Adam Rawnsley writes for Wired:
Here’s how the U.S. Air Force wants to hunt the next generation of its enemies: A tiny drone sneaks up to a suspect, paints him with an unnoticed powder or goo that allows American forces to follow him everywhere he goes — until they train a missile on him.
On Tuesday, the Air Force issued a call for help making a miniature drone that could covertly drop a mysterious and unspecified tracking “dust” onto people, allowing them to be tracked from a distance. The proposal says its useful for all kinds of random things, from identifying friendly forces and civilians to tracking wildlife. But the motive behind a covert drone tagger likely has less to do with sneaking up on spotted owls and more to do with painting a target on the backs of tomorrow’s terrorists.
Effectively tracking foes has become a high priority — and deeply secret — research effort for the Pentagon, which has struggled at times to sort out insurgent from innocent in places like Afghanistan. The Navy has a $450 million contract with Herndon, Virginia’s Blackbird Technologies, Inc. to produce tiny beacons to make terrorists trackable. The Defense Department has been pouring serious cash — $210 million that they’ll admit to — to find advanced new ways to do this so-called “Tagging, Tracking and Locating” work, as Danger Room co-founder Sharon Weinberger noted in Popular Science last year.
The research she cataloged is as mind-boggling as it is varied. Ideas range from uniquely-identifiable insect pheromones to infrared gear that tracks people with their “thermal fingerprint.” One company, Voxtel, makes tiny nanocrystals that can be hidden in clear liquids and seen through night vision goggles…
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