LAST WEEK The Intercept published a package of stories on the U.S. drone program, drawing on a cache of secret government documents leaked by an intelligence community whistleblower. The available evidence suggests that one of the documents, a study titled “ISR Support to Small Footprint CT Operations — Somalia/Yemen,” was produced for the Defense Department in 2013 by consultants from IBM. If you look at just one classified PowerPoint presentation this year, I recommend you make it this one.
Like a good poem, the ISR study has multiple meanings, and rewards careful attention and repeated reading. On its surface, it’s simply an analysis by the Defense Department’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force of the “performance and requirements” of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism kill/capture operations, including drone strikes, in Somalia and Yemen. However, it’s also what a former senior special operations officer characterized as a “bitch brief” — that is, a study designed to be a weapon in a bureaucratic turf war with the CIA to win the Pentagon more money and a bigger mandate. The study was also presumably an opportunity for IBM to demonstrate that it can produce snappy “analysis” tailored to the desires of its Defense Department clients, as well as for current Defense employees to network with a potential future employer.
But the presentation’s most compelling meaning is much deeper: It’s a rare, peculiar cultural artifact that opens a window into the deep guts of the military-industrial complex, where the technologies of assassination and corporate sales converge, all described in language as dead as the target of an ISR platform kinetic engagement.