Operation Relentless Pursuit: Test Beds For “Smart City” Signals Intelligence?

On January 7, 2020 Black Alliance for Peace – Baltimore issued a demand that public officials reject a planned surge of militarized policing authorized by the Trump administration. Operation Relentless Pursuit is targeting Baltimore and six other mid-size cities, all of which have significant Black and Brown populations. The others include: Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Kansas City, Memphis, and Albuquerque. Representatives of the FBI, DEA, AFT, and US Marshall Service were present at the Department of Justice’s December 18, 2019 press conference.

I write this post as a statement of solidarity in support of their demands and to examine this operation in light of my recent work around policing, diversion courts, and prison “reform” as a global investment market. I have concerns that some of the funds associated with this vile operation may be channeled into problematic technological systems. Residents of these cities could end up as test-subjects for new forms of militarized digital surveillance intended to further harm Black and Brown communities while allowing military interests to refine the signals intelligence required for future urban military actions. Data collected under the pretense of crime reduction could also create baselines to expand futures markets in human capital (pay for success). Baltimore, in particular, is home to major players in the global impact investing space. Among them: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, Johns Hopkins, and Yet Analytics.

Baltimore Impact Investing and Innovation

Interactive map of Baltimore Impact Investing and Government Innovation here.

According to the Black Alliance for Peace – Baltimore’s statement, these cities all participate in the Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 Program, which permits police departments to secure surplus military equipment. The statement goes on to say, “Related is the ‘Deadly Exchange’ program, which is a massive exchange between the U.S. and the Israeli police and Israeli military where hyper-militarized techniques and technologies are shared.”

Five of Operation Relentless Pursuit’s cities are partners with Bloomberg Philanthropies “What Works Cities.” The program promotes municipal “innovation” with data-driven policies and public-private partnerships that provide cover for hostile corporate takeovers of ostensibly public assets. These programs are advanced through donations of in-kind consulting services to governments, provided by fellows from Bloomberg’s iTeams. Last year Israel’s Ministry of the Interior set up a “civic innovation” program in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies to install change agents in twelve Israeli communities.

The program, called Hazira, is located in Tel Aviv. Sir Ronald Cohen’s Israeli office of Social Finance, originator of the first social impact bond, is located there as well. We are living within an increasingly militarized web woven by global financial interests. Activists must always be making connections between policing actions and economic violence carried out at home and abroad. For transnational global capital, borders are fluid; it is for the masses that borders and biometrics are deployed to impose control. Technologies devised to manage one population; whether British prisoners, the children of Gaza, or the homeless of Austin, spread like viruses. For this reason solidarity among cities and through international channels will be vital as we all face the violence of late-stage capitalism.

What Works Cities Bloomberg

Interactive map of What Works Cities here.



Militarization of urban environments by public and private security forces (including robots) is a growing concern. In September of 2019 a story in Newsweek revealed that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought to procure “hyper-realistic training devices” that would include up to fifty new prop buildings constructed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Just shy of a million dollars was budgeted for two replicas: a Chicago model and an Arizona model. It appears the government is leveraging brutal immigration enforcement policies to launch a training program for domestic counter-insurgent warfare. This is not surprising given the economic and social unrest anticipated to ramp up as the Fourth Industrial Revolution progresses.

In a 2017 interview with Ann Marie Slaughter of New America at a symposium on the future of war, Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the need for the US army to optimize for urban warfare stating that provisions were being made to design tanks and helicopters to fit these new terrain requirements (clip here). Later in the conference Eric Schmidt of Alphabet / Google, a funder of New America, stated that the future of war would be shaped by advances in artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, and pattern recognition (clip here) leading to an increase in lethality from precision weaponry. These sentiments are affirmed by a 2016 report prepared by Mitre for US Army TRADOC D-2 Mad Scientist Megacities and Dense Urban Areas Initiative. The document describes the need for robust systems of data collection and analysis in cities via sensor networks.

Mad Scientists Urban MegaCities

Source, page 16 here.

In October of 2017 I attended a public meeting on the future of policing hosted by Azavea in conjunction with the International Police Chiefs Conference. At the end of the Q&A then CIO of Philadelphia, Charles Brennan, stated the future of policing was facial recognition software, predictive analytics, and drone surveillance. Robert Cheetham, a colleague of Brennan’s who founded Azavea after being trained in landscape architecture at UPenn and initiating GIS mapping for the Philadelphia police department, had lobbied for city’s “open-data” policy.

Cheetham capitalized on that free data, creating Hunchlab, a predictive policing software program, which was sold back to Philadelphia and other cities where Black people have been killed or assaulted by police including East St. Louis and Chicago. According to this history of the project, the NSF actually funded the research used to develop the for-profit Hunchlab platform. For more on Hunchlab and the rise of predictive policing software I recommend Bilel Benbouzid’s 2019 article from Big Data Society, “To Predict and to manage. Predictive policing in the United States.”

Future of Policing Azavea

Azavea event description here.

Drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are important. Anyone who’s been following state intervention into resistance movements, including pipeline protests, knows that drones are go-to tools of law enforcement. In 2015, the state of North Dakota even passed a law permitting police to equip drones with non-lethal weapons. A 2019 article put out by Curt Fleming on behalf of the International Association of Chiefs of Police suggests that with strategic education and legislative changes, nests of drones could be mounted on public buildings in service of urban policing within the decade.

Drone Nests

Drone policing source here.

Aerial surveillance is not limited to drones/UAVs, but can include satellite imagery and even planes equipped with industrial cameras. In Baltimore, a plane-based monitoring program is being reinstated after having been quashed due to its secretive nature back in 2016. At the time John Arnold, a key figure in impact market development and reentry services, was found to have been underwriting the program. Persistent Surveillance Systems provided the monitoring using military technology developed for use in Iraq. Undisclosed philanthropists are funding this next round of the program, which involves three planes flying over the city for four to six months.

Drone Surveillance Persistent Software Systems

More information here.

Again think about the military goal of training algorithms for pattern recognition. Imagine all this data being captured about our social relations in urban environments. Any small sliver may not be actionable, but in aggregate and funneled into enormous data lakes, these feeds will undoubtedly begin to exert tremendous control over civic life. As if Internet of Things-based predictive policing were not bad enough, consider what it would mean to layer in risk-profiling of individuals and communities for social impact investments.

We know truancy is an impact metric. Could UAV or plane surveillance data be used to target “impactful” interventions for families of children deemed to be at risk? How about addiction? Will aerial surveillance or Internet of Things Data be used to track substance users in a given census tract? Could policing extend to monitoring the retinal scans of users of supportive housing if they are under state supervision?

Even something as seemingly innocuous as infrastructure for a public transit app opens the door wider to surveillance as is seen in this US Department of Transportation “smart city” application prepared by the City of Albuquerque (which was not ultimately funded). In this excerpt you can see the impetus for the mesh network was ostensibly to track buses and allow building inspectors to upload data, but it also would have made police access to surveillance cameras and criminal records easier, too.

Albuquerque Smart City Surveillance

Source “Beyond Traffic The Smart City Challenge” Albuquerque here.

So, it appears the US military anticipates a future of urban warfare, likely within our borders. They are adapting their capabilities to this environment, which had previously been according to Milley “sub-optimized.” The weapons will be informed by AI, and their effectiveness will require lots of training data. The more data that is fed into these systems, the better its “pattern recognition” will be. Now, consider the ways in which digital surveillance has been normalized, particularly in cities, under the pretense of creating “safer” environments. Consider widespread adoption of body cameras, which Axon Enterprise (formerly Taser), distributed for “free” to police departments. The company has been data-mining that footage to refine its own AI.

Seventy-one million federal dollars have been budgeted for Operation Relentless Pursuit. While I anticipate much of that will be used to pay for traditional mechanisms of policing, the press release does state funds can be used for “mission critical equipment and technology.” The seven cities being targeted are all part of the big data, government agenda. They’re involved in “smart city” planning efforts, have “open data” portals, and are collaborating with social impact investment / municipal “innovation” interests through Living Cities and the Bloomberg-backed “What Works” Cities program. Four of the seven municipalities are participants in the Strive Together “Cradle to Career” network, and four are part of the MacArthur Foundation’s “Safety + Justice” Challenge. Several are working with the Behavioral Insights Team, “nudge” consulting.

Operation Relentless Pursuit Map

Interactive map of Operation Relentless Pursuit here.

So-called “smart” city sensor networks and “open data” policies that digitally track public engagement with municipal services need to be viewed as tools of signals intelligence. While touted as enabling cost-effective and accountable budgeting, data-driven e-government is actually about ceding community control to predictive analytics and risk assessment algorithms.

This transition is advancing:

1) lean efficiencies / labor automation that will result in widespread poverty

2) the engineering of labor markets in service of transnational global capital

3) the creation of human capital investment markets where people = data

The hub that permits all of this to move forward is the carceral state: policing, courts, custody, and state supervision. Policing should be understood to include not just municipal law enforcement, but the “soft” policing of welfare officials, state and federal law enforcement, the US military, as well as private security forces. All enact violence against poor communities, though the methods vary. The carceral state works hand-in-hand with “smart cities” and IoT deployment.

The signals intelligence of data-driven policing and justice will be used to:

1) identify and confront threats to systems of control / contain the impoverished

2) absorb surplus labor as living wage jobs disappear

3) justify and document cost-off sets needed to run “pay for success” impact deals

Smart City Policing

IoT Policing Poverty


Efforts are underway to portray the “digitally harmonized citizen” of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as an innovative entrepreneur who will be able to pursue a prosperous “personalized” future through 5G / Internet of Things edge computing. In fact, the vast majority of folks will instead be predictively profiled into permanent poverty and mined for their data as human capital investments. That is the intent behind the big-money interests of the Living Cities and What Works Cities initiatives.

Harmonization of Digital Citizen IEEE.jpg


The map below shows the linkages in Cincinnati between Procter and Gable, the Internet of Things, and Strive Together / Knowledgeworks’ human capital tracking programs. On the right are the seven cities of Relentless Pursuit in orange. All but one are linked to either a Strive “cradle to career” or MacArthur / Collective Shift LRNG program of badge/place-based “lifelong” learning in cities (see my post on navigating whiteness). The bottom section features select partnerships the MacArthur Foundation has supported to structure data around the carceral cost off-sets needed to underpin profit taking from the“human capital” management / processing / surveillance of populations deemed “at risk.” To the left of that are links to IEEE and some of the mechanics of digital citizenship. Finally the left side shows the tentacles of the Rockefeller Foundation in the impact investing space. The Rockefeller Foundation is but one of eighteen influential funders working through Living Cities.

Relentless Pursuit Living Cities

Interactive version of Relentless Pursuit / Living Cities map here.

Policy pushers with Ivy League degrees know there will be resistance to what is coming. Government officials attending all of these “Future of Work” panels know it, too. What they need is to have systems in place to predict unrest and contain it, preferably so that the people who already have most of the money make even money; because that is how the machine runs. I suspect that the technologies that will be deployed as part of this operation will begin to address those needs. Perhaps these seven cities are test beds to try out options for military signals intelligence AND human capital data monitoring.

Operation Relentless Pursuit will not improve quality of life in these seven cities. It will be yet another layer added onto a toxic accretion of racist policing. This phase may, however, impose more sophisticated tools of surveillance and data analysis than have been previously seen. It will also serve to push up the number of people under state supervision, so that when human capital impact markets begin to scale, the cost-offsets of mass incarceration have been maximized. Gang-related profiling will likely be used to create baselines for expanding juvenile justice related impact investing; the same for substance users and “evidence-based” addiction treatments. In the end it’s ultimately about building global markets and shutting down dissent.

Brandon Walker of Ujima People’s Progress Party gave an extensive interview about Operation Relentless Pursuit and his view of situation in Baltimore. He expressed a deep desire to reassert community control in response to the systematic and chronic abdication of responsibility carried out by public agencies and elected officials for decades. I suspect similar sentiments are shared in the six other cities. The What Works / Living Cities model is the antithesis of that. Liberation won’t come from an open data portal. Look what we got in Philadelphia – predictive policing software. I write to express my solidarity with Mr. Walker and community members in the other six cities who find themselves in the cross-hairs of Operation Relentless Pursuit, a terrible misdirection of federal funds with tremendous potential for violence to be used against innocent people.

Our collective futures depend on stopping wars at home, including Operation Relentless Pursuit, and the wars abroad. People are hurting. We need the 67 cents of every taxpayer dollar spent on defense to be redirected to poor communities so they can have a voice, self-determination, and start build the world we need; a world of peace where the machines of mass incarceration and militarization are completely dismantled.

If this sounds compelling, check out the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign’s #LivesOverLuxury March on the Democratic National Convention planned for July 13, 2020 in Milwaukee. Find more information here.

Lives Over Luxury