Intelligence Drones on the Rise
“Drone Flights Leave Military Awash in Data”
A short story here, posted while I’m on the road in Melbourne – the New York Times reports this week that the US military has so many spy drones (remote-controlled intelligence-collecting planes) over Afghanistan, that analysts are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with all the footage.
In 2009 the US Air Force drones collected so much video footage over Afghanistan and Iraq that it would take 24 years to watch if viewed continuously by one person. And the volume of information flowing in is expected to multiply in the next few years as drone numbers increase and start to use multiple cameras to shoot footage in many directions. Live footage from these drones is delivered to intelligence teams at Langley Air Force Base, where they watch for signs of insurgents and roadside bombs. They also see a potential use for the video archives, analysing thousands of hours of footage in an effort to find patterns of activity, and predict future actions.
Overloaded by information, the intelligence analysts are turning to the latest technology used by television broadcasters, internet chat programmes, Youtube and mobile phones in order to create faster and easier ways to check and share information. Reliance on the drones is up to a level at which many commanders are reluctant to send out convoys without armed drones watching over them. The C.I.A. is also using drones to mount missile strikes against suspected Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan. Remote-controlled spy-planes that can also be used to assassinate you with missile strikes – when did the future become the present?
Soon, instead of carrying just one camera, the spy drones will be able to record footage in 10 directions at once, with plans to increase that to 30 directions within 2 years. As the US Air Force’s “top intelligence official, Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, says [they] could soon be ‘swimming in sensors and drowning in data’.” They are now moving forward with plans to recruit 2,500 more analysts and install a new $500 million computer system. The operations already involve 4,000 pilots and analysts. They want to start automating the intelligence analysis as much as possible, but say that a person will always have to examine material before the drones assassinate anyone… A small mercy?