A newly disclosed Pentagon manual on the correct procedures for target acquisition by the Department of Defense and the military shines a light on how the United States goes about fighting its enemies in both physical and digital realms.
Spotted by Federation of American Scientists ‘Secrecy News’ author Steven Aftergood, the Target Development Standards [PDF] document is 230 pages long and dives into excruciatingly fine detail about the various ways the US military can legally identify, attack, and analyse targets in all domains—labelled as air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace.
The document, which was signed and approved by Director of the Joint Staff William Mayville in May of this year, describes how targets can be categorised into five different target types: facilities, individuals, virtual, equipment, and organisations.
Many passages in the document, as noted by Aftergood, urge due diligence in target acquisition to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage. Some of it can make for chilling reading, however.
“Collateral effects are unintentional or incidental adverse consequences of target engagement. Such effects are not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the engagement,” reads one passage.
It’s also interesting to see how the Pentagon describes tracking down and acquiring targets that are in cyberspace. “A virtual entity is typically found in cyberspace and the electro-magnetic spectrum, and includes such entities as websites, cyber persona, applications, financial accounts, etc. Targeteers must carefully consider whether a virtual target is best categorized as a unique virtual target type or an element of another target type,” the document explains.
But it takes a more unnerving turn when “advanced target development” examples are given. One such example describes a target.
The disclosure of the document echoes that of the release of the drone strike “playbook” in August 2016, in response a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The document, released in a redacted form by the Obama administration, detailed the policy framework for foreign drone strikes and was issued in May 2013.