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||| Fingering the Trigger |||
Jordan Crandall

||| [part 1] ||| [part 2] |||
So many details to sort through these days. Details that are easily lost in an informational onslaught whose force is as overwhelming as firepower. If this information force is artillery, then details contain our defenses.

In the midst of the immense power of the networked forces in Afghanistan, a detail, which has since been lost in the battalions of news flows.

Early February 2002. One man, said to be foraging for scrap metal on the ground in Afghanistan, is shot down dead by an unmanned aerial vehicle – a pilotless Predator drone.

The Pentagon defends the attack. It reports that the Predator had watched the man and his accomplices for several hours before the decision to fire the missile was made. During this time, it was determined the men had been involved in “suspicious activity.”

The Pentagon even suggested that, at one time, the man was suspected to be bin Laden himself.

The observation was conducted jointly with the CIA, with whom the Pentagon has worked closely throughout the war. At the same time that the Pentagon defended the attack, however, it also tried to distance itself from it. It reported that the decision to fire the missile was made by the CIA.

A single antitank missile, fired from a pilotless drone operated remotely from an intelligence agency suddenly endowed with a capacity to shoot.

A pilotless reconnaissance drone, which can loiter over a site for about 18 hours, beaming a continuous live feed of video to personnel nearly 10 time zones away. A pilotless reconnaissance drone whose operator sits hundreds or thousands of miles away from its cockpit. A continuous image-flow filtered through networks of interpretation. A pilotless reconnaissance drone now armed with Hellfire missiles. Missile and video camera sitting side-by-side, pointed toward the ground, both aimed to capture, mounted on the belly of a windowless airplane. Recording-launching. Seeing-aiming-firing. A realtime flow aligns with, contains, produces a target. A suspect coalesces within a distributed capacity to fire upon it. An identity construed. A target-object to be seen, saved, destroyed. A projectile sent to seal the deal. A radically new perspective-as-control-technology. A perspective that obliterates all perspectives.

Positions adhere. At the site of the trigger-switch, “I” stand “here,” “against” an enemy. Here/there, us/them, agreement/opposition. A contested body appears. The battlelines are drawn. A border is laid out, fortified, to convey the cessation of the battle. The battle never ceases. The camera-weapon, linked to its seer-fighter, helps to stage new occupations. It marks places of war. Trigger click, camera click. Frozen in an image, or replaced by one.

“Report any suspicious person,” a now-familiar recorded voice intones over the loudspeakers at US airports. “Report any suspicious activity.” Vigilance is to be demanded. Our consorts are to be suspected. The authority to intercept migrates into a murky realm. If there is no specific finger on the trigger, does the trigger now fire the human? “It is our mission to let the rifles live,” a Palestinian militant intones. A trigger exists through which I am fired.

What remains in the battlefields of directed sight? I want to find new details, new weapons, in this oscillation between object and target, image and artillery, sensing and shooting.

Through the pilotless agency of the drone, the CIA has since fired dozens of missiles at suspected Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, to little public awareness. (And interestingly, sometimes to little military knowledge. According to The Washington Post, Air Force liaison officers monitoring Afghanistan at the CIA headquarters have been occasionally "surprised to see an explosion, only to learn later that the CIA was firing a missile.” According to one Air Force officer, "Something would happen, and we would say, 'What the hell was that?'") It is odd that there has been so little questioning of the CIA’s newfound authority to fire missiles. Why? There are technicalities: since a drone technically has no pilot, so it can slip through the ropes. There is history: the Predator was originally conceived only for reconnaissance missions, and the addition of missiles has only been a very recent development (in fact, the missiles were jury-rigged to it and a laser-target system was literally taped to its nose). And there is public reception: to the American public it really doesn’t matter anyway. One could perhaps see how such authority could have been granted by default. It’s difficult to keep up with the mergings. The lines between military personnel, combat machinery, and artillery blur in a networked battlefield where satellite systems, remote detection technology, precision-guided weapons, and cyborg soldiers communicate in reatime. A battlefield where intelligence plays as crucial a role as striking power and where ever-narrowing windows between detection and engagement are demanded. Things get passed over our eyes in the delirious rush for the need for security. We are lulled into acquiescence, since any opposition seems to deliberately court danger. Who would want to endanger one’s fellow citizens? In any case few choose to argue with the astounding success rates reported by the Pentagon. The CIA’s use of armed Predators has achieved the military's long-standing goal of reducing the time from "sensor to shooter" to almost zero.

But this newfound authority of the CIA is something much more. It is one more instance in a growing landscape of boundary erosion between the intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and the military, each of which has long been clamoring for increased authority. If the CIA is working with the military closely enough that it has been given the authority to fire missiles, and if the FBI and the CIA – both of which have also been given increased domestic powers – are developing new alliances with each other and with the police force, and if the U.S. armed forces are increasingly granted authority to intercede in domestic affairs, then we have to wonder about the new rules of engagement to which the “decision to fire” will be subject. We have to wonder about this as a host of agencies working in collaboration take aim with new authority across the domestic and international fronts. Collaborations that, as witnessed in the ongoing tensions between the military and intelligence agencies, are not without their own little wars. We are certainly not talking about one big happy family. So while we have boundary-erosion, we have tensional linkups and assemblages.

Here is a new defining “Institution.” It is not defined in business or in military terms but in terms of provisional assemblages among intelligence, enforcement, economic, and defense agencies, linked very specifically to local indoctrinations.

Following a specific analytical tradition, I want to look at the rise of weapons, defenses, and fighting capacities in terms of assemblages -- results of various forces and practices, arising out of individual, cultural, and machinic negotiations. The military does not simply produce a weapon to meet a need; a weapons-capacity arises in a cultural-machinic field and the military organizes itself, aligns itself, around it. A drone arises out of a field shaped by continuous tradeoffs between protection, visibility, mobility, and firepower. Its capacities morph – suddenly it is a missile-equipped drone, suddenly it is a hybridly-piloted one – and fighting doctrines, careers, organizational strategies realign themselves accordingly. At the same time, the conventions shape the device. All rework the capacities of the human. There are continuous flows between humans, armaments, and systems of combat. There are flows and assemblages, and the modulations they allow. New forms of vision, representation, and coordination mediate these changes. What sees, what “captures,” and with what capacity does it touch the trigger?

||| [part 1] ||| [part 2] |||
Thank you to Jordan Crandall for permission to use this piece.

Jordan Crandall is an artist and media theorist. His first solo museum show, curated by Peter Weibel, opened in February 2000 at the Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria. Writings, projects, interviews and other information is collected at jordancrandall.com. Crandall is director of The X Art Foundation, New York, founding Editor of Blast, and was most recently Visiting Professor at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris.
Happy War

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