back to article US runs warzone man-tracking 'Manhattan Project'

A long-running background mutter has now become a loud buzz of speculation, following cryptic comments by a famous US journalist regarding a top secret new surveillance-tech "Manhattan Project" targeting terrorist and insurgent leaders in Iraq. Bob Woodward of the Washington Post - famous for his reporting of leaks by a senior …


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  1. chris
    Thumb Down

    Negroponte, Nicaragua

    ' "It is a wonderful example of American ingenuity solving a problem in war, as we often have," said Woodward in a recent TV interview.'

    Mmmm, death squads. Very clever. Bringing about a reduction in violence by assassinating the population. That's never happened in Iraq before. So pleased we liberated it.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. phix8

    With respect -

    'conceivably harvesting its power needs from body heat or ambient radio transmissions'

    This is only conceivable if you get your physics from watching the matrix. You can't sit in the body and just get energy from heat. There would need to be a differential. I'm sorry but thermodynamics forbids either of these possibilities.

    On the bright side, this means we will NEVER EVER be used as fuel by our machine masters. So please all rest easy in this regard. Nope, they'll just simply kiss us.

  4. Colin Millar
    Black Helicopters

    new intelligence technology?

    What - dollar 2.0?

    Bribery - the best intelligence technique known to man

  5. Tom

    Oh please.

    Why give the guy any credit when he's trying to sell you his book?

  6. Marvin the Martian

    Clandestine tagging

    How about labeling the suspect with a dash of, say, polonium?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Double tap

    Means one bullet to the heart, one in the head.

    Doing two in the body and one in the head is just trigger happy :-)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    This would be excellent!

    Finally, a good use for my tax dollars! Basically, this is how you fight insurgency. If they're going to be cowards and use remote IEDs and wear civilian clothes, they deserve "death from the sky" (or anywhere else) as much as possible.

  9. Dave


    "a wonderful example of American ingenuity solving a problem in war"

    Might one enquire whether that means it is of German or of British origin?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not likely

    Woodward is trying desperately to avoid the implication that the surge was actually responsible for a vast rise in tip offs, partly down to the move to local basing of US forces within communities and the declaration of will that it represented. Being on the losing side is a poor proposition, and as soon as the Yanks declared they were doubling up, it had a remarkable impact on the number of tip offs.

    We could spend vast amounts of time speculating as to embedded unpowered RFID, but given that the signal to noise ratio required to pick out signals approaches space probe requirements, I think it's rather unlikely. Good old fashioned COIN and a spec ops community having had 4 years of practice can explain all this just fine IMHO.

    As to why fantasies such as this are the best Woodward can come up with...well, I'll leave that to others to comment on

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Maybe it's the sound of people...

    ...from poor semantics.

    "However" is not the same as "How ever".

  12. phix8


    lol - kiss us? What a bizarre typo. They'll only kiss us when we make robots for home use. No, the miltary ones will kill us. I don't think skynet has a sense of romance.

  13. Secretgeek
    Black Helicopters

    I for one....

    ...welcome our omniscient, American, SAS death squad hiring, overl.... oh hang on there's someone at the door...





  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Double tap...

    "Means one bullet to the heart, one in the head."

    No it doesn't. A double tap is just pulling the trigger twice. You don't change your aim. You double tap them in centre of mass, then pop one in the now (more) stationary head to be sure they're not getting up.

    Or you use three round bursts.

  15. Simon
    Black Helicopters

    Tracking Übertechnology

    @phix8 - true, but what about transponders powered by the body's own electrical field?

    *goto wikipedia* Hmm... I don't think it works the way I imagined. Good. But also bad. (futuretech implants may need external/induced power after all...)

    Black helicopters - obvious really.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Double tap

    A double tap is two bullets fired in quick succession to the same point. The usual technique is a double tap to the centre of mass to disable the target, and one to the head to ensure a kill.

    I think the increase in liquidations of insurgent leadership has more to with better human intelligence on the ground rather than fancy electronic gizmos, although they undoubtedly have played a part in some situations.

  17. Adam Foxton

    Remotely operated phones

    So they need the phone connected to the network- and ideally in-call- when the Predator is attacking. Some way of making this happen... hmm... hmmm...

    So what they need to do is... call the phone. That's the beauty of phones- even if they reject the phone call as it's from a non-whitelisted number or something, it still needs to receive the number and reject it. And naturally it'll not do anything (ringtones etc) while this happens as it'd annoy the owner.

    So just call the phone. If you don't get through, deploy the Predator. If you do get through, keep them talking.

    And for any sarky comments to follow: their phone will have to connect to a network of some sort- so hack it. By "hack it" I mean "use that mobile-encryption-hacking system El Reg had an article on a while back or DoD equivalent" and just grab the mobile number from the now easy-to-listen-to/read data. Listen in, translate to get any useful intel out of the call/text, find 'em, bomb 'em.

    Finding is easy enough- pass a Predator over where you think they are equipped with some sort of aerial. Or even 3 of them flying in formation, all equipped with aerials. Triangulate from that then drop 3x as many bombs!

    Worst case scenario, they take the battery out of the phone and none of your remote trickery will work.

    Even better, have your troops phone them up asking to order a Pizza. It'll piss them off, and hopefully will encourage some of them to leave to get proper non-terrorist jobs.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The differential in the Matrix would be between the inside of the pod and the outside- or possibly some sort of cooling system that vents to... the sea. or something.

  19. Ron

    Woodward is useless

    Woodward is a tool. He's still coasting from his lucky Watergate break and hasn't published anything but rehashed potboilers since then.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have a nice day

    Latest gen RFID tags are the size of coarsely ground pepper - have some today.

    It's one thing to bump off "insurgents", and another to secure Iraqi signatures on US oil contracts. Those signatures would be as good as an RFID tag.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "You double tap them in centre of mass, then pop one in the now (more) stationary head to be sure they're not getting up."

    That's the Mozambique Drill, originally meant to stop people who are wearing body-armor - or who simply don't go down immediately from the double-tap alone, for whatever reason. A double-tap to COM then a single head-shot.

    As for the story - it strikes me as a way to sow FUD in the minds of the insurgents. "Holy Allah, I read on the interwebs that they're tracking us! Flee, flee..."

  22. Anonymous Coward

    More likely explanation

    To be honest it seems unlikely that clever tech is involved most of the time.

    Tracking handsets to particular individuals, then targeting the handset is a well proven technique, but probably isn't applicable most of the time - the smart ones survive by working out what killed the others, which means they've probably got tactics for ensuring they don't get tracked by phone; either they change handset very frequently or more likely the top bods don't use them at all.

    Tracking people by unique characteristics or by tagging is possible, but I would suggest a little impractical in the environments where the current actions are occurring.

    I suspect, particularly on the basis of the number of kills involved, that what is actually happening is a more indiscriminate campaign. Intelligence provides a likely target, and you hit it either with an airborne asset or a special forces team. Repeat until the insurgent problem fades. All 'innocent' targets are either written off or classified as insurgents too (easy enough if they're in the right sort of location) so the numbers continue to look good; indeed if everyone you hit is claimed as a legitimate target then the more you hit the better you look!

    Also don't forget that pretending to have magic tech is a very old propaganda trick, and particularly effective if you convince a dumb journalist to do the PR for you. You make the other side think you can target them easily (though you can't), they react & run around, you can then find them with conventional means & hit them. Not exactly complicated.

  23. Dave Bell

    Grist to the mill

    This is giving me all sorts of ideas for some fiction I'm working on.

    Just don't tell the fundies that you're recruiting witches.

    (Nope, it's not going to be good for the witches.)

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Chris G Silver badge

    Never mind the hardware

    Implanting hardware into an individual is much less important than knowing which individual to target in the first place, so this suggests that the yanks are either just slotting a lot more suspects without worrying too much about hard evidence per individual ( shoot enough of them , sooner or later you get one that's important) or are using far better intelligence. If troop numbers have increased, it is almost certain that spook numbers have increased too, more spooks means more time to cultivate informers, with modern collating software it is easier to put together all the little odds and sods that point towards an interesting target, result ? BANG!

    The hi-tech bit is more likely to be in analysis of intel, if you think about it, to get a decent signal from an inserted chip that is sufficiently continuous to track a guy through the wilds of Iraq and through buildings etc, it's going to need an antenna and batteries big enough to make him walk funny.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Mis-speak + spook-speak = confusion

    The Man with Hat On project is elegant in its simplicity. Everyone will be given a stylish red hat. With this red hat they will be observable form great distances (several hundred feet unaided, hundreds of yards with proposed futuristic optical enhancement!) and anything from simple bludgeoning or bladed weapons through to ballistic and rocket propelled projectiles can be guided towards the target using an advanced organo-optic targeting system. Initial tests support an anticipated accuracy of within 10mm over ranges extending up to 12 inches although some researchers predict a dramatic falloff in accuracy beyond 18 inches due to quantum uncertainty and dark matter. This effect is known as Harmison's Wall. One of the earliest projects for the LHC is to identify and overcome the source for Harmison's Wall and use this new knowledge to achieve reasonable accuracy at ranges greater than 20 yards. Private backers have invested several millions of dollars to have this work completed before June, 2009.

    When Harmison's Wall has been overcome, Man with Hat On will progress in leaps and bounds. As soon as every man has his red hat on it will become trivial to identify and eliminate targets. It will be as simple as aiming for the Man with the red Hat On.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Woodward's Priorities

    #1: His ego

    #2: His bank balance

    #3: His career








    Dead last: His country

  28. Bounty

    just like pakistan

    go from 90% probability of target being actualy enemy to 60% = more dead bad guys (well, and a major swing in innocent deaths) and increase in bad guys to counter our bad guys.

  29. Neoc


    "Nope, they'll just simply kiss us"

    In which case, I for one welcome our new kissing-machine overlords.

  30. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Mis-speak + spook-speak = confusion + ms-spook + speak-speak = virtual relief and IT SurRealities*

    "Private backers have invested several millions of dollars to have this work completed before June, 2009." .... By Anonymous Coward Posted Monday 15th September 2008 23:07 GMT

    Invested with whom would be the question to ask there, AC, whenever Harmison's Wall is Breached/Overwhelmed, for their Investment would obviously Fare better Elsewhere as it will discovers nothing new dallying there and is wasted as an Investment. It has just become a Prop and a Stick for a Busted Flush.

    * Real Possibilities

  31. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: Mozambique drill, double taps, and Dadullah's "execution".

    The Mozambique drill or failure-to-stop drill is a short-range handgun technique, originally developed because mercenaries were finding hits with 9mm Parabellum round didn't automatically put the victim out of action. The recomended solution was a bullet to the head, but hitting the head of a possibly moving and firing target quickly was too hard, so the response was the Mozambique drill - two quick shots to the chest (center of mass) to slow or stop the target, followed by a carefully aimed shot to the head to finish the argument. It is not an execution technique, it is meant to stop the other guy shooting back, so if one of the two to the chest hits something vital then you don't need the headshot. It was much publicied by American Jeff Cooper, and is widely accepted as the best means of getting the average shooter to exit an engagement as the survivor. Two shots to the COM were recommended as the average trained shooter at short range still only has about a 50% chance of hitting a moving target!

    The double-tap was a British Army doctrine. Back in the days when our boys finally got the semi-auto SLR in the Sixties, the rest of the World had largely moved on to fully automatics such as the AK47, and our troops grumbled that the SLR was at a disadvantage at close ranges. The Army therefore decided to teach troops to fire two quick shots at a close target, the idea being they were more likely to get at least one hit. Again it is not an execution technique.

    The reason for the dramatic success in CoIN ops in Iraq and Afghanistan is because the US special forces have been training closely with the SAS for the last seven years. The Green Berets for example are now much more proficient at disguising themselves as locals and blending in, rather than just dropping out of the sky and killing everyone in sight. In the Dadullah case though I think the allies would most definately have wanted him alive to interrogate, and any wounds he got were simply battle wounds rather than an execution, especially as the SAS/SBS doctrine for taking out nasties that may be wearing suicide vests or carting grenades around is to kill as quickly as possible by putting as many bullets in them as you can (the SAS in the Iranian Embassy siege put 78 rounds into one of the terrorists, out of a probable 120 fired in his direction, because he was trying to sneak through the escaping hostages with a grenade). Given that many Taleban high-rankers are using body armour, I expect someone simply put one in Dadullah's head during the fight before they realised whom he was.

    And as for Bob Woodward and the Washington Post, I simply think they're being fed a nice line in propaganda to keep the jihadis nervous. If you stop an enemy communicating then you seriously reduce their capability. Bin Laden knows all about EW and ELINT because the CIA taught the Afghanis how to avoid Soviet "knob turners" in the '80s. I'm certain the Pakistani ISI will have taken care to make sure any high-ranking Taleban that might implicate them is also well-aware of American EW capability. The probable truth is the majority of intel is still coming from the oldest source known to man - disgruntled locals giving the enemy away, either for cash, revenge or security.

  32. chris

    Shoot the messenger!

    Love how the reaction to this story largely comprises "Woodward, eh? what an arse. NO scoops since Watergate."

    uhhh.... except Abu Ghraib.

    Better intelligence my arse.

    "take this money a work for us, then we'll help you kill your rival. If you say no, we'll offer him the same deal"

    I think this secret tech is burning out the memory and logic circuits of bloggers & the political class, myself....

  33. Random Noise
    Black Helicopters

    Predators with IR vision

    Any Arnie loving terrorist will know that to hide his heat signature all he has to do is cover himself with mud.

    "Get to tha choppa!"

  34. Wesley Parish

    Only in America ... and Britain ... and ...

    I suspect it's that flash new faecal recognition software the CIA was working on, a while back.

    'Tis said they gave it the photos of Bush and Cheney to recognize - and it recognized them correctly. Again, 'tis said that this gave Bush and Cheney a great sense of relief.

  35. Ash

    Double tap

    You're all wrong. It's when the telecoms agencies get to listen to your phone calls with impunity, and pass on the juicy and interesting calls to the government.

    The hat as well, please.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Wesley Parish


    Well if I was sitting down to camel and cous-cous and a bunch of guys with guns blazing came in I may also give a sample for comparison.

  37. John Sanders

    I'm not for the theory of killing more guys

    If they were killing a higher number of innocent people just to statistically hit the baddies, the rabid left wing supporters would be shouting it all day long 24/7 on the press.

    I think what's happening is that somehow the USA intelligence gathering skills in Iraq are better now than before. Something to do with trying to properly understand the environment and the local's motivation, as opposed to enter the place like and stomping elephant, as the USA normally do.

  38. amanfromMars Silver badge

    LHC Parallels ..... CyberSpace Trail Trials

    "You're all wrong. It's when the telecoms agencies get to listen to your phone calls with impunity, and pass on the juicy and interesting calls to the government." .... By Ash Posted Tuesday 16th September 2008 13:26 GMT

    More than likely to be Root c/o Special Intelligence Service Servers...... for CyberIntelAIgent Network InterNetworking...... for Real Cool Running.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    my theory on dinosaurs

    and mine alone ...

    would have something to do with gait analysis and 3d radar using cellular radiation.


  40. Anonymous Coward

    We've seen this concept in a past story

    As I remember from a Reg story a couple of months ago, there was some tech being tested where you tag your own soldiers and then be able to call up their position in case they need evac or for whatever other reasons.

    Then came the deluge of comments about EM emissions being easily trackable and so on.

    Then came the slightly more illuminated posters theorizing a system where the exact frequencies and protocols needed to tell the tags to shout "Ere I Am!!!!" to friendlies and enemies alike are kept secret.

    Permit me to take the fruits of our past discussion and build on them here.

    Immagine that same system used to tag the friendlies and instead you tag the released terrorists in exchange for some hostages. They might have been sedated in their sleep and implanted with tiny transmitters complete with a tiny Lithium battery and tiny capacitor. This device would sit silent and listen for a trigger to be received via RF signal. The signal would contain a code specifically for that device and unique to it. It would then respond with a burst of "Ere I Am" on a specific frequency, maybe a particularly congested one to better blend into background, but would be discernable from it due to the pulse conforming to some predefined algorithm. (Who knows what microcomputing tech the spooks already have access to).

    You'd say the battery won't last long...... But if it does its job, the host will have been obliterated by Predator-fired missile long before that becomes an issue.

    You'd think you'd feel an implant but consider how many times you've heard of tumors growing to grapefruit size before being noticed by the host?

    Not saying it's true, merely possible and plausible.

    -- NoControl

  41. Steve

    @ This would be excellent

    "If they're going to be cowards and use remote IEDs and wear civilian clothes, they deserve "death from the sky" (or anywhere else) as much as possible."

    Where, exactly, on the scale of bravery would you place "sitting on a metal island, 200 miles of shore and launching cruise missiles"? For that matter, what's so brave about sitting in an air-conditioned room just ouside of Vegas and killing people on the other side of the world with a remote-controlled aeroplane?

    We (US & UK) did the same during WWII and they were "brave resistance fighters" but don't let a little thing like the facts stop you enjoying a good bit of US exceptionalist proganda.

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