Who Are We Becoming?

Charles Mueller

Humanity is a species that evolves. The foods we eat, the emotions we feel, and the choices we make all shape our DNA in the ways that make us who we are. The stories we tell, the history we remember, and the beliefs we share give structure to our society and have made our cultures what they are. We have always been in charge of who we become, but being in charge is not the same as being in control. In the last century, science & technology have developed so rapidly that we find ourselves at an interesting point in our evolution. We are not just in charge of who we become; today, we are in control. So…

Who are we becoming?

On June 16th, the Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing to discuss the science and ethics of genetically engineered Human DNA. The hearing dealt with the policy implications of new genetic engineering technologies, like CRISPR/Cas9. The reason for having such a meeting is obvious. This technology makes it so almost anyone can alter the human genome with extreme precision. History tells us that if you make a technology this awesome available to people they will use it for reasons the world may not be comfortable with. Scientists in China have already started to tamper with human embryos. This is causing the narrative in the news to focus on the wrong question. The cat is already out of the bag. It is no longer about if we should use it or not. It is happening. It will continue to happen. We need to be talking about how to manage technologies like this and use it to help us become who we want to be. But…

Who should we become?

Societies evolve in two ways. They evolve genetically and culturally. Nature has always had the final say in who we actually become until now. America is about freedom and now we have the tools to create a new type of freedom, a freedom from nature’s rule. This is an awesome power and with awesome power comes great responsibility. We need to be sure we know how to ride this bike before we remove the training wheels. The big data revolution is making it so that we can understand ourselves on the genetic and cultural levels like never before possible. We can use this information ignorantly or we can use it wisely. If we want the best out of this opportunity, we need a strategic plan about who we should become. We need policies that incentivize the necessary science and engineering projects that will help create the vision of humanity we want to see. Let’s create a world where nobody is born with diseases like cystic fibrosis, where cultures understand each other, and where the human potential is finally set free. Let’s decide…

Who we should become.

The next President of the United States of America is going to shape the evolution of humanity more than any President that has ever come before. We need to be demanding that our policymakers campaign on these issues and run on platforms that address the future of humanity. This means we need to be educating ourselves about these issues. We need to have these conversations at dinner with our friends and our families. The only way the bad things can happen is if we don’t unite our voice. Science and technology have given us the keys to evolution. Before we take it for a drive, let’s plan out our road trip and make sure we know how we are going to get to our next destination. Let’s start the conversation, educate ourselves, elect leaders who care, and really take control of our evolution. We control who we are becoming, so let’s start acting like it. Let’s…

Become who we want to be.

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Cyberizing Covert Action

Jenn Lato

The 21st century presents a host of new challenges to national security. The United States is no longer embroiled in a Cold War, and the current strategic environment entails threats that are complex and remarkably more sophisticated. Terrorism, transnational organized crime, cyber crime, and weapons of mass destruction are examples of these threats, and challenge the state in exceedingly new ways. However, the evolution of national and global security threats does not necessitate entirely new security measures. In particular, covert action has advanced with the national security demands of the 21st century. It will continue to play a role as a key instrument of U.S. foreign policy and national security, and in the digital age, covert action is essential for preventing and thwarting threats via the cyber domain.

Throughout the Cold War era, the U.S. Government undertook a variety of covert actions against a Soviet hegemony and leftist, often militant, political movements that posed a threat to U.S. national security. Covert operations to combat these threats were met with varying degrees of success, and have resulted in a re-examination of covert action as either a necessary policy instrument or an antiquated Cold War phenomenon. For instance, throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the CIA used financial backing and anti-communist propaganda to overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. While considered a success, the overthrow of Allende gave rise to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose notoriously brutal regime put a black mark on U.S. covert operations in South America. Moreover, in 1987 the Iran-Contra affair raised legal questions over the use of covert action, specifically, covert action that is not congressionally authorized. However, covert action has not been eliminated. It has kept pace with advances in technology, and its importance is both strong and increasing. For instance in 2010 Stuxnet, a U.S.-Israeli computer virus, successfully destroyed 1/5 of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges at the Natanz Nuclear Plant. In March 2015, Adan Garar, a member of Al-Shabaab’s intelligence outfit, was successfully killed by a U.S. drone strike. Therefore, the question is not whether covert action will continue, but how will it be used in the digital age?

Today, almost everything is in digital format. A person posts his or her personal information, opinions and ideas on social media platforms. As demonstrated by the Arab Spring, social media platforms such as Twitter can be used as an outlet to transform an idea into a revolution. Rather than place covert propaganda in newspapers and on the radio, the CIA today could foster political influence through Facebook or Twitter. Social media allows propaganda to be distributed to across the globe, and its transmission time is extremely faster than Cold War communication. This means that not only is covert action evolving, its continued effectiveness has redefined the way in which the intelligence community operates.

Cyber security is also expanding the nature of covert action. Anything that has an Internet connection is at risk, and the potential for state and non-state actors to leverage this presents both new opportunities and threats. Therefore, while covert action may involve paramilitary conflict or foreign direct financial assistance, we will see an increase and shift toward cyber attacks. The U.S. could be faced with or initiate an attack directed at critical infrastructure, used to destabilize a financial system, or could involve the insertion of malware into a government computer system. These covert actions hardly existed in the Cold War era.

Given the current nature of conflict, covert action will continue to be a foreign policy instrument, and its use in the cyber domain will extend into the foreseeable future. Its value did not end with the Cold War, and the need for it is expanding with developments in technology and cyber security. To be successful, covert action must remain in line with strategic policy goals, and strike a balance between national security and an integrated international system of governance and laws. Covert action will continue throughout the 21st century and into the 22nd and such, the U.S. Government must continue to cyberize the covert world.

This 4th of July

Mike Swetnam

I work at a ‘think tank’ in Washington DC which means that I spend my days listening to people talk about all the things Washington is doing wrong or needs to do better.

Even worse, the next election cycle has started and the airwaves, Internet, bars, and restaurants are full of hot air. Most of the hot air is critical of current policies. Politicians are forced to be critical of every U.S. policy, domestic and international alike. Listening to these people can be depressing. Of course, that is the idea. People only vote for change if they think change is needed.

The international climate is even worse. The USA is not too popular right now. We can’t seem to quell Russian expansionism, Greece is in default, the Middle East is in the midst of a protracted conflict, and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons seems unstoppable.

It seems like a gloomy atmosphere to be celebrating our country’s birthday.

But, in the midst of all the gloom and doom about this very dangerous world, the USA is truly one of the few bright spots.

We enjoy more freedoms in this country than any other. The USA is still the best place to start a business and more people become millionaires in the USA every year than almost all other countries combined. We are still the country that others turn to when bad things happen, and we respond.

Most importantly, we are always trying to do better. The U.S. works to help everyone, domestically and internationally alike, and furthers life and liberty for all people in all lands.

There are always challenges and things that can be done better, but let’s take some time today to remember that we are the luckiest people in the world.

Connecting the Dots

Jen Buss

We all grew up with books that allowed us to create pictures simply by “connecting the dots”. At what point did you start to see the picture emerge without having to draw the remaining lines? How many dots did you connect? If you were able to see the image before you finished connecting, it was because your brain filled in the missing parts; it understood the model of the picture. What happens if you connect half the dots and the picture remains ambiguous? If it is a picture in a children’s book, then the worst that can happen is you might interpret the picture wrong. However, what if the picture is that of terrorism in the United States? What might happen if we do not connect all the dots and interpret that picture wrong?

Our brains are really good at pattern recognition, especially when we’re seeing shapes, words, and sounds. When we have boundaries or definitions around events, it’s easy to create a pattern. We seem to have a much harder time when we have to find the pattern in all the noise. When our definitions are muddled and constantly tried, we begin to lose the shape. Our eyes (and ears) can play tricks on us.

How many dots will it take before we see that terrorism is happening all across our country?

When we take the definition of domestic terrorism, and lay each of the events in recent years over the definition, we can begin to see a pattern emerge. Terrorism is not something that happens far away and occasionally makes it past DHS and the FBI. Terrorism happens right here at home, and we should not tolerate it.

We’ve been blinded by the normalcy of these domestic terror events, taken them to be inevitable and something different than they are. Our brains are being tricked to not see the pattern by adding filters that make these events seem like they’re okay. It’s not okay for anyone to restrict someone’s freedom. These events are not inevitable. We do not have to take this. We can see this the other way – that our society is being attacked, we’re acting differently due to actions of others.

Terrorists are not just Islamic radicals, they are any individual who is willing to invoke fear into people through acts of violence meant to fundamentally change the lives of those people. We are interpreting our picture of terrorism before we finish connecting the dots. We can find these terrorists, show the world that we don’t tolerate bullying, and America can continue to live in freedom. We don’t have to be scared.  All we have to do is connect the dots.