The matter of General Soleimani, when examined jus ad bellum is a unilateral action that violates the rules-based international order that India supports. That said, it won’t be the first time in history that a nation has assassinated an official of another country, nor is it likely to be the last. But as far as the laws that regulate the conduct of international affairs are concerned, this killing of a public official by overt military means in a third country is an act of war. Usually, such assassinations are carried out by proxies, wherein the hand of the puppeteer is hidden. That this assassination was owned publicly by President Trump signals the end of the liberal order and the moral veneer that was the USA’s carefully cultivated image post the Second World War.
The impact of this assassination on international relations and the geopolitical landscape will be the subject matter of debate by the pundits in the coming months, and I look forward to their assessments. As a student of InfoWar, I am more interested in the intricacies of how this assassination was carried out. As per reports in open-source mediums, on 3 January 2020, at 12:32 am local time, General Soleimani’s Airbus A320 Cham Wings plane landed at Baghdad International Airport. An MQ-9 Reaper drone of the US Air Force and other military aircraft was waiting above the area, as Soleimani and others including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a U.S.-designated terrorist, entered two vehicles and left towards downtown Baghdad. At 12:47 am, the Reaper drone launched several missiles, striking the convoy on an access road as it left the airport, engulfing the two cars in flames and killing 10 people.
Documents from Snowden revealed drone targets are often identified in part based on metadata analysis and cell phone tracking.
This version of events is a fantastic demonstration of American intelligence and global surveillance capabilities. These capabilities are especially effective in urban environments that have a preponderance of commercial products. Gen Soleimani’s assassination in an urban environment could not have happened without some technical identification of his exact conveyance. Most smart appliances come with embedded beacons which are part of the American global surveillance architecture. The accuracy rate for hitting the intended targets by drone strikes globally is approximately 1.5-2% as per the Bureau of Investigative Journalism who has been investigating the effectiveness of US drone strikes. This is primarily due to the difficulties in identifying the target from the air. Documents from Snowden revealed drone targets are often identified in part based on metadata analysis and cell phone tracking. Former NSA director Michael Hayden famously put it bluntly in May 2014, when he said, “We kill people based on metadata.”
“Tagging, tracking and locating” (TTL) technologies are designed to keep covert tabs from far away. TTL is crucial to successful drone strikes and have rapidly evolved recently. The exact method used in the assassination of Gen Solemani has still not come to light. Although most of these technologies are highly classified, there’s enough information in the open domain to get a sense of what the US is pursuing. These include laser-based reflectors, super-strength RFID tags, and homing beacons so tiny, they can be woven into fabric or into paper. Some of these gadgets are already commercially part of many daily use appliances like a smartphone. One can be tracked either through the GPS chip embedded in the smartphone or by triangulating the cell signal. Radar Responsive tags stay asleep until it is woken up by a radar pulse. Other technologies that find mention in the literature include “human thermal fingerprint at long distance,” “augmentation of natural signatures: e.g. ‘perfumes’, ‘stains.'” and “bio-reactive taggant”.
Intelligence gathering capabilities in that sense is closely related to sovereign functions of the state and should never be outsourced.
The US has spent considerable efforts on influence operations to create this global surveillance grid, a logical follow-up of the PNAC. MNCs and consulting firms, the forces that have driven globalisation has had a significant role to play in this. When one examines US policies after the end of the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, their aim was clearly to further hegemony and create a global surveillance grid using the war on terror as the raison d’être. Many nations and their intelligence and law enforcement agencies seem to have supported the global surveillance initiatives without looking at the broader national security implications of such actions. Indeed if one looks at intelligence-sharing mechanisms that have become fashionable post the GWOT, successive US administrations have assiduously pursued it as a cornerstone of US policy. This is a process of weaponising the global surveillance grids by making intelligence organisations reliant on intelligence shared by the US to perpetuate their hegemony. These can gradually undermine the sovereignty and decisional autonomy of governments. Blindly relying on the intelligence shared without independent means to verify the information can result in deception. Intelligence gathering capabilities in that sense is closely related to sovereign functions of the state and should never be outsourced.
Many nations and their intelligence and law enforcement agencies seem to have supported the global surveillance initiatives without looking at the broader national security implications of such actions.
The assassination of General Soleimani by remote warfare increases the likelihood of kinetic conflict globally, as remote warfare capabilities lower the political risks associated with war. The potential death of their own personnel was always an inhibiting factor for hegemonic powers. The seamless integration of commercial global surveillance grids with warfare has tremendous geostrategic and economic significance. Indian policymakers have to cater to these new developments while drafting the data protection law and mandate data localisation and increased indigenisation of ICT technologies. These have a direct relation to national security and warfare, and Indian history is replete with the costs the nation has had to bear by ignoring or being blind about military innovation.