Who doesn’t love anniversaries? And here’s an unforgettable one. This very year, the Pentagon’s research outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), turns 50 years old. Happy birthday, DARPA! You were born as a response to the Soviet Union’s launching of the first earth-girdling satellite, Sputnik, which gave Americans a mighty shock. To prevent another "technological surprise" by the Soviets — or anybody else, anytime, ever — the agency has grown into the Pentagon’s good right arm, always there to reach into the future and grab another wild idea for weaponization. Each year, DARPA now spends about $3 billion on a two-fold mission: "to prevent technological surprise for us and to create technological surprise for our adversaries."
Next month, the agency will celebrate its anniversary with a conference that aims to "reflect on [its] challenges and accomplishments… over the past 50 years and to consider the Agency’s goals for the next 50 years." What a super idea! Think of that. The next 50! If only I’m still around — my brain well preserved and renewed (thanks to some nifty cutting-edge science from my own Advanced Research Projects lab) — to see War 2058 arrive and blow out those 100-year anniversary candles on the planet.
In the meantime, the future is now and, in a recent article, "The Pentagon’s Battle Bugs," Defense Department expert Nick Turse lays out the latest developments in DARPA’s plans to help an overstretched military by reaching into the insect kingdom for its newest well weaponized recruits. The first larval Marines, perhaps. Ten-HUT! Unlike Americans at present, they should simply swarm to the recruiting offices.
Turse begins: "Biological weapons delivered by cyborg insects. It sounds like a nightmare scenario straight out of the wilder realms of science fiction, but it could be a reality, if a current Pentagon project comes to fruition.
"Right now, researchers are already growing insects with electronics inside them. They’re creating cyborg moths and flying beetles that can be remotely controlled. One day, the U.S. military may field squadrons of winged insect/machine hybrids with on-board audio, video or chemical sensors. These cyborg insects could conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions on distant battlefields, in far-off caves, or maybe even in cities closer to home, and transmit detailed data back to their handlers at U.S. military bases."
It’s a strange (not to say hair-raising) subject for a journalist who has lately been covering the air war in Iraq and elsewhere. But the Pentagon’s urge to weaponize the wild kingdom is a topic Turse has long been familiar with and that he deals with powerfully in his remarkable new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. It is — believe me — the single most powerful look yet at all the subtle and complicated ways American lives have been militarized during the last decades. (For a short video discussion I had with Turse, click here.)
Oh, and here’s a suggestion for DARPA from a New Yorker. When you’re recruiting those bugs, don’t forget the roaches in my kitchen. They’ve been idle too long.