How the U.S. collects data on potential recruits
Pat Elder -
The US military maintains an Orwellian database containing intimate details on 30 million youth between the ages of 16 and 25, providing local recruiters with personal information to use in a psychological campaign to lure on youth within their designated regions. Before meeting, recruiters know what's in Johnny's head, if Johnny has a girlfriend, and what she thinks of his decision regarding enlistment. We'll examine how they do it.
A federal law passed in 2002 under the Bush Administration provides military recruiters the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all American high school students, provided that parents and students are given the opportunity to "opt out" of the lists being forwarded to recruiters. To this day, the opt-out portion of the law remains relatively unknown and unenforced.
That law provides the military with current data on about 7 million high school juniors and seniors every year. This data provides the cornerstone of the Pentagon's massive "Joint Advertising Market Research Studies" (JAMRS) database. It encompasses: full name, date of birth, gender, address, city, state, zip code, e-mail address, ethnicity, telephone number, high school name, graduation date, grade point average, education level, college intent, military interest, field of study, current college attending, ASVAB Test date, and Armed Forces Qualifying Test Category Score.
The JAMRS database is also populated by data from the Selective Service System, which requires 18 year-old men to register for a potential military draft. Selective Service has the names and addresses of 15 million men 18 to 25 years old. Add to that total the data from the departments of motor vehicles from most states. Some states require young males to register with Selective Service to have their driver's licenses renewed in the year they turn 18. Both state and federal job training and college funding opportunities and federal employment are linked by law to proof of draft registration.
JAMRS also includes records from several formidable commercial sources. The database has information on 5 million college students purchased from corporate entities like Student Marketing Group and American Student List.
Pertinent data is delivered to the laptops of local recruiters which are loaded with the PrizmNE Segmentation System, a software program purchased from the Nielson Company, whose clients include BMW, AOL, and Starbucks. PrizmNE is a cutting-edge commercial marketing system that combines "demographic, consumer behavior, and geographic data pertaining to individual prospects." This information is merged by recruiters with personal information from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and the result is staggering. Before first contact, recruiters know Johnny reads wrestling magazines, weighs 150, can bench press 230, drives a ten year-old Chevy truck, loves Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," and enjoys fly fishing.
It matters. Recruiting is a psychological game. Imagine the first phone call. "Dude, hold on; the Staff Sergeant always cranks up Pink Floyd; sorry for the noise…He's tryin' to tell me it's time to go out fly fishin'…"
The Army sure must be cool. Advantage: Recruiter.
The data described above paints a virtual portrait of a potential recruit, but leaves out a potential soldier's cognitive abilities. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Career Exploration Program provides this crucial element, something the Pentagon can't purchase or find on line. The ASVAB is the military's entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test is also used as a recruiting tool in 12,000 high schools across the country. The 3 hour test is used by recruiters to gain sensitive, personal information on more than 660,000 high school students across the country each year. Students typically are given the test at school without parental knowledge or consent. The ASVAB is used to pre-qualify leads in the high schools and the scores are good for enlistment purposes for two years. Now recruiters know if a teenager can factor polynomials or decipher different types of fuel injection systems.
The Department of Defense has several recruiting websites that collect information. Typically, the military hides its true recruiting intentions. For instance, you'd have to dig pretty deep on the www.asvabprogram.com site to find out what the acronym stands for. The website never explains that the primary purpose of the ASVAB is to produce leads for recruiters.
www.myfuture.com , a sophisticated DoD site that provides rather biased career, education and military options for youth, never reveals its tie-in to recruiting. Its affiliation with the military is buried. Users are required to register to use the site and their information is used for recruiting purposes.
Each of the branches, reserves, and Guard units has their own websites that collect data. Most have a presence on Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter. Recruiters spend countless hours trolling these sources.
www.todaysmilitary.com is an obvious military site that collects information on users. The Army sponsors www.BoostUp.org , a high school dropout prevention campaign with a presence on social media sites. For the post-dropout set, Job Corps serves approximately 60,000 youth annually at Job Corps Centers throughout the country. These youth are seriously courted by the military and most are required to take the ASVAB test. (Job Corps Centers have recently added or designated dorms for returning veterans who still lack job skills to survive in the job market, despite the promises of recruiters.)
For high achieving students, the Army sponsors www.ecybermission.com, a web-based engineering and mathematics competition for the 10-14 year-old set where teams compete for awards. The website recruits ambassadors and cyber guides for various competitions who must complete a lengthy application. Also for the high achievers, March 2 Success, www.March2Success.com is an Army site that provides standardized test-taking tips for high school students. High school counselors routinely encourage college-bound students to use the free service that catalogues student use for recruiting purposes. Personal information finds its way to recruiters.
www.armystrongstories.com is an Army recruiting website program ostensibly dedicated to telling the Army story. Although soldiers are invited to share their "unfiltered perspective" on life in the military, submissions that do not comply with content guidelines are not posted. Army life is great.
There are more than a half a million results for "US Army" just on My Space, another favorite hangout for recruiters.
Google and Yahoo forums also provide fertile recruiting grounds. Recruiters "lurk" in these virtual settings, often posing as potential recruits with questions designed to lure responses. "What kind of job could I get with a really low ASVAB score?" is a favorite.
America's Army 3, rated "Teen Blood Violence," www.americasarmy.com is the official U.S. Army video game that competes with violent commercial offerings. The game has become one of the Army's most effective recruiting tools. Recruiters skulk in this corner of cyberspace and trade comments about the utility of say, M106 smoke grenades. Users as young as 13 agree to allow information entered to "being stored in a database." Marketing research indicates this is a more effective recruiting tool than all other Army advertisements combined, but the same experts caution that virtual reality could also help muddle the reality of war.
Recruiters collect a mountain of information during frequent, popular displays of military hardware. They methodically gather leads during air shows and parades and they seldom miss career fairs, particularly those at the local high school. The military also owns several dozen "adventure vans," 18-wheel tractor trailers that criss-cross the country and visit high schools. High school kids love getting out of Algebra class to squeeze off rounds from simulated M-16 rifles. All the while, recruiters are collecting data on index cards and PC's that are fed to the JAMRS database and neighborhood recruiters.
Finally, the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is the military's most valuable recruiting program in the schools. Children as young as thirteen are groomed to be officers. Their personal information is meticulously gathered and preserved. There are JROTC units at more than 3,200 high schools across the country, where students perform military drills and participate in marksmanship programs.
The notion of a voluntary American military force is laughable. To find soldiers, the U.S. has developed a massive military recruitment surveillance complex and few realize it. Is this what democracy looks like?