How 'Enemy of the State' Influenced Military Drone-Surveillance Technology Gorgon Stare

this is true obviously it's hard to talk about this topic and not start at the very beginning of this story which it kind of you know kind of puts a smile on my face is I remember the movie enemy of the state I remember that it was I've watched it anytime since like it came out so I can't necessarily remember if it's historically good but I remember liking it at the time yeah go ahead it's not two hours badly spent by any stretch well that's good because I'm sure you've watched it a couple of times to get a sense of like how fiction can lead to you know to creating the future essentially and that's exactly what happened here right talk really talked a little bit about how enemy of the state actually has something very critical to do with what we have with Gorgon Stare sure so when I started doing research about this this technology which you know will get it a little bit more into what it does in a second but very briefly it watches a very very wide area from the sky essentially people often used an analogy to explain what it looked like and how it worked which is to say have you seen the movie enemy of the state because that's sort of the closest analogue this the closest visual reference to what this technology actually does now to give you a sort of plotted plotted summary of enemies of the state it's a 1998 movie with Will Smith and Gene Hackman and in the movie Will Smith plays a lawyer in Washington DC who comes into possession of some evidence that compromises in a sense a number of officials at the National Security Agency and so they decide they need to get it back and they begin to pursue him relentlessly using all sorts of spy gadgets some of which were real at the time and some of which were entirely fictional they tap his phone's obviously they plant miniature cameras in his house as one in his smoke detector they put trackers in his watch and his pen and pants and his shoes their most powerful tool though without a doubt is their surveillance satellite they basically get this giant satellite pocket over the eastern seaboard and it stares down on the entire area it seems like it looks at really the whole you know the whole eastern seaboard in a sense and it watches Dean the lawyer played by Will Smith as he scuttles around trying to get away now for the average viewer the the intent with that that that device was to spark fear and anxiety it was meant to demonstrate that you know while power is nothing new and the abuse of power is nothing new these new technologies these new surveillance technologies in particular make power all the more vicious and even further rigged the contest between the weak and the strong and certainly watching the satellite tracking Will Smith around really seeming like he has nowhere to go is is pretty terrifying well one night in 1998 shortly after the movie came out on a Friday evening in in Northern California a man who works for a government lab called the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was attending a screening of this movie with his wife on it on a date night and whereas the other members of the audience would no doubt terrified by what they saw he was thrilled he saw this satellite and said we've got to do this essentially I mean we that would be amazing and so he rushed home and picked up the phone and left a message with his supervisor and the message was very short he just said I have a great idea call me and as a result of that initial call this initially this very small all kind of scrappy group within this very large organization started exploring this idea you know if we were to do something like that how would we go about it what technologies would we would we use and then a few years later after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had really heated up and US service members were coming under constant attack from improvised explosive devices the Central Intelligence Agency became very interested in the technology because they saw it as a way of countering these insurgent networks in Iraq who blended seamlessly into the local population and from that point on it's just being a rollercoaster ride for this technology I mean it was rushed to deployment by 2006 and it has been operating in foreign wars ever since Gorgon Stare is the ultimate iteration of the technology it is the most powerful one to date but there are dozens of other systems that have been developed or are indeed still out there but it all began as you say with the 1998 thriller enemy of the state with Will Smith like six degrees of Will Smith basically yeah absolutely as relates to surveillance that might be the only time that actually works but anyways yeah how how developed was the technology in the beginning like like I'm kind of imagining it's the sort of thing where if you've got a camera covering a wide area and this you know the started development as early as it did you're not you're not talking like seeing the details of a car down on a street you're talking like a little pixels moving around and like that's the car that we're following is that about what it was in the beginning yeah absolutely and to be sure the the idea with this technology is to watch the widest possible area and so with in mind it doesn't matter if a car is only a couple of pixels because what you want to do is you want to track cars and vehicles where they're going and also backwards in time to where they've been from where they've come from rather and so yes you're very much right it's not going to give you this perfectly crisp image where you can you know watch a car read its number plate or recognize a person's face but you just passed the coordinates of that vehicle that you've tracked and have decided is potentially a threat over to another camera more like a sort of telescopic camera if you will and it'll be able to do that job extremely extremely well so the basic concept with these cameras is that you have an AED explosion so a car bomb goes off somewhere in Baghdad if you have the camera flying overhead at the time you can rewind the footage and zoom in into the footage to that very point in time where the explosion happened then you can write whine rewind even further to see where the people involved in that attack came from not only that you can also sort of move forward in the footage to see where they went now the idea is that eventually the folks involved in that kind of attack will return to a safe house some location that is associated with this terrorist group now that you know the location of this safe house you can watch the other cars coming and going from that exact place in theory once you have connected enough locations by tracking the vehicles moving between them you can figure out as one as one intelligence what former intelligence officer put it to me you'll start to see the patterns emerge and in theory you'll be able to figure out what the hierarchy of the organization is who plays which role how they're all connected and that's suddenly catnip for someone like an intelligence official at the Central Intelligence Agency they're not trying to you know put steel plating on the bottom of Humvees to explode to prevent deaths from explosions as they happen in the moment they want to stop the next attack they want to find the people responsible maybe find the people responsible and extract further information from them and that was the precisely the idea with this and it was so revolutionary because previously aerial surveillance cameras operated more like telescopes you could see your target on the ground in very high fidelity but you could only watch a very narrow area and so if something happened outside of your frame of view you had no way of capturing it you had to sort of you know rely on on undone luck one anecdote that was given to me was that a predator with one of these telescopic cameras was being used to follow a convoy of vehicles and there was intelligence to say that there was a senior terrorist leader inside one of these vehicles but they didn't know exactly which one at one point these vehicles reached an intersection and split up and now those watching had to make a pretty sort of stomach-churning decision do we go left or do we go right ultimately it was basically a sort of flip of the coin and they got it wrong now if you were using one of these wide-area cameras you'd be watching the whole city so it didn't matter if you go right or left the camera records as one engineer put it to me the whole thing all the time you can see everything and so that problem of the telescopic camera no longer exists

One Comment

  1. Luis Anthony Martinez said:

    That movie is awesome!!!!

    June 29, 2019

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