First Platoon Cover

First Platoon

A Story of Modern War in the Age of Identity Dominance

Annie Jacobsen

Dutton, New York, 2021, 400 pages

Book Review published on: August 20, 2021

Activity-based intelligence began in the war theater with the presumption you are what you do, but it is now being pushed into a new realm, not just overseas in the war theater but domestically in the United States. It now asserts: Because we know what you did, we think we know what you are going to do next.

—Annie Jacobsen

For some readers, the notions of identity dominance and activity-based intelligence might seem foreign. Identity dominance uses the presumptions in the above quote to tie everything a person is to trackable data such as fingerprints, face and iris scans, as well as DNA. In First Platoon: A Story of Modern War in the Age of Identity Dominance, Annie Jacobsen has created a description of these concepts framed in distant to recent history showing how these concepts have evolved. The most notable evolution has been in the last few years as the field of identity dominance has further developed in the discipline of biometrics enabled by emerging technology. In the above quote, Jacobsen describes one of the key dilemmas grappled with in First Platoon: How did the presumptions we used to develop activity-based intelligence in combat zones become something now practiced in the continental United States?

Some leaders within the military community might ask what a journalist like Jacobsen, an outsider to the military, can bring to the discussion of identity dominance. Answer: a great deal. In First Platoon, Jacobsen engages the reader by describing how early forms of identity investigation techniques such as fingerprints evolved. She further frames the discussion by showing how those earlier evolutions continued to inform the development of identity dominance in the age of ever-increasing technological breakthroughs. The result: a historical account that provides the reader with a deep and broad rendering of the concept of identity dominance. Readers beware, First Platoon may challenge some deeply held preconceived notions about what may or may not be ethical as far as data collection, generation, and who can dispose of the data.

First Platoon is professionally researched and includes interviews from firsthand sources, documentation obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, technical experts, and pioneers in the field of identity dominance. Some of the most engaging descriptions in the book include discussions of the panopticon, which is a term based on a prison built after the plagues of the Middle Ages intended to “know all and see all” regarding the inmates to control them for the well-being of society. The digital panopticon has grown into identity dominance to similarly protect society. The ethical conundrum emerges when leaders pose some important questions: What is this panopticon allowed to see? How is that information used? Who decides?

These questions are focused when looking at the 2013 incident of first platoon and the shooting of two alleged terrorists. In this incident, Lt. Clint Lorance purportedly ordered the shooting of two Afghan men whom he claimed were terrorists. Identity dominance and biometric data collection led up to this incident. What followed continues to be influenced by identity dominance and a sea of data that could be misunderstood or misused. Jacobsen expertly lays out the various aspects of the case from the beginning right up to Lorance’s presidential pardon and beyond. Readers might find themselves questioning initial assumptions about who the good guys are as data collection causes further revelations. In many ways, this places the readers in the same dilemma that faced leaders on the ground.

First Platoon is an excellent read for military and civilian readers alike. This book would serve as an excellent reading for classes on ethics (military and criminal justice) with great discussion points ranging from rules of engagement, escalation of force, data collection, management, and curation. The pandemic has driven society’s dependence on computer technology even further than before. Therefore, issues of what data can be collected on whom and how long it can be stored are timely subjects crying out for discussion, especially by military/civilian professionals and leaders. Such issues will not go away and will only become more important as technology continues to advance. Perhaps Jacobsen said it best when she poses the questions, “How much further will it go? What will society become? Will humans still recognize who–and what-the real villains really are?”1


  • Epigraph. Annie Jacobsen, First Platoon: A Story of Modern War in the Age of Identity Dominance (New York: Dutton, 2021), 134.
  1. Ibid., 296.

Book Review written by: Richard A. McConnell, DM, Leavenworth, Kansas