From Wired‘s Danger Room:

“The award for best — and creepiest — military name of the week? No contest, that’s “Gorgon Stare,” the Air Force’s $150 million project to outfit its latest spy drones with super high-powered cameras.

By next year, 10 Reaper unmanned aircraft should have a Gorgon Stare sensor, which will film an area, two-and-a-half miles around, from 12 different angles.

‘Gorgon Stare will allow a combat controller on the ground, a commander at headquarters and an intelligence officer back in the U.S.
all to choose a different angle from the same Reaper,’ according to Air Force Times‘ Michael Hoffman.

The Reaper – and its little drone brother, the Predator – already have video cameras, of course. Gorgon Stare won’t replace those sensors. Instead, it’s meant to supplement the full-motion video with a jumpier, but wider, view.  That’ll allow airmen to “see the bigger picture” and have a better idea where to point full-motion video sensors,’ Hoffman notes.”

1. As stain. From The Washington Post “Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. ‘Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.'” The idea of more cameras is to better understand a situation’s complete reality as it occurs, but there’s a reason that for Jacques Lacan reality is “not-all.” The drone, with all the cameras the Pentagon’s best minds could possibly glue on, would still miss something. When it cruises over a population snapping surveillance photos the drone can never see itself, except as a stain on its split-screen high-definition recording. It will forever record one half of a war movie. Even if the Reaper flies above human sight, those for whom the device is named know the sky belongs to someone else. The drone knows it’s being watched, it knows it’s the reaper for someone else, and it searches for prey.

2. As honesty. When it comes to the names the United States uses for its drone projects, there’s an acknowledgment that we are the bad guys. Predators armed with Hellfire missiles, Reapers equipped with Gorgon Stares. Perhaps there’s something so cowardly about this form of war that the population would be repulsed by noble names. Birds and snakes, the animals of the underworld.

3. Toward completion. There’s this particularly post-modern idea that, through technology, we can “solve” the world. The next project camera project, “Argus” has 92 cameras, and next? 100? 200? Cameras until we reach an asymptote and the many becomes the single eye of the lord. Knowledge of a population is the first ingredient of biopower, the full realization is a camera and a bullet of Damocles for every man woman and child. Through the view of a drone camera, the choice is no longer to kill, but to let live, and once we are all equally in its sight, the world will be completed. The bad will be dead and the good alone, the rapture here on Earth brought to you by advances in military technology.

4. As Phallus. To paraphrase Freud, if the penis were the phallus, it wouldn’t need all the bells and whistles. The wings, cameras, and missiles don’t make the drones less dick-like, they render them inescapably phallic. How curious for a weapon whose main job is to receive rather than fire. Thus Medusa, whose snakes Freud could never handle – a castrating mockery of the penis (many where there should be one), and yet phallic in their magisterial strength and power. The drone is a queer bird indeed.

5. Ironically. From Matt Yglesias: “If you take current Air Force surveillance technology and ask ‘in what ways does this differ from the gaze of a gorgon’ the natural response is ‘when you look into a gorgon’s eyes, you turn to stone, whereas today’s USAF surveillance has no petrification powers whatsoever.’”

6. As altitude. As if only by elevating ourselves to the height of god will we know how to use his bolts of lightning, as if the fog of war is something you can fly over at 25,000 feet, hi-def photos from a mile high combine distance and proximity in a way we might call “I can’t believe it’s not omniscience!” Some really can’t.

7. As expensive. As a fraction of the total cost, we’re talking $15 million per camera here, which is over $1 million per sub-camera. It makes me think of the Josh Lyman approach to foreign policy: “Couldn’t we just pay them the money not to attack us?” But it’s not called “the military-industrial complex” for nothing.

8. As a game. Growing up, my mom never allowed video games in the house. She may not be willing to admit this, but there was always a 60’s-peace-movement conspiracy element to it, she was at least partly convinced video games were a military-industrial plot to desensitize kids to killing. This made little sense to me when I was a 12-year-old who just wanted to play Super Smash Brothers, but it makes a lot more now. The Gorgon Stare will produce images from twelve angles, like four game-systems’ worth of teenagers playing Halo. We can now switch the perspective on war from human eyes to a camera behind and above, mediated through screens. Drone warfare doesn’t just reproduce the same distance from the task of killing present in video games, it reproduces the same perspective.

9. As indicative of a larger literacy problem within the DoD. No seriously, did any of the people naming these things even read this? The only time the Gorgon’s stare is used by someone who’s not the kind of monster the U.S. government would pal around with is when it’s attached to a severed head. The snakes are a punishment from Athena, who according to one legend, killed the Gorgon and wore its skin. And Argus? Argus gets tricked by Hermes, killed, and his eyes are scattered to the feathers of peacocks. Not that there’s any important lesson that the U.S. military could learn from Greek history and myths . Nope, keep ripping off Magic Cards.

10. As a black/green instant for four mana.

I want to point out that this came out after I stopped collecting Magic Cards (like, many years after), but I knew it or some variant had to exist based on the game’s naming conventions. This probably says something important about the Department of Defense.

11. As tragic-poetic. The stare that reduces its object to stone. Or rubble.

12. As pain. “I never heard a corpse complain of how it got so cold.” – Richard in The Lion in Winter. Metal is metal no matter what the composition, so with fire, so with pain. An M-16, a Hellfire, a claw hammer: makes no difference to a body. For whom do we write on the sides of bombs? For whom do we name weapons systems? Who reads the words stenciled onto their handsome metal bodies? Not their targets.