Manhunt Inc.: Firm ‘Tags’ Terrorists for Special Ops
When trading ended Tuesday night at the New York Stock Exchange, the closing bell wasn’t rung by a titan of finance or an imported celebrity.
Over the last decade Styer’s company, the Virginia-based Blackbird Technologies, has become a leading supplier of equipment for the covert “tagging, tracking and locating” of suspected enemies. Every month, U.S. Special Operations Command spends millions of dollars on Blackbird gear. The U.S. Navy has a contract with Blackbird for $450 million worth of these so-called “TTL” devices.
“Tens of thousands” of Blackbird’s devices have been sent to the field, according to a former employee. And TTL is just one part of the Herndon, Virginia firm’s multifaceted relationship with the special operations, intelligence and traditional military services.
Blackbird helps hunt for missing troops, and pries information off the hard drives captured in military raids. The firm counts one of the CIA’s most famous former operatives among its 250 or so employees. Its staff hackers specialize in infiltrating hostile networks without leaving a trace. Interest in the methods commandos and intelligence operatives use to track down leading targets may have spiked since the killing of Osama bin Laden; for Blackbird, it’s old news. The company has spent years at the center of this secretive field.
The idea is to give U.S. commanders the ability to “identify high-value targets in his sector,” Blackbird vice president and retired Lt. Col. Timur Eads told Danger Room in an interview last year. That commander can also use the tags to trace the routes and attack points used by insurgent bombing networks.....‘It’s not exactly a benevolent type of business,’ says an ex-employee.
Or, the officer can give the devices to his own troops, keeping track of their whereabouts on a handheld device. The gadgets can also pass encrypted text messages to one another, giving the troops way to communicate silently and over long distances. Today, if the average infantryman wants a capability even remotely similar, he has to be in his vehicle or wearing several pounds of specialized gear.