US military overwhelmed with data but still murders civilians

This is progress?

The intensity of warfare in the computer age is on display at a secret intelligence and surveillance installation at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, a massive, heavily air-conditioned warehouse where hundreds of TVs hang from black rafters. Every day across the Air Force’s $5 billion global surveillance network, cubicle warriors review 1,000 hours of video, 1,000 high-altitude spy photos and hundreds of hours of “signals intelligence” — usually cellphone calls.

At the Langley center, officially called Distributed Common Ground System-1, heavy multitasking is a daily routine for people like Josh, a 25-year-old first lieutenant (for security reasons, the Air Force would not release his full name). For 12 hours a day, he monitors an avalanche of images on 10 overhead television screens. They deliver what Josh and his colleagues have nicknamed “Death TV” — live video streams from drones above Afghanistan showing Taliban movements, suspected insurgent safehouses and American combat units headed into battle.

As he watches, Josh uses a classified instant-messaging system showing as many as 30 different chats with commanders at the front, troops in combat and headquarters at the rear. And he is hearing the voice of a pilot at the controls of a U-2 spy plane high in the stratosphere.

“I’ll have a phone in one ear, talking to a pilot on the headset in the other ear, typing in chat at the same time and watching screens,” Josh says. “It’s intense.”

The stress lingers when the shift is over. Josh works alongside Anthony, 23, an airman first class who says his brain hurts each night, the way feet ache after a long march.

“You have so much information coming in that when you go home — how do you take that away? Sometimes I work out,” Anthony said. “Actually, one of my things is just being able to enjoy a nice bowl of cereal with almond milk. I feel the tension is just gone and I can go back again.”

Video games don’t do the trick. “I need something real,” he said.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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