What Is Woodward’s ‘Secret Weapon’ in Iraq?
By Sharon Weinberger
September 9, 2008
Categories: Spies, Secrecy and Surveillance
Everyone’s buzzing about the "sophisticated and lethal special operations program" that Bob Woodward alluded to in his recent 60 Minutes interview. An important question is: what in the heck was Woodward talking about? Secret death rays? The Voice of God weapon? It’s enough to make me break from my current coffee shop lounging existence to chime in with some thoughts on the subject. First, let’s review what Woodward said in the interview:
"This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target and kill leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs," Woodward told Pelley.
"But what are we talking about here? It’s some kind of surveillance? Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you’re looking for?" Pelley asked.
"I’d love to go through the details, but I’m not going to," Woodward replied…. "If you were an al-Qaida leader … and you knew about what they were able to do, you’d get your ass outta town."
I’m going to make a wager about what I think Woodward is talking about, and I’ll be curious to see what Danger Room readers have to say. I believe he is talking about the much ballyhooed (in defense geek circles) "Tagging, Tracking and Locating" program; here’s a briefing on it from Special Operations Command. These are newfangled technologies designed to track people from long distances, without the targeted people realizing they are being tracked. That can theoretically include thermal signatures, or some sort of "taggant" placed on a person. Think Will Smith in Enemy of the State. Well, not so many cameras, maybe.
Why do I think this is the technology Woodward is referring to? Well, first, because it pretty much fits the bill, in terms of the type of capability he appears to be talking about. It has involvement from a number of players, including the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and Special Operations Command. Also, the Defense Science Board has talked about this capability in similar terms, saying "the global war on terrorism cannot be won without a ‘Manhattan Project’-like TTL [tagging, tracking, and locating] program."
Do I, however, think that there really has been some great big breakthrough, that, in Woodward’s words, is the equivalent of the "advent of the tank and the airplane?" Or, in the case of the Manhattan Project comparison, the atomic bomb? I don’t know what Woodward has been presented with, or what he knows of these capabilities, but I’m not convinced it’s as dramatic a technological breakthrough as he seems to suggest. That said, I suppose it could be, but it looks like we’ll have to wait to see more