stitching together of everyday life with the war on terror?


Thinking of violence as it relates to geography, this article by Louise Amoore caught my eye. Pointing to former senior American politicians who went into business in security (eg former under Secretary, Asa Hutchinson, who established the Hutchinson Group, a homeland security consulting company), Amoore writes:

There is, as William Connolly describes it, an emerging “resonance” between security activities: [‘]Airport surveillance, internet filters, passport tracking devices, legal detention without criminal charges, security internment camps, secret trials, “free speech zones”, DNA profiles, border walls and fences, erosion of the line between internal security and external military action—these security activities resonate together, engendering a national security machine that pushes numerous issues outside the range of legitimate dissent and mobilizes the populace to support new security and surveillance practices against underspecified enemies[‘] (Connolly 2005:54).

Neither a militarization of society, nor even a commercialization of security, then, what we are seeing is a stitching together of the mundane and prosaic calculations of business, the security decisions authorized by the state, and the mobilized vigilance of a fearful public. It is important to stress here that questioning the logic of militarization is not to underplay the acute violence inherent to this different kind of war. What I call here “algorithmic war” is one specific appearance of Foucault’s Clausewitzian inversion—the “continuation of war by other means”, its appeal to technology and expertise rendering the violent force of war somewhat ordinary and invisible (2003 [1976]:16). “The role of political power”, writes Foucault, “is perpetually to use a sort of silent war to reinscribe the relationship of force, and to reinscribe it in institutions, economic inequalities, language, and even the bodies of individuals” (16–17). Understood in this way, the political practices of homeland security—what Derek Gregory and Alan Pred call “expert solutions” (2007:1)—are actually sanctioning and reproducing the war-like relations of power seen in the overtly militarized spaces of Afghanistan and Iraq. They target individual bodies, designate communities as dangerous or risky, delineate safe zones from targeted locations, invoke the pre-emptive strike on the city streets.” (p.50)

Algorithmic security is war-like, then, not primarily because it brings military force into closer proximity with our daily commute or airport check-in queue (though of course it does do this), but because it functions through a war-like architecture. It deploys an “architecture of enmity”, a drawing of the lines between self/other; us/them; safe/risky; inside/outside, that makes going to war possible (Shapiro 1997). Though political geography has given critical attention to the performativity of the violent imagination of threat, this has most commonly focused on spaces where the presence of war is visceral and visible—where uniformed military personnel are present on the city streets (Katz 2007); when urban spaces are the targeted sites of war (Graham 2004); or in the tangible violences of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay (Minca 2005). In this paper, I explore the less visible spaces where the architecture of enmity is present in the form of algorithmic war.” (p.51)

According to Amoore, “Algorithmic war appears to make it possible for the imagination of an open global economy of mobile people, objects and monies, to be reconciled with the post-9/11 rendering of a securitized nation-state.” (p.51)

NB: Amoore explains: “Rules of association are produced by algorithms—models or “decision trees” for a calculation (Quinlan 1986). In effect, algorithms appear to make it possible to translate probable associations between people or objects into actionable security decisions. In 2003, for example, a US Joint Inquiry concluded that “on September 11, enough relevant data was resident in existing databases”, so that “had the dots been connected”, the events could have been “exposed and stopped” (2003:14). It is precisely this “connecting of dots” that is the work of the algorithm.” (p.51) [I couldn’t help thinking of Person Of Interest here!]

Person Of Interst LogoAmoore quotes US Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff: “[‘]If we learned anything from September 11 2001, it is that we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information. After September 11, we used credit card and telephone records to identify those linked with the hijackers. But wouldn’t it be better to identify such connections before a hijacker boards a plane?[‘] Amoore then explains: “The algorithm appears to make possible the conversion of ex post facto evidence in the war on terror into a judgement made in advance of the event. The significant point here is that probabilistic knowledge, based on the databased residue of daily life, becomes a means of securitization.” (p.52)

What is novel in the contemporary moves to algorithmic war, then, is the specific form that the aligning of science, commerce, military and the state is taking.” (p.54)

“Surveillance cameras, equipped with facial and gait recognition technologies, track “atypical” movements such as repeated traversals of a platform (Hale 2005); “smart” travel payment cards store journey data and identify anomalies; and poster displays urge the public “if you suspect it, report it”. The calculations of the algorithm appear to translate the observation of uncertain and contingent human life into something with the credibility of scientific judgement.” (p.55) “The specific deployment of scientific knowledge, then, incorporates the affective domain, rendering fears and anxieties a means of anticipating the future.” (p.55)

“Citing international relations scholar Michael Shapiro, Derek Gregory argues that “geography is inextricably linked to the architecture of [-p.56] enmity”, to the overlapping practices through which “collectivities locate themselves in the world and thus how they practice the meanings of Self and Other that provide the conditions of possibility for regarding others as threats or antagonists” (2004:20). Yet, Gregory’s “spiraling networks” do not fully push the limits of Shapiro’s architecture because they return the geopolitics of violence to the disciplinary norms of battlefield spaces, obscuring the subtle differential violences of the “surveillance network” of the “end-of-violence organization” that Shapiro later depicts (2004:121). In the name of homeland security (the end of violence), algorithmic war reinscribes the imaginative geography of the deviant, atypical, abnormal “other” inside the spaces of daily life. The figure of enmity to be feared and intercepted need not only dwell in a represented outside in the geographies of Iraq or Afghanistan, for the outside can be inside—in the body of the migrant worker (differentially normal in the space of the economy and abnormal in the spaces of immigration), the young Muslim student (permitted to study but observed in the college’s Islamic society), the refugee (afforded the hospitality of the state but biometrically identified and risk-rated), the British Asian traveler (granted visa waiver but ascribed an automated risk score).” (pp.55-56)

“Here the architecture of enmity becomes the means of securitization itself, such that the distinction between “real” war (with accompanying visceral violence and bloodshed) and the war by other means (legitimated by securing against future violence) becomes permeable.” (p.56)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Louise Amoore (2009) AlgorithmicWar: Everyday Geographies of the War on Terror. Antipode Vol. 41 No. 1, pp.49-69

Abstract: Technologies that deploy algorithmic calculation are becoming ubiquitous to the homeland securitization of the war on terror. From the surveillance networks of the city subway to the biometric identifiers of new forms of border control, the possibility to identify “association rules” between people, places, objects and events has brought the logic of preemption into the most mundane and prosaic spaces. Yet, it is not the case that the turn to algorithmic calculation simply militarizes society, nor even that we are witnessing strictly a commercialization of security. Rather, algorithmic war is one form of Foucault’s sense of a “continuation of war by other means”, where the war-like architectures of self/other, here/there, safe/risky, normal/suspicious are played out in the politics of daily life. This paper explores the situated interplay of algorithmic practices across commercial, security, and military spheres, revealing the violent geographies that are concealed in the glossy techno-science of algorithmic calculation.” (p.49)

Reference is to: Gregory D (2004) The Colonial Present. Oxford: Blackwell

Gregory D and Pred A (eds) (2007) Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror and Political Violence. New York: Routledge

Shapiro M (1997) Violent Cartographies: Mapping Cultures of War. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Shapiro M (2004) “The nation-state and violence”: Wim Wenders contra imperial sovereignty. In J Edkins, V Pin-Fat and M Shapiro (eds) Sovereign Lives: Power in Global Politics (pp 101–124). New York: Routledge


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