190. Weaponized Information: One Possible Vignette

[Editor’s Note:  The Information Environment (IE) is the point of departure for all events across the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) spectrum. It’s a unique space that demands our understanding, as the Internet of Things (IoT) and hyper-connectivity have democratized accessibility, extended global reach, and amplified the effects of weaponized information. Our strategic competitors and adversaries have been quick to grasp and employ it to challenge our traditional advantages and exploit our weaknesses.

    • Our near-peers confront us globally, converging IE capabilities with hybrid strategies to expand the battlefield across all domains and create hemispheric threats challenging us from home station installations (i.e., the Strategic Support Area) to the Close Area fight.
    • Democratization of weaponized information empowers regional hegemons and non-state actors, enabling them to target the U.S. and our allies and achieve effects at a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons, without risking armed conflict.
    • The IE enables our adversaries to frame the conditions of future competition and/or escalation to armed conflict on their own terms.

Today’s post imagines one such vignette, with Russia exploiting the IE to successfully out-compete us and accomplish their political objectives, without expending a single bullet!]

Ethnic Russian minorities’ agitation against their respective governments in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia spike. Simultaneously, the Russian Government ratchets up tensions, with inflammatory statements of support for these ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic States; coordinated movements and exercises by Russian ground, naval, and air forces adjacent to the region; and clandestine support to ethnic Russians in these States. The Russian Government started a covert campaign to shape people’s views about the threats against the Russian diaspora. More than 200,000 twitter accounts send 3.6 million tweets trending #protectRussianseverywhere. This sprawling Russian disinformation campaign is focused on building internal support for the Russian President and a possible military action. The U.S. and NATO respond…

The 2nd Cav Regt is placed on alert; as it prepares to roll out of garrison for Poland, several videos surface across social media, purportedly showing the sexual assault of several underage German nationals by U.S. personnel. These disturbingly graphic deepfakes appear to implicate key Leaders within the Regiment. German political and legal authorities call for an investigation and host nation protests erupt outside the gates of Rose Barracks, Vilseck, disrupting the unit’s deployment.

Simultaneously, in units comprising the initial Force Package earmarked to deploy to Europe, key personnel (and their dependents) are targeted, distracting troops from their deployment preparations and disrupting unit cohesion:

    • Social media accounts are hacked/hijacked, with false threats by dependents to execute mass/school shootings, accusations of sexual abuse, hate speech posts by Leaders about their minority troops, and revelations of adulterous affairs between unit spouses.
    • Bank accounts are hacked: some are credited with excessive amounts of cash followed by faux “See Something, Say Something” hotline accusations being made about criminal and espionage activities; while others are zeroed out, disrupting families’ abilities to pay bills.

Russia’s GRU (Military Intelligence) employs AI Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) to create fake persona injects that mimic select U.S. Active Army, ARNG, and USAR commanders making disparaging statements about their confidence in our allies’ forces, the legitimacy of the mission, and their faith in our political leadership. Sowing these injects across unit social media accounts, Russian Information Warfare specialists seed doubt and erode trust in the chain of command amongst a percentage of susceptible Soldiers, creating further friction in deployment preparations.

As these units load at railheads or begin their road march towards their respective ports of embarkation, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) attacks are launched on critical rail, road, port, and airfield infrastructures, snarling rail lines, switching yards, and crossings; creating bottlenecks at key traffic intersections; and spoofing navigation systems to cause sealift asset collisions and groundings at key maritime chokepoints. The fly-by-wire avionics are hacked on a departing C-17, causing a crash with the loss of all 134 Soldiers onboard. All C-17s are grounded, pending an investigation.

Salvos of personalized, “direct inject” psychological warfare attacks are launched against Soldiers via immersive media (Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality; 360o Video/Gaming), targeting them while they await deployment and are in-transit to Theater. Similarly, attacks are vectored at spouses, parents, and dependents, with horrifying imagery of their loved ones’ torn and maimed bodies on Artificial Intelligence-generated battlefields (based on scraped facial imagery from social media accounts).

Multi-Domain Operations has improved Jointness, but exacerbated problems with “the communications requirements that constitute the nation’s warfighting Achilles heel.” As units arrive in Theater, seams within and between these U.S. and NATO Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Fires; Sustainment; and Command and Control inter-connected and federated tactical networks that facilitate partner-to-partner data exchanges are exploited with specifically targeted false injects, sowing doubt and distrust across the alliance for the Multi-Domain Common Operating Picture. Spoofing of these systems leads to accidental air defense engagements, resulting in Blue-on-Blue fratricide or the downing of a commercial airliner, with additional civilian deaths on the ground from spent ordnance, providing more opportunities for Russian Information Operations to spread acrimony within the alliance and create dissent in public opinion back home.

With the flow of U.S. forces into the Baltic Nations, real instances of ethnic Russians’ livelihoods being disrupted (e.g., accidental destruction of livestock and crops, the choking off of main routes to market, and damage to essential services [water, electricity, sewerage]) by maneuver units on exercise are captured on video and enhanced digitally to exacerbate their cumulative effects. Proliferated across the net via bots, these instances further stoke anti-Baltic / anti-U.S. opinion amongst Russian-sympathetic and non-aligned populations alike.

Following years of scraping global social media accounts and building profiles across the full political spectrum, artificial influencers are unleashed on-line that effectively target each of these profiles within the U.S. and allied civilian populations. Ostensibly engaging populations via key “knee-jerk” on-line affinities (e.g., pro-gun, pro-choice, etc.), these artificial influencers, ever so subtly, begin to shift public opinion to embrace a sympathetic position on the rights of the Russian diaspora to greater autonomy in the Baltic States.

The release of deepfake videos showing Baltic security forces massacring ethnic Russians creates further division and causes some NATO partners to hesitate, question, and withhold their support, as required under Article 5. The alliance is rent asunder — Checkmate!

Many of the aforementioned capabilities described in this vignette are available now. Threats in the IE space will only increase in verisimilitude with augmented reality and multisensory content interaction. Envisioning what this Bot 2.0 Competition will look like is essential in building whole-of-government countermeasures and instilling resiliency in our population and military formations.

The Mad Scientist Initiative will continue to explore the significance of the IE to Competition and Conflict and information weaponization throughout our FY20 events — stay tuned to the MadSci Laboratory for more information. In anticipation of this, we have published The Information Environment:  Competition and Conflict anthology, a collection of previously published blog posts that serves as a primer on this topic and examines the convergence of technologies that facilitates information weaponization — Enjoy!

180. The Evolution of Nation-States and Their Role in the Future

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Marie Murphy, exploring the evolving role of nation-states in an increasingly multipolar world. While nations-states will persevere as the primary actors in the international system for the foreseeable future, their dominion will increasingly be challenged by the growing wealth and influence of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and the emergence of on-line communities of interest coalescing beyond traditional concepts of nationality and fidelity. Given the resultant diffusion of power and allegiance, the dynamics of competition and conflict may well morph beyond our current concepts of allies, strategic competitors, and large scale combat operations.  Ms. Murphy posits two scenarios and then explores the associated ramifications of this evolving power dynamic for the U.S. Army — Enjoy!]

It’s a human fallacy to believe that things in the present have always been and always will be.1  Of course, history books confirm that this is not the case, but it is difficult to imagine living in a world other than the one we’ve adjusted to today. We are all familiar with the current structure of international power, but nation-states as we know them are a relatively new concept. The “official” creation date for what is considered the modern nation-state is often pinned at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.2  However, it wasn’t until the end of WWII and the subsequent redefining of territory in Africa and the Middle East that the modern map began to appear. The fall of the USSR in 1991 redrew the map again, adding new states in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. These major shifts occurred within the lifetimes of people today, demonstrating that the current world order is anything but set in stone.

There are several emerging factors which may come to threaten the recent primacy of the nation-state in the distribution of global power as it currently stands, including the resurgence of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and the proliferation of online organizations, both aided by the technological advances of the 21st century. MNCs and online organizations connect people around the world and transcend national boundaries. They are capable of amassing capital and influence comparable to that of some nation-states, creating a potential shift in global power dynamics. For example, in 2018, Amazon topped $1 Trillion in value, placing it 17th in the world amongst nation-states in terms of GDP.3

Today, MNCs such as Apple and Amazon rely on global stability to maintain optimal operations. Conflicts affect companies by threatening the interruption or loss of crucial supply chains and the diversion of workers. Due to these potential disruptions, MNCs may have an interest in discouraging, reducing, and restricting conflict and some have the capital to attempt to do so. On the other hand, not all corporate intervention in conflict spaces could prove benevolent. Companies could partner with competing parties in a conflict or further exacerbate divisions by involving their own private security forces. The consequences of kinetic intervention by MNCs may prove detrimental, especially if it disrupts the production and distribution of critical natural resources or the economic livelihoods of the local population that depend on its peaceful presence.4  As the global influence of MNCs rises, the U.S. Army may face questions such as: Could conflict that poses a potential disruption to private industry be mitigated by that industry? Could industry be a major player in conflict zones?

The potential rise of individual allegiances and ideologies beginning to align more with virtual communities, which do not recognize international borders, may start to erode the cultural and political bonds of a nation-state. One example of a diverse online community is Facebook, which currently stands as a platform for like-minded people to join groups and pages according to their personal interests.

But could this be taken to the next level? Facebook recently announced the potential launch of its own digital currency. While many consider this technology to be ahead of its time, and definitely ahead of regulatory standards, it may be a signal that online entities will be capable of encroaching upon what has historically been a governmental responsibility.5  As online organizations develop and proliferate, questions pertinent to national defense begin to emerge, including: Could a nation suffering from ideological dissolution still field a physical army? Could an online organization with multinational membership present a cyber threat to armed forces around the world? Could an online community create its own army not based on geography and borders, but on shared belief?

So, where do these current and potential developments leave nation-states? I have chosen to highlight two possible future scenarios which may emerge from the rising influence of MNCs and online organizations: a multipolar power distribution and a devolving status quo.

The world may be evolving into a multipolar system comprised of different nodes of power; where nation-states, MNCs, and online organizations operate on a more even global playing field. MNCs may begin to leverage their high levels of capital, resources, and influence to impact international and military affairs beyond the oversight of a government. A company’s entrenchment in a region or domain where conflict is developing may be sufficient grounds for direct involvement. If the company exerts more power than the government in that area, it may take on the roles and responsibilities of either mitigating or managing that conflict, possibly including the use of private forces or the co-opting of the legitimate military. Large and diverse online organizations begin to fray the social fabric of established nation-states as citizens’ lives increasingly move and are lived online. These organizations may develop the social organizational capacity that governments used to exclusively possess; the ability to coordinate the mass movement or participation of a large number of people or to control society in other ways, such as holding and managing their currency. In this scenario, nation-states play a somewhat diminished role as what used to be exclusively state-held power is now dispersed among various relevant international organizations.

Alternatively, nation-states may continue to hold the majority of global power, but the massive capital and influence of MNCs and online organizations could grow to become at odds with governments and these groups may vie for a seat at the table. A devolved version of the present may manifest in the event of increased isolationism as large companies lobby their governments to do business worldwide while leaders prefer more domestically focused economic thinking. Online organizations may overtake governments in cultural leadership, leaving governments to be little more than administrative units while citizens who live next door to each other have allegiances to groups and organizations formed from people from all over the world. These online groups may eventually take on governmental responsibilities as well (such as taxation used to provide services) and have the capability to incite mass mobility at a moment’s notice.

Combatting these potential changes in the international balance of power poses new challenges for the Army. Either of these scenarios could alter ally/competitor relationships. Alliances might shift due to either economic interests or ideological priorities. Such considerations may supersede geostrategic factors in a historically symbiotic alliance. The need for American protection and military assistance might not be as great if current power competitors no longer hold that same power or demonstrate a shift in interests.

An evolving power dynamic would alter the way that the Army thinks about its concepts and structures its force. In the future, MNCs may be “another player on the field,” both domestically through lobbying and political influence and in theater due to their operations or investments on the ground. This entanglement of military objectives and private industry interests may demand greater consideration as corporations continue to drive economic development and growth worldwide. Online organizations may divert critical human resources away from patriotic causes towards ones that fulfill specific personal ideologies which may not align with the Nation and the Army. Based on economic and technological advancements, the Army may find itself with different established allies and in the company of states and organizations whose interests and capabilities temporarily align with the U.S. The role of a nation-state in the global order may be evolving as other powerful players come to the table. Whether or not these players will be integrated, or are too big not to be, is yet to be seen.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend, also by Marie Murphy

Splinternets, by Howard Simkin

Alternet: What Happens When the Internet is No Longer Trusted? by LtCol Jennifer “JJ” Snow

Proclaimed Mad Scientist Marie Murphy is a senior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying International Relations and Arabic. She is a regular contributor to the Mad Scientist Laboratory, interned at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the Mad Scientist Initiative during the summer of 2018, and is currently serving as a Mad Scientist Initiative consultant. She was a Research Fellow for William and Mary’s Project on International Peace and Security.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the Army Futures Command, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This piece is meant to be thought-provoking and does not reflect the current position of the U.S. Army.


1 Bartlett, Jamie. “Return of the City-State,” Aeon, September 5, 2017. https://aeon.co/essays/the-end-of-a-world-of-nation-states-may-be-upon-us

2 “Peace of Westphalia (1648),” Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0073.xml

3 “Gross Domestic Product 2018,” World Bank, 2018. https://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/GDP.pdf

Streitfield, David. “Amazon Hits $1,000,000,000,000 in Value, Following Apple,” The New York Times, Sept. 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/technology/amazon-stock-price-1-trillion-value.html

4 Humphreys, Macartan. “Economics and Violent Conflict,” Harvard University, 2003. https://www.unicef.org/socialpolicy/files/Economics_and_Violent_Conflict.pdf

5 Sprouse, William. “Facebook Says Libra Digital Currency May Never Launch,” CFO, July 30, 2019. https://www.cfo.com/regulation/2019/07/facebook-says-libra-digital-currency-may-never-launch/

105. Emerging Technologies as Threats in Non-Kinetic Engagements

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s post by returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Dr. James Giordano and CAPT (USN – Ret.) L. R. Bremseth, identifying the national security challenges presented by emerging technologies, specifically when employed by our strategic competitors and non-state actors alike in non-kinetic engagements.

Dr. Giordano’s and CAPT Bremseth’s post is especially relevant, given the publication earlier this month of TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, and its solution to the “problem of layered standoff,” namely “the rapid and continuous integration of all domains of warfare to deter and prevail as we compete short of armed conflict; penetrate and dis-integrate enemy anti-access and area denial systems; exploit the resulting freedom of maneuver to defeat enemy systems, formations and objectives and to achieve our own strategic objectives; and consolidate gains to force a return to competition on terms more favorable to the U.S., our allies and partners.”]

“Victorious warriors seek to win first then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first then seek to win.” — Sun Tzu

Non-kinetic Engagements

Political and military actions directed at adversely impacting or defeating an opponent often entail clandestine operations which can be articulated across a spectrum that ranges from overt warfare to subtle “engagements.” Routinely, the United States, along with its allies (and adversaries), has employed clandestine tactics and operations across the kinetic and non-kinetic domains of warfare. Arguably, the execution of clandestine kinetic operations is employed more readily as these collective activities often occur after the initiation of conflict (i.e., “Right of Bang”), and their effects may be observed (to various degrees) and/or measured. Given that clandestine non-kinetic activities are less visible and insidious, they may be particularly (or more) effective because often they are unrecognized and occur “Left of Bang.” Other nations, especially adversaries, understand the relative economy of force that non-kinetic engagements enable and increasingly are focused upon developing and articulating advanced methods for operations.

Much has been written about the fog of war. Non-kinetic engagements can create unique uncertainties prior to and/or outside of traditional warfare, precisely because they have qualitatively and quantitatively “fuzzy boundaries” as blatant acts of war. The “intentionally induced ambiguity” of non-kinetic engagements can establish plus-sum advantages for the executor(s) and zero-sum dilemmas for the target(s). For example, a limited scale non-kinetic action, which exerts demonstrably significant effects but does not meet defined criteria for an act of war, places the targeted recipient(s) at a disadvantage:  First, in that the criteria for response (and proportionality) are vague and therefore any response could be seen as questionable; and second, in that if the targeted recipient(s) responds with bellicose action(s), there is considerable likelihood that they may be viewed as (or provoked to be) the aggressor(s) (and therefore susceptible to some form of retribution that may be regarded as sanctionable).

Nominally, non-kinetic engagements often utilize non-military means to expand the effect-space beyond the conventional battlefield. The Department of Defense and Joint Staff do not have a well agreed-upon lexicon to define and to express the full spectrum of current and potential activities that constitute non-kinetic engagements. It is unfamiliar – and can be politically uncomfortable – to use non-military terms and means to describe non-kinetic engagements. As previously noted, it can be politically difficult – if not precarious– to militarily define and respond to non-kinetic activities.

Non-kinetic engagements are best employed to incur disruptive effects in and across various dimensions of effect (e.g., biological, psychological, social) that can lead to intermediate to long-term destructive manifestations (in a number of possible domains, ranging from the economic to the geo-political). The latent disruptive and destructive effects should be framed and regarded as “Grand Strategy” approaches that evoke outcomes in a “long engagement/long war” context rather than merely in more short-term tactical situations.1

Thus, non-kinetic operations must be seen and regarded as “tools of mass disruption,” incurring “rippling results” that can evoke both direct and indirect de-stabilizing effects. These effects can occur and spread:  1) from the cellular (e.g., affecting physiological function of a targeted individual) to the socio-political scales (e.g., to manifest effects in response to threats, burdens and harms incurred by individual and/or groups); and 2) from the personal (e.g., affecting a specific individual or particular group of individuals) to the public dimensions in effect and outcome (e.g., by incurring broad scale reactions and responses to key non-kinetic events).2

Given the increasing global stature, capabilities, and postures of Asian nations, it becomes increasingly important to pay attention to aspects of classical Eastern thought (e.g., Sun Tzu) relevant to bellicose engagement. Of equal importance is the recognition of various nations’ dedicated enterprises in developing methods of non-kinetic operations (e.g., China; Russia), and to understand that such endeavors may not comport with the ethical systems, principles, and restrictions adhered to by the United States and its allies.3, 4 These differing ethical standards and practices, if and when coupled to states’ highly centralized abilities to coordinate and to synchronize activity of the so-called “triple helix” of government, academia, and the commercial sector, can create synergistic force-multiplying effects to mobilize resources and services that can be non-kinetically engaged.5 Thus, these states can target and exploit the seams and vulnerabilities in other nations that do not have similarly aligned, multi-domain, coordinating capabilities.

Emerging Technologies – as Threats

Increasingly, emerging technologies are being leveraged as threats for such non-kinetic engagements. While the threat of radiological, nuclear, and (high yield) explosive technologies have been and remain generally well surveilled and controlled to date, new and convergent innovations in the chemical, biological, cyber sciences, and engineering are yielding tools and methods that currently are not completely, or effectively addressed. An overview of these emerging technologies is provided in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Of key interest are the present viability and current potential value of the brain sciences to be engaged in these ways.6, 7, 8 The brain sciences entail and obtain new technologies that can be applied to affect chemical and biological systems in both kinetic (e.g., chemical and biological ‘warfare’ but in ways that may sidestep definition – and governance – by existing treaties and conventions such as the Biological Toxins and Weapons Convention (BTWC), and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and/or non-kinetic ways (which fall outside of, and therefore are not explicitly constrained by, the scope and auspices of the BTWC or CWC).9, 10

As recent incidents (e.g., “Havana Syndrome”; use of novichok; infiltration of foreign-produced synthetic opioids to US markets) have demonstrated, the brain sciences and technologies have utility to affect “minds and hearts” in (kinetic and non-kinetic) ways that elicit biological, psychological, socio-economic, and political effects which can be clandestine, covert, or attributional, and which evoke multi-dimensional ripple effects in particular contexts (as previously discussed). Moreover, apropos current events, the use of gene editing technologies and techniques to modify existing microorganisms11, and/or selectively alter human susceptibility to disease12 , reveal the ongoing and iterative multi-national interest in and considered weaponizable use(s) of emerging biotechnologies as instruments to incur “precision pathologies” and “immaculate destruction” of selected targets.

Toward Address, Mitigation, and Prevention

Without philosophical understanding of and technical insight into the ways that non-kinetic engagements entail and affect civilian, political, and military domains, the coordinated assessment and response to any such engagement(s) becomes procedurally complicated and politically difficult. Therefore, we advocate and propose increasingly dedicated efforts to enable sustained, successful surveillance, assessment, mitigation, and prevention of the development and use of Emerging Technologies as Threats (ETT) to national security. We posit that implementing these goals will require coordinated focal activities to:  1) increase awareness of emerging technologies that can be utilized as non-kinetic threats; 2) quantify the likelihood and extent of threat(s) posed; 3) counter identified threats; and 4) prevent or delay adversarial development of future threats.

Further, we opine that a coordinated enterprise of this magnitude will necessitate a Whole of Nations approach so as to mobilize the organizations, resources, and personnel required to meet other nations’ synergistic triple helix capabilities to develop and non-kinetically engage ETT.

Utilizing this approach will necessitate establishment of:

1. An office (or network of offices) to coordinate academic and governmental research centers to study and to evaluate current and near-future non-kinetic threats.

2. Methods to qualitatively and quantitatively identify threats and the potential timeline and extent of their development.

3. A variety of means for protecting the United States and allied interests from these emerging threats.

4. Computational approaches to create and to support analytic assessments of threats across a wide range of emerging technologies that are leverageable and afford purchase in non-kinetic engagements.

In light of other nations’ activities in this domain, we view the non-kinetic deployment of emerging technologies as a clear, present, and viable future threat. Therefore, as we have stated in the past13, 14, 15 , and unapologetically re-iterate here, it is not a question of if such methods will be utilized but rather questions of when, to what extent, and by which group(s), and most importantly, if the United States and its allies will be prepared for these threats when they are rendered.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please also see Dr. Giordano’s presentations addressing:

War and the Human Brain podcast, posted by our colleagues at Modern War Institute on 24 July 2018.

Neurotechnology in National Security and Defense from the Mad Scientist Visioning Multi-Domain Battle in 2030-2050 Conference, co-hosted by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on 25-26 July 2017.

Brain Science from Bench to Battlefield: The Realities – and Risks – of Neuroweapons from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Center for Global Security Research (CGSR), on 12 June 2017.

Mad Scientist James Giordano, PhD, is Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry, Chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program, and Co-Director of the O’Neill-Pellegrino Program in Brain Science and Global Law and Policy at Georgetown University Medical Center. He also currently serves as Senior Biosciences and Biotechnology Advisor for CSCI, Springfield, VA, and has served as Senior Science Advisory Fellow of the Strategic Multilayer Assessment Group of the Joint Staff of the Pentagon.

R. Bremseth, CAPT, USN SEAL (Ret.), is Senior Special Operations Forces Advisor for CSCI, Springfield, VA. A 29+ years veteran of the US Navy, he commanded SEAL Team EIGHT, Naval Special Warfare GROUP THREE, and completed numerous overseas assignments. He also served as Deputy Director, Operations Integration Group, for the Department of the Navy.

This blog is adapted with permission from a whitepaper by the authors submitted to the Strategic Multilayer Assessment Group/Joint Staff Pentagon, and from a manuscript currently in review at HDIAC Journal. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of Defense, and/or the organizations with which the authors are involved. 


1 Davis Z, Nacht M. (Eds.) Strategic Latency- Red, White and Blue: Managing the National and international Security Consequences of Disruptive Technologies. Livermore CA: Lawrence Livermore Press, 2018.

2 Giordano J. Battlescape brain: Engaging neuroscience in defense operations. HDIAC Journal 3:4: 13-16 (2017).

3 Chen C, Andriola J, Giordano J. Biotechnology, commercial veiling, and implications for strategic latency: The exemplar of neuroscience and neurotechnology research and development in China. In: Davis Z, Nacht M. (Eds.) Strategic Latency- Red, White and Blue: Managing the National and international Security Consequences of Disruptive Technologies. Livermore CA: Lawrence Livermore Press, 2018.

4 Palchik G, Chen C, Giordano J. Monkey business? Development, influence and ethics of potentially dual-use brain science on the world stage. Neuroethics, 10:1-4 (2017).

5 Etzkowitz H, Leydesdorff L. The dynamics of innovation: From national systems and “Mode 2” to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy, 29: 109-123 (2000).

6 Forsythe C, Giordano J. On the need for neurotechnology in the national intelligence and defense agenda: Scope and trajectory. Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy 2(1): T5-8 (2011).

7 Giordano J. (Ed.) Neurotechnology in National Security and Defense: Technical Considerations, Neuroethical Concerns. Boca Raton: CRC Press (2015).

8 Giordano J. Weaponizing the brain: Neuroscience advancements spark debate. National Defense, 6: 17-19 (2017).

9 DiEuliis D, Giordano J. Why gene editors like CRISPR/Cas may be a game-changer for neuroweapons. Health Security 15(3): 296-302 (2017).

10 Gerstein D, Giordano J. Re-thinking the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention? Health Security 15(6): 1-4 (2017).

11 DiEuliis D, Giordano J. Gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9: implications for dual-use and biosecurity. Protein and Cell 15: 1-2 (2017).

12 See, for example: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/11/30/18119589/crispr-technology-he-jiankui (Accessed 2. December, 2018).

13 Giordano J, Wurzman R. Neurotechnology as weapons in national intelligence and defense. Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics and Policy 2: 138-151 (2011).

14 Giordano J, Forsythe C, Olds J. Neuroscience, neurotechnology and national security: The need for preparedness and an ethics of responsible action. AJOB-Neuroscience 1(2): 1-3 (2010).

15 Giordano J. The neuroweapons threat. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 72(3): 1-4 (2016).

94. The Wide Range of Competition

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist tracks convergence trends that are changing the character of future warfare. The democratization of technologies and the global proliferation of information is one of these trends that has expanded the arena of high-end threat capabilities beyond nation-states to now include non-state actors and super-empowered individuals. Today’s post illustrates how the democratization of one such capability,  biotechnology, affects the Future Operational Environment.]

As discussed during the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference, co-hosted with SRI International at Menlo Park, California last Spring, the broad advancement of biotechnologies will provide wide access to dangerous and powerful bioweapons and human enhancement. The low cost and low expertise entry point into gene editing, human performance enhancement, and bioweapon production has spurred a string of new explorations into this arena by countries with large defense budgets (e.g., China), non-state criminal and terrorist organizations (e.g., ISIS), and even super-empowered individuals willing to subject their bodies to experimental and risky treatments or augmentations.

China has invested billions of dollars into biotechnology – including in several U.S. biotechnology firms – and plans on focusing on their own bio revolution. Gene editing is one of the areas where China has sought to leapfrog the United States through ambitious Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) projects, editing the genes of 86 individuals, while the United States is just now approaching human trials. Additionally, Elsa Kania, an expert on Chinese emerging technology from the Center for the New American Security (CNAS), noted that China is now seeking to build its own innovation base rather than focusing on intellectual property theft and technology transfers.

Listen to Ms. Kania’s discussion addressing technological priorities and how they overlay on the Chinese government’s strategic objectives in the  China’s Quest for Enhanced Military Technology podcast, hosted by our colleagues at Modern War Institute.

Non-state actors – mainly terrorist organizations – have focused more on weaponizing biotechnology. A personal laptop belonging to ISIS that was captured in Syria, was found to contain lessons on making bubonic plague bombs and the employment of various weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The possession of this dangerous information by the most notorious terrorist organization across the globe is a testament to the worldwide proliferation of information. This challenge of weaponized biotechnology is exacerbated by the relative ease of obtaining material to carry out such attacks.

Watch Dr. Gary Ackerman‘s presentation on Non-State Actors and their Uses of Technology from the Mad Scientist Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Autonomy: Visioning Mult-Domain Battle in 2030-2050 Conference at Georgetown University, 7-8 March 2017.

There is a growing community of individual biohackers and “do it yourselfers” (DIYers), super-empowered individuals pushing the boundaries of DNA editing, implants, embedded technologies (embeds), and unapproved chemical and biological injections. One of the most prominent biohackers, Josiah Zayner, a former NASA employee with a biophysics PhD, who livestreamed his self-injection of CRISPR and has even started a company selling DIY CRISPR kits ranging from several hundred to over 1000 dollars, effectively enabling biohackers to cheaply change their physiology, alter their appearance, and go beyond human biological norms. None of these treatments and augmentations are approved by regulatory agencies and DIYers run the serious risk of harming themselves or unleashing destructive and disruptive biological agents upon an unwitting population.

Read our Mad Scientist Laboratory blog post on the Emergent Threat Posed by Super-Empowered Individuals .

Biotechnology is just one example of how potentially game changing capabilities that were once only within the purview of our strategic competitors will be democratized via the global proliferation of information.  In the Future Operational Environment, we can also expect to see artificial intelligence, multi-domain swarming, and space capabilities in the hands of non-state and super-empowered individuals.