The GIobalization of Repression
A Special Report to the European Parliament
Earth Island Journal, Winter 2001-2002
LUXEMBOURG (January 6, 1998) - Nearly 30 years ago, the British
Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) warned that
a new technology of repression was being spawned in an effort
to contain civil unrest In 1977, BSSRS published The Technology
of Political Control which analyzed the function of these new
technologies. Largely created as a result of research and development
undertaken as part of Britain's colonial wars, work on this technology
was further enhanced by technical developments achieved by the
US' military-industrial complex.
The BSSRS was the first report to identify a whole class of
technology whose principal function was to achieve social and
political control. "This new weaponry ranges from means of
monitoring internal dissent to devices for controlling demonstrations;
from new techniques of interrogation to methods of prisoner control,"
The Technology of Political Control predicted that, with the
deployment of these technologies, governments would no longer
reach for the machine gun when threatened at home. They would
have plastic bullets that kill only occasionally, interrogation
that tortures without leaving physical scars, electronics for
telephone taping and night surveillance, and computers to build
files on dissidents.
A massive Police Industrial Complex has been spawned to serve
the needs of police, paramilitary and security forces. An overall
trend is towards the globalization of these technologies.
Many major arms companies have established paramilitary/internal
security operations and diversification into these markets is
increasing. Weapons specifically designed to quell dissent are
incredibly cheap compared to major warfare counterparts like ships,
aircraft and tanks. The move into a post-Cold War world has been
accompanied by a change in the nature of warfare.
The militarization of the police often begins via "special
weapons and tactics squads," such as the Grenz Schutz Gruppe
in Germany, the Gendarmerie Nationale in France, the Carabinieri
in Italy, the Special Patrol Group in the UK or the federal police
paramilitary SWAT teams in the US (FBI, DEA and Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms). Security companies now produce weapons
and communications systems for both the military and the police.
The Evolution of Repression
The 1972 US National Science Foundation's Report on Non-lethal
Weapons listed 34 different weapons including: chemical and kinetic
weapons; electrified water jets; combined stroboscopic light and
pulsed sound weapons; infrasound weapons; guns that fire drug-filled,
flight-stabilized syringes; stench darts that give off an obnoxious
odor; the Taser, which shoots 50,000 volts into the target; and
"instant banana peel," which makes roads slippery and
Many of these weapons have since achieved operational status.
They include: electronic riot shields and electro-shock batons;
bulk chemical irritant distributor systems (delivered by British
water cannon or Israeli backpack sprayers); plastic bullet guns;
hydraulically fired, slingshot rubber-bullet machines; and biomedical
weapons, such as the compressed air-fired drug syringe now commercially
available both in the US and China.
Some 856 companies across 47 countries have been or are currently
active in the manufacture and supply of such weapons. This global
proliferation has been fueled by private companies wishing to
tap lucrative security markets.
Portable electrified riot shields (manufactured since the
mid-1980s) comprise a transparent polycarbonate plate through
which metal strips are interlaced. A button-activated induction
coil in the handle sends 40,000 to 100,000 volts arcing across
the metal strips, accompanied by intermittent indigo flashing
sparks and an intimidating crackle as the air between the electrodes
is ionized. Deaths have been reported from both Tasers and from
A wire barrier system dispersed by the Volcano Mine System
shoots out a thin wire with something like fish hooks along it
in enough mass to cover a soccer-field sized area. "It's
intended to snag. It's not going to kill you," said Volcano
marketing manager Tom Bierman.
Human guards are being replaced with sophisticated punishment
mechanisms that vary from electroshock to kill-fences and fragmentation
mines. Neural networks with semiintelligence will play an increasing
role in sentinel duties as robot technology improves. Already
prototypes known as "insectoids" are being evolved to
cheaply replace personnel on routine guard duties. They can be
programmed to track a fence and carry either lethal or sub-lethal
The fastest-growing trend in surveillance technology is towards
tracking certain social classes and races living in red-lined
areas before any crime is committed. Such "proactive policing"
is based on military models of gathering huge amounts of low-grade
intelligence. With systems such as Memex, it is possible to quickly
build up a comprehensive picture of virtually anyone by gaining
electronic access to all their records, cash transactions, cars
Any unique attribute of anatomy can be used to create a human
identity recognition system. Cellmark Diagnostics (UK) can recognize
genes; Mastiff Security Systems (UK) can recognize odor; Hagen
Cy-Com (UK) and Eyedentify Inc. (USA) can recognize the pattern
of capillaries at the back of the retina; while AFA Technology
(UK) is capable of signature verification.
DNA fingerprinting is now a reality. Britain has set up its
first DNA databank and has carried out mass dawn raids of targeted
suspects. Plans are being drawn up by at least one political party
to DNA-profile [British citizens] from birth. Face recognition
systems are seen as being able to revolutionize crime, customs
and intruder detection.
Night-vision technology developed as a result of the Vietnam
war has now been adapted for police usage. Heli-tele surveillance
[from helicopters] allows cameras to track human heat signatures
in total darkness. Lorraine Electronics' Direct Intelligent Access
Listening (DIAL) allows an operator to monitor several rooms from
anywhere in the world.
Neural network bugs go one step further. Built like a small
cockroach, they can crawl to the best location for surveillance.
Japanese researchers have managed to control real cockroaches
by implanting microprocessors and electrodes in their bodies.
The insects can be fitted with micro cameras and sensors to reach
places other "bugs" can't.
The essential role of new crowd-control weapons and tactics
is to amplify the level of aggression that can be unleashed by
an individual officer. Much of a weapon's effect lies in creating
a sense of uncertainty Even the insectoid appearance of riot squad
members is part of the threat impact. Thus the rationale behind
the new US side-handle batons, riot shield charges, riot wedges,
"snatch squads" and the martial arts-style arrest techniques.
The biggest growth area however, has been in what used to
be called "non-lethal weapons." The fact that some of
these weapons kill, blind, scalp and permanently maim led the
authorities and manufacturers to come up with a new name - "less-lethal
weapons" - i.e. they only sometimes kill.
Police forces have acquired many of the weapons normally associated
with the military Many shotguns specially adapted for police use
(e.g., by Ithaca, Mossberg, Remington, Sage International and
Wilson Arms) are literally sawn-off shotguns whose wider spread
increases the number of likely targets.
Specialist shotgun ammunition enables some of these weapons
to smash the cylinderblock off a car or literally cut a human
in half. An advertisement for the shotgun "bolo round,"
claims "It slices - it dices." Shotgun ammunition leaves
no evidence of what weapon was used to fire it because they do
not leave a "spent cartridge signature."
In urban settings, a high-velocity round could easily pass
through an intended target and continue penetrating walls and
go on to kill innocents beyond the observed fire zone. To obviate
this problem, manufacturers are increasingly producing hollow
point, expanding, or "dum-dum" ammunition for police
Whereas ordinary ammunition can sail through the body leaving
a relatively clean hole, soft-nosed ammunition "mushrooms"
in the body, causing far more serious damage. Dum-dums can take
an arm or a leg off. Some these weapons, like Winchester's Black
Talon or the high-explosive filled, Frag 12 cause horrific injuries.
Paradoxically, the Hague Declaration of 1989, which prohibited
the use of hollow point ammunition in war, does not apply to the
policing of civil conflicts.
Until the 1960s, most surveillance was lowtech and expensive
since it involved following suspects around from place to place.
Even electronic surveillance was highly labor intensive. The East
German police, for example, employed 500,000 secret informers,
10,000 of which were needed just to listen and transcribe citizens'
At the end of the Cold War, defense and intelligence agencies
refocused missions to justify their budgets, transferring their
technologies to certain law enforcement applications such as anti-drug
and anti-terror operations. In 1993, the US Department of Defense
and the Justice Department signed a memoranda of understanding
for "Operations Other Than War" to facilitate joint
development and sharing of technology
"Fingerprints, ID cards, data-matching and other privacy-invasive
schemes were originally tried on populations with little political
power, such as welfare recipients, immigrants, criminals and members
of the military, and then applied up the socioeconomic ladder,"
says David Banisar of Privacy International. "Once in place,
the policies are difficult to remove." Ultimately, he notes,
"They facilitate mass and routine surveillance of large segments
of the population without the need for warrants and formal investigations.
What the East German secret police could only dream of is rapidly
becoming a reality in the 'Free World."'
Much of this technology is used to track the activities of
dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, student leaders,
minorities, trade union leaders and political opponents.
A huge range of surveillance technologies has evolved, including
night-vision goggles; parabolic microphones to detect conversations
over a kilometer away; laser microphones that can pick up any
conversation from a closed window in line of sight; stroboscopic
cameras that can take hundreds of pictures in a matter of seconds
and individually photograph all the participants in a demonstration
The Scoot surveillance system - with US-made Pelco cameras
- was sold to China as an advanced traffic control system by Siemens
Plessey. The system was used to faithfully record the protests
that lead to the 1989 massacre in Tienanmen Square. These images
were repeatedly broadcast over Chinese television, with the result
that nearly all the transgressors were identified.
Passive Millimeter Wave Imaging developed by the US Millitech
Corp. can scan people from up to 12 feet away and see through
clothing to detect concealed weapons, packages and other contraband.
Variations of this through-clothing screening under development
by Raytheon Co., include systems that illuminate an individual
with a low-intensity electromagnetic pulse.
The Tadiran computer supplied to Guatemala and installed in
the national palace contained "an archive and a computer
file on journalists, students, leaders, people on the left, politicians"
that was used to select assassination victims. Europe's Harlequin
system allows the automatic production of maps of who phoned whom
to show "friendship networks."
The independent Commission for the Control of Security Interceptions,
said that 100,000 telephone lines are illegally tapped each year
in France and that state agencies may be behind much of the eavesdropping.
However, planting illegal bugs is yesterday's technology Modern
snoopers can buy specially adapted laptop computers and simply
tune in to all the mobile phones active in the area by cursoring
down to their number.
The UK-based research publication Statewatch reported that
the EU had secretly agreed to set up an international telephone
tapping network via a secret network established under the "third
pillar" of the Maastricht Treaty Official reports say that
the EU governments agreed to cooperate closely with the FBI in
Washington. Earlier minutes of these meetings suggest that the
original initiative came from Washington.
According to Statewatch, network and service providers in
the EU will be obliged to install "tapable" systems
and to place under surveillance any person or group when served
with an interception order. These plans have never been referred
to any European government for scrutiny, despite the clear civil
liberties issues raised by such a system.
The revolution in urban surveillance will reach the next generation
of control once reliable face recognition comes in. It will initially
be introduced at stationary locations, like turnstiles, customs
points, security gateways, etc., to enable a standard full-face
It is important to set clear guidelines and codes of practice
for such innovations.
Plastic and rubber bullets were products of British colonial
experience in Hong Kong where the flying wooden teak baton round
became the template for future kinetic weapons. However, the concept
of a flying truncheon was regarded as too dangerous for use on
white people, so in 1969, British researchers came up with a "safer"
version for use in Northern Ireland.
Plastic bullets were considered too dangerous for use in mainland
Britain (until 1985 when they proliferated throughout the UK's
police forces). Now plastic bullets have been deployed from the
US to Argentina, from South Africa to lsrael and China.
Statements made by military scientists and police chiefs about
"non-lethal" weapons and "minimum force,"
have led the public to believe that crowd-control weapons were
designed for humanitarian reasons. Such sentiments have been echoed
by the governments, laboratories and manufacturers creating these
technologies of political control.
A 1972 report by Belfast surgeons makes for stark reading.
lt informs us that of 90 patients who sought hospital treatment
after being hit by rubber bullets, 41 needed hospitalization.
Their injuries included three fractured skulls, 32 fractures of
the nose, jaw, cheek, etc., eight ruptured eye globes (all resulting
in blindness), three cases of severe brain damage, seven cases
of lung injury and one case of damage to liver, spleen and intestine.
The overall role call: one death, two people blinded in both
eyes, five with severe loss of vision in one eye and four with
severe disfigurement of the face.
In the 1970s, military researchers in the US concluded that
rubber bullets had an extremely high probability of undesirable
effects. Plastic bullets totally replaced rubber bullets in Northern
Ireland by 1975.
But according to a 1983 report in the Lancet, plastic bullets
are even more deadly than the rubber bullets they replaced. They
cause more severe injuries to the skull and brain and therefore
The indiscriminate deployment of plastic bullets removes people's
rights of assembly and may remove their rights to freedom of movement
and, in some situations, their right to life. We recommend that
the European Parliament reaffirm their call for a total ban on
More than 300 companies are currently manufacturing and marketing
chemical incapacitants to military, security, prison and police
forces around the world. In high doses they can kill. Even in
lower doses, there is a range of unpleasant side effects including
bronchitis, asthma, lung and eye damage, contact dermatitis and
Less-lethal weapons are presented as more acceptable alternatives
to guns. But these weapons augment rather than replace the more
lethal weapons. Euphemistic labels are used to create the impression
that these weapons represent soft and gentle forms of control.
CS is never referred to by the authorities as vomit gas, in spite
of its capacity to cause violent retching.
There is evidence that CS can cause permanent lung damage
at comparatively low doses, as well as second-degree burns with
blistering. In situations where high exposure to CS has occurred,
heart failure, hepatocellular damage and death have been reported.
Oleoresin Capsicum (OC or "pepper gas") is a new
irritant based on extracts from chili pepper. It is banned for
use in war by the 1972 Biological Weapons convention. But it was
not banned for internal security use. It was US companies that
transformed this irritant into a commercial product that is now
widely used by police, corrections departments and private citizens.
The effects of pepper gas include blindness that lasts from
15-30 minutes, a burning sensation of the skin that lasts from
45 to 60 minutes, upper body spasms that force a person to bend
forward and uncontrollable coughing, making it difficult to breathe
or speak for between 3 to 15 minutes.
The US Army concluded in a 1993 Aberdeen Proving Ground study
that pepper spray could cause "mutagenic effects, carcinogenic
effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity,
neurotoxicity, as well as possible human fatalities." Pepper
spray got the go-ahead despite these reservations after the FBI
gave its approval It was subsequently revealed that the head of
the FBl's Less-Than Lethal Weapons Program Special Agent Thomas
W Ward, took a $5i,000 bribe from a pepper gas manufacturer to
give its product (Capstun) the all-clear.
Weapons of the Near-Future
In the 1990s the revolution in so-called "non-lethal
weapons" was given fresh impetus. The new policy was avidly
pushed in the US by the likes of Col. John Alexander, who made
his name as part of the Operation Phoenix assassination program
during the Vietnam war.
This second generation of kinetic, chemical, optico-acoustic,
microwave, disabling and paralyzing technologies is on the horizon.
Much of the initial new work has been undertaken in US nuclear
laboratories such as Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos.
The Pandora's box of new technologies includes:
* Ultra-sound generators that disturb the inner ear system
that controls balance, inducing nausea, disorientation, vomiting
and involuntary defecation. The system, which uses two speakers,
can target individuals in a crowd.
* High-intensity strobes that pulse in the critical epileptic
* Illusion techniques that use holograms to project "active
* Disabling, sleep-inducing agents mixed with DMSO [a skin-penetrating
chemical that quickly delivers drugs into the bloodstream].
* Pain-causing, paralyzing and foul-smelling area-denial chemicals,
some of which are chemically engineered variants of the heroin
molecule. They work extremely rapidly: one touch and disablement
* Microwave and acoustic disabling systems.
* Human capture nets that can be laced with chemical irritant
or electrified to pack a disabling punch.
* Guns that shoot a sticky foam that expands to between 35-50
times its original volume, gluing a target's feet and hands to
* Blinding laser weapons.
* Isotrophic radiator shells that use superheated gaseous
plasma to produce a dazzling burst of laser-like light.
* Thermal guns that incapacitate through a wall by raising
body temperature to 107 degrees.
* Magnetosphere guns that deliver what feels like a blow to
According to the New Scientist, the American Technology Corp.
of Poway, California has used "acoustical heterodyning technology"
to target individuals in a crowd with infra-sound. This technology
makes it possible to conjure audio messages out of thin air and
to pinpoint them so that just one person hears them. Y The US
National Institute of Justice is actively soliciting ideas for
such weapons from corporate bodies. While there are practical
problems regarding whether it is preferable to leave an enemy
or a citizen dead rather than permanently maimed (and whether
hallucinogenic and psychotropic agents fall foul of the Chemical
Weapons Convention), the spending call was for $15 million annually
over the next three years. The work done so far has led to dubious
weapons based on dubious research, strongly influenced by commercial
rather than humanitarian considerations. There is a pressing need
for a wide-ranging debate of the humanitarian and civil liberties
implications of allowing these weapons. An arsenal of new weapons
and technologies of political control has already been developed
or lies waiting on the horizon for a suitable opportunity to find
useful work. As the globalization of political control technologies
increases, Members of the European Parliament have a responsibility
to challenge the costs, as well as the alleged benefits, of so-called
"advances" in law enforcement.