Frankensteins in the Pentagon.
DARPA Bioengineering Program Seeks to Turn Soldiers Into Cyborgs .
Not long ago, the public was stunned by the practical and moral idiocy of the Pentagon researcher (and unprosecuted war criminal) John Poindexter, who proposed a 'football pool' scheme for predicting terrorist attacks. We all laughed at such insanity and were relieved to see the scheme speedily deep-sixed. However, this bit of lunacy was just the lightest ice in the tip of the very large, very dark iceberg that the Pentagon's research program, better known as DARPA, has become.
Just a few weeks before the bizarro world 'terrorism gambling' project was exposed, a DARPA (which stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)-sponsored conference was held in Washington, DC, that showcased the latest love child of the Bush Pentagon: military bioengineering. The euphemisms being used by the Pentagon to disguise the true nature of this research are being spread as thick as bondo and cheap paint at a used car lot. For example, the title of the conference was: 'Harvesting Biology for Defense Technology,' while the subheading of the section on human 'bioengineering' was entitled, rather ominously, in light of the military's history, 'Enhancing Human Performance.
So how does the Bush DARPA seek to 'enhance' human performance? In a kinder, gentler administration, the solution would be better training, better food, better pay, more leave time, and greater use of stress-reducing duty rotations. But this is not a kinder, gentler -or even rational- administration. Bush and Company plan to enhance soldier performance by squeezing the most that can be humanly -and not so humanly- squeezed from troops without having to resort to anything as primitive as decent pay. Their motto: Get the most human output for the least human input: After all, it's the corporate way!
Here are some examples of DARPA 'Human-enhancing' schemes:
The 'Brain Interface Program' is the most lavishly funded of nearly all the DARPA bioengineering efforts (the project has been given $24 million for the next two years). It is aimed at developing ways to 'integrate' soldiers into machines -literally- by wiring them (remotely or directly) to their planes, tanks, or computers. An implantable brain chip is now under development in this sick program, which has already proudly demonstrated how rats can be turned into living robots through the manipulation of stimulus-response signals in the brain via electrodes. The Pentagon hopes to use these pathetic, 'modified' creatures (you should see the photos -makes you want to join People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals!) in mine clearance.
"The use of animals in warfare is ugly enough without the further insult to their dignity involved in turning them into involuntary cyborgs," writes James Meek in the Guardian. "And a military command committed to the use of creatures which are part-animal, part-machine, is going to be that bit less reluctant to interfere in its soldiers in similar ways."
But, as the conference heading would have you believe, DARPA isn't interfering -it is merely 'enhancing.' After all, as an official at DARPA recently observed, "The human is becoming the weakest link in defense systems."
Enhancement efforts at the Brain Interface Program are now progressing nicely. The chief Frankenstein of the project, one Alan S. Rudolph, now wants to be able to transmit images or sound directly into the brains of rats -and of course, later, soldiers...or prisoners of war (just imagine the torture potential here!).
The 'Metabolic Dominance and Engineered Tissue' program is aimed at being able to artificially pump up soldier endurance and muscle strength.
The 'Persistence in Combat' program is a bizarre self-treatment scheme which would include pain-reducing and blood-stopping devices and techniques soldiers would apply to their own wounds -even moderately severe ones- thereby bypassing the need for a medic and enabling a soldier to keep fighting, despite serious wounds! Yep, just keep on runnin' through the jungle on that broken leg or with that bullet in the gut! Once that pain-obliterating electrode in your brain is activated, you won't feel a thing!
The 'Continuous Assisted Perfomance' program hopes to find biotechnological ways (implants, metabolic manipulation, etc) to make it possible to push exhausted soldiers on without loss of performance for up to seven days without sleep.
The above technologies are referred to by DARPA under the subheading of 'neuroengineering.' Neuroengineering was played around with back in the early 1990s (no doubt given the initial green light by Bush I), but became a rather minor and exotic 'side line' of research in the Clinton years. Since Bush II came on the scene, however, neuroengineering programs have been shoved into a position of major importance.
The wording of the descriptions of all the 'human enhancement' programs is extremely deceptive -even deliberately misleading. For example, having read the Brain Interface Program background in Nature magazine, I know for a fact that 'noninvasive' technologies (contrary to what is claimed in the description) are not currently the project priority and are considered at best a remote goal. What is in the works right now is a microprocessing chip that can be implanted beneath the skull and remotely manipulated. In a June 19 Nature article, Rudolph estimated that a usable chip that could be field-tested in rats is about two years away, while noninvasive technologies (whatever that means -how can it not be when you are manipulating someone's neurons?) is only an aspired-to ideal.
The researchers also try to hide behind grandiose-sounding claims of working to the greater good as a way to fool the public, and possibly themselves, into believing that these projects really do have some benign reasons for being, if only to promote the cause of 'science.' That is why nearly every program in the conference guide comes with a 'suggested benign use' (my own flippant phrase). After all, whines Rudolph, today's soldier's brain chip may be tomorrow's brain damage therapy. We should be impressed? After all, the same argument was used by Hitler's researchers to justify their heartless 'medical' experiments on Jews, gypsies, retarded children, enemy soldiers, prisoners, et al.). What is truly chilling is that these technologies, in essence, are seeking to turn our soldiers into human fighting machines, sacrificing their autonomy and, very likely, long-term quality of life for short term military savings -savings that will go right into the pockets of the government's beloved defense contractors. There is no way these technologies can be benign -the whole concept is totally against what America stands for and against any other reasonable code of ethics, for that matter. In addition, with the way they are being rushed through the research gamut, there is no way they can be proven safe, especially long-term. I can just imagine the residual tissue damage, cancers, post-traumatic stress disorders, etc, that DARPA-style 'human enhancement' will inflict on our guys and gals in uniform. Remember Agent Orange? Remember aboveground nuke testing? Remember submarine sailors being gassed as a DARPA 'experiment,' or those soldiers, most of them black or Hispanic, fed LSD? As it is, more than half of all Gulf War vets have now filed for disability because of the devastating effects of Gulf War Syndrome.
The only variable that has been conclusively linked to the syndrome is the ingestion by US Gulf War soldiers (and some British troops) of a 'cocktail' of anti-bacterial inoculations (including the anthrax vaccine) and an anti-nerve gas agent. A clear pattern was shown: Soldiers who did not receive the 'cocktail' (including all French soldiers) did not later report Gulf War syndrome symptoms, even if exposed to depleted uranium (another suspected cause). This finding came out in European journals way back in the mid-1990s. French commanders and many British commanders seriously questioned the wisdom of the cocktail at the time. But not the Pentagon! After all, the cocktail was 'human enhancing.' So now, will beneath-the-skull implants for soldiers become as mandatory as anthrax vaccines? (for my theory of Gulf War syndrome, read the paragraph after this article).
With the insane Bush DARPA plunging forward with its Darth Vader research, the possibilities for horrific misuse and long-term consequences are staggering. For example, one of the DARPA Frankensteins, one Ted Berger of the University of Southern California, envisions pilots who would be able to pilot their planes by thought alone, thanks to brain implants. This concept, like so much military research, fails to consider realistic variables. To name just a few of these: what about the impact of fear, exhaustion, pain, or dizziness on effective neural function? Whoops -didn't mean to crash into that busy highway! Or how about ruthless generals turning their pilots into 'instant Kamikazes' as a shortcut to winning a battle? Or, for that matter, who's to stop the enemy or a lone terrorist who has gained access to the technology from finding a way to repeat 9/11 scenarios using our own pilots or soldiers? At the very least, there can be no benign consequence to pushing men and women beyond their 'unassisted' endurance. The risk of brain damage, brain tumors, cancers, catastrophic immune responses similar to host-graft disease, heart attacks (from electronic signals triggering arrhythmias), and other assaults on the body seem the most imminent dangers. But who knows what unforeseen consequences may emerge? For example, the children conceived during and right after the first above-ground nuclear tests are just now approaching 60 - who knows what sort of long smoldering cancers may yet erupt into 'epidemics.'
One chief neuroethicist at the Center for Cognitive Neurosciences at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia has questioned not just the ethics of some of DARPA's research, but the ethics of those researchers who accept DARPA money. If they do so knowing the research is questionable, she asserts, then they have compromised their ethics.
And, I might add, our soldier's lives.
add a comment on this article