Overwhelmed By Drone Videos

In an article published today in the New York Times, Christopher Drew discusses America’s use of drone aircraft to gather intelligence data.  Last year, Predator and Reaper drones recorded 210,240 hours of video feed.  In the coming years, the number of drones in operation is expected to increase dramatically, as are the number of cameras mounted on each platform; as a result, the amount of video footage that intelligence analysts must sift through will skyrocket, which might make it more difficult for the Air Force and other organizations to exploit the information that they receive for operational and strategic purposes.  The military and the CIA have reportedly had success in using live video to combat terrorists and insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but intelligence agencies have done little in terms of analyzing prerecorded video for useful information, largely because there is so much of it and too few personnel to examine it.

Ironically, the US government must worry about having too much intelligence.  Those monitoring video footage could be overwhelmed by the inflow of data and miss critical feeds that they might have otherwise seen.  If analysts can only focus on a small percentage of what is gathered, they must ignore most of it, which means they have to figure out a way to select which data is most important before they can see it with their own eyes.  The NSA faces a similiar issue with regard to communications intercepts, and it has been widely reported that they use computers to scan conversations for keywords that might signify a threat.  Perhaps the intelligence community will be able to harness technology to mitigate the problem posed by the exponential rise in video recordings, but they will not be able to solve it.  Intelligence officials and procurement officers must weigh the pros and cons of having more intelligence data but less ability to examine the bulk of it before they develop and deploy more drones.

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