A Hand in Security Access

Jen Buss


It is time for a paradigm shift in the way we look at security access across society. The hardware is out of control and can definitely be simplified.

Here is a personal example. I have 8 different fob access cards that I carry with me on a very regular basis: one for my condo, one for my apartment, one on my work badge, one additional fob for work on my keys (because I kept forgetting by badge), one for my parking garage, one for the work parking garage, one on my CAC card, and my metro card. It is disgusting. The worst part is that we have the ability to build a single device that can add access points as we need them, but it is more profitable for companies to make us pay for additional hardware every time we need new access. Companies have no interest in a new business model where individuals pay a service fee to have access on a user basis. The point is that I would rather pay to have less keys and fobs. This could work just like paying for email licenses and a cloud server, rather than individual email and servers at each business.

I had the option yesterday to put one RFID tag in my hand. It was brilliant: I could reduce all 8 access cards down to one and I could potentially reduce all my keys too. I could stop using passwords for some things because my hand was going to give me access. It is a beautiful solution for my mess of keys. I was seconds away from doing it until I realized that all of these companies will not let me reduce down to one because they are not all compatible. It is ridiculous that this is even a problem. Since I do not have the programming control, I do not have the ability to make the tag work where I want it to and these companies will not work with an independent retailer. I was understandably disappointed.

It is time for the industry model to change. Break through the tradition of selling fobs to make money and start selling a service. Simplify everyone’s lives. Security access is a daily struggle in everyday lives, and the market is ripe for change. Such simple regulation changes could make a vast impact on the lives of millions across the world.


The Internet House of Representatives

Brian Barnett

We should create an Internet House of Representatives, where your representative is chosen based on your political beliefs rather than based on where you live. A representative democracy is a good system because of the sheer size and complexity of our federal government. The men and women in Congress dedicate their time to synthesizing the advice of experts, the desires of constituents, and the influence of interest groups to make informed decisions and choices for our government. The average citizen does not have time to learn or deal with the intricacies of our bureaucratic systems. Yes, their voices should be as well represented as possible, especially in situations where a vote can easily determine a policy outcome, but they do not necessarily have the time and resources to make every political decision.

A representative democracy therefore makes sense when the general population is not interested in writing the content of laws for issues in which they have no education. The Internet provides us all with the opportunity to become educated across many fields, but we do not (yet) have the technology that minimizes the inordinate amount of time that this requires. When we think about the ways in which the Internet affects the government, a logical application would be the creation of a direct democracy. Everyone with an Internet connection could vote on all of our laws and the simple majority would win. This scenario raises the above issue of whether people have the time and knowledge to accomplish this feat effectively. I would argue that a representative democracy still makes sense in the Digital Age, but we can leverage the benefits of the Internet within this framework when it comes to how well the people we elect to Congress represent our interests.

Why are our representatives divided based on state lines and districts? If I am a conservative voter living in San Francisco or I am a liberal voter living in Oklahoma, my voice will be washed out by the opposite majorities in my district. Does this mean I am really being represented if my representative votes in diametric opposition to my political beliefs? What about in a moderate district where the voters are split 50/50 but my candidate just barely lost? Is my voice again stifled if the winner of the election is not in line with my political beliefs? Should I have to move to a district that is more in line with my beliefs? The average margin of victory for a representative across the US is 33%. This shows that 66% of the population has a representative that they voted for (regardless of how well this person will actually represent them), but 33% of the nation does not have a representative who even comes close to matching their political beliefs. The Internet allows me to communicate and become very close to other people around the country. Why can’t I form a voting bloc with similarly minded men and women in Seattle, Reno, Nashville, and Cleveland to have an impact on the federal legislative branch?

This Internet House of Representatives could be made up of 300 women and men (one representative per roughly one million people), elected every 2 years, who each represent a constituency made up of a population spread out among the US. Their offices, lines of communication, reports, and bills could all be located on the Internet so everyone can evaluate candidates and vote for the person who best represents their interests. The details of how you vote for these representatives and the reassignment of federal-state interactions in the Senate or elsewhere are important as well, but do not need to be hashed out here to make the point. In today’s world, where the Internet is the nervous system that connects us all together, our national policies and laws should be written by representatives whose path to Congress is based on the usage of this nation-bridging technology.

Driving Collective Intelligence

Charlie Mueller & Kathy Goodson

Democratic societies are founded upon the principle that an educated, intelligent society will create a way of life that truly embraces the human potential; collective intelligence is the path to societal wisdom. Thomas Jefferson expressed this basic idea in a June 1789 letter to Richard Price Paris where he said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” The idea our founding fathers had in establishing a democratic society freed us from a dominating government structure that embraced individual authority over collective intelligence. We were encouraged to think for ourselves and cooperatively with each other. We no longer had to be told what to do; our imaginations and our potential were finally set free.

There are several historic American examples demonstrating our push for collective intelligence. The one that comes readily to our minds is public education. Between 1852 and 1918, all of the states and territories mandated that all children should be educated, providing the intellectual seeds for Jefferson’s 1789 statement. Public education includes the availability of libraries, schools, and museums. The purpose of public education is sometimes boiled down to several one-sentence ideas: “give people skills for life” or “teach people to be productive”. However, I would argue that the main goal of public education is to raise our societal collective intelligence. In order to build a nation of thinkers that contributes to the success of our country, we have to raise the bar of collective intelligence. One way to accomplish this is through public education. The question is: how do we continue to raise this bar?

First, it is not just about access to information and it is not just about providing a public education system. That is just the foundation. It is about spreading and generating knowledge. The Internet revolution has created unprecedented access to information and changed the educational system in ways that our ancestors could not imagine. The average fool today knows more about the complexities of the universe than some of the greatest minds centuries ago. We are generating new information at a rate that we have never done before, which means we should be generating a more knowledgeable society, but recent trends suggest we are not doing so relative to the rest of the world.

A major problem is that with so much access to information, we are forgetting to teach our children and ourselves how to transform this information into knowledge. Programs like “No Child Left Behind” have only helped weaken our ability to derive knowledge from all the information we have available today, a failure even acknowledged by the White House. This is not just a problem regarding how we teach our children. This problem exists for the average adult and even among our nation’s top thinkers and our scientists. For years, scientists have been trained to specialize in their area of expertise and refrain from thinking about their problems from the perspective of a different scientific discipline. We need new, innovative ways to share information and the knowledge that we gain from it. Shared knowledge drives collective intelligence.

Aside from the obvious reformations in our educational system to get our children focused on learning, what steps do we need to take to put the U.S. back on track to being an intelligent nation? Collaboration in the sciences is key. A cited example demonstrating this point can be seen in a recent interdisciplinary study where a joining of physics and biology led to a nano-system that could be used in the early detection of cancer. Collaboration on the national level, like that being promoted in the President’s BRAIN Initiative, is one step in the right direction. The BRAIN Initiative aims to raise the bar of our collective intelligence in neuroscience by not only encouraging collaboration amongst scientists of different fields, but also by inducing active participation of government, academia, and industry. We need more of these types of collective movements.

In an age where Americans cannot afford to be behind the curve in anything, we must seed the changes that we want to see.  At the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies we are asking these questions and actively searching for answers. Through our Center for Neurotechnology Studies (CNS), we actively create forums to get some of the best minds in government, academia and industry together to discuss important neuroscience issues. Our Center for Revolutionary and Scientific Thought (CReST) works hard every week trying to develop real solutions to difficult S&T questions. We understand that greatness is not achieved alone; it is achieved by cooperation of many. The U.S. is the greatest nation the world has known and all of our triumphs have come when we unite, pool our knowledge and intelligence together, and focus it towards the challenges we face.


On Military Robots

Patrick Cheetham

The Department of Defense is shrinking funding to military robots while robots are becoming more capable and ubiquitous every day. The US needs to invest in developing these technologies and we should look towards the future in ways that keep us superior and counter potential uses against our own systems.

Robots afford considerable advantages in warfare by extending military reach and power projection. They also change the risk-benefit calculation for successful operations. Generally, a robot can be defined as a machine that has some degree of autonomy and the ability to sense, perceive, and act in or on its environment. Yet, this definition and basic understanding of robots does not adequately describe the revolution occurring in robotic technologies that are truly transforming industries and national security as we know it.

DoD funding in recent years has been sluggish, while the utility of military robots has increased. From a high in 2011 of $6.6 billion, the proposed 2014 budget for unmanned systems was just about $4.1 billion. This significant decrease is counterintuitive to the increasing capabilities that robotics provide for DoD. The most newsworthy robots are unmanned aerial vehicles, which grab headlines for their ability to loiter, surveil, and kill targets (for example, they are being used in the current campaign against ISIL). Robots are not just doing dull, dangerous, or dirty tasks; they are dominating the air and quickly becoming a force multiplier. On the ground or in the maritime environment, they inspect and disarm IEDs, carry supplies, enable communications, and use EW to jam and spoof other machines. Robots with stronger artificial intelligence, medical and surgical capabilities, and the ability to incapacitate high value targets could provide even more function for the warfighter in the future.

The ubiquity of robotic technologies in commercial, civil, and national security sectors challenges the US held monopoly on military specific robots. It is estimated that at least 75 to 87 countries are investing in military unmanned systems. Military investment in the Asian region alone will grow by 67% to 2018, totaling almost $2.4 billion per year. A low barrier to entry for makers, nation states, and terrorists is possible because of decreasing costs of enabling technologies. Robert Work and Shawn Brimley point out that advanced computing, big data, autonomy, artificial intelligence, miniaturization, and small high-density power systems in the consumer and service industries advance the development of military robots. A common robotic operating system, cheaper hardware, and 3D printing also contribute to accessibility. Widespread knowledge and availability have given nefarious actors the ability to use machines. For example, the terrorist group Hezbollah has successfully fielded drones and plots using UAVs strapped with bombs. Most strikingly, China has “developed” UAVs with uncanny resemblance to the US-made MQ-9 Reaper.

Technology superiority is a cornerstone of US national security strategy but is being challenged in the field of robotics by decreased budgets and technological diffusion. DoD has decreased investments in robots even though the costs and limits of manned systems make unmanned systems a wise acquisition decision. Robots can replace tasks and enhance our own superiority with an optimum balance between humans and machines. Smartly investing in military robot systems of the future will help the US maintain the technical edge it needs.

Digital Victimization

The Impact of Sexual Violence in the Digital Age

Jennifer McArdle

In early September a group called hackappcom posted a proof of concept script on the popular code repository Github, which allowed users to breach iCloud and access user accounts, including the accounts of various Hollywood starlets, such as Jennifer Lawrence. What followed was perhaps the largest celebrity nude photo leak in history, amounting to over 21,000 images targeting over 100 female celebrities. While the leak has garnered mass media attention and elicited an FBI response, Internet “sex crimes” against females continue to go unanswered. Sexual harassment and violence laws must be expanded to reflect the digital age.

There is no dearth of recent instances where females were unable to control the malicious manipulation of their image in the virtual domain. Indeed a quick scan of news sites relay countless incidences of digital harassment, bullying, and sexual and emotional violence. What follows below is a short glimpse into some of the devastation that have been wreaked in cyberspace:

In December 2012, an Icelandic woman named Thorlaug Agustsdottir discovered a page titled “Men are better than woman,” depicting mutilated and nude photos of woman. After publishing an outraged post about the page on her wall, Agustsdottir soon found a manipulated image of herself on the page, complete with slogans such as, “Women are like grass, they just need to be beaten/ cut regularly” and “You just need to be raped.” After reporting these disturbing images to Facebook, Facebook responded that the images did not violate Facebook’s standards on hate speech, and the images were filed under ‘Controversial Humor.’ It was only after Agustsdottir contacted the local press, and the story proliferated, that the image was removed.

In 2010, 12 year old Amanda Todd showed her chest to what she thought was a boy, but was in fact a pedophile. Amanda’s image and doctored images circulated around the Internet and was repeatedly posted on sexually explicit pages. One such post encouraged Amanda and similar girls to, “drink bleach and die.” In October 2012, Amanda committed suicide, posting a YouTube video, explaining her struggle with harassment and the subsequent decision. Amanda and her mother were unable to control the spread of her image.

Furthermore, shortly after Google’s announcement that it was removing celebrity images, revenge porn victim Holly Jacobs, tweeted this response:


Jacobs has suffered years of Internet harassment after her ex allegedly posted intimate photos of her on the Internet without her consent. Jacob’s attempts at enlisting FBI assistance, an Internet specialist, and an attorney were all “dead ends.”

The thread that links all three stories—apart from these females being rendered digital victims—is that there was little to no legal mechanism to control the propagation of their image. As Kathy Sierra, one of the more outspoken victims of Internet harassment, noted in Wired last week, “You’re probably more likely to win the lottery than to get any law enforcement agency in the United States to take action when you are harassed online, no matter how viscously and explicitly.’’

While the leak of celebrity photos is shedding new light on Internet harassment and violence against women, more must be done to ensure that these problems are addressed equitably. Social media and Internet sites need to review their free speech protections in light of ongoing events in order to ensure that their platforms are not inadvertently promoting hate speech. Moreover, government, both national and state, have an important role to play. California recently expanded its state ban on revenge porn; other states (and perhaps the federal government) should follow suit.

It is time for companies and government to take a proactive rather than reactive response to online harassment and sexual and emotional violence. Current harassment and sexual violence laws must be expanded from the physical to the virtual domain.

Indo-U.S. Space Collaboration for Orbital Debris Remediation

 Jennifer McArdle and Patrick Cheetham

As India and the U.S. prepare for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington at the end of the month, a reexamination of the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership goals are in order. India and the U.S. have outlined pillars to their strategic relationship—security, economics and technology, regional strategic and political issues, and global issues. Yet, there is a need for concrete initiatives to help bolster these cooperative goals. Space, particularly collaboration for orbital debris remediation, could provide India and the U.S. the mechanism to enhance cooperation, demonstrate leadership, and combat a persistent and indiscriminate threat to all space-faring nations.

The strategic importance of space is without question.  The National Space Policy of the United States asserts that space provides unique assets for the conduct of military operations, as well as an increasing array of objects that support life capabilities such as telecommunications and GPS.  As an emerging space power, India is keen to build its space capabilities.  India’s space program, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), is a source of great national pride. While, India and the U.S. have some prior space collaboration—mutually cooperating on the Chandrayaan I (India’s first unmanned lunar probe), providing assistance for India’s first human space flight, and just yesterday, announcing an Indo-U.S. Joint Mars Working Group—there is a need for more bilateral space synergy.

Orbital space debris poses an indiscriminate, constant, and ubiquitous threat to space traffic management.  According to NASA, hundreds of millions of space debris particles currently congest near Earth orbits; 21,000 that are over 10cm in diameter, and 500,000 of which are between 1 and 10cm.  Even the smallest orbital debris particles have the capacity to destroy functional satellites upon impact.  Space accessibility is threatened by the increasing amounts of debris in orbit and the potential for collision cascading. Space faring nations have attempted various debris-mitigating measures, but these remain unequal to the task. More must be done.

Scientists have proposed various remedies to address orbital debris removal (ODR). Yet, the proposal that has emerged as the most cutting-edge, efficient—both in terms of ODR feasibility and successfulness—and cost effective is a ground based laser system.  A ground based laser system “would engage an orbiting target and slow it down by ablating material from its surface, which leads to reentry into the atmosphere.”  There is the potential for the laser to prosecute a target and kill an objects orbit on one passing; thus maximizing the potential for mass debris removal in a given year. While laser ablation has substantive potential to address orbital debris, there are palpable risks associated with such a program.

Currently there is no meaningful governing body or regime in place that deals with ODR.  Likewise, there is no current international definition of space weapons.  Due to the ambiguous nature of space weapons definitions, present ODR techniques cannot be delineated: Approaches that eliminate space debris and non-functioning satellites can also harm a functioning one.  Thus if India and the U.S. were to collaborate on ODR, they would have to persuade the international community that they were in fact not developing a bilateral covert anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) capability.  Open dialogue and transparency of intent in an international forum may alleviate concerns.

International cooperation does not always yield cost-effective, technologically feasible, or politically viable results.  Orbital debris is a systemic problem for the space environment; yet, much like the multilateral response to climate change, an international response to orbital debris will most likely prove fruitless.  ODR requires strategic leadership and India and the US appear uniquely qualified to collaboratively meet this challenge.  As Obama and former Prime Minister Singh stated in 2010 “a natural partnership exists between India’s dynamic human enterprise and the U.S. storied history of space exploration.”  Prime Minister Modi and President Obama should explore Indo-U.S. collaboration in ODR for the benefit of the bilateral partnership and humanity.

Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight

by Mike Swetnam

We have the largest military in the entire world. In fact, if you add up all the next ten biggest, you will not get a military force as big as the one the USA controls.

That should mean that there is no war or military action on this earth that the USA cannot fully overwhelm, control, and win in short order. Why, then, have we been fighting nasty little wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade? Why do we feel like we cannot do anything except provide some meager air support to the war against ISIL?

Is this the reality of the modern world? Or are we, the USA, severely underestimating and therefore underutilizing our own power? The answer should be obvious, but it seems to not be so.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the US put together an army that included 500,000 US troops and about 220,000 allied troops, and 720,000 boots on the ground! General Colin Powell, the author of the military strategy of overwhelming force, called it shock and awe.  The result was that Iraq was pushed out of Kuwait and the allied forces marched all the way to Baghdad in less than 100 hours! Yes, four days.

Fifteen years later, we invaded Iraq with the intention of changing the leadership and eliminating weapons of mass destruction. It turns out that there were no weapons of mass destruction and a decade of fighting later, we left without ever really owning the country.

What was the difference? When we invaded Iraq in 2003, we went with less than 200,000 boots on the ground (148,000 US and 47,000 allied) instead of the 720,000 we used in 1990.

We also tried to liberate Afghanistan. We used only about 20,000 troops for most of this conflict with a surge to 63,000 by 2012.

We have been trying to stop an infestation of rats with a fly swatter! Colin Powell would have had us use a hand grenade!

The lesson is clear. If we need to take action and use military force, do so with overwhelming force. Make sure you win decisively and quickly. Demonstrate your resolve, your ability, and the swiftness of your resolve.

Acting meekly, with underwhelming force, only serves to make you look weak, ineffective, and malleable.

Our current fight is with ISIS, or ISIL. They cut people’s heads off and broadcast videos of that act. There are also hundreds of pictures on the web of pickup trucks full of heads they cut off of their prisoners and innocent victims.

We can not address this threat with flyswatters, other-people’s military forces, or insufficient numbers of troops. We need troops on the ground; several hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground.  That is the only way we will end this quickly, decisively, and permanently.