Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Angel in the Details

The vast amount of data that we suck up from the battlefields is a two-edged sword.

Information on what is going on is highly useful to our troops. We collect more and more of it every year, digitized for ease of use. It helps us win. It helps our troops survive. But it helps our enemies away from the battlefield and that then reaches back to help our enemies on the battlefield, too.

Over a decade ago, I wondered how our troops could fight if everything was recorded. Wouldn't anti-war activists use that information to portray "normal" combat as war crimes?

And a few years ago, I wondered if the Snowden affair demonstrated that the data we have from all those sensors could potentially be released to the world for such mis-use.

Yet there is good news. A lot of the data has been used in Britain to prove that claims of troop abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan are just scams by refugees to get money from the British government:

Iraqis [were] exploiting the British legal system with the help of British media seeking headlines and British politicians seeking votes. It was only in the last few years that evidence was uncovered about how extensive these scams are. But that has not changed British attitudes or, more importantly, government policy.

These scams would have continued longer had there not been so much intelligence collecting innovation (especially biometrics and analysis software) in Iraq and Afghanistan that had the side effect of uncovering details of refugee scams developed in the country the refugees came from and then attempted in Europe where many were given refuge.

Yet it is not all good news. Despite the government victories in the courts, the mere chance of their troops being accused of war crimes has limited British rules of engagement to a dangerous point:

American commandos (mainly Delta Force and SEALs) in Iraq and Syria are complaining that their British counterparts are increasingly hampered by restrictive ROE (Rules of Engagement) that prevent the SAS or SBS operators from undertaking missions where there is risk that might result in lawsuits for real or imaginary war crimes.

So tactical wins and an operational defeat. We'll see how this works out on the strategic level.