Say Hello to the Goodbye Effect
December 8, 2006 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Suddenly, you feel like you've been dipped in molten lava. According to Wired, the Active Denial System has been certified for use in Iraq.
posted by alms (95 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
the Active Denial System has been certified for use in Iraq.

The Active Denial System has clearly been in use by the Whitehouse with regards to Iraq for four years.
posted by namespan at 5:23 PM on December 8, 2006 [4 favorites]

A bargan for a government program: Only $40 million.
posted by Doohickie at 5:47 PM on December 8, 2006

Current situation aside, I don't see the problem with new, seemingly effective weapons being rolled out for use in a war. Especially a weapon that would come in handy in urban combat.

But while reading the article I couldn’t help finding it real easy to imagine this being rolled out at a G-8 summit or some other equally protested and poorly reported (in the US anyways) event. When the price of this thing bottoms out because of heavy R&D spending during wartime and the local Sheriffs department orders a dozen with their homeland security funds, things could get real messy real fast.
posted by paxton at 5:56 PM on December 8, 2006

Well, I'm sure to be inviting a heap of abuse by saying this... but I have no problem with a new, non-lethal weapon being introduced.

I doubt this one will be in any way more properly used than tasers, beanbags or gas (all of which have killed during application) however I do like the idea of this dispersing a violent crowd trying to overun an embassy, or blasting a group of Westboro Baptists into a shivering, vomiting mass of chattle to be scooped up via bulldozer ala Soylent Green.

But that's all relative -isn't it?

And this scares me, but it's the first of many new non-lethal weapons (microwave, acoustic, etc) that we're gonna see rolled out in the coming years.

It'll probably lead to the next Kent State, but I am glad it's being discussed and introduced in a (seemingly) very public way.

Some weapons aren't.

Anyone remember the web page headed with the title "What weapon would do this?" that showed photos of burned bodies in undamaged clothes (except for singed buttons and zippers) that was floating around while ago? I couldn't find a link, but that was some scary shit.

So is this. I hope it's applied in a responsible manner.
posted by squidfartz at 6:14 PM on December 8, 2006

Especially when you consider the power of a C-130 mounted version. The HMMWV mounted version has a beam of 2m at 500m. It's not hard to imagine a beam tens of metres wide mounted on C130.
posted by Mitheral at 6:18 PM on December 8, 2006

Those hearts and minds are practically ours now. Mission accomplished.
posted by mullingitover at 6:25 PM on December 8, 2006

squidfartz: google "white phosphorus". Legitimate or not, it's an entirely different weapon. The ADS is not a killer beam from space.
posted by dhartung at 6:28 PM on December 8, 2006

If other non-lethal crowd-control devices are misused as for purposes of punishment, interrogation, or just to amuse bored sadists, what makes us think this one won't? I find that probability far more disturbing than this weapon's intended use. It's a torturer's wet dream -- maximum pain with no permanent physical damage.
posted by treepour at 6:28 PM on December 8, 2006

I'm all for this especially with riots like these.

However, the first time some little old lady, or wheelchair bound person gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, this weapon is going to get some bad PR. Hopefully police will be smart enough to "stutter" the initial application rather than going continuously.

Treepour, torturers have plenty of options already for pain with no permanent damage. I think the focus should be on accountability and civil rights, not banning technological development in weaponry, especially non-lethal.

What happens if you hold up a metal shield with some kind of directional antennas tuned to that frequency on the other side, will it bounce the signal? I'm not enough of a physics geek to know.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:41 PM on December 8, 2006

I can't wait til every police force in the good ole US of A has this tech.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2006

I see some serious car alarm/home security/long-range MRE heating possibilities. All jokes aside, awesome technology - too bad... I don't feel there will be enough testing before being implimented. In my experience; there is a side effect for essentially everything. One of my army buddies told me, in great detail about his stint at Natick Labs, MA. I still shudder to think sbout some of the "things" that he "volunteered" for while there.
posted by winks007 at 6:49 PM on December 8, 2006

I couldn’t help finding it real easy to imagine this being rolled out at a G-8 summit or some other equally protested and poorly reported (in the US anyways) event.

They had a LRAD on hand at the 2004 GOP convention, so I wouldn't be surpirsed to see an ADS in 2008.
posted by homunculus at 7:18 PM on December 8, 2006

Now I don't even need to get up to reheat my pre-made food. I predict a further rise in the obesity epidemic.
posted by IronLizard at 7:19 PM on December 8, 2006

"The development of a truly safe and highly effective nonlethal crowd-control system could raise enormous ethical questions about the state's use of coercive force."

Yeah, I think that's the scary bit. It makes it that much more cost effective and consequence free for someone in power to push that particular button. Hell, we already have "free speech zones." Think that was what the founding fathers had in mind?

"It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad." - James Madison
posted by Smedleyman at 7:42 PM on December 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

What's to stop the "bad guys" from making their own deadlier version of this kind of directed energy weapon?
posted by metaplectic at 7:53 PM on December 8, 2006

I'm perfectly OK with this. Lava is a bit of an exaggeration; I don't think many people have been dipped in lava and can later tell you "OH! This feels like being dipped in lava!"

I remember reading about this a couple years ago - apparently it feels like touching a hot lightbulb, which sounds about right for a few millimeters of skin being heated up.

Also, keep in mind, you fearful types, that instead of this they'd probably be using tear gas, tazers, and rubber bullets, which aren't the least violent things out there.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:58 PM on December 8, 2006

God, I totally want one of these to shoot at the damn kids who are on my lawn.
posted by papakwanz at 7:59 PM on December 8, 2006

Sorry for the double post -

Metapletic, I think that the intensity of the beam is already pretty high, requiring a lot of power. It would require a LOT more to make it really damaging, I think. The microwaves only penetrate a few millimeters of skin, after which they're depleted (their energy is used up in heating up the water in the cells), so the worst you could do is sort of pan-fry someone. Not something I'd want done to me but still not as effective as an improvised explosive device if you're a guerilla warrior or something.

Brothercaine -
I think that you'd have to have a perfectly parabolic metal thing to have the waves go back to their source, aligned just right and everything, otherwise the waves will scatter. I'm not sure what defense would work against this kind of weapon - lead-woven clothes, I guess.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:03 PM on December 8, 2006

BlackLeotardFront writes "instead of this they'd probably be using tear gas, tazers, and rubber bullets"

Yes and no. This wll be used a lot more if available because it is so ideal and doesn't really leave traces behind. Plus unlike physical force you can't video tape it being used.
posted by Mitheral at 8:09 PM on December 8, 2006

They've found a way to profitably scale torture!
posted by bshort at 8:37 PM on December 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

I just made the mistake of thinking about how many animals they aimed this thing at, and for how long. I feel a bit sick now.
posted by Shutter at 8:46 PM on December 8, 2006

Who the hell volunteers to be guinea pigs for the development of these weapons?
posted by notreally at 8:46 PM on December 8, 2006

What's to stop the "bad guys" from making their own deadlier version of this kind of directed energy weapon?
posted by metaplectic at 7:53 PM PST on December 8 [+] [!]

We'll probably just sell them ours. Can't have anyone else cutting in on the human pan-fry market, y'know.
posted by maryh at 8:59 PM on December 8, 2006

"The beam produces what experimenters call the "Goodbye effect," or "prompt and highly motivated escape behavior." In human tests, most subjects reached their pain threshold within 3 seconds, and none of the subjects could endure more than 5 seconds."

Test subjects? Who might those have been? I can't imagine doing THAT for money, even for a fifth of Booker's. Or maybe that U.S. colony in Cuba has something to do with it...

On preview I see the explanation b1trot showed us but I ain't buying it. Unless the military's paying masochists a big "incentive" these days.
posted by davy at 10:01 PM on December 8, 2006

paxton writes "But while reading the article I couldn’t help finding it real easy to imagine this being rolled out at a G-8 summit or some other equally protested and poorly reported (in the US anyways) event."

Surely your imagination fails you. It'll be deployed in ordinary police forces nationwide as soon as it becomes automatically feasible for your local PD to obtain one, and soon after we'll start hearing about 12-year olds blasted to stop schoolyard fights. Just like with tasers.
posted by clevershark at 10:30 PM on December 8, 2006

Paul: What's in the box?
Mohiam: Pain.
posted by Mister Cheese at 11:16 PM on December 8, 2006

I wonder when the first person using this device on a crowd will be killed by the crowd simply for using it. The unfortunate thing is that the death will be completely justifiable. If you torture me intentionally, I have no qualms with killing you to make the pain stop.
posted by oaf at 12:18 AM on December 9, 2006

So it's microwave radiation, right? Couldn't you just use a metal mesh, like the kind in the window of a microwave oven, to stop it?
posted by bshort at 12:41 AM on December 9, 2006

Documents acquired for Wired News using the Freedom of Information Act claim that most of the radiation (83 percent) is instantly absorbed by the top layer of the skin, heating it rapidly.

I doubt your corneas can tolerate this without long-lasting or permanent damage. The corneas have no blood supply and so have much reduced capacity to carry away heat. What do you think will happen to your vision if the thin layer of moisture covering your corneas "instantly" boils away?
posted by jamjam at 12:56 AM on December 9, 2006

They are trying to downplay it, but it sounds horrific. I can see military uses to avoid having to kill people but at the same time it sounds awful enough that using it on people that already dislike you can only increase hostility overall. However bad it is, the stories from those that experienced it will make it sound ten times worse.

Really do not want to see US domestic law enforcement with this technology. Once that happens you know it is only a matter of time until you hear about it being used to "disperse" peaceful protesters. I could be wrong but it really seems like this would just increase hostility towards police too. People packing heat at marches or whatever just because they anticipate this thing used on them and figure when they see it coming, they start shooting. Maybe it isn't as bad as it sounds, but it sounds worse than tear gas or rubber bullets either one.

And I doubt their claims that it causes no long-term damage or at least that they know that for certain at this point in time.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 3:10 AM on December 9, 2006

if you cannot beat them, microwave them
posted by matteo at 3:25 AM on December 9, 2006

jamjam, they mention in the article that people almost instantly blink or close their eyes when exposed to the beam.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:23 AM on December 9, 2006

Mister Cheese, fear is the mind killer. Kind of apropos to this administration.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:24 AM on December 9, 2006

davy writes "On preview I see the explanation b1trot showed us< /a> but I ain't buying it. Unless the military's paying masochists a big 'incentive' these days."

You can't imagine any random large group of guys not including at least a few who would be daring each other to see how long they could take it?

bshort writes "So it's microwave radiation, right"

No, millimetre wave radiation.

weretable and the undead chairs writes "Really do not want to see US domestic law enforcement with this technology. Once that happens you know it is only a matter of time until you hear about it being used to 'disperse' peaceful protesters."

Even worse would be private security with this tech. Not hard to imagine this being used on trespassers and loiterers.
posted by Mitheral at 6:10 AM on December 9, 2006

Who the hell volunteers to be guinea pigs for the development of these weapons?
posted by notreally

Johnny Knoxville--American hero!
posted by leftcoastbob at 6:43 AM on December 9, 2006

Repeat after me:

"Radiation Weapon"

That is the term you will use to describe this in any and all conversations about it online or the real world.

That's the only frame that's going to stop the deployment of this thing. Don't use any of the army's cutesy names for it. Call it what it is.
posted by empath at 7:17 AM on December 9, 2006

I'd so much rather be hit by this than teargas.

I fucking haaaaate teargas. "Here, suck air through this rag and aspirate some vinegar, it'll relieve the intense, painful, wracking cough that will follow you around for the next few days. Also, don't take a shower, burn the clothes you're wearing, and shave your head."
Every article of clothing that's gassed infects everything else you have, leaving you itching for fucking weeks.

Versus a few seconds of all-over burning? Fuck it, I'll just bring a big-ass mirror and bounce that shit up through the 10th floor window and fry some suit watching the protest from the comfort of his D.C. office.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:18 AM on December 9, 2006

"Radiation Weapon"

Well, it's electromagnetic, as opposed to atomic, but a term like this would probably scare people unnecessarily, yes.

Congratulations, and welcome to the Culture of FearTM!
posted by jenovus at 7:49 AM on December 9, 2006

What's needed is a countermeasure, a way to disperse or reflect the Pain Rays. And courage.
posted by davy at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2006

Tightly ringed chain mail. Or Cloth of Gold. Any fabric woven with metal thread, so long as the metal threads are close. But any spot not within the mesh may still get the burn.

There was this guy in California recently, got tasered by campus security, it seemed, just to punish him for bad attitude (in that he was complying, slowly, with their request, while mouthing off). So now they can just roast 'em from a good ways. Imagine how easy this will make it to clean out homeless folks from areas? Imagine how much certain folks would enjoy applying it to that matter.
posted by Goofyy at 8:36 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

there were six cases of blistering and one instance of second-degree burns in a laboratory accident, the documents claim.

Blistering and 2nd degree burns are one and the same, no?

As for this new overlordian technology with the deeply ironic name, given current circumstances in Iraq, its nice the US put so much r&d into its effects. Now that the cat's out of the bag so to speak, and its not all that complex, whats to stop insurgents from kit bashing some old dental X ray machines and building their own?
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:36 AM on December 9, 2006

Wow, it's not even like a taser, which is designed to immobilize you. It's a device designed to cause you so much pain that you run away in terror. I'm sure this won't be abused by anybody, certainly never in the United States!

What's that? Torture? No, of course it's not, by any means. We don't torture.
posted by tehloki at 9:18 AM on December 9, 2006

That's the only frame that's going to stop the deployment of this thing. Don't use any of the army's cutesy names for it. Call it what it is.

Just miles from your doorstep, hundreds of men are given weapons and trained to kill. The government calls it the Army, but a more alarmist name would be... THE KILLBOT FACTORY!!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:20 AM on December 9, 2006

empath : That's the only frame that's going to stop the deployment of this thing.

Nothing will stop the deployment of this. Once a weapon has been developed, it does not get put back in it's box. It's just not the way humans are (which is why it's a small miracle that we haven't nuked each other yet) .

The thing is, this weapon is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. As far as I'm concerned, the more energy that is spent developing weapons that are non-lethal the better.

The problem comes from the people who use it. Non-lethal weapons lower the bar for usage, and that is the problem. No one would accept it if non-violent protesters were shot, we get angry when we hear about them being tear gassed, but it's more acceptable. Being tazered even more so. Having access to things like this just guarantee that they will be used in lieu of patience and discussion. Fine when you have a riot, but not so good when someone is non-violently disagreeing with you.
posted by quin at 9:24 AM on December 9, 2006

Mr. Kyle. Your agonizer, please.
posted by tomboko at 9:25 AM on December 9, 2006

Good lord, that's an ugly weapon.

The development of a truly safe and highly effective nonlethal crowd-control system could raise enormous ethical questions about the state's use of coercive force. If a method such as ADS leads to no lasting injury or harm, authorities may find easier justifications for employing them.

I'm getting sick of "non-lethal" ... how about less lethal?

Out of interest, what will prolonged exposure to this do to you? People are worried (rightly or wrongly) about cellphones but they're willing to blast people with concentrated electromagnetic radiation that's probably safe?

... on a tangent, how old is the Wired design now? Six years? It's almost as ugly as this euphemistically-entitled "Active Denial System".

Testing this in Iraq should be interesting. Hummer turns up and turns this on a crowd, causing them to flee. Repeat next day. And the next. Except this time the crowd's come prepared, and somebody just outside range of the beam's got a rocket launcher, or lobs a grenade or two ...
posted by kaemaril at 9:34 AM on December 9, 2006

quin: "it's a small miracle that we haven't nuked each other yet"

Oh, how quickly we forget.
posted by tehloki at 10:09 AM on December 9, 2006

Fuck the military.

Gut reaction there.
posted by algreer at 10:10 AM on December 9, 2006

Sorry tehloki, perhaps I should have phrased that "we haven't nuked each other to extinction yet."

I'm thinking of the proliferation that occurred during the Cold War when we had enough weapons to scythe off all higher life forms from the planet, and somehow managed to restrain ourselves.
posted by quin at 10:57 AM on December 9, 2006

kaemaril writes: "Good lord, that's an ugly weapon."

Is there any other kind?
posted by papakwanz at 11:23 AM on December 9, 2006

Is there any other kind?

posted by quin at 11:31 AM on December 9, 2006

I think you guys are blowing this weapon WAY out of proportion. They're not going to (officially anyway but that's another story) be strapping people down and pinning their eyes open and blasting them for an hour. They're going to aim the thing at a large crowd and turn it on for probably a software-limited amount of time, say 10 seconds. It's a quick, intense pain like touching a hot pan, not searing agony throughout your body. People will turn and run instinctively. That's a good thing for when a riot or something is about to turn bloody. Nobody likes it when cops have to rap their shields with their nightsticks and beat protestors down.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:45 PM on December 9, 2006

So, they tested this thing on babies, pregnant women, the disabled, the elderly, the unconscious and people with heart conditions, right? They tested this thing with the one percent of the general population that's psychopathic at the controls, right?

Oh, that's right, they didn't need to, because all crowds are made up of 100% bad guys in good health and police and military recruiters vigorously screen out 100% of all psychopaths.

Saying, "this is okay because at least it's better than X," is asinine. Any tool that gives the few more power over the many is one hell of a red flag when you care about democracy.
posted by Skwirl at 1:14 PM on December 9, 2006

blackleotard: You're hopelessly naive.

They'll be using this to extract information from enemy combatants within a year, and americans within 5. By their own definitions of torture, this is not torture. It doesn't do any permanent damage, risk organ failure, etc.
posted by empath at 1:26 PM on December 9, 2006

I'm with empath. There's nothing stopping them from using this inappropriately, certainly not as individuals.

How are you supposed to run away when your lungs are full of tear gas, your eyes are full of pepper spray, and you're in intense, unexplainable pain?
posted by tehloki at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2006

They tested this thing with the one percent of the general population that's psychopathic at the controls, right?

Well, maybe not, but there's probably a large correlation between sociopathy and being willing to use this thing. And that's five percent of the population right there.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:42 PM on December 9, 2006

How do you know which way to run?
posted by sfts2 at 1:43 PM on December 9, 2006

I think you guys are blowing this weapon WAY out of proportion.

This weapon is the number one ingredient on the side of the CoupQuik box.
posted by jamjam at 1:52 PM on December 9, 2006

That's a great article you linked to, anotherpanacea.
posted by jamjam at 2:31 PM on December 9, 2006

Only one person in this thread so far has mentioned the agonizer. And only one person has mentioned Dune. I'm very disappointed.

And if the CIA hasn't funded development of an agonizer booth using this technology within one year, I'll be very, very surprised. Of course, you wouldn't actually get information of any value from the victims. But as we all ought to know by now, the current administration doesn't really give a crap about whether their torture-product is accurate -- they just care that it's punchy. And anyway, it's not the really the information that's the important product of torture -- it's the submission.

And finally, what really depresses me most about this weapon is how low-tech it really is. Hell, there are probably electronics hobbyists on this thread who could hack one of these things together.

BlackLeotardWhatever and all you folks who are so "blah blah" dismissive: Try reading the actual article. You can't effectively shield yourself from this weapon, you can't bounce the beam away, it's "safe", it's cheap, it will be used and it will be a watershed in the application of pain as a crowd control technique.

And, oh, yeah: Hearts and minds. Seriously. Searing, sadistic pain is so much friendlier than bullets. [sarcasm/]
posted by lodurr at 3:52 PM on December 9, 2006

When I was about 8 yrs. old, playing outside on a cold day, I found a green lizard that was moving quite slowly. I knew that he would probably become more active if I warmed him up a little. So, I naively popped him in the microwave for 1 second on the low power setting. After that, he was dead as a doornail, although his body was not even noticeably warmer. I guess that the microwaves disrupted his nervous system. Anyway, the lesson I learned was that you don't have to cook an animal or person's flesh to kill them with microwaves. In fact, it takes far less than you might think. Thus, I believe a death ray (like in War of the Worlds, but less dramatic) is quite feasible. The main reason it hasn't been attempted by the military is that it would kill unprotected persons indiscriminately and be useless against fortifications. The only apparent use is for terrorism or genocide.
posted by metaplectic at 4:08 PM on December 9, 2006

If the burning-pain ray ("set your phasers on burning pain") described in the article enters widespread use for suppressing civil protests, a few of the more serious protesters are likely to obtain their own rays illicitly, and use them quite effectively on the riot police. Do you suppose the police would even hesitate to shoot back with real guns at that point? Eventually, riot police would have to wear their own full-body protective mesh suits (with metallic visors). Soon the protesters would have these too. Then I suppose Congress would make it illegal for non-LE/military to possess such protective suits. (Hasn't it been illegal for non-LE/military to have full-body armor since that bank robbery in LA?)
posted by metaplectic at 4:31 PM on December 9, 2006

I'm waiting for the counter. If it's a beam, it can be reflected or redirected.

Nasty bonus -- amplifier and gain antenna.
posted by eriko at 5:06 PM on December 9, 2006

Nastier bonus: a giant disco-ball as the reflector.

Who gets hit? Nobody knows! Wheee!
posted by quin at 5:17 PM on December 9, 2006

Jesus Christ. Empath and friends, I hope I'm not being "hopelessly naive" when I say that I appreciate a non-lethal alternative to things that kill people. I didn't say no one would use it inappropriately. In fact, I said people probably would. I'm saying that as a technology it's not a threat, or if it is, it's only as much of a threat as other non-lethal options.

So some bonehead in Guantanamo is going to use this thing to fry someone. You think we should ban it then?
Do they shoot people with rubber bullets to torture them? Probably. Do they tear-gas them? Sure! What about any other thing they can get their hands on to abuse someone? Yeah, they're using that too! But they're just tools! Should we ban hammers because these idiots might hit a pregnant lady with them? I notice we let these maniacs carry guns!

I think the naive ones are those who blame a technology for the foolishness of human beings! Anything can be used inappropriately - and so we should prevent people from using them inappropriately. But if we can't, we should be using technology that if used inappropriately can't cause too much bodily harm or permanent damage.

You can philosophically position yourself against a device which creates pain, but there is much more to it than that. I'd like for it not to be necessary to have something like this. I'd like for 19-yr old idiot privates not to have access to it. But as long as it's necessary to have something like this and a 19-yr old idiot has to operate it, I'd like something in their hands that can't kill or permanently damage the person they're using it on, unlike guns or truncheons!

and lodurr, you should consider that pain has been a staple of crowd control for a long, long time - in fact, one might say as long as there have been crowds, people have been inflicting pain on them to cause dispersal. All the current solutions in a riot cop's arsenal aren't about "not causing pain," they're about "not causing death." Same with this. They're moving towards more efficient, less damaging pain-causing technology. And lastly, which would you prefer: feeling like you're touching a hot pan, or getting shot? Which would you prefer for your children?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:20 PM on December 9, 2006

b1tr0t writes "What the hell is wrong with people here?"

We ditched the rose-colored glasses of boundless optimism and endless faith in authority a long time ago when we realized the real world didn't actually work that way. We encourage you to do the same.
posted by clevershark at 6:20 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

hahaha, oh b1tr0t. So you're saying you value property rights and sanctity of material goods over the right to free assembly?
posted by tehloki at 7:41 PM on December 9, 2006

that's re: "ability to live in a city that hasn't been wrecked by a mob"
posted by tehloki at 7:41 PM on December 9, 2006

Is it over? Did I win?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2006

But they're just tools! ... I think the naive ones are those who blame a technology for the foolishness of human beings!

Yeah, anyway! Stop picking on the poor technology! You Luddites with your hammers... smashing all the innocent machinery! Hammers are machines too, you know!

I know there's a pretty common strand among internet geeks that thinks that memes and techniques are more important than people. As I understand this train of thought, we're all somehow the hosts for this great and glorious cuckoo bird of technology that's going to make our shallow, meaningless existences worthwhile. Frankly though, I think that people who side with the machines against humans are traitors, and should be the first ones against the wall when the revolution comes. Man is the measure, you know?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:40 PM on December 9, 2006

b1tr0t writes "If our troops had used microwave weapons instead,"

This is a milliwave weapon.
posted by Mitheral at 6:55 AM on December 10, 2006

blackleotardfront: ... pain has been a staple of crowd control for a long, long time ....
  1. Not like this. Again, please actually read the article. Reading the PDFs would be good, too.
  2. I should have said "marks a watershed." I don't think it is a watershed, but if this comes into wde use (and probably if it doesn't) it will mark the beginning of a new round of very creative thinking w.r.t. crowd control. This is just the beginning.
  3. You seem to think there's a simple dichotomy between "causing death" and "causing non-lethal crowd dispersion." That's a silly attitude.One of the things we ought to have learned from the history of violence in the service of control is that as the obvious social cost of a control method decreases -- e.g., as fewer deaths result from using a crowd-control technology -- the more "acceptable" that method of control becomes. Put another way: If there's a high cost, people are less likely to use the technology; if there's a very high cost, people are likely to get incensed enough to take dire risks in opposing it. But if there's "just pain" -- what is the likelihood that people wil take to the streets to oppose it? I think you vastly underestimate the power of purified pain as a social control mechanism. Paul Atreides is a fictional character; real humans do not have superhuman capacity to resist pain. This is very close to a "fear ray" in the effect it's likely to have on crowds; it gives new and dramatic meaning to the term "chilling effect."Also, the "lethalty" of stampedes is not to be undersold. /p>
Finally, though, you're not addressing the relative primitivity of this concept. All this device is, is a low-power millimeter-wave emitter. You could (as I noted) cobble together a similar, albeit primitive, device with electronics from a salvage yard. If you're the President of Syria or the head of the FSU, you could create a very sophisticated one just by repurposing some off the shelf communications technology.

I'm not suggesting that this particular cat can be put back in the bag. It's out. I'm no luddite, in that I don't suffer under the illusion that breaking looms will have any effect other than to excite the authorities into pursuing the loom-breakers. We are, though, definitely witnessing a watershed moment in the history of oppression. What happens after this is the great question -- it's in the nature of watersheds that you can never be sure what's going to happen while they're happening. It's only when you look back that you can see where the water flowed afterward.

Nevertheless, I think we have abundant evidence to predict some of the smaller things that will happen as the flood pours. People will use it for torture, and in very sophisticated ways. It will be used by two-bit dictators for crowd control.
posted by lodurr at 8:21 AM on December 10, 2006

blackleotardfront: Is it over? Did I win?

To paraphrase Faulkner, the moment you conceived the question in that way, you lost.
posted by lodurr at 8:23 AM on December 10, 2006

Mitheral: Evidently the Air Force doesn't think it's worth making a distinction -- they refer to it as a microwave weapon.
posted by lodurr at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2006

I like tear gas, Baby_Balrog. Because it makes the life all around it when you're not being gassed so much more appreciated.

Let me go be really unpopular and say I prefer death to pain.
BlackLeotardFront I would rather be shot than incapacitated. I would rather die than submit. I'm one of those asshole psychopaths who enjoys delivering serious harm to people, but I know the nihilism behind that, so I will never do it. I like my soul, conscience, integrity, call it what you will, but I'd rather not live in that hell. Being a killer amounts to the same thing as being killed. Torture works both ways. Oh, it doesn't seem to, but as Lincoln said, as I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.
Reminds me of Rush Limbaugh talking a while back about some protesters who had chained themselves to something or other and the police came and swabbed their eyes with mace. He said it was a gentle thing and no damage was done to them, just gently swabbed their eyes, told them it was coming, gave them a chance to surrender, etc.

Physically, maybe, the police did not harm them as much as they could have. And in Iraq, perhaps this weapon does not do as much physical harm as lethal weaponry - but it is exactly that point that removes authority from engagement and communication from the equation. It presumes a legitimacy that doesn't truly exist and by avoiding physical harm it allows for greater focus on coercion, as physical confrontation is mooted.

homunculus made a good point (and nice reference) concerning this idea.
It's the same reason I'm so pro-2nd amendment (and I suspect many lefty folks will soon forget why they were now that Dems are taking over and everything will be puppy dogs and ice cream and radically change).

It's dirty and repulsive to kill or be killed in a confrontation - but it is that which brings an end to it. There are worse things than being killed. Being broken is one of them.

Let's take this to it's logical conclusion - what if the police had mind control devices? Oh, nothing so Orwellian as to control your thoughts, merely force your body to respond to their commands and, for example, get yourself back home. Or some sort of teleportation device?
So people protest, but if it gets too rowdy you can completely silence them.
This supports the government enforcing it's will upon people protesting in more narrow terms than the broader will of the people may otherwise condone.
Certainly no one wants their shop windows broken, and indeed the right of the people to protest does not extend to that.
But as government will use pain and inconveniance (jail, f'rinstance) to control behavior, so too do protests use pain and inconveniance to bring their message to bear. This can mean any number of things, but the bottom line is this device is not made in defense of people's lives but to defend against imposition on the state by protesters. To prevent their voices being heard.
It's being done so much already with the zones and Bush being screened from people who disagree with him it's a wonder this is even necessary.

And indeed, how can anyone argue in favor of such a position and be at all willing to engage in dialogue here? Especially on Metafilter where there are so many cogent (albeit occasionally snarky - but that's the point) arguments.
As opposed to the "fuck you and your point" shouting matches elsewhere.

I respect folks' commitment to life. But doctors preserve life, this thing merely doesn't kill.
This device need not be called by some horrific name. People should know intuitively that it might not take life, but it is a weapon aimed at destroying liberty.

And whether you disagree with me or not, you're gonna need assholes like me in the future. Because few people are going to want to respond with lethal force to "gentle coercion."
But people are always reviled who to choose to live free or die.
(at least until after they've been dead awhile, then the same folks who would have reviled them now call them heros then)
posted by Smedleyman at 8:40 AM on December 10, 2006 [3 favorites]

smedleyman: Interesting (& apt, AFAICS) analogies. But I wonder if people aren't going to get hung up on your self-identification as a psychopath ;-). (Without having really understood the paragraph where you did it, of course.)
posted by lodurr at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2006

Here's a question: would it be possible for protesters to build or commandeer one of these things, and use it against the police? Let's say they build their own, and turn it on the phalanxes of riot cops that are banging their shields... would they be guilty of assault? Would we see cops on the stand, tearfully telling the story of the day they turned tail and ran? Or forget about the American context for a moment: how will we feel when Latin despots use this to maintain a corrupt regime against a democratic revolution? What would have happened in East Germany or the Soviet Union if this device had been available?

I suspect that the true determinate of a weapon's potential is to ask how it would be used by those we've built it to oppose. If we find the prospect of using this thing on police or our own soldiers to be overwhelming, then we probably shouldn't use it on the "bad guys," (real or imagined) either. The same thing goes for torture and nukes and degradation: do unto others before they do unto you is not a meaningful maxim for an ethical society. And if we know anything about technology, we know that it will be disseminated. Like knowledge, less-than-lethal coercive measures want to be free....
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2006

ack... determinant, not determinate.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:44 AM on December 10, 2006

I don't think this is paradigm-shifting... but it will prevent a lot of people from becoming martyrs and advancing their cause. It's certainly the best thing I can possibly think of to crush a revolution.
posted by tehloki at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2006

Let me reiterate my argument so that this time you'll get what I'm trying to say. I did notice, as I had read the article, that this is a new technology and as such is a new frontier in crowd control. But just because the technology is new doesn't mean it makes that much of a difference. People have always wanted to do this, it's just that before, they did it with fire hoses, rubber bullets, real bullets, or anything they could get their hands on. Now when it is necessary to disperse a crowd people won't get shot in the eye, hopefully. We've always had pain on tap, but now that we're removing the broken bones and dead people part of the equation, somehow that makes it worse.

And I still think that you guys are overestimating the pain this thing causes. This isn't screaming in agony. This isn't swallowing glass. This is touching a hot pan. All over, yes, but it's "Ow! OW!" not "AAAARGH!" People will move out of the path of the beam (6ft wide or so, easy to get away from) and say "Damn! That hurt!" not convulse in agony.

Yes, I see that nefarious ne'er-do-wells might misuse the technology. What's the problem here? These same people will misuse everything they can get their hands on. Frankly, I'd rather have them abusing me with this beam than with their nightsticks or their guns. And what do terrorists and opposing armies want with a peaceful solution anyway? They've already got bombs, for christ's sake. Consider that anyone switching to this technology will be switching from a more dangerous alternative. Two-bit dictators are going to use it? Great! Now they can say "fry em" instead of "shoot em."

As far as I can tell, you guys are concerned that this technology is going to be used for unlawful suppression of people and/or torture. Well, that's understandable. But you guys are trying to put a band-aid on a sucking chest wound here. If you're angry that the police are suppressing legitimate protests, good! So am I! I'm angry that there are "free speech zones" and that our rights have been abridged. I don't like it either. That's why I protest, and volunteer for poll-watching, and so on, so we can rid ourselves of the people who would do that to us. What I'm saying is that that's already happening, and now if I'm in a march and the desperate police chief gets orders from on high to break it up, at least I won't get my eye shot out by a rubber bullet and have breathing difficulties for weeks from the tear gas.

A "watershed moment in the history of oppression" would be the elimination of Habeas Corpus. This is just a bullet alternative. You're mistaking the symptom for the disease - the disease that gave us the PATRIOT act and Guantanamo bay. This gun isn't a "liberty destroyer" - that name belongs to the guy shooting it, or maybe his superior, or his superior's superior. This weapon could be a life saver, if people are allowed to use it that way.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:13 PM on December 10, 2006

In other words -
Guns don't take liberties, people (and legislation) take liberties.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:15 PM on December 10, 2006

One of the reasons this thing is such a boon for oppression is that it leaves no marks or evidence of its use. Let's say they make these mass-produced, tiny, issue one to every peace officer. "Hey, no more unwarranted shootings and messy lawsuits!" A cop could just whip one out and hose you down with it on the street corner if he doesn't like the look of you. What are you going to do to prove you were assaulted?
posted by tehloki at 1:40 PM on December 10, 2006

Yeah, aside from the "your agonizer please," a good gom jabbar reference, and let's not forget "you will live out the rest of your life in a pain amplifier," I'd like to find one of these that does no damage at all. Just so I could stick my hand in the box and see how long I could take it.

Also, we should totally build one of these and deploy them against the police at the next rally.
posted by adipocere at 4:15 PM on December 10, 2006

Guns don't take liberties, people (and legislation) take liberties.

... with guns. Or pain rays.

Your bravura is frustrating. It's all well and good to say that 'it's just like touching a hot pan all over your body, and by the way you can move away.' Since you've never actually felt that, it's quite an easy thing to say.

In any case, while you seem to think I (and others) have missed your point, I don't think that's the case. I get your point. I just think you're quite naive -- about human will, resistence to pain, and the way things work in the world.

As I said, it's in teh nature of watersheds that, as they happen, you don't know which way the water is going to flow. And as I said, you can't get the genie back in teh bottle. And as I pointed out, it's an easy device to make. You seem to have missed those points.
posted by lodurr at 5:27 PM on December 10, 2006

Guns don't take liberties, people (and legislation) take liberties.

Oh, really? How much more efficiently do you think these people take away liberties if they could control large crowds with intense pain, and leave no evidence of their inflicting it? Get back to me when you're ready to be afraid of this thing.
posted by tehloki at 5:44 PM on December 10, 2006

"Frankly, I'd rather have them abusing me with this beam than with their nightsticks or their guns."

I empathise with your position. And indeed, I agree with your assessment. This technology wouldn't open any new doors per se. But the above statement is where we part company. I would rather be shot or beaten with nightsticks than have some coercion tool that leaves no marks and works flawlessly (given the best case scenario of course).
Tehloki (et. al) expressed it well. It's the efficiency of the thing and the lack of repercussions it engenders.

Certainly folks with authority and a healthy capacity to avoid responsibility have been around for quite some time. But if I get shot, there's evidence. Someone will have to answer.

My opinion on this is philosophically identical to my opinion on the police busing into the old woman's house in Atlanta and killing her because she fired at them with a gun.
There is no question they might have busted into her house without a legal mechanism such as the no-knock warrant or some other tool - conceptual (e.g. legal) or physical - and there's no question were she not armed, she would likely be alive today.
The issue I have is with the ultimate result.
I am not being an internet tough guy (although I do recieve the magazine) nor do I think I'm morally superior, I believe foundationally that people have to die - that indeed the tree of liberty must be watered with blood from those two proberbial sources - in order to survive.

If the old woman didn't have a gun, she would not be dead and those police officers would not have bullets in them - both of which necessitate an answer of some sort.

You see, people and legislation are initiated in response to action. Often those actions - and results - have to be extreme in order for change of any kind to occur.

This buffers that and allows police to have an option that is not only non-violent, but eliminates the need to explain anything because of the nature of the device.

On the terms you ( have identified - certainly it's a good thing not having to kill someone to get them to do what you want. And indeed there are a multitude of ways used in the past - far more harmful - used to coerce people.

The concern is - what will the response be? In the case of the old woman, she was forced into attacking police officers and wounded them and died herself.
Strategically - if people, in masses are driven from streets where the police don't want them to be - where will they go? And what other ways will they find to make themselves heard?

Similarly - the police have a new tool which changes the nature of certain engagements - how will tactics be forced to adapt? So what happens if this angers the otherwise peaceful crowd (no one likes pain) and they torch some other street? Do you follow people home with this thing to make sure they get all the way off the street? Or is just one area denied?

I'm reminded of a case up here where a cop shot a woman reaching for her cell phone he had pulled over. Saw a metal flash and shot her. Given the circumstances the more appropriate action to someone seated in front of you in a car who is already drawing a weapon is not to attempt to outdraw them, but disrupt their draw - any number of physical techniques to do this, some damaging.
But due to how the regulations and laws are written, if the officer broke her wrist or smashed her nose (and then drew) he would be guilty of police brutality. Because he shot her he was acting within reasonable procedure. Of course, the woman was dead.

And the way the law is written led to the way he was trained and thus the way the situation unfolded.

Similar situation here (not lives but mechanisms) - even if the device is used perfectly within the law - it can lead to unintended and hazardous consequences. And there's no gauruntee the law will be adapted to whatever the new order is - in the above case, the law has not (still) adapted.
It's dumb to reach into your coat to pull out a cell phone when a cop is standing next to you on a dark night, it's dumb to bust in on an old lady in a high crime area scared off being raped (and who is a good shot) but it's even dumber to not have anticipated your opponant creating consequences to your actions.

So, if used sparingly, perhaps it could be effective. But if people come to know that this is what to expect, they will change their tactics accordingly. And we have no idea what that will evolve into and what would be the required response.

And that indeed is about the legislation, not the device. But given we all agree on the past track record of abuse...
posted by Smedleyman at 7:40 PM on December 10, 2006

I don't mean to imply that there will be no effect, and that this weapon will simply meld into the current way of things. I just mean that there have been other advances like this, and there have been ways that people in dissenting positions have coped with them. As for accountability, one should also consider the rise of camera phones and such - almost-live coverage of atrocities in action. The situation at UCLA for example. There's a rogue cop, abusing his power with a tool rather like this one. In times past the witnesses' testimony may simply have been obfuscated with contrasting opinions, and with the lack of material evidence it would end in a stalemate. But given the responsibility to document the world around them, people are choosing to do so, and at a protest that would be a target for this weapon, there will likely be all sorts of cameras running. Footage is cheap and getting cheaper, and proving usage of this weapon is not something that I think will be an issue. You don't think that sudden blisters under the clothes after a police encounter, or a cell damage pattern easily discerned from a skin sample will count as evidence for abuse?

Anyway. What I think is that this is a good thing as long as we as a lawful society accommodate it. And by lawful I don't mean capitulating, and by accommodate I don't mean get out of its way. I mean that it should be documented and recognized for what it is and used as a tool should be used. We have no guarantee of that, sure, but it's what should be done. When someone thought of rubber bullets or tazers, don't you think people said "Oh god, now I'm going to get shot for contending a speeding ticket, or shocked for jaywalking." But people don't - you certainly hear and see about abuses of these weapons - in the WTO or at UCLA or whatever, because people see and recognize the thing's misuse. I expect the same of this weapon. Your fears about an "agonizer room" or whatnot are legit, and I would be afraid of that too, if we weren't already drowning our inmates and electrocuting their balls.

And lodurr, despite your various assurances about my great naivete, I don't think you know any more about "human will, resistance to pain, and the way things work in the world" than I do, and paraphrasing faulkner at a joke I make isn't convincing anybody, either. I think you have a different outlook, and dismissing people who think differently as fools is more of a road to oppression than the Active Denial System.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:43 PM on December 10, 2006

BlackLeotardFront: You do make some convincing points for the "pro-agonizer" side, but I fear that it will be just this kind of elegant prose that will be used to justify its further encroachment into other aspects of our daily lives. An agonizer in front of the mall sliding doors to prevent shoplifting. An agonizer at the stop sign, making sure you obey the traffic ordinances. A cop with an agonizer, patrolling the block, looking for undesirables to make disappear.

They talked the same way about tasers when they were becoming widespread, and they were right. They taser mental patients, epileptics, passive and docile (and presumed innocent) people who are non-resisting, and most scarily of all, the weak-hearted. There's nothing in the historical evidence that states this thing will be anything but abused. It sure seems easy to get away with. In all the testing they did, there were only 6 incidences of redness and a few blisters.

Thank god for camera phones. Thank god we can still (albeit with a lot of resistance on their part) videotape the cops harassing/beating the shit out of/tazing/agonizing the populace.
posted by tehloki at 1:04 AM on December 11, 2006

Yeah, I agree - but look, I don't want you to think I'm not concerned with abuses of this thing. I just think it will become part of the system we're used to. We don't put up with rubber bullet guns at mall doors, why would we put up with this? You're totally right about the taser being abused too, and that's another major argument for training and accountability. Accountability is going to be easier since everyone is recording everything they do these days, and within a few years a decent video-recording phone will be affordable at even a super-budget level. The government doesn't need telescreens in our houses, we're already broadcasting ourselves. Look at Abu Ghraib. Big Brother's a whole other argument but as to how it applies here, cops and soldiers both are having to watch themselves because they know somebody's watching.

My feeling is that this will be introduced and used in a limited fashion, and other things like tasers and stuff will be more limited too. After all, look at the UCLA thing - couple years ago it might have been a local scandal, but now half the people on the net watched it happen and follow as people unearth that the UCPD had a violent cop on its hands - demonstrably and on paper. So not only is that guy screwed but that whole department is probably getting a shakedown and I doubt you'll see tasers on every guy now. That's just the beginning, but it's a good step. Hopefully the same will happen with the zapper here - someone will fry a couple kids demonstrating peacefully, and it will be on camera, and after that it will be, say, only allowed for use during an emergency, or only with approval from the police chief, or whatever. I know shit is going to go down but I think in the end this thing is going to save more lives than it takes or ruins or controls.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:43 AM on December 11, 2006

That's what I'm hoping for: that they will control the use of this device, only bring it out in emergencies, or to control full-scale violent smashy-burny-looty riots, etc. Let's hope that we get some better policy regarding the use of less-lethal weapons in the future. I can definitely accept this thing as a last resort in control of a violent crowd; I just hope it doesn't go any futher.
posted by tehloki at 1:55 AM on December 11, 2006

In other words -Guns don't take liberties, people (and legislation) take liberties.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:15 PM PST on December 10

OK, fine. Once those people and their bad laws take them, then the people go out into the street to take their liberties back (a la the Orange Revolution) run into these weapons, then turn around and run back inside, screaming in pain. Checkmate, Game Over.

So what are some possible countermeasures?

Millimeter waves are at military band radar frequencies. Stealth aircraft are invisible to radar by absorbing it, by virtue of being painted with ferrite-loaded paint, and those ferrites are similar to the ferrites in ordinary recording tape.

It just so happens a fabric woven of 50% recording tape, Sonic Fabric (found in this Me-Fi thread), is now available. I believe it would protect the areas of the body it covered from millimeter waves. What about exposed skin? I think a lotion which contained a conductor, which might be able to be as simple as dissolved salt, could possibly protect skin by absorbing the EM energy in the epidermal layer, thereby preventing it from penetrating to the dermal layer where it causes all the pain.

Accessorize with a pair of mirrored sunglasses, and you're all set.
posted by jamjam at 2:19 PM on December 11, 2006

I can definitely accept this thing as a last resort in control of a violent crowd; I just hope it doesn't go any futher.

Unfortunately, the latter is inherent in the former.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:24 PM on December 11, 2006

“but I think in the end this thing is going to save more lives than it takes or ruins or controls.” posted by BlackLeotardFront

“I can definitely accept this thing as a last resort in control of a violent crowd; I just hope it doesn't go any futher.” posted by tehloki

Amazing how people can be reasonable and yet all it takes is some higher up jerks with an agenda to sow discord.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2006

sonofsamiam: If you look at my paranoid comments earlier in the thread, I am quite sure it will go much further than that. I am just hoping for some catastrophic abuse of the device to be used in an initiative to push it back into the realm of last resorts and better alternatives. Of course some terrible things are going to come from this, but maybe those terrible things will be able to convince the legislative body governing its use that it is not, by any means, a primary response tool for anything.

I would still prefer use of this thing to events escalating to the point where cops are beating protestors to death / firing *real* bullets into a crowd, etc. though. I'm not like mr. crazy libertarian up there who would rather get riddled with bullets than get microwaved.
posted by tehloki at 8:07 AM on December 12, 2006

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