High tech spy tech

A these times of political change and increased scrutiny of all people, the Bush administration has created a new government agency responsible for gathering information on both US citizens and foreigners.
The agency which oversees all this increased scrutiny is the new Information Awareness Office agency, headed by John Poindexter. Poindexter was convicted of conspiracy, lying to congress and destroying evidence in the Iran Contra scandal while serving as Reagan’s National Security Advisor, and has been accused of cocaine smuggling by the Costa Rican government. Poindexter was pardoned by Bush the Elder, and now Bush the Younger has given him control of a shadowy new spy agency with billions in secret budgets.

The agency’s logo is spooky enough to give conspiracy theorists the jitters. A Masonic eye-in-the-pyramid beams a sci-fi death-ray across the globe (see page 49).

According to their website, the IAO is working to “acquire data through advanced technological applications for surveillance,” which includes “transactional spying” and developing “human biometric signatures.” They will also be engaging in “human network analysis,” “behavior model engines” and the Orwellian “truth maintenance.”

Although these agencies have the stated goal of targeting terrorists, pot-people know all too well how all these new powers always end up being used against us.

Smarter borders

These advanced surveillance techniques are being implemented on a variety of levels. One of the main areas where they are being implemented is at America’s borders.

The grandaddy of these agreements was signed by US and Canadian officials in December 2001, and includes an action plan which promises the development of “smart borders” ? computer technology enhanced to scan you down to the bones and reveal your full personal history. In March 2002, President Bush announced a similar accord with Mexico.

The amount of money available for the border overhaul is astronomical. Bush approved $6 billion in new spending for border technology, and Canada approved $1.2 billion over the next five years.

We present here an overview of some of the techniques and technologies which will be coming online in the next few years, and what you can do to avoid and defeat them.

Candid camera

Remote border stations, biometric recognition systems, hidden cameras, drive-through x-rays, and sophisticated new strip-search machines will form a powerful new arsenal for the anti-marijuana league.

Remote border stations will fill holes in the Canada/US border that formerly provided excellent marijuana smuggling routes. On March 21, 2002, the US and Canada publicly agreed to install remote stations along the border near British Columbia’s lower mainland. To find out more, I spoke to lawyer Don Skogstad, who focuses on marijuana law and has won his last twenty cases. Skogstad explained how the border monitoring system would work.

“At a remote station they would have a radio receiver, and telecommunications back to a central border control office. Then they could receive information from battery-powered, motion-sensitive, moveable cameras. If something moves, the camera moves, points at it and sends back an image to the border patrol. If it’s a deer then nothing’s done.”

Strapping your buds to trained deer might be a clever way to get past these devices, but watch out that your four-footed courier doesn’t get shot to stock someone’s freezer.

However, these cameras will still be limited in their range. According to Skogstad, the new stations will likely be restricted to lower-mainland border areas where power lines are close at hand to provide electricity. So remote border areas far from power lines should still be relatively safe for smugglers.

Peeping-tom tech

Regular border crossings are also being beefed up with radical new peeping-Tom technology. An x-rated x-ray machine manufactured by Bodysearch Corp, already in use in several major US airports, lets customs narks see video-quality images of your naked bod while detecting drugs, currency, and weapons. Mexico just spent $22 million to install a similar low-power x-ray scanner, created by OSI systems, at many of their airports and border crossings.

Even more powerful x-ray machines are being tested. Mexico is experimenting with drive-through x-rays that examine your whole vehicle with you in it, and the US drug cops are working on giant x-ray machines to scan railcars.

Yet, in a world of ever emergent new tech, even x-rays are a bit obsolete. The latest strip search machines use the radiation naturally emitted from your body, and they can produce even sharper images. The Millivision corporation’s machines measure naturally-emitted millimeter waves; their models include a hand-held “contraband and weapons” scanning gun for remote frisking and a camera model that could be secretly wired into any public space.

Meanwhile, Invision Technologies Inc’s machines measure magnetic fields using advanced computed tomography, based on the principle that all things have their own unique density, including explosives and drugs. Although Invision spokespeople say their products are not currently programmed to recognize marijuana or other banned drugs.

It would be foolhardy to assume that these technologies will be limited to use on the border. As these devices get smaller and better, they could be used on you anytime, anywhere. OSI Systems makes x-ray vans that can roll up to your house in the middle of the night and search your home without disturbing the dog.

As if watching you and your sweetie cuddle in bed at night weren’t enough, anti-druggies also want to get into your head. The US drug cops are working on magnetic resonance spectroscopy, functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography, to pry into our brains so that they can find ways to tinker with and even hinder the soup of neurochemicals that swirl in our heads. Already, the first inverse cannabis agonists ? substances that block you from getting high on cannabis ? are in development.

Microchip ID

New world order cops won’t need to shout “show us your papers!” ? they are busy developing ID systems that would make actually showing your papers a thing of the past.

The latest idea is a national ID that uses biometric data. Biometric data includes photographs, fingerprints, voice prints, retina scans and DNA ? it is any biological trait that marks individuals as unique. these cards can contain microchips which detail on criminal records, credit histories, medical files, political affiliations, sexual preferences, and pee tests.

Satellites could pinpoint the location of a microchipped ID card , which would also pinpoint the location of the card’s holder ? especially if citizens were required to carry them by law.

It’s in the works. The March 21 smart border agreement between the US and Canada promises the development of biometric national ID’s for border crossers and permanent residents of both countries. Five million such biometric ID cards have already been issued to Mexican border crossers.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warns that what might begin as ID for border crossers will likely become a mandatory national ID for all citizens. The ACLU points to recommendations like that of the highly influential Progressive Policy Institute, which suggests that the government develop a nationwide system of biometric ID’s as soon as possible.

Face scanners

Face, fingerprint and retina scanner technologies are currently bedeviled by many flaws that make them impractical as anti-terrorism devices. Regardless, they have the potential to be immensely powerful once perfected, and they’ve already proven promising in the drug war.

Face-recognizers manufactured by Visionics Corp can scan through a database of 60 million faces in 60 seconds. Face recognition is currently used to scan crowds for known or suspected criminals at Superbowl games, the night club district in Tampa Florida, in police cars in California, in many British cities and in Washington DC.

Chris Hoofnagle is a lawyer and legislative counsel for the Electronics Privacy Information Center in Washington, DC where he focuses on public privacy issues. He believes that facial recognition poses the greatest current drug-war threat in the field of identification technology.

“Say you have a store that sells legal products that could be used for drug manufacture,” explained Hoofnagle. “There is nothing under law to stop police setting up a camera outside that store and taking pictures of everyone coming in and out of the store, and running those pictures against a database. That is the inevitability of this system. And it won’t catch any terrorists! Look at the UK. They have set up massive camera systems to track individuals. They have never caught a terrorist, but they have been used to detect individuals involved in the drug trade.”

Facial recognition experts hope that drivers license photos will provide an extensive database of citizen’s faces. The West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ drivers license office has already signed on board, and many more may follow, unless there is a significant public face-off with big brother.


Canadian Space Agency (CSA) satellite surveillance is the Canadian RCMP’s new drug war weapon of choice, according to a 2002 report from the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. Satellites are already used to monitor and target drug crops in Colombia, Peru, Afghanistan, Laos, and Myanmar by the UN Drug Control Program.

CSA’s Radarsat 1 is considered one of the most sophisticated earth-observation satellites in the world; it can monitor mosquito populations, soil moisture and the growth rate of rice. It can tell the difference between plants like marijuana and other vibrant greenery using high-tech spectrum analysis programs.

In 2003, the CSA’s even more powerful Radarsat 2 will by launched into space, providing clearer images, faster processing times, and uplinks from remote units. Radarsat 2 is a joint program between the Canadian government and private industry, and could be rented by anyone, including roving narko-spies with Global Positioning Systems to locate and bust marijuana fields.

Although, like other emergent technologies, satellites are still plagued by many problems, ultimately they will become more powerful and accurate. One day, they may be able to identify every plant on earth, stake out cannabis grows, identify growers using facial recognition, and send for police to arrest them on the spot.

? Information Awareness Office: www.darpa.mil/iao

Beat the Spy-tech

Reativity, technological know-how and the courts provide solutions to some of the latest new anti-drug technologies.

Infrared sensors

The US Supreme Court has ruled that Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) technology, which is used to detect heat escaping from grow rooms, is unconstitutional unless cops get a warrant to search your home first. However, cops are still known to use these devices illegally, especially if they just want to trash your grow house and take your plants, but not press charges.

Detecting heat from a distance is not an exact science. A strong heat source creates a weaker signal in a room that is well-insulated. Growers who are worried about FLIR technology should insulate their rooms thoroughly. They should also avoid excessive heat build up and vent outgoing air through a cooling system or other discreet method.


Satellites have the potential to monitor every square inch of the earth and catalog what is growing on that square. But we are still a ways from inch-by-inch surveillance, and there are many weaknesses in satellite technology that can be exploited by the marijuana farmer.

Satellites have an easier time detecting large crops where plants are close together than small crops where plants are spaced far apart. Satellites are better at detecting crops in open fields than in forests or in spaces mixed with other plants.

Finally, satellites can scan the earth at high-resolution modes only at the expense of narrowing the width of the area that they scan; scanning every part of the country on high resolution would be time, labor and cost intensive. What this means is that regions well known for outdoor crops will be especially targeted, and if you live in one of these areas, you might want to move, or to conceal your crops better.

The best solution to beating the ?eye in the sky? is to grow indoors or underground.

Facial recognition

Facial recognition devices measure the relative distance between distinct and difficult-to-alter features with underlying bone structures, like jaw lines, cheek bones and eye-sockets.

Fortunately, facial recognition still suffers from many problems. Nicholas Imparato, an advisor with a facial recognition technology company called Equator, cites ambient lighting, camera distance, facial expressions, and disguises as problems that still haunt the newly emergent technology. He hopes that faster chips, designed especially for facial recognition, will improve performance but admits that currently the percentage of false positives can be as high as 20%.

The power of effective facial recognition technology in controlling the masses guarantees that drug war tech companies will eventually perfect it. When this happens, prosthetic noses and chins should still beat the machine.

X-rays and imagers

In a regular airport scanner and x-ray, buds won?t show up at all, but their container might.

If you have to walk through a machine that uses wave technology to strip off your clothes, concealing buds on your person might not be the most advisable way to slip them across the border; disguising pot within your luggage or in your vehicle will likely yield better results.

Even if customs agents use machines to look right inside your vehicle, they will have more difficulty telling the difference between well-disguised, compressed buds that look like insulation in the wall of your van than a big bag in your pocket. Also, vehicle scanners are currently in a more developmental phase than personal body scanners, so they are less accurate.

Especially inaccurate are the ?drive through? scanners, which are designed to scan moving vehicles.

Remember to disguise the smell as well as the appearance; well-trained dogs can find pot no matter what it looks like.

Retinal Drug Tests

Eye Dynamics makes eye-movement scanners that are programmed to test for drug intoxication by measuring subtle periphery eye-movements that are not consciously controlled.

Most drug-war tech salespeople like to tout their product as unbeatable no matter how buggy it is, and Eye Dynamics corporation is no exception. Eye Dynamics, for example, admitted that their test sometimes gives false positives for Valium and other legally prescribed substances that cause intoxication.

In all cases, says Eye-Dynamics, people who test positive in eye-movement tests are shuffled off for a follow-up urine test to determine what substance tweaked their machine.

If your employer uses an Eye-Dynamics machine, come well-prepared with a good story about getting drunk the night before and make sure that you employ one of the excellent urine-test beating products available.

Remember, if you say you were using prescription drugs, you may be required to prove it. Having prescriptions on hand, even if you don?t fully need them, can come in handy as a good alibi.