently used by Australian police in the state of Victoria to subdue a man. According to media reports, the Victorian police also used “a weapon they don’t want to disclose”. The effects of pepper gas are far more severe than most people realise. It is known to cause temporary blindness, a burning sensation of the skin which lasts from 45 to 60 minutes, upper body spasms which force a person to bend forward and uncontrollable coughing making it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 to 15 minutes. For those with asthma or subject to restraining techniques which restrict the breathing passages, there is a risk of death. The Los Angeles Times has reported at least 61 deaths associated with police use of pepper spray since 1990 in the USA, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented 27 deaths in custody of people sprayed with pepper gas in California alone, since 1993. The US Army concluded in a 1993 Aberdeen Proving Ground study that pepper spray could cause “Mutagenic effects, carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neuro-toxicity, as well as possible human fatalities. “The existing arsenal of weapons designed for public order and control will soon be joined by a second generation of kinetic, chemical, optico-acoustic, and microwave weapons, adding to the disabling and paralysing technologies already available. Much of the initial work on these new technologies has been undertaken in US nuclear laboratories such as Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos. The European Parliament Report “An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control” lists a Pandora’s box of new technologies including:-

Ultra-sound generators These cause disorientation, vomiting and involuntary defecation, disturbing the ear system which controls balance and inducing nausea. The system which uses two speakers can target individuals in a crowd.

Visual stimulus and illusion techniques These include high intensity strobes which pulse in the critical epileptic fit inducing flashing frequency and holograms used to project active camouflage.

Reduced energy kinetic weapons Variants on the bean bag philosophy which ostensibly will result in no damage (similar claims were once made about plastic bullets).

New disabling, calmative, sleep inducing agents mixed with DMSO enables the agent to quickly cross the skin barrier and an extensive range of pain causing, paralysing and foul-smelling area-denial chemicals. Some of these are chemically engineered variants of the heroin molecule. They work extremely rapidly, one touch and disablement follows. Yet one person’s tranquillization may be another’s lethal dose.

Microwave and acoustic disabling systems.

Human capture nets, These can be laced with chemical irritant or electrified to pack an extra disabling punch. Lick `em and stick `em technology such as the Sandia National Laboratory’s foam gun which expands to between 35-50 times its original volume. Its extremely sticky, gluing together any target’s feet and hands to the pavement.

Aqueous barrier foam which can be laced with pepper spray. Blinding laser weapons and isotrophic radiator shells which use superheated gaseous plasma to produce a dazzling burst of laser like light.

Thermal guns which incapacitate through a wall by raising body temperature to 107 degrees. Magnetosphere gun which delivers what feels like a blow to the head.

“An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control” says “we are no longer at a theoretical stage with these weapons. US companies are already piloting new systems, lobbying hard and where possible, laying down potentially lucrative patents.” For example, last year New Scientist reported that the American Technology Corporation (ATC) of Poway, California has used what it calls acoustical heterodyning technology to target individuals in a crowd with infra-sound to pinpoint an individual 200-300 metres away.

The system can also project sonic holograms which can conjure audio messages out of thin air so just one person hears them. Meanwhile, Jane’s reported that the US Army Research Laboratory has produced a variable velocity rifle for lethal or non lethal use - a new twist to flexible response. Other companies are promoting robots for use in riot and prison control. Advances in Biometric Identification Through the inevitability of gradualness, repression technology, in the form of biometric identity systems, is permeating our every daylife. Biometry involves using a physical characteristic such as a fingerprint, palm print, iris or retina scan to identify individuals. These unique identity characteristics are digitally stored on a computer system for verification. This way, the identity of each person can be compared to the stored original. Christians will be interested to note that with biometric systems, the original print is stored not as a `picture’ but as an algorithm. The number of your name will be literally in your hand (thumb print) or in your forehead (eyes). Biometric identification is not something that we just see at the movies.

It is here, it is with us now. Governments in the UK, Australia and the USA are planning its widespread introduction by 2005. Both the Dutch and Australian public rejjected plans for a national information and identification scheme en masse several years ago, but have reacted more passively to equally intrusive (but less blatant) schemes in the 21st Century.