Saturday, June 19, 2010


I would like to start out by making a disclaimer as this post is sure to generate some criticism. I am in no way anti-immigration, nor do I support government action restricting the rights of immigrants (legal or not) such as the law recently enacted in Arizona allowing police to demand proof of visa/citizenship from anyone they suspect of being in the United States illegally. My own father in fact is an immigrant to America. Demagogues and Dictators is at its core a security blog and the following is meant to bring your attention to a certain new technology that could have uses far beyond what the military is currently thinking.

For the past few years, the U.S. military has been developing what it is calling an "Active Denial System," or as Wired Magazine has dubbed it a "Pain Ray" (Aka the "Goodbye Weapon or the Vehicle Mounted Active Denial System (V-MAD)). When I first head of this device back in 2007, the military was testing to see if it could be used to non-lethally disperse crowds in Iraq. Essentially what this technology does is to concentrate microwaves across a limited distance. All organic tissue within a close proximity to the rays beam will experience an extremely hot sensation similar to opening a hot oven. From videos of the testing I have seen, the ray is very effective at getting people to instinctively move away from an area. The military claims that the weapon is entirely non-lethal and causes no permanent damage, although in one case a test subject had to be rushed to a hospital and treated for burns. As reported by Wired, this system has also recently been deployed for testing in Afghanistan

Now how does this relate to border security? Imagine a string of these microwave devices planted across the southern border of the United States all rotating in a random order such that only a minority of the border is hit with the ray at anyone time but ensuring that over a certain period of time the entire border is covered. This would negate the selective use of certain easy border crossing points as anyone crossing at any point along the border would risk being hit with the ray.

Human rights groups would obviously go crazy if the U.S. government were to even float the idea of such a system and I for one am not advocating it use either. However, I can imagine instances when such a system might have to be at least considered in emergency situations. Say for instance if terrorists were caught trying to smuggle nuclear material over the border. There would be in instant public outcry to seal the borders once and for all. You can't put up a huge fence overnight but you could deploy these Active Denial Systems in a matter of hours if you had a deployment plan already worked out. Furthermore, if the Mexican government were to fail, which according to the Defense Department is on par with the likelihood of the Pakistani government failing, the U.S government would need some way to temporarily stop a mass exodus of millions of people from Northern Mexico. In my opinion using this system would result in far fewer casualties than deploying the National Guard and the Minutemen down to the border armed with M-16's.

I know this is not a popular thought but we here at D&D believe that it is never wrong to think and we welcome any and all debate on this topic.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

J,

Does it have a similar effect on animals? PETA and the Sierra Club would go nuts as well and say it messes up migratory patterns of animals. Like the outside of the box idea, but don't think it would fly.

D

Beau said...

Jeremy -

Like "Guest D," I appreciate outside-the-box ideas, but I think it would suffer from the same problems plaguing our current low-tech policy, just with a nifty sci-fi twist.

Immigrants who cross the border from Mexico to the US already incur significant risk, with many dying from the harsh conditions of the crossing. The border guards apprehend many would-be immigrants, guarding the border in a patchwork way similar to how you describe the V-MAD would be deployed. And efforts to increase coverage of the border have been hampered by the most formidable obstacle known to (Washington, DC) man - budget pressure.

The way I see it, all the V-MAD system would do is increase the confusion in the risk calculation of illegal immigrants. Many would likely harbor doubts that in El Norte there are invisible microwave guns to randomly prevent them from crossing the border, and would do it anyway. It would also likely increase the cost, a significant hurdle these days....

David Schoeller-Diaz said...

Jeremy,
I welcome the creative thinking, be it about immigration or other policy issues. Nonetheless, I believe this is a highly problematic concept, even in the extreme hypotheticals proposed (e.g. Mexico collapsing). Firstly, in the case of a major humanitarian disaster, such as would be likely upon a neighboring state collapse, the U.S. would be liable under international humanitarian law to ensure proper refugee assistance, not subjugate immigrants to a "human microwave" without a reasonable expectation of medical assistance if required. I am not aware of the DOD analysis of the vulnerability of the Mexican state, but find such comparison with Pakistan highly questionable. Despite real security concerns posed by the drug industry, Mexico remains one of the two largest and most dynamic economies in Latin America, and is closely linked with conditions in the U.S. Additionally, there is neither the historical precedent nor the existential threat that would warrant such assessment. At most, the drug industry, as was the case during the 80-90s in Colombia, seeks to get the government off its back and create profits, not overthrow the state, coordinate transnational attacks or take control of nuclear stockpile.
Putting the likelihood of Mexican collapse aside, the use of V-MAD system appears to be an ineffective, inhumane, and problematic substitute for comprehensive immigration reform and homeland security. If terrorists were to have the resources and capability to smuggle nuclear material to the U.S., they are likely able to protect themselves from an intermittent heat wave. More concerning, is the potential use of this technology by the Federal or State government as a desperate measure to limit border crossings (clearly not what you suggested, but a regrettable extension of your proposal by radical commentators). This would exacerbate an already arduous and life-threatening border crossing, placing civilians in danger indiscriminately and without the provision of basic medical or other protections. The testing so far performed has been in controlled and limited environments, where those affected can easily scatter or receive needed attention. The application would carry different implications when performed in remote areas, affecting diverse groups of individuals (including children and women), who pose an uncertain security threat to the U.S. Where exactly do you scatter in the desert and how do you treat the unintended burns of your family members?
I believe that undocumented immigration is a highly problematic dynamic for the U.S., a life-threatening process for trafficked individuals, and a profitable enterprise for criminal networks. Therefore, it should not simply be a matter of being pro or anti-immigration, but of strengthening the legal immigration system, while enhancing our homeland security and limiting the tremendous suffering and abuse linked to human trafficking.

Fred said...

ADS is too expensive to use in the manner suggested. Additonally, there are only three of them in the world. System 0 is a lab testing version. System 1 is on a Hummer and used for testing in the States, and system 2 takes an LVS to carry it and is not available. Even if there were many systems, I would not want to see it randomly beaming around the border. At a minimum, an operator would be needed to target border crossers. For that, though, it would not be bad. It wouldn't kill or permanently harm anyone, it would just chase them back the way they came.

As for terrorists smuggling some sort of weapon across the border, that would not be an appropriate use of th enon-lethal ADS technology. If we know the target is a terrorist, whether they have nukes or just bad attitudes we KILL them.

Fred said...

ADS is too expensive to use in the manner suggested. Additonally, there are only three of them in the world. System 0 is a lab testing version. System 1 is on a Hummer and used for testing in the States, and system 2 takes an LVS to carry it and is not available. Even if there were many systems, I would not want to see it randomly beaming around the border. At a minimum, an operator would be needed to target border crossers. For that, though, it would not be bad. It wouldn't kill or permanently harm anyone, it would just chase them back the way they came.

As for terrorists smuggling some sort of weapon across the border, that would not be an appropriate use of th enon-lethal ADS technology. If we know the target is a terrorist, whether they have nukes or just bad attitudes we KILL them.

Fred said...

ADS is too expensive to use in the manner suggested. Additonally, there are only three of them in the world. System 0 is a lab testing version. System 1 is on a Hummer and used for testing in the States, and system 2 takes an LVS to carry it and is not available. Even if there were many systems, I would not want to see it randomly beaming around the border. At a minimum, an operator would be needed to target border crossers. For that, though, it would not be bad. It wouldn't kill or permanently harm anyone, it would just chase them back the way they came.

As for terrorists smuggling some sort of weapon across the border, that would not be an appropriate use of th enon-lethal ADS technology. If we know the target is a terrorist, whether they have nukes or just bad attitudes we KILL them.

Patrick E said...

David, hear hear!

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