203. “The Convergence” – An Army Mad Scientist Podcast

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the premier episode of “The Convergence” podcast.  Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

The Army Mad Scientist Initiative is launching our very own podcast — “The Convergence.” After several years of successfully partnering on podcasts with West Point’s Modern War Institute, we were inspired to found our own with a distinct focus on divergent viewpoints, a challenging of assumptions, and insights from thought leaders and subject matter experts.

This podcast is another component of our wider effort to reach out to diverse groups and really open the aperture of our analysis and understanding of the operational environment. The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to get a diversity of opinions on the character of warfare. Like the Mad Scientist Laboratory and our conferences, the podcast will feature disruptive thinkers and world-class experts to expand the thinking and analysis of our Community of Action.

Dr. Sean McFate / Source: HarperCollins Publishers, photo by Will O’Leary

Our first episode features Dr. Sean McFate, foreign policy expert, author, and novelist. He is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC think tank, and a professor of strategy at the National Defense University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Additionally, he serves as an Advisor to Oxford University’s Centre for Technology and Global Affairs.

Source: HarperCollins Publishers

Dr. McFate’s newest book is The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder, which was picked by The Economist as one of their best books of 2019. It has been called “The Freakonomics of modern warfare.” In our podcast, Dr. McFate provides his opinions on the changing character of warfare, the rise of private military contractors, information warfare, and the effects these trends will have on the operational environment.

Dr. McFate’s career began as a paratrooper and officer in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he graduated from elite training programs such as the Jungle Warfare School in Panama and was also a Jump Master. He then became a private military contractor where, among his many experiences, he dealt with warlords in the jungle, raised armies for U.S. interests, rode with armed groups in the Sahara, conducted strategic reconnaissance for the extractive industry, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and helped prevent an impending genocide in east Africa.

Dr. McFate holds a BA from Brown University, MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He lives in Washington, DC. For more information, see www.seanmcfate.com.

Click here to listen to Dr. McFate in our premier podcast episode of “The Convergence,”…

… stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests,…

… listen to the following MWI podcasts with these Mad Scientists:

… and don’t forget to take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

 

201. Brains and Brews

The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative recently partnered with the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) – Hampton Roads Agora (i.e., Greek for “a gathering place or assembly” and “the center of city life”) to have our first ever “Brains and Brews” event. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet with local entrepreneurs in the Defense Community at a local craft brewery in Norfolk, Virginia, to network and crowdsource thoughts on the Operational Environment (OE). Crowdsourcing is one of the ways the Mad Scientist Initiative envisions the future and this exercise let us connect with a diverse array of innovative individuals as well! Participants ranged from business developers, researchers, veterans, active-duty military, milspouses, students, and entrepreneurs.

This exercise was part of the Mad Scientist Initiative’s ongoing efforts to reach out to different communities to broaden our perspectives on the OE. This month we will host our first ever Global Perspectives of the Operational Environment event where we will have speakers from partner nations presenting their views on the OE. In November, we launched another crowdsourcing writing contest to obtain your insights on the future OE. Additionally, we’ll be engaging with The College of William & Mary in Virginia‘s fellows from the Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) Program.

Amongst the fine libations quaffed and many engaging social interactions, we posed the following three questions with overlapping relevance to both the Mad Scientist Initiative and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. Here’s what our local brains had to say!

1) What technologies have the potential to revolutionize warfare in the Future Operational Environment (FOE)?

– Internet of Things – Your fridge will give you and your location away.

– Unmanned Systems – This gets discussed frequently inside the Army and in the Department of Defense as a whole, but it’s a hot button issue in the civilian sector as well.

– Artificial Intelligence (Prediction) – There are a myriad of machinations where AI and prediction can come into play for the military and commercial sector.

– Non-flammable Lithium Ion Batteries – How much does this change energy storage and distribution on the battlefield?

– Hypersonics – A game changer on the battlefield; perhaps in personal travel as well.

Automated operators – Automation or autonomy? In what functions? This is a thread worth pulling.

– Culture Change – The participant here notated that technology means very little without the culture changing to adapt to or in spite of it.

– 3-D Printing – Incredible implications for sustainment and logistics – including ammo and weaponry parts.

– Graphene – Consistently mentioned as a critical component in future tech and manufacturing.

– Alternative Power Sources – This can range from solar to ultra-high capacity batteries to mobile nuclear power.

– Cubesats and Commercial Sensing – Potential game changer regarding the democratization of space (in both presence and utility).

– Gravity Wave Sensors – With the proliferation of orbital sensors, the only place left to hide is beneath the sea, right? Not so – gravity wave sensors have the potential to expose assets beneath the sea, too!

– Bio Sensing – More specifically mentioned was the ability to measure and improve soldier performance and health.

– AR/VR – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have application to information sharing, training, communication, force design, and more.

– Service Member Resiliency – There are a multitude of technologies involved here (e.g., AR/VR, AI, real-time diagnostics) with the potential for psychological applications.

– Nanotech Advancements – Miniaturized everything!

– Quantum Computing/Sensing – Enormous amounts of capital and effort being poured into this technology area right now, globally.

– Lightsabers and Sharks with laser beams attached to their heads – Clearly the most groundbreaking technology brought up and totally doable! (We called an Uber for this individual!)

2) How can businesses and venture keep pace with rapid technological advancement?

More streamlined processes like SOFWERX. Rapid system integration that approves and gets data out to the warfighter quickly.

– More Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) / Other Transaction Authority (OTA) with Spiral Development (usually Government is Outpaced by Business).

– Target private sector and adapt to Government rather than seeking Government customer first.

– Be willing to pay industry bigger money for industry quality.

– Listen to what the customer is saying.

– More tech transfer to encourage innovation.

– Acquisition reform.

– Look to completely different industries for ideas.

– More of these events!

3) How can the Army enable businesses (start-ups, established, larger, smaller, etc.) to help us (the Army)?

– In the field testing/inventing.

– Easier transition from tech development to programs-of-record.

– Change flag officer incentive structure from one that incentivizes adherence to schedules to one that incentivizes operational readiness.

– Pair with Air Force to capitalize on AFWERX initiatives.

– Embrace non-traditional contracts that provide flexibility (i.e., SBIR Phase III, OTA, XTechSearch, etc.). Know your target – marketing!!

– Provide clear requirements.

– Learn from AFWERX’s mistakes/missteps to do it bigger/better.

– Leverage venture capital funding (outside capital).

– Kill the bureaucracy.

– The Department of Defense needs to sell their mission; is this “Cold War II” or not?

– Use excess ceiling on existing IT contracts for innovation and trials.

Some of the responses we received were helpful in confirming that we were thinking along the same lines as folks involved in designing, developing, and using these technologies and utilizing various contract vehicles, while other insights helped us challenge our assumptions and thinking.

This first ever “Brains and Brews” event was a fantastic success and the Mad Scientist Initiative is incredibly grateful to our partners for this event at the DEF and to all the insightful individuals who came out to share brains and brews with us. Be on the lookout for one of these events coming to your city when MadSci hits the road this year!

What are your takeaways from our questions and responses? What do you have to add? Did these add to your own thinking and planning on these issues?

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

… and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

197. The Arctic: An Emergent Zone of Great Power Competition

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present in today’s post two articles excerpted from last month’s OE Watch addressing BNU-1, China’s first observation satellite providing coverage of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and their high latitude (i.e., polar) equipment. Our near-peer competitors — China and Russia — understand the geo-strategic ramifications of global climate change and are positioning themselves for the coming race to tap the vast (and as of yet relatively unexploited) energy and mineral wealth of the Arctic. Similar signals, like Russia’s mini-subs planting a Russian flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole and deploying their first floating nuclear power plant to the Arctic coast are harbingers that the Arctic is an emergent zone of great power competition in the Operational Environment’s (OE’s) Era of Accelerated Human Progress.]

China continues to show interest and invest time, funding, and research in the polar regions. According to the following passage from Xinhuanet, China has her first polar satellite. The article reports that the BNU-1 has successfully obtained data on the polar regions and is conducting full-coverage observation of the Antarctic and the Arctic every day. Developed by the Beijing Normal University and Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong Development Ltd., the satellite will promote research of the Earth’s polar regions and support China’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition by enhancing its navigation capability in the polar ice zone.

Note that the Soviet Union/Russia launched a series of Molniya military communications satellites over the polar regions from 1965 to 2004. They used a high elliptical orbit to attain a long dwell time over these high latitude areas. These orbits are suited for Arctic and Antarctic communications similar to the geostationary satellites used over the equator. Russia now uses the updated Meridian satellite series over the polar regions. (Les Grau, OE Watch analyst note)

China’s first polar observation satellite supports polar research,” Xinhua, 9 October 2019.

China’s first polar observation satellite, the BNU-1, has successfully obtained data on polar regions, according to the satellite’s chief scientist.

After nearly one month of in-orbit testing, the satellite is working normally and conducting full-coverage observation of the Antarctic and the Arctic every day, Cheng Xiao, the chief scientist, said at the China Symposium on Polar Science 2019. Cheng said the satellite data connection system allows scientists around the world to obtain polar observation data acquired by the satellite. Registered users can also propose new observation requirements.

The satellite continuously monitored a gigantic iceberg breaking away from the Amery Ice Shelf in east Antarctica in September, helping limit its impact on submerged buoys and investigation ships in the surrounding area. Cheng said the satellite will help reduce China’s reliance on foreign satellites for polar observation data. “The satellite’s spatial resolution reaches 75 meters, which offers more detailed information on the ice cover and the sea ice…”

The satellite will also support China’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition by enhancing its navigation capability in the polar ice zone. Developed by the Beijing Normal University and Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong Development Ltd., the satellite weighs 16 kg and is equipped with two cameras and one receiver. It has great significance in promoting the research of Polar Regions and global climate change.

China’s first ice breaker, Xue Long [Snow Dragon] doubles as a polar research vessel and has spent most of her time in the Arctic and Antarctic including over 20 annual Chinese Antarctic expeditions. The vessel was built in Soviet Ukraine shipyards in 1993. As the accompanying passage below from Xinhuanet discusses, Xue Long 2, built in China, will probably make the Antarctic voyage this year. China maintains the Taishan Station in Antarctica. As discussed in the following passage from Xinhuanet, the development of the Nanji 2 all-terrain amphibious polar vehicle will support the station and other polar research. (Les Grau, OE Watch analyst note)

China’s New All-Terrain Vehicle to Join 36th Antarctic Expedition, Xinhuanet.com, 9 October 2019.

China’s self-developed all-terrain vehicle will set off to the South Pole, contributing to the country’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition.

The vehicle Nanji 2 (Antarctica No. 2), painted in red and yellow, was manufactured by Guizhou Jonyang Kinetics Co., Ltd. It was recently delivered to the Polar Research Institute of China in Shanghai.

Compared to previous generations, the new amphibious vehicle is equipped with an upgraded running system. It also applies new material and technologies to improve low-temperature performance and wear resistance, allowing it to work at minus 41 degrees Celsius. In addition, the vehicle has increased comfort for researchers with air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Its control system and other core components were all developed in China, said Lyu Qian, general manager of the manufacturer. The vehicle is multifunctional with strong transport capacity and good adaptability to complex terrain. It can undertake various missions, including personnel and materials transportation, sea, ice and land explorations, as well as search and rescue operations.

China is continuing to develop capabilities and acquire experience operating in the polar regions, making them formidable competitors in this space.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Our Arctic—The World’s Pink Flamingo and Black Swan Bird Sanctuary, by Mr. Frank Prautzsch.

Climate Change Laid Bare: Why We Need To Act Now by Ms. Sage Miller, as well as her “The Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Military” Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) Speaker Session presentation

The OE Watch, November issue, by the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), featuring these two stories, in addition to “China Expands Gaofen Earth Observing Satellite Constellation” and other articles of interest.

 

194. CRISPR Convergence

[Editor’s Note: In today’s post, returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Howard R. Simkin addresses the ramifications of democratized genomic engineering in the Operational Environment (OE). Comparing the genetic engineering tool Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) to the internet in terms of its revolutionary potential, Mr. Simkin examines three scenarios where this capability could be harnessed for nefarious purposes. (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

The Future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson, science fiction author who coined the word cyberspace in 1984.1

Purpose:

This paper briefly examines the convergence of trends in technology as they affect CRISPR2 technology through the lens of three possible users of the technology – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), a future Aum Shinrikyo3 -like entity, and a Unabomber-like4 super-empowered individual.

What does the Future Operating Environment (FOE) tell us?

Figure 1. Exponential Convergence – Five converging technologies that will drive the exponential development of increasingly capable Artificial Intelligence (AI).

A survey of the two most commonly available, authoritative sources on the FOE points to an ever-increasing rate of technological change, the growth of mega-cities, and the diffusion of cutting-edge technology into the hands of both state and non-state actors as well as super-empowered individuals.5 Over the next ten to twenty years, the world will experience dramatic changes in technology. Governments and businesses are investing billions of dollars into research programs and tech startups associated with all five of the technological fields shown in Figure 1.6

The convergence of these technologies, impelled by increasingly capable Artificial Intelligence (AI) will drive change that will approximate that of Moore’s Law – doubling in power while halving in cost every two years. Our adversaries – states, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals – will undoubtedly seek to harness these trends to accomplish their ends. To examine the many implications of these changes is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, this post will concentrate on one specific technology – CRISPR.

Background

CRISPR may be the next Internet – in terms of the impact it will have on society. CRISPR only became approved for use on humans in 2015. However, its applications to gene editing have already become significant.7 As the web magazine Futurism observed, “As the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the system became more and more apparent, researchers and pharmaceutical companies jumped on the technique, modifying it, improving it, and testing it on different genetic issues.”8 This tool could lead to gene editing techniques that could strengthen disease resistance and improve strength and mental abilities. It could also lead to designer diseases for humans, plants, and animals.

What was formerly only available at the cost of billions of dollars and years of research can now be achieved by a single individual at a nominal cost. The original human genome project took ten years, employed a large research team with state-of-the-art laboratories, and cost a billion dollars. Now, you can get your complete genome sequenced for about $10,000 in about six weeks. If you just want specific information, the cost is as little as $100.

To the point, in 2017 Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta revived an extinct horsepox virus using synthetic DNA strands ordered for about $100,000. While not a trivial effort, the research lead Dr. David Evans admitted that he undertook the project to prove that it could be done. And to prove that it wouldn’t necessarily require a lot of time, money, and even biomedical skill or knowledge. His effort opened up new possibilities for researchers looking to make better vaccines, but also those looking to use these viruses as bioweapons9 including smallpox.10

Questions

This causes a number of questions to spring to mind. What sort of enemy would use CRISPR to resurrect or design biological weapons against humans, animals, or crops? Can we prevent its use? How do we recover once it is used?

What sort of enemy would use CRISPR to resurrect or design biological weapons against humans, animals, or crops?

The sort of enemy who would employ CRISPR to design bioweapons fits one of three profiles, each of which has their own present day or historical example. The first is a nation state – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The second is an Aum Shinrikyo-like non-state actor. The third is a Unabomber-like super-empowered individual. The DPRK is a clear and present danger. The other two historical examples are not evident yet, but the potential for them to spring to life is there.

The DPRK is extremely xenophobic. Their culture views North Koreans as the pinnacle of human development. All other cultures and races are, by definition inferior. In that sense, they are culturally akin to pre-World War II Japan or Germany. They are also materialists, in the sense that they ascribe a spiritual dimension to human affairs. With such underlying beliefs, the end justifies the means when dealing with inferiors.11 It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the DPRK would have no moral or ethical problems with creating an asymptomatic, race-specific, highly contagious and deadly disease.

Kasumigaseki Station, one of the many stations affected during the Tokyo subway sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo / Source: Wikimedia Commons

The emergence of an Aum Shinrikyo-like organization in the near future is not beyond the realm of the possible. The original organization employed Sarin in the Tokyo subway in 1995 but it also conducted extensive research and testing into bioweapons to include anthrax, botulinum toxin, and the Ebola virus in 1992 – 1995.12 This was possible because the Aum had recruited a number of highly capable scientists. At its inception, Aum had been indistinguishable from a number of contemporary – and harmless – cults in Asia. However, it morphed into a violent doomsday cult without the Japanese authorities detecting the change. While such a failure in 1995 led to a few dozen deaths, the increasing availability of CRISPR technology could make such a failure a catastrophic event.

The final threat – the super-empowered individual – may not emerge until the latter part of the timeframe covered by this paper. Theoretically, enabled by AI and quantum computing, it will be possible to create a bioweapon that would target only specific genomic types. It is not beyond the realm of probability to envision a hate-filled racist developing and using such a highly specific bioweapon.

Can we prevent its use?

Jennifer Doudna, a University of California biochemist who helped invent CRISPR technology in 2012, calls for the “appropriate regulation” of human germline editing in her recent editorial entitled CRISPR’s unwanted anniversary in the journal Science:  “Consequences for defying established restrictions should include, at a minimum, loss of funding and publication privileges. Ensuring responsible use of genome editing will enable CRISPR technology to improve the well-being of millions of people and fulfill its revolutionary potential.”

However, prevention is highly problematic when a technology is cheap, widely available, and relatively easy to use. CRISPR meets both of the first two criteria. Although inexpensive CRISPR kits are available online, the knowledge necessary to employ to create malignant products resides at the PhD level. In all probability, it would require a team of PhDs to produce a bioweapon. However, if current trends of open-source knowledge dissemination13 continue, the knowledge threshold for employment may lower significantly. The future may require the power of AI, data science, big data, and quantum computers to identify and track potential threats.

Cuiker and Mayer-Schoenberg observe that, “Using big data will sometimes mean forgoing the quest for why in return for knowing what.”14 In other words, it involves a shift from understanding causation to seeking a correlation derived from big data to provide a proxy for what you are trying to understand. A correlation is simply a relationship between two data values. As such, it can serve to focus attention on a previously unsuspected connection and lead to discovery of causation. It can also provide warning when the strength of a correlation reaches a predetermined level requiring executive attention.

To illustrate, in 2009 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) approached Google with a problem on catching flu outbreaks as early as possible. The new H1N1 strain had been identified and CDC was concerned the outbreak might be as severe as that of the 1918 Spanish Influenza. As things stood, CDC only received warning of a flu outbreak an average of one to two weeks after its onset. The reason was simple – the data the CDC used to determine an outbreak were hospital admissions and emergency room data. Although they understood flu had broken out, they were in a constant catchup mode – not the desired mode for a possible H1N1 pandemic.

Google agreed to try to solve the puzzle. They used the “n = all” approach, querying their entire search database for the last (2007-2008) flu outbreak. Google ran over 50 million search terms through 450 million algorithms before arriving at a list of 45 search terms that – if entered with a certain frequency in any geographic area – strongly correlated with a flu outbreak. Using this approach, Google was able to detect warning signs within one or two days of an outbreak, pinpoint the geographic area, and even estimate the percentage of the population affected. They deployed this capability in time to assist the CDC in coping with the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.15,16

How do we recover once it is used?

While these three threats are possible, their solution will arise from the same technological forces that created them. Some components of the solution – like a robust public health system – are already in place in the U.S. The future public health system will rapidly identify the bioweapon and begin to develop treatments. The government will enforce such measures as social distance, allowing virulent strains to ‘burn out.’ In the future, the scientific community will use AI and quantum computing to run simulations that come up with novel approaches to mitigating the effects of any bioweapon. CRISPR and Nanotechnology will allow for the employment of payloads that counter the bioweapon. It will still be a classic game of move and countermove.

Conclusion.

The advent of easily accessible CRISPR technology poses a real and present danger to the world. In the hands of a rogue nation, a terrorist organization, or a super-empowered individual, it could unleash old diseases such as smallpox or new diseases with no known treatment. With the right knowledge, the entry threshold is less than a quarter or a million dollars. We must possess the means to identify, track, and counter these threats – preferably before they are employed at scale.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Howard R. Simkin is a Senior Concept Developer in the DCS, G-9 Concepts, Experimentation and Analysis Directorate, U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He has over 40 years of combined military, law enforcement, defense contractor, and government experience. He is a retired Special Forces officer with a wide variety of special operations experience. Within the G9 he analyzes and defines the future operating environment and required capabilities Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) in support of future concepts development. His subject matter expertise includes analyzing and evaluating historical, current and emerging technology as well as Combined, Joint, Multi-Service, Army and ARSOF organizational initiatives, trends, and concepts to determine the implications for ARSOF units. Mr. Simkin holds a Masters of Administrative Science from the Johns Hopkins University. He is a proclaimed TRADOC Mad Scientist as well as a certified Project Management Professional. He has written several articles that have recently been published in Naval History, Small Wars Journal, or on the TRADOC Mad Scientist Blog.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).


1 https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Gibson (Accessed 18 April 2017).

2 CRISPR is a gene editing technique. CRISPR stands for clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats; it is DNA used in the immune systems of prokaryotes. The system relies on the Cas9 enzyme and guide RNA’s to find specific, problematic segments of a gene and cut them out. In 2015, researchers discovered that this technique could be applied to humans.

3 Aum Shinrikyo was an apocalyptic Japanese cult that carried out a Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo Subway on 20 March 1995. See Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996.

4 Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski was the Unabomber. He carried out a series of bombings from 1978 to 1995 to protest the growing influence of technology in society. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Kaczynski (Accessed 06 October 2017).

5 The FOE depicted in this paper is a synthesis of the National Intelligence Council Global Trends (2035) Paradox of Progress, National Intelligence Council, Washington DC, January 2017, see: https://www.dni.gov/index.php/global-trends-home, and the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, Joint Operating Environment 2035, The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World, Joint Staff J7, Washington, DC, 14 July 2016.

6 Taken from a PowerPoint presentation entitled “AI Futures” given by fellow Proclaimed Mad Scientist Dr. James Canton at the USASOC Futures Forum, 8 August 2017.

7 11 Incredible Things CRISPR Has Helped Us Achieve in 2017 https://futurism.com/11-incredible-things-crispr-has-helped-us-achieve-in-2017/ (Accessed 06 October 2017).

8 CRISPR Is Rapidly Ushering in a New Era in Science. https://futurism.com/crispr-is-rapidly-ushering-in-a-new-era-in-science/ (Accessed 16 August 2017)

9 Researchers Brought Back a Pox Virus Using Mail-Order DNA and it Only Cost $100,000. https://futurism.com/researchers-brought-back-a-pox-virus-using-mail-order-dna-and-it-only-cost-100000/ (Accessed 10 October 2017).

10 People Could Make Smallpox from Scratch in a Lab, Scientists Warn. https://www.livescience.com/59809-horsepox-virus-recreated.html (Accessed 10 October 2017), and Scientists synthesize smallpox cousin in ominous breakthrough. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/07/07/scientists-synthesize-smallpox-cousin-in-ominous-breakthrough/?utm_term=.2c1b343dd4ec (Accessed 10 October 2017).

11 USSOCOM JISOC, Irregular Threat Analysis Branch, Socio — Cultural Awareness Section. North Korea Population Engagement Study (Unclassified). Tampa, FL: United States Special Operations Command, 2013, 15 – 16.

12 Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996, 51 – 57; 96 – 7; 94 – 6.

13 The Canadian researchers mentioned earlier in this paper published an open source paper which details how they resurrected horsepox.

14 Cuiker, Kenneth and Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor, “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (May/June 2013): p. 36.

15 Cuiker, Kenneth and Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor, “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (May/June 2013): p. 29.

16 Mayer Schoenberger, Viktor and Cukier, Kenneth: Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think. Boston, New York: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, pp. 1-3. Twitter was also used to mine “flu”, and correlate results on a map. This allowed CDC to watch flu bloom on a map in near real time.

References

Cuiker, Kenneth, and Victor Mayer-Schoenberg. “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World.” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3, May/June 2013.

Department of Defense. DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, J7, As of March 2017.

Futurism.com. CRISPR Is Rapidly Ushering in a New Era in Science. March 13, 2017. https://futurism.com/crispr-is-rapidly-ushering-in-a-new-era-in-science/ (accessed July 2017, 2017).

Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Mayer-Schoenberg, Victor, and Kenneth Cuiker. Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think. Boston, New York: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

National Intelligence Council. Global Trends, Paradox of Progress. Washington, DC: National Intelligence Council, January 2017.

The Joint Staff. Joint Operating Environment 2035, The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World. Washington, DC: Joint Staff J7, 14 July 2016.

USSOCOM JISOC, Irregular Threat Analysis Branch, Socio — Cultural Awareness Section. North Korea Population Engagement Study (Unclassified). Tampa, FL: United States Special Operations Command, 2013.

191. Competition in 2035: Anticipating Chinese Exploitation of Operational Environments

[Editor’s Note:  In today’s post, Mad Scientist Laboratory explores China’s whole-of-nation approach to exploiting operational environments, synchronizing government, military, and industry activities to change geostrategic power paradigms via competition in 2035. Excerpted from products previously developed and published by the TRADOC G-2’s Operational Environment and Threat Analysis Directorate (see links below), this post describes China’s approach to exploitation and identifies the implications for the U.S. Army — Enjoy!]

The Operational Environment is envisioned as a continuum, divided into two eras: the Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035) and the Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050). This latter era is marked by significant breakthroughs in technology and convergences in terms of capabilities, which lead to significant changes in the character of warfare. During this period, traditional aspects of warfare undergo dramatic, almost revolutionary changes which at the end of this timeframe may even challenge the very nature of warfare itself. In this era, no one actor is likely to have any long-term strategic or technological advantage, with aggregate power between the U.S. and its strategic competitors being equivalent, but not necessarily symmetric. Prevailing in this period will depend on an ability to synchronize multi-domain capabilities against an artificial intelligence-enhanced adversary with an overarching capability to visualize and understand the battlespace at even greater ranges and velocities. Equally important will be controlling information and the narrative surrounding the conflict. Adversaries will adopt sophisticated information operations and narrative strategies to change the context of the conflict and thus defeat U.S. political will.

The future strategic environment will be characterized by a persistent state of competition where global competitors seek to exploit the conditions of operational environments to gain advantage. Adversaries understand that the application of any or all elements of national power in competition just below the threshold of armed conflict is an effective strategy against the U.S.

Chinese DF-17 carrying the DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle / Source: Bill Bostock, Business Insider Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

China is rapidly modernizing its armed forces and developing new approaches to warfare. Beijing has invested significant resources into research and development of a wide array of advanced technologies. Coupled with its time-honored practice of reverse engineering technologies or systems it purchases or acquires through espionage, this effort likely will allow China to surpass Russia as our most capable threat sometime around 2030.

China’s Approach to Exploitation

China’s whole-of-nation approach, which involves synchronization of actions across government, military, and industry, will facilitate exploitation of operational environments and enable it to gain global influence through economic exploitation.

China will leverage the international system to advance its own interests while attempting to constrain others, including the U.S.

Preferred Conditions and Methods

The following conditions and methods are conducive to exploitation by China, enabling them to shape the strategic environment in 2035:

    • Infrastructure Capacity Challenges:  China targets undeveloped and fragile environments where their capital investments, technology, and human capital can produce financial gains and generate political influence.
    • Interconnected Economies:  China looks for partners and opportunities to become a significant stakeholder in a wide variety of economies in order to capitalize on its investments as well as generate political influence.
    • Specialized Economies:  China looks for opportunities to partner with specialized markets and leverage their vulnerabilities for gain.
    • Technology Access Gaps:  China targets areas where their capital investments in technology provide partners with key resources and competitive advantages by filling technology gaps.

Implications for the U.S. Army:

    • The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed armored medical vehicles and personnel to Germany for the Combined Aid 2019 Joint Exercise with the Bundeswehr this past summer.

      Traditional Army threat paradigms may not be sufficient for competition.

    • The Army could be drawn into unanticipated escalation as a result of China’s activities during the competition phase.
    • Army military partnerships will likely be undermined by China in 2035.
    • Army operations and engagements will be increasingly impacted by the pervasiveness of Chinese goods, technology, infrastructure, and systems.

If you enjoyed this post, please see the original paper and associated infographic of the same title, both by the TRADOC G-2’s Operational Environment and Threat Analysis Directorate and hosted on their All Partners Access Network (APAN) site

… and read the following MadSci Laboratory blog posts:

A view of the Future: 2035-2050

China’s Drive for Innovation Dominance and Quantum Surprise on the Battlefield?, by Elsa Kania

A Closer Look at China’s Strategies for Innovation: Questioning True Intent, by Cindy Hurst

Critical Projection: Insights from China’s Science Fiction, by Lt Col Dave Calder

184. Blurring Lines Between Competition and Conflict

[Editor’s Note: The United States Army faces multiple, complex challenges in tomorrow’s Operational Environment (OE), confronting strategic competitors in an increasingly contested space across every domain (land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace). The Mad Scientist Initiative, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2 Futures, and Army Futures Command (AFC) Future Operational Environment Cell have collaborated with representatives from industry, academia, and the Intelligence Community to explore the blurring lines between competition and conflict, and the character of great power warfare in the future. Today’s post captures our key findings regarding the OE and what will be required to successfully compete, fight, and win in it — Enjoy!].

Alternative Views of Warfare: The U.S. Army’s view of the possible return to Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) and capital systems warfare might not be the future of warfare. Near-peer competitors will seek to achieve national objectives through competition short of conflict, and regional competitors and non-state actors will effectively compete and fight with smaller, cheaper, and greater numbers of systems against our smaller number of exquisite systems. However, preparation for LSCO and great state warfare may actually contribute to its prevention.

Competition and Conflict are Blurring: The dichotomy of war and peace is no longer a useful construct for thinking about national security or the development of land force capabilities. There are no longer defined transitions from peace to war and competition to conflict. This state of simultaneous competition and conflict is continuous and dynamic, but not necessarily cyclical. Potential adversaries will seek to achieve their national interest short of conflict and will use a range of actions from cyber to kinetic against unmanned systems walking up to the line of a short or protracted armed conflict. Authoritarian regimes are able to more easily ensure unity of effort and whole-of-government over Western democracies and work to exploit fractures and gaps in decision-making, governance, and policy.

The globalization of the world – in communications, commerce, and belligerence (short of war) – as well as the fragmentation of societies and splintering of identities has created new factions and “tribes,” and opened the aperture on who has offensive capabilities that were previously limited to state actors. Additionally, the concept of competition itself has broadened as social media, digital finance, smart technology, and online essential services add to a growing target area.

Adversaries seek to shape public opinion and influence decisions through targeted information operations campaigns, often relying on weaponized social media. Competitors invest heavily in research and development in burgeoning technology fields Artificial Intelligence (Al), quantum sciences, and biotech – and engage in technology theft to weaken U.S. technological superiority. Cyber attacks and probing are used to undermine confidence in financial institutions and critical government and public functions – Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), voting, banking, and governance. Competition and conflict are occurring in all instruments of power throughout the entirety of the Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic (DIME) model.

Cyber actions raise the question of what is the threshold to be considered an act of war. If an adversary launches a cyber ­attack against a critical financial institution and an economic crisis results – is it an act of war? There is a similar concern regarding unmanned assets. While the kinetic destruction of an unmanned system may cost millions, no lives are lost. How much damage without human loss of life is acceptable?

Nuclear Deterrence limits Great Power Warfare: Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) is predicated on a return to Great Power warfare. However, nuclear deterrence could make that eventuality less likely. The U.S. may be competing more often below the threshold of conventional war and the decisive battles of the 20th Century (e.g., Midway and Operation Overlord). The two most threatening adversaries – Russia and China – have substantial nuclear arsenals, as does the United States, which will continue to make Great Power conventional warfare a high risk / high cost endeavor. The availability of non-nuclear capabilities that can deliver regional and global effects is a new attribute of the OE. This further complicates the deterrence value of militaries and the escalation theory behind flexible deterrent options. The inherent implications of cyber effects in the real world – especially in economies, government functions, and essential services – further exacerbates the blurring between competition and conflict.

Hemispheric Competition and Conflict: Over the last twenty years, Russia and China have been viewed as regional competitors in Eurasia or South-East Asia. These competitors will seek to undermine and fracture traditional Western institutions, democracies, and alliances. Both are transitioning to a hemispheric threat with a primary focus on challenging the U.S. Army all the way from its home station installations (i.e., the Strategic Support Area) to the Close Area fight. We can expect cyber attacks against critical infrastructure, the use of advanced information warfare such as deep fakes targeting units and families, and the possibility of small scale kinetic attacks during what were once uncontested administrative actions of deployment. There is no institutional memory for this threat and adding time and required speed for deployment is not enough to exercise MDO.

Disposable versus Exquisite: Current thinking espouses technologically advanced and expensive weapons platforms over disposable ones, which brings with it an aversion to employ these exquisite platforms in contested domains and an inability to rapidly reconstitute them once they are committed and subsequently attrited. In LSCO with a near-peer competitor, the ability to reconstitute will be imperative. The Army (and larger DoD) may need to shift away from large and expensive systems to cheap, scalable, and potentially even disposable unmanned systems (UxS). Additionally, the increases in miniaturized computing power in cheaper systems, coupled with advances in machine learning could lead to massed precision rather than sacrificing precision for mass and vice versa.

This challenge is exacerbated by the ability for this new form of mass to quickly aggregate/disaggregate, adapt, self­-organize, self-heal, and reconstitute, making it largely unpredictable and dynamic. Adopting these capabilities could provide the U.S. Army and allied forces with an opportunity to use mass precision to disrupt enemy Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) loops, confuse kill chains/webs, overwhelm limited adversary formations, and exploit vulnerabilities in extended logistics tails and advanced but immature communication networks.

Human-Starts-the-Loop: There have been numerous discussions and debate over whether armed forces will continue to have a “man-in-the-loop” regarding Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). Lethal autonomy in future warfare may instead be “human-starts-the-loop,” meaning that humans will be involved in the development of weapons/targeting systems – establishing rules and scripts – and will initiate the process, but will then allow the system to operate autonomously. It has been stated that it would be ethically disingenuous to remain constrained by “human-on-the-loop” or “human-in-the-­loop” constructs when our adversaries are unlikely to similarly restrict their own autonomous warfighting capabilities. Further, the employment of this approach could impact the Army’s MDO strategy. The effects of “human-starts-the-loop” on the kill chain – shortening, flattening, or otherwise dispersing – would necessitate changes in force structuring that could maximize resource allocation in personnel, platforms, and materiel. This scenario presents the Army with an opportunity to execute MDO successfully with increased cost savings, by: 1) Conducting independent maneuver – more agile and streamlined units moving rapidly; 2) Employing cross-domain fires – efficiency and speed in targeting and execution; 3) Maximizing human potential – putting capable Warfighters in optimal positions; and 4) Fielding in echelons above brigade – flattening command structures and increasing efficiency.

Emulation and the Accumulation of Advantages: China and Russia are emulating many U.S. Department of Defense modernization and training initiatives. China now has Combat Training Centers. Russia has programs that mirror the Army’s Cross Functional Team initiatives and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Task Force. China and Russia are undergoing their own versions of force modernization to better professionalize the ranks and improve operational reach. Within these different technical spaces, both China and Russia are accumulating advantages that they envision will blunt traditional U.S. combat advantages and the tenets described in MDO. However, both nations remain vulnerable and dependent on U.S. innovations in microelectronics, as well as the challenges of incorporating these technologies into their own doctrine, training, and cultures.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Jomini’s Revenge: Mass Strikes Back! by Zachery Tyson Brown.

Our “Tenth Man” – Challenging our Assumptions about the Operational Environment and Warfare posts, where Part 1 discusses whether the future fight will necessarily even involve LSCO and Part 2 addresses the implications of a changed or changing nature of war.

The Death of Authenticity:  New Era Information Warfare.

 

 

183. Ethics, Morals, and Legal Implications

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army Futures Command (AFC) and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) co-sponsored the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference with the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin on 24-25 April 2019 in Austin, Texas. Today’s post is excerpted from this conference’s Final Report and addresses how the speed of technological innovation and convergence continues to outpace human governance. The U.S. Army must not only consider how best to employ these advances in modernizing the force, but also the concomitant ethical, moral, and legal implications their use may present in the Operational Environment (see links to the newly published TRADOC Pamphlet 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, and the complete Mad Scientist Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference Final Report at the bottom of this post).]

Technological advancement and subsequent employment often outpaces moral, ethical, and legal standards. Governmental and regulatory bodies are then caught between technological progress and the evolution of social thinking. The Disruption and the Operational Environment Conference uncovered and explored several tension points that the Army may be challenged by in the future.

Space

Cubesats in LEO / Source: NASA

Space is one of the least explored domains in which the Army will operate; as such, we may encounter a host of associated ethical and legal dilemmas. In the course of warfare, if the Army or an adversary intentionally or inadvertently destroys commercial communications infrastructure – GPS satellites – the ramifications to the economy, transportation, and emergency services would be dire and deadly. The Army will be challenged to consider how and where National Defense measures in space affect non-combatants and American civilians on the ground.

Per proclaimed Mad Scientists Dr. Moriba Jah and Dr. Diane Howard, there are ~500,000 objects orbiting the Earth posing potential hazards to our space-based services. We are currently able to only track less than one percent of them — those that are the size of a smart phone / softball or larger. / Source: NASA Orbital Debris Office

International governing bodies may have to consider what responsibility space-faring entities – countries, universities, private companies – will have for mitigating orbital congestion caused by excessive launching and the aggressive exploitation of space. If the Army is judicious with its own footprint in space, it could reduce the risk of accidental collisions and unnecessary clutter and congestion. It is extremely expensive to clean up space debris and deconflicting active operations is essential. With each entity acting in their own self-interest, with limited binding law or governance and no enforcement, overuse of space could lead to a “tragedy of the commons” effect.1  The Army has the opportunity to more closely align itself with international partners to develop guidelines and protocols for space operations to avoid potential conflicts and to influence and shape future policy. Without this early intervention, the Army may face ethical and moral challenges in the future regarding its addition of orbital objects to an already dangerously cluttered Low Earth Orbit. What will the Army be responsible for in democratized space? Will there be a moral or ethical limit on space launches?

Autonomy in Robotics

AFC’s Future Force Modernization Enterprise of Cross-Functional Teams, Acquisition Programs of Record, and Research and Development centers executed a radio rodeo with Industry throughout June 2019 to inform the Army of the network requirements needed to enable autonomous vehicle support in contested, multi-domain environments. / Source: Army.mil

Robotics have been pervasive and normalized in military operations in the post-9/11 Operational Environment. However, the burgeoning field of autonomy in robotics with the potential to supplant humans in time-critical decision-making will bring about significant ethical, moral, and legal challenges that the Army, and larger DoD are currently facing. This issue will be exacerbated in the Operational Environment by an increased utilization and reliance on autonomy.

The increasing prevalence of autonomy will raise a number of important questions. At what point is it more ethical to allow a machine to make a decision that may save lives of either combatants or civilians? Where does fault, responsibility, or attribution lie when an autonomous system takes lives? Will defensive autonomous operations – air defense systems, active protection systems – be more ethically acceptable than offensive – airstrikes, fire missions – autonomy? Can Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) make decisions in line with Army core values?

Deepfakes and AI-Generated Identities, Personas, and Content

Source: U.S. Air Force

A new era of Information Operations (IO) is emerging due to disruptive technologies such as deepfakes – videos that are constructed to make a person appear to say or do something that they never said or did – and AI Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) that produce fully original faces, bodies, personas, and robust identities.2  Deepfakes and GANs are alarming to national security experts as they could trigger accidental escalation, undermine trust in authorities, and cause unforeseen havoc. This is amplified by content such as news, sports, and creative writing similarly being generated by AI/ML applications.

This new era of IO has many ethical and moral implications for the Army. In the past, the Army has utilized industrial and early information age IO tools such as leaflets, open-air messaging, and cyber influence mechanisms to shape perceptions around the world. Today and moving forward in the Operational Environment, advances in technology create ethical questions such as: is it ethical or legal to use cyber or digital manipulations against populations of both U.S. allies and strategic competitors? Under what title or authority does the use of deepfakes and AI-generated images fall? How will the Army need to supplement existing policy to include technologies that didn’t exist when it was written?

AI in Formations

With the introduction of decision-making AI, the Army will be faced with questions about trust, man-machine relationships, and transparency. Does AI in cyber require the same moral benchmark as lethal decision-making? Does transparency equal ethical AI? What allowance for error in AI is acceptable compared to humans? Where does the Army allow AI to make decisions – only in non-combat or non-lethal situations?

Commanders, stakeholders, and decision-makers will need to gain a level of comfort and trust with AI entities exemplifying a true man-machine relationship. The full integration of AI into training and combat exercises provides an opportunity to build trust early in the process before decision-making becomes critical and life-threatening. AI often includes unintentional or implicit bias in its programming. Is bias-free AI possible? How can bias be checked within the programming? How can bias be managed once it is discovered and how much will be allowed? Finally, does the bias-checking software contain bias? Bias can also be used in a positive way. Through ML – using data from previous exercises, missions, doctrine, and the law of war – the Army could inculcate core values, ethos, and historically successful decision-making into AI.

If existential threats to the United States increase, so does pressure to use artificial and autonomous systems to gain or maintain overmatch and domain superiority. As the Army explores shifting additional authority to AI and autonomous systems, how will it address the second and third order ethical and legal ramifications? How does the Army rectify its traditional values and ethical norms with disruptive technology that rapidly evolves?

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

    • “Second/Third Order, and Evil Effects” – The Dark Side of Technology (Parts I & II) by Dr. Nick Marsella.
    • Ethics and the Future of War panel, facilitated by LTG Dubik (USA-Ret.) at the Mad Scientist Visualizing Multi Domain Battle 2030-2050 Conference, facilitated at Georgetown University, on 25-26 July 2017.

Just Published! TRADOC Pamphlet 525-92, The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Warfare, 7 October 2019, describes the conditions Army forces will face and establishes two distinct timeframes characterizing near-term advantages adversaries may have, as well as breakthroughs in technology and convergences in capabilities in the far term that will change the character of warfare. This pamphlet describes both timeframes in detail, accounting for all aspects across the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) spheres to allow Army forces to train to an accurate and realistic Operational Environment.


1 Munoz-Patchen, Chelsea, “Regulating the Space Commons: Treating Space Debris as Abandoned Property in Violation of the Outer Space Treaty,” Chicago Journal of International Law, Vol. 19, No. 1, Art. 7, 1 Aug. 2018. https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1741&context=cjil

2 Robitzski, Dan, “Amazing AI Generates Entire Bodies of People Who Don’t Exist,” Futurism.com, 30 Apr. 2019. https://futurism.com/ai-generates-entire-bodies-people-dont-exist

174. A New Age of Terror: The Future of CBRN Terrorism

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by guest blogger Zachary Kallenborn.  In the first of a series of posts, Mr. Kallenborn addresses how the convergence of emerging technologies is eroding barriers to terrorist organizations acquiring the requisite equipment, materiel, and expertise to develop and deliver chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents in an attack.  Learn about the challenges that (thankfully) remain and the ramifications for the operational environment.  (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Unidentified drones spotted over the Thayer Monument at West Point.

On the evening of July 15, 2034, 264 West Point cadets reported to the hospital with a severe, but unknown illness. West Point Military Police (MP) investigated the incident and discovered video footage of two men launching several autonomous drones from a pickup truck near the base, then driving off. A suspicious fire the same night at a local apartment complex revealed remnants of 3D printers and synthetic biology kits. The investigation remains ongoing…

 

Such a scenario is fantasy, but increasingly plausible.

Various emerging technologies reduce the barriers to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism — bioterrorism in particular. The convergence of these technologies used may allow terrorists to acquire CBRN weapons with minimal identifiable signatures. Although these technologies exist today, their sophistication, availability, and terrorist interest in their use is likely to grow over the coming decades. For example, the first powered model airplane was flown in 1937; however, terrorists did not attempt to use drones until 1994.1  Thankfully, major challenges will still inhibit truly catastrophic CBRN terror.

Acquisition

Kasumigaseki Station, one of the many stations affected during the Tokyo subway sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo / Source:  Wikimedia Commons

CBRN weapon acquisition is a difficult task for terrorist organizations. Terrorists must acquire significant specialized equipment, materiel, expertise, and the organizational capabilities to support the acquisition of such weapons and a physical location to assemble them. Even supposed successes like Aum Shinrikyo’s attack on the Tokyo subway were not nearly as impactful as they could have been. Aum’s biological weapons program was also a notable failure. In one instance, a member of the cult fell into a vat of clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that produces the botulinum toxin) and emerged unharmed.2  As a result, only 1-2% of terrorist organizations pursue or use CBRN weapons.3  But these barriers are eroding.

3D printing may ease the acquisition of some equipment and materiel. 3D printers can be used to create equipment components at reduced cost and have been used to create bioreactors, microscopes, and others key elements.4  Bioprinters can also create tissue samples to test weapons agents.5  The digital build-files for 3D printed items can also be sent and received online, perhaps from black market sellers or individuals sympathetic to the terrorist’s ideology.6

Synthetic biology offers improved access to biological weapons agents, especially to otherwise highly controlled agents. Synthetic biology can be used to create new or modify existing organisms.7 According to the World Health Organization, synthetic biology techniques could plausibly allow recreation of the variola virus (smallpox).8  That is especially significant because the virus only exists in two highly secure laboratories.9

Delivery

Delivery of a CBRN agent can also be a challenge. CBRN agents useful for mass casualty attacks rely on the air to carry the agent to an adversary (nuclear weapons are an obvious exception, but the likelihood of a terrorist organization acquiring a nuclear weapon is extremely low). Poor wind conditions, physical barriers, rain, and other environmental conditions can inhibit delivery. Biological weapons also require spray systems that can create droplets of an appropriate size, so that the agent is light enough to float in the air, but heavy enough to enter the lungs (approximately 1-10 microns).

Drones also make CBRN agent delivery easier. Drones offer terrorists access to the air. Terrorists can use them to fly over physical barriers, such as fencing or walls to carry out an attack. Drones also give terrorists more control over where they launch an attack: they can choose a well-defended position or one proximate to an escape route. Although small drone payload sizes limit the amount of agent that can be delivered, terrorists can acquire multiple drones.

Advances in drone autonomy allow terrorists to control more drones at once.10  Autonomy also allows terrorists to launch more complex attacks, perhaps directing autonomous drones to multiple targets or follow a path through multiple, well-populated areas. Greater autonomy also reduces the risks to the terrorists, because they can flee more readily from the area.

3D printing can also help with CBRN agent delivery. Spray-tanks and nozzles subject to export controls can be 3D printed.11  3D printers can also be used to make drones.12  3D printers also provide customizability to adapt these systems for CBRN agent delivery.

Remaining Challenges

CBRN weapons acquisition also requires significant technical expertise. Terrorist organizations must correctly perform complex scientific procedures, know which procedures to use, know which equipment and materials are needed, and operate the equipment. They must do all of that without harming themselves or others (harming innocents may not seem like a concern for an organization intent on mass harm; however, it would risk exposure of the larger plot.) Much of this knowledge is tacit, meaning that it is based on experience and cannot be easily transferred to other individuals.

Emerging technologies do not drastically reduce this barrier, though experts disagree. For example, genome-synthesis requires significant tacit knowledge that terrorists cannot easily acquire without relevant experience.13  Likewise, 3D printers are unlikely to spit out a completely assembled piece of equipment. Rather, 3D printers may provide parts that need to be assembled into a final result. However, some experts argue that as technologies become more ubiquitous, they will be commercialized and made easier to use.14  While this technology is likely to become more accessible, physical limitations will place an upper bound on how accessible it can become.

The Future Operational Environment

If CBRN terrorism is becoming easier, U.S. forces can be expected to be at greater risk of CBRN attack and face more frequent attacks. An attack with infectious biological weapons from afar would not likely be discovered until well after the attack took place. Although still quite unlikely, a major biological attack could cause massive harm. Timed correctly, a CBRN terror attack could delay deployment of troops to a combat zone, inhibit launch of close-air support assets, or harm morale by delaying delivery of delicious pizza MREs.15  Off the battlefield, troops may have less access to protective gear and be at greater risk of harm. Even a poorly made agent can harm military operations: quarantines must still be established and operations limited until the risk is neutralized or at least determined to be non-harmful.

However, counter-intuitively, terrorist demand for CBRN weapons may actually decrease, because emerging technologies also offer easier pathways to mass casualties. These risks will be explored in the next article in this series.

If you enjoyed this post, please read:

The Democratization of Dual Use Technology

Dead Deer, and Mad Cows, and Humans (?) … Oh My! by proclaimed Mad Scientists LtCol Jennifer Snow and Dr. James Giordano, and returning guest blogger Joseph DeFranco

– Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference blog post and Final Report

Emergent Threat Posed by Super-Empowered Individuals

Zachary Kallenborn is a freelance researcher and analyst, specializing in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, CBRN terrorism, drone swarms, and emerging technologies writ large. His research has appeared in the Nonproliferation Review, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Defense One, the Modern War Institute at West Point, and other outlets. His most recent study, Swarming Destruction: Drone Swarms and CBRN Weapons, examines the threats and opportunities of drone swarms for the full scope of CBRN weapons.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).


1 Walter A. Good, “The AMA History Project Presents Autobiography of Dr. Walter (Walt) A. Good,” Academy of Model Aeronautics, August 2009, https://www.modelaircraft.org/sites/default/files/files/GoodDrWalterAWalt.pdf; Robert J. Bunker, “Terrorist and Insurgent Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Use, Potentials, and Military Implications,” United States Army War College Press, August 2015.

2 Richard Danzig et al., Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons, 2nd ed. (December 2012), https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS_AumShinrikyo_SecondEdition_English.pdf (accessed 6 June 2017).

3 Gary Ackerman, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, R. Karl Rethemeyer, and Victor Asal, “Terrorist Groups and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, (START), https://www.start.umd.edu/research-projects/terrorist-groups-and-weapons-mass-destruction

4 Clare Scott, “Experiment Tests the Suitability of 3D Printing Materials for Creating Lab Equipment,” 3DPrint.com, August 3, 2018, https://3dprint.com/221403/3d-printing-materials-lab/

5 Kolja Brockmann, “Advances in 3D Printing Technology: Increasing Biological Weapons Proliferation Risks?” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), July 29, 2019, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/blog/2019/advances-3d-printing-technology-increasing-biological-weapon-proliferation-risks

Franklin Houser, “3D Printed Drone Parts – All You Need to Know in 2019,” All3DP, February 12, 2019, https://all3dp.com/3d-print-drone-parts/

6 Natasha Bajema, “3D Printing: Enabler of Mass Destruction,” Medium, October 20, 2018, https://medium.com/@natashabajema/3d-printing-enabler-of-mass-destruction-74d2a684a13

7 Committee on Strategies for Identifying and Addressing Potential Biodefense Vulnerabilities Posed by Synthetic Biology, “Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology,” (Washington DC: The National Academies Press, 2018), 9.

8 “The Independent Advisory Group on Public Health Implications of Synthetic Biology Technology Related to Smallpox,” World Health Organization, June 29-30, 2015, available at https://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/smallpox/synthetic-biology-technology-smallpox/en/

9 Smallpox,” National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, available at www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/smallpox

10 Amy Hocraffer and Chang S. Nam, “A Meta-analysis of Human–System Interfaces in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Swarm Management,” Applied Ergonomics, Vol. 58 (2017), pp. 66–80, http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chang_Nam5/publication/303782432_A_meta-analysis_of_human-system_interfaces_in_unmanned_aerial_vehicle_UAV_swarm_management/links/5767f71f08ae1658e2f8b435.pdf

11 Kolja Brockmann, “Advances in 3D Printing Technology: Increasing Biological Weapons Proliferation Risks?” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), July 29, 2019, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/blog/2019/advances-3d-printing-technology-increasing-biological-weapon-proliferation-risks

12 Franklin Houser, “3D Printed Drone Parts – All You Need to Know in 2019,” All3DP, February 12, 2019, https://all3dp.com/3d-print-drone-parts/

13 Kathleen M. Vogel, “Framing Biosecurity: An Alternative to the Biotech Revolution Model?,” Science and Public Policy, Vol. 35 No. 1, 2008.

14 Jonathan B. Tucker, “Could Terrorists Exploit Synthetic Biology?” The New Atlantis, Spring 2011, https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/could-terrorists-exploit-synthetic-biology#_ftn8

15 Steve1989MREInfo, “2018 MRE Pepperoni Pizza MRE Review Meal Ready to Eat Ration Taste Testing,” YouTube, July 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_sY-nJ179U

172. Splinternets

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory welcomes returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Mr. Howard R. Simkin with his submission to our Mad Scientist Crowdsourcing topic from earlier this summer on The Operational Environment: What Will Change and What Will Drive It – Today to 2035?  Mr. Simkin’s post addresses the military challenges posed by Splinternets.  Competition during Multi-Domain Operations is predicated on our Forces’ capability to conduct cyber and influence operations against and inside our strategic competitors’ networks.  In a world of splinternets, our flexibility to conduct and respond to non-kinetic engagements is challenged by this new reality in the operational environment. (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Purpose.
This paper discusses the splintering of the Internet that is currently underway – the creation of what are commonly being called splinternets. Most versions of the future operational environment assume an Internet that is largely accessible to all. Recent trends point to a splintering effect as various nation states or multi-state entities seek to regulate access to or isolate their portion of the Internet.1, 2  This paper will briefly discuss the impacts of those tendencies and propose an operational response.

The Problem.
What are the impacts of a future operational environment in which the Internet has fractured into a number of mutually exclusive subsets, referred to as splinternets?

Background.
Splinternets threaten both access to data and the exponential growth of the Internet as a global commons. There are two main drivers fracturing the Internet. One is regulation and the other is isolationism. Rooted in politics, the Internet is being fractured by regulation and isolationism. Counterbalancing this fracturing is the Distributed Web (DWeb).

Regulation.
Regulation usually involves revenue or internal security. While admirable in intent, regulations cast a chill over the growth and health of the Internet.3  Even well-intentioned regulations become a burden which forces smaller operators to go out of business or to ignore the regulations. Depending on the country involved, activity which was perfectly legal can become illegal by bureaucratic fiat. This acts as a further impetus to drive users to alternative platforms. An example is the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect on 25 May 2018. It includes a number of provisions which make it far more difficult to collect data. The GDPR covers not only entities based in the EU but also those who have users in the EU.4  U.S. companies such as Facebook have scrambled to comply so as to maintain access to the EU virtual space.5

Isolation.
China is the leader in efforts to isolate their portion of the internet from outside influence.6  To accomplish this, they have received help from their own tech giants as well as U.S. companies such as Google.7  The Chinese have made it very difficult for outside entities to penetrate the “Great Firewall” while maintaining the ability of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct malign activities across the Internet.8  Recently, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google opined that China would succeed in splitting the Internet in the not too distant future.9

Russia has also proposed a similar strategy, which they would extend to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The reason given is the “dominance of the US and a few EU states concerning Internet regulation” which Russia sees as a “serious danger” to its safety, RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK)10  quotes from minutes taken at a meeting of the Russian Security Council. Having its own root servers would make Russia independent of monitors like the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and protect the country in the event of “outages or deliberate interference.” “Putin sees [the] Internet as [a] CIA tool.”11

Distributed Web (DWeb).
The DWeb is “a peer-to-peer Internet that is free from firewalls, government regulation, and spying.” Admittedly, the DWeb is a difficult problem. However, both the University of Michigan and a private firm, Maidsafe claim to be close to a solution.12  Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive and organizer of the first Decentralized Web Summit two years ago, recently advocated a “DWeb Camp.” Should a DWeb become a reality, many of the current efforts by governments to control or regulate the Internet would founder.

Operational Response.
Our operational response should involve Special Operations Forces (SOF), Space, and Cyber forces. The creation of splinternets places a premium on the ability to gain physical access to the splinternet’s internal networks. SOF is an ideal force to perform this operation because of their ability to work in politically sensitive and denied environments with or through indigenous populations. Once SOF gains physical access, Space would be the most logical means to send and receive data. Cyber forces would then perform operations within the splinternet.

Conclusion.
Most versions of the future operational environment assume an Internet that is largely accessible to all. Therefore, splinternets are an important ‘alternative future’ to consider. In conjunction with Space and Cyber forces, SOF can play a key role in the operational response to allow the Joint Force to continue to operate against splinternet capable adversaries.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

– Mr. Simkin‘s previous Mad Scientist Laboratory posts:

Keeping the Edge, and

Sine Pari,

… as well as his winning Call for Ideas presentation The Future ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) 2035-2050, delivered at the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference, co-hosted with SRI International on 8–9 March 2018 at their Menlo Park campus in California.

– LtCol Jennifer “JJ” Snow‘s blog post Alternet: What Happens When the Internet is No Longer Trusted?

– Dr. Mica Hall‘s blog post The Cryptoruble as a Stepping Stone to Digital Sovereignty

Howard R. Simkin is a Senior Concept Developer in the DCS, G-9 Capability Development & Integration Directorate, U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He has over 40 years of combined military, law enforcement, defense contractor, and government experience. He is a retired Special Forces officer with a wide variety of special operations experience. He is also a proclaimed Mad Scientist.

References:
Baker, Dr. Jessica. “What Does GDPR Mean For You?” Digital Guardian. July 11, 2018. https://digitalguardian.com/blog/what-does-gdpr-mean-for-you (accessed September 14, 2018).

Hoffer, Eric. Reflections on the Human Condition. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

L.S. “The Economist explains, “What is the splinternet”?” The Economist. November 22, 2016. https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/11/22/what-is-the-splinternet (accessed September 14, 2018).

Nash, Charlie. “The Google Tapes: Employees Applauded Company for Taking Bold Stance Against China.” Breitbart. September 13, 2018. https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/09/13/the-google-tape-employees-applauded-company-for-taking-bold-stance-against-china/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

Sanger, David E. The Perfect Weapon, War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age. New York: Crown (Kindle Edition), 2018.

Sterling, Bruce. “The China Splinternet Model is Winning.” Wired. July 2, 2016. https://www.wired.com/beyond-the-beyond/2016/07/china-splinternet-model-winning/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

Tangermann, Victor. “With GDPR Decision, Zuckerberg Proves Yet Again He Has Learned Absolutely Nothing From the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.” Futurism. April 4, 2018. https://futurism.com/zuckerberg-gdpr-cambridge-analytica/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

Tanguay, Pierre, Sabrina Dubé-Morneau, and Gaëlle Engelberts. “Splinternets: How Online Balkanization is Creating a Headache for Digital Content Distribution.” CMF Trends. January 31, 2018. https://trends.cmf-fmc.ca/splinternets-how-online-balkanization-is-creating-a-headache-for-digital-content-distribution/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

End Notes:

1 Tanguay, Pierre, Sabrina Dubé-Morneau, and Gaëlle Engelberts. “Splinternets: How Online Balkanization is Creating a Headache for Digital Content Distribution.” CMF Trends. January 31, 2018. https://trends.cmf-fmc.ca/splinternets-how-online-balkanization-is-creating-a-headache-for-digital-content-distribution/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

2 L.S. “The Economist explains, “What is the splinternet”?” The Economist. November 22, 2016. https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/11/22/what-is-the-splinternet (accessed September 14, 2018).

3 Duckett, Chris. “The race to ruin the internet is upon us”. ZDNet. 23 September 2018. https://www.zdnet.com/article/the-race-to-ruin-the-internet-is-upon-us/ (accessed November 13, 2018).

4 Baker, Dr. Jessica. “What Does GDPR Mean For You?” Digital Guardian. July 11, 2018. https://digitalguardian.com/blog/what-does-gdpr-mean-for-you (accessed September 14, 2018).

5 Tangermann, Victor. “With GDPR Decision, Zuckerberg Proves Yet Again He Has Learned Absolutely Nothing From the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.” Futurism. April 4, 2018. https://futurism.com/zuckerberg-gdpr-cambridge-analytica/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

6 Sterling, Bruce. “The China Splinternet Model is Winning.” Wired. July 2, 2016. https://www.wired.com/beyond-the-beyond/2016/07/china-splinternet-model-winning/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

7 Nash, Charlie. “The Google Tapes: Employees Applauded Company for Taking Bold Stance Against China.” Breitbart. September 13, 2018. https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/09/13/the-google-tape-employees-applauded-company-for-taking-bold-stance-against-china/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

8 Chan, Edward. “Quick Take: The Great Firewall.” Bloomberg News. November 5, 2018. https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/great-firewall-of-china (accessed November 13, 2018).

9 Kolodny, Lora. “Former Google CEO predicts the internet will split in two — and one part will be led by China.” CNBC. September 20, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/20/eric-schmidt-ex-google-ceo-predicts-internet-split-china.html (accessed November 13, 2018).

10 The RBK Group or RosBiznesKonsalting is a large Russian media group headquartered in Moscow.

11 “Russia Will Create Its Own Internet.” Cyber Security Intelligence Newsletter. January 26, 2018. https://www.cybersecurityintelligence.com/blog/russia-will-create-its-own-internet-3082.html (accessed November 13, 2018).

12 Perry, Tekla. “The Decentralized Internet of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”? Real-World Teams Say They’ve Already Invented It.” IEEE Spectrum. June 9, 2017. https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/telecom/internet/hbo-silicon-valleys-decentralized-internet-realworld-teams-say-they-already-invented-it (accessed November 13, 2018).

Disclaimer: This is a USASOC G9 Gray Paper that has already been cleared for unlimited release. Distribution is unlimited.  The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).