Don’t Get Stuck in Silicon Valley

If Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did a Google search for who would make the biggest splash as the head of the Pentagon’s new innovation panel from Silicon Valley, he couldn’t have gotten a better answer than the executive chairman of the eponymous search engine’s parent company, Eric Schmidt. The move announced at the RSA cyber security confab in San Francisco makes clear to the Beltway the military is serious about closing its innovation gap with the commercial sector by reestablishing ties to the Bay Area’s tech heartland.

Yet if the Defense Department’s innovation scouts get too focused on the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose, they risk missing out on existing or nascent technologies from America’s other innovation hubs.

Read more at National Defense magazine.

Art of Darkness

The faces looking through the chain link fence don’t despair any more. They gave up days ago. That’s why they are in the Hudson Refugee Camp, packed in by the thousands just to be close to what was supposed to be salvation: soldiers, medicine or vaccines, communication links to the rest of America. The truly desperate remain outside, fighting over canned food and fresh ammunition. Even if you want to help the refugees, you can’t. You’re needed elsewhere: on the streets of the catastrophe that is New York to help restore order.

This is Manhattan as seen in the early-play version of Tom Clancy’s The Division, a new video game in the Tom Clancy series that follows a small team of covert operators who have been standing by in the event of a catastrophe so great that the United States teeters toward becoming a failed state. In this case, it is a bio-terrorism attack on Black Friday that ruptures the fragile membrane between order and anarchy.

Read more at War On The Rocks.

The Art of Future Warfare

The Atlantic Council has launched the Art of Future Warfare project. In my role as the project’s director, I am working toward creating opportunities for artists such as writers, illustrators, directors, videographers as well as creativity are seen as essential components of the planning and preparation for the future of warfare and social conflict. Status quo approaches are a liability and the creativity and risk-taking in the artistic community is something to be celebrated.

See the Art of Future Warfare website.

See my piece explaining the project at War On The Rocks, our media partner.

WTOP: Art of Future Warfare interview

Drive-time inside the Beltway means a captive audience. Francis Rose, host of InDepth on WTOP’s Federal News Radio, gave me the chance this week to talk about how the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project is looking at ways artists and the creative community, such as Call of Duty director Dave Anthony, can change the way defense analysts and policymakers think about, and plan for, future conflict.

Listen to a recording of the interview on FederalNewsRadio.com.

Games theory

It has been more than 30 years since China began to open up to the rest of the world yet there are still glaringly off-limits areas where censorship and foreign involvement are taboo. Video games don’t usually make that list. That is why it is a big deal to more than just teens that the Chinese government is going to allow sales of Microsoft’s Xbox One video game consoles. Video games are a global force to be reckoned with in terms of dollars, worth up to $18 billion annually in China according to Bloomberg. Hardware is one thing, but the increasing cultural relevance of the games themselves are the story here.

Continue reading

War on the Rocks: Peering into the blind spots

The national security establishment is currently facing criticism for a perceived failure to anticipate Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the capture of a swathe of Iraqi territory by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and the political upheaval of the Arab Spring. The American public expects its leaders to be prepared for such contingencies while also addressing familiar challenges, like terrorism or China’s increasing assertiveness.

The breadth and rising tempo of potential crises, coupled with fiscal constraints, means that national security leaders can’t hope to be fully prepared for all contingencies. But continually focusing on the problem of the day creates blind spots when it comes to low likelihood but extremely disruptive factors. It is one thing to be caught off guard by the anticipatable actions of a nation or even a non-state actor; it is far more serious to be surprised by a new method of warfare.

If there was ever a time to be on guard against disruptions that can upend America’s strategic position, it is now.

Read more at War on the Rocks.

Creative calls of duty

At least we all wore ties.

For writers and entertainment producers, such formality is a rare thing. But at a recent Atlantic Council event on art and the future of warfare, the seriousness of the subject warranted it. Joining award-winning science fiction author David Brin and Dave Anthony, producer of the blockbuster video game Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, our intent was to share how we viewed the future of warfare and what the creative cadre could do to help sharpen the thinking of creating alternative futures. One of the best steps is to take a closely held assumption and turn it on its head. Doing so should be both uncomfortable and exciting, and made easier by envisioning a world 30 years out, rather than 10 years.

As the 21st Century so far proved again and again, surprise is no longer a surprise. Moreover, how many times has somebody said out loud while reading a news headline, “You can’t make this up!” That is our future, and it is one that will require greater discipline, creativity and agility from the national security community. It is a concept the Atlantic Council takes seriously through its Strategic Foresight initiative, and it is worth paying close attention to.

Watch the Webcast of the Atlantic Council event.

The pilot’s seat

When most of us fly, we buckle in, silently grouse at the knee room and put in headphones and tune out for the rest of the trip. We trust the men and women behind the locked doors to be so good at their jobs that we effectively forget they are there. A cursory expression of gratitude as we exit the plane offers a moment of wonder that we flew hundreds, if not thousands, of miles without worrying much about where we were going or whether we were going to get there once the wheels were up.

That kind of blind confidence is unique. Back on the ground, particularly in business, skepticism is the order of the day. That can be especially true in today’s defense industry. Cost estimates are rarely accurate, either from the government or its suppliers. Lateness is acceptable. The politics of spending taxpayer money on weapons systems and wars is as contested as ever, and will be more so as overall acquisitions funding is expected to fall further.

The aviation legacy in the defense business is an important one. The Jet Age roots of today’s companies are intertwined in tales of audacity and precision that mastering emerging technologies required. As the 21st Century enters its second decade after more than 12 years of war, it is a time of searching, not certainty. Continue reading

Medium: Contractors on defense

The Industrial Age’s creations defined much of the thinking about 20th Century warfare. In the opening decades of the 21st Century, the influence of highly metabolic personal technology and electronic media is already unmistakable. Until recently, shipyards and aircraft production lines defined usable national power. Aircraft carriers and fighter still matter but they must share intellectual, and doctrinal, room with hackers and social media campaigns. A new era is upon Washington and the companies that supply the American defense and intelligence community. Power, and its suppliers, must change.

I’ve put up a new essay at Medium.com about the growth of the intelligence business and what the Edward Snowden case means for its future.

“During the Cold War, the heart of the aerospace and defense industry was in Southern California, where Jet Age engineers began remaking the American arsenal. The public kept pace with the change with one eye on the heavens. Overhead, they could look with pride at gleaming jetliners sharing the skies with bombers capable of striking targets inside the Soviet Union.

Since 2001, America’s defense companies evolved to take on new roles that followed an unprecedented increase in spending on private-sector defense services. The cutting edge of the defense business, focusing on the budget-rich intelligence world, has been out of sight for much of the country. The public gets glimpses of this reality, perhaps with an incongruous airplane-maker’s logo in a stale office park in suburban Virginia near the CIA. Amid the shadow wars and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the narrative of conflict and American business became intertwined in the formation of a new era for the defense industry.

Until, in an instant, a super-empowered defense contractor, Edward Snowden, opened a new window into the more than $50 billion world of intelligence contracting.”

Read the rest of the essay at Medium.com

Medium: The view from Beijing

In polite company, sex or politics or religion are generally not to be brought up at the dinner table. For world leaders, that would not leave much else to talk about. But there are taboo topics still, particularly between President Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping: cybersecurity.

Here is an excerpt from an essay of mine at Medium, a new Web site that gives writers both a community and a platform.

“As President Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping get together this weekend in California for a much anticipated summit, the two men were expected to have a tough exchange over the future of another economically critical and formidable expanse of territory: cyberspace.

In confronting President Xi over Chinese hacking of defense targets, President Obama was no doubt prepared to use the moral high ground staked out by the U.S. His case was buttressed by recently leaked reports that laid bare the dozens of frontline American weapons programs and technologies penetrated by Chinese cyberspies.

Then came revelations this week in The Guardian and The Washington Post that revealed the extent of U.S. government surveillance of Internet activities around the world. From Skype calls to e-mails to texts, all is apparently fair game through what has been reportedly described as direct access to the servers of leading online service providers and technology giants such as Google and Microsoft, among others.

It is an unprecedented level of government monitoring that may even surprise, or regrettably impress, President Xi. It will certainly be familiar to him as Chinese citizens already live in a world where the wonderful spontaneity of electronic communication carries an undercurrent of potentially devastating liability.

For Americans it is a disappointing coda to a decade of wartime. America’s defense and intelligence bureaucracy, which began to drown in data during the 1990s, is so big that simply collecting more information is an operational and organizational goal in and of itself.”

Read the rest of the essay at Medium.