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Why Emphasize Foes and Underdeveloped Strengths Instead of Targets? One trick for threat scenario building is to ask: “ How would I harm America, if I were_____?” Amid Cold War, we reflexively filled-in “ the Soviets.” Now, we fill in “ jihadist terror cells.” This is not agile anticipation. It is reaction. There are many other foes, “ Scenarios” offer good sci-fi stories. They do not fully scan horizons. Why focus on “underdeveloped strengths? Trying to protect all potential targets, may vastly enlarge a protector caste. But it won’t appreciably reduce danger. Clever foes can find targets that protectors miss. We must also foster the long-term robustness of civilization. Introduction:
Core point: Naturally, professional protectors emphasize elements that might help them control evolving threats: - specific targets to protect - specific foes to thwart - specific new tools for better anticipation, analysis, prevention. Anticipate - in order to detect and deter.
As 9/11 showed, this approach cannot possibly work
not alone - over extended periods.
Because the range of the possible is vastly greater than the scope of human control. Especially in an open society, where minimal “control” is considered a good thing.
If the range of potential foes - and targets - is limitless, then only one strategy can work… … augment professional anticipation with citizen resiliency.
Part One: Non-Traditional Foes and Failure Modes Dangerous Horizons
Part One: Non-Traditional Foes and Failure Modes
- more regional powers will have conventional, unconventional or asymmetric capabilities.
- exacerbated by resource scarcity, rising/falling expectations, dogma.
- implement unsound plans/policies/inventions without consultation/foresight.
- predatory, parasitical and/or criminal.
Internecine struggle between our own castes
- e.g. breakdown of trust between professional protectors and citizens,
between politicians and voters, rural-urban, native-immigrant, etc.
db/2006 All of these have potential to devastate a complex civilization built upon synergies of accountability and trust. Especially if their effects somehow combine. Five classes listed here. But there are more … and range/variety grows! What kind of society can possibly cope?
strengths: Difficult to suborn/convert/infiltrate. Potentially limitless in number. A myriad soft targets.
weaknesses: Rigid assumption of Western decadence.* Mortally allergic to accountability.
Non-Traditional Foes * The Great Rationalization. History shows the same “decadent West” delusion was universally shared by all of our adversaries, for 200 years. Every American generation must disprove it, at great cost. But psychological allure ensures it will always reappear. Our fears: - increasing numbers/percentages of angry-motivated foes. - they grow ever-better supplied and technologically empowered, choosing soft targets. - they attain ever-better methodologies to evade accountability. - worst case: our own failure to cover all contingencies. Our hopes: - near term: cauterize funding, supplies, morale of SAYM. Improve our anticipation skills. - long term: reduce supply of anger. Improve robustness. Foster universal accountability.
Potential Foes #1: Super-empowered Angry Young Men Near-term/probable: Arson Aim: Spread chaos & economic damage by low-tech means. Agents: Amorphous bands of grudge- motivated harm-doers (HD). Not easy to profile. (e.g. Columbine.) Method: Burn forests, buildings, crops. Innumerable very soft targets. Backers supply untraceable, effective ignition devices (e.g. timed or laser). Easily avoid official protective measures. Potential harm: economic disruption, fear. Danger of a copycat effect. Special variants: Backers manipulate wide variety of disgruntled/alienated. Leverage Suspicion of Authority mythos. Stimulate a fashion of arson as protest. Specific preventions: Informant rewards. Massive increase in omni-surveillance? General solutions: * Raise citizen omni-awareness. (Technological and social.) * Combat nihilism/cynicism through cultural and political means. Medium/plausible: Classic Terror Aim: Inflict pain. Draw attention. Ruin morale. Demonstrate West is weak/corrupt. Agents: Classic “terrorists” & backers Methods: Disruption. Casualties. Fear, Intimidate & exhaust. Lure unwise reactions. Potential harm: Vast supply of soft targets. A myriad variants: * strike super-soft schools, malls, transit. * hit critical bridges, tunnels, choke points. * NBC death-producing attacks. * NBC denial-of-territory attacks. Preventions: Improve intel & anticipation. Follow the money. Hold meetings to study lots of scenarios. Spend billions protecting weak-link targets. General Solutions: Reduce supply of anger. Foster universal accountability. Augment citizen-society resiliency so that no single blow alters society enough to seem worth risk and cost. (The “UA93 Effect.”) Far-devastating: New Gods Aim: Create tailored pathogens via bio, chemical, or nanotech processes. Agents: Almost any angry person in 2025. (Grievances raise % of HD*, but even pampered classes generate some.) Method: When biologists, chemists and molecu-fabs offer “desktop” capability (the way cyberneticists shrank computers), all methods will be in reach of modest skill. Outbreaks may approximate today’s computer viruses , but targeted at real life. Potential harm: Possibilities range from individual poisonings to new contagions, all the way to “Fermi” extinction. Special variants: * Intergenerational resentment (e.g. if boomers benefit from life extension). * “Culture War.” Specific preventions: Massive increase in omni-surveillance? Ban technologies? Luddism. General solutions: * Increase citizen omni-awareness. (Technological and social.) * Combat nihilism/cynicism. * HD = Harm-Doers. Key Conclusion: *Supply of scenarios/targets limitless! *We could go on all day. All century. *More than “protection” is needed. * HD = Harm-Doers. Samples from an infinite supply!
#2 … Rival States - using unconventional or asymmetric warfare.
aim: undermine systemic strengths of western civilization. Replace American pax. Resource wars.
methods*: Cryptic support for rogues & terror Suborn leaders.
“ Cool War” economic/social sabotage.** Incite division within America, the West.
Undermine alliances. Lure U.S. into unwise/wasteful efforts.***
strengths: longer time scales, greater resources, safe territorial zones for secret preparations.
weaknesses: short on creativity. Terrified of individualism. Fatally allergic to accountability.
Only a sampler. Some of these methods have been under-utilized, compared to past imperial eras, e.g the Soviets failed dismally at sabotage and subornation.
But history suggests that any and all of these classics will be tried again.
Our fears: - monolithic states/movements appear to have better focus. - closed societies offer tighter security. Open societies expose a myriad vulnerabilities. - ever-better technology can empower a few agents with devastating capabilities. - western citizens may cope poorly with traumatic ructions, resource crises, etc. - worst case: They stay cohesive. We see vicious spiral of citizen confidence and resiliency. Our hopes: - Near term: Improve our intelligence, analysis and anticipation skills. - Long term: Foster a world culture that suborns/transforms adversary subjects, turning them into democracy-advocates, world-citizens and whistle blowers. - Trust our citizens. Expect more from them. ** Cool War scenarios merit close discussion. *** Contemporary pattern-recognition is in the eye of the beholder.
Potential Foes #2: rival state scenarios Near: Subornation Aim: Exploit divisions in America by finding clades that can be suborned. Agents: Skilled state operatives. Method: Subornation is ancient. Always attempted vs rivals. Harm: Subset of elite or protector caste surreptitiously helps rival agendas. Recent Variants: * 1941- crony-elitism-naïveté (Lindbergh) * 1947- naïve socialist idealism . (Fuchs) *post 1947- cash-sellouts (Walkers, Hanssen) *always - blackmail (Moscow marine guards) … all (and many more) remain viable, even likely. Patterns can be hard to detect when all eyes are on other dangers. Prevention: Counter-intelligence can track patterns of divided loyalty or conflict of interest. Unexplained funds. Time spent in service of rival power. Inexplicable decisions/appointments. Solutions: Counter- subornation occurs when American society has clear high ground + culture-allure. Rivals grow more worried about defections than we are. This pattern won the Cold War. Intermediate/plausible: Coolwar Aim: Ruin U.S. competitive ability through acts of well-targeted sabotage. Agents: Trained saboteurs make careful use of local recruits & resources, while avoiding exposure. (e.g. blame “terror.”) Method: Target weak/vital arteries, choke points. Pipelines, tunnels, infrastructure, chemical/medical stores, Internet, phone system, trust networks. Harm: Economic damage, loss of confidence-trust, rising aversion to modernity-technology, internal blame-cycle. Or blame/scapegoating and war. Special features: Not likely while state rivals are growth-dependent, needing US econ engine. Plausible when competition for pax leadership grows fierce. Preventions: Improved intelligence gathering. Massive omni-surveillance? Solutions: * Citizen omni-awareness. * Culture-suborn rival citizenry so that secret coolwar becomes impossible. Illustrated in fiction: The Cool War, by Frederik Pohl. Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner Earth, by David Brin Far/devastating: Tuned Genocide Aim: Achieve conquest by threatening mass death via technological means. Agents: Overt attack or surreptitious. Methods: Terrifying unidirectional death. * microwaves tuned to disrupt specific genetic/ethnic groups. * diseases ethnically targeted or else curable only by restricted vaccine. * nano-mites that infest, then await signal to commence lethal work. Harm: War-scale death. Compelled surrender. Miscalculation could lead to “Fermi” extinction. Variants: Innumerable. Prevention: Better intelligence. Long Range Solution: Dispersal of competence makes outcome-certainty impossible, renders plan untenable. * Culture-suborn enough of rival populace so secret development is impossible. Illustrated in fiction: Jitterbug, by Mike McQuay Despite fresh memory (the Cold War) & historical ubiquity, this category is seldom mentioned post 9/11. All of these methods have copious historical precedent.
#3 … Overconfident innovators/Enthusiasts - implementing unsound plans, policies, or inventions without proper consultation or foresight Non-Traditional Foes
features: righteously self-assured, contemptuous of criticism, impatient with consensus-building.
e.g. secret spasms in science, pharmacology, energy, finance. Private usurpation of sovereign decisions.
aim: pursue objectives (sometimes admirable ones) ignoring or evading impediments like law,
consensus or public opinion, serenely confident of outcomes.
methods: exploit scattered national sovereignty to conceal projects. Foster contempt for critics.
Exploit fear of change, resource depletion, xenophobia, nostalgia, technological & social naïveté..
weaknesses: Allergic to light and accountability.
Our fears: - extremum #1: secret endeavors evade consensus-crit - then wreak unintended consequences. - extremum #2: overwrought consensus-crit and excessive rules hamper innovation. - worst case: some hidden endeavor unleashes catastrophe (e.g. a virus or nano “gray goo”) or else exaggerated fears result in an end to innovation. Our hopes: - near term: augment law enforcement with “a million eyes.” Foster lawful innovation. - long term: create conditions where responsible innovation thrives, welcoming open criticism.
Potential Foes #3: Overconfident innovators/enthusiasts Near: BioChimeras & Zooneses. Aim: Improve food supply, better health, cure disease. Agents: well-intentioned bio-engineers. Example: Today’s protein (meat) factories create vast human-animal contact. SARS, H5N1, Ebola all crossed human-animal boundary. Harm: Pandemics. Or fear of same may limit biological science. Variants: Biological skill tempts workers to “mine” every genome, from bacteria to birds, for cool human improvements. Preventions: Relentless professional precautions and supervision. Vastly-bigger bio/CDC infrastructure. General solutions: Breakthroughs that might reduce danger: *meat from tissue culture not animals. *local (shopper-level) assay tools. *artificial intelligence (AI) helps model results before wetware is tried. *citizen omni-awareness. Intermediate/plausible: Supervolcano Aim: Tap unlimited geothermal power. Agents: well-intentioned mega-engineers. Method: Drill-access Wyoming Hot Spot, a magma needle piercing N.American Plate. Harm: Unleash Yellowstone Super-Volcano. Innumerable Variants: * Sudden release of undersea hydrates. * Physics experiments=> black hole or strangelet. * Unleash nanotechnology without precautions. * Retargeting comet or asteroid for ‘harvest.’ * Over-reaction that represses innovation. Preventions: Develop intel and anticipatory skills of professional protective castes. Long-term solution: Foster rising perception, intelligence and resiliency on the part of amateurs, skeptics, citizenry, so that all plans benefit from criticism, without criticism stymieing all plans. Illustrated in fiction: Mother of Storms by Barnes, Blood Music by Bear, Prey by Crichton, Earth by Brin, Heart of the Comet by Benford-Brin. Far-devastator: A.I. Goes Wrong Aim: Better computer & robotic servants. Agents: Company, group, nation seeks advanced tech & competitive advantage. Harm: Some fear “Fermi” extinction of old-style humanity. Innumerable Variants: * SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has, without consulting anybody, switched to “active” beaming: hope to draw attention to Earth. * Meme plague denies populace/elites ability to perceive a range of possibilities. (Many more…) Preventions: Continue to develop the perception, intelligence and anticipatory skills of the professional protective castes . Longer solution: Foster rising perception, intelligence and resiliency on the part of amateurs, skeptics, citizenry, so that all plans benefit from criticism, without criticism thwarting all plans. Illustrated in fiction: by countless dire warnings from Terminator & Collosus to The Matrix. More subtle: Asimov’s Foundation/Robots series and Williamson’s The Humanoids. Grist for many Hollywood films, this category gets very little attention from threat-analysis or scenario exercises. Yet it could lead either to great harm or overreaction and innovation-suppression. (David Brin - 2006)
#4 … Opportunists - predatory and parasitical - or overreaction to them.
the most natural form of sociopathy - rapacious self-interest.* (e.g. white-blue collar & organized crime.)
aim: to evade Western accountability rules and gather wealth/power in non-market ways.
methods: theft, collusion, corruption, market-manipulation, high-end co-opting of government.
weaknesses: false assumption of personal superiority over “masses.” Fatally allergic to accountability.
Our fears: - intermediate globalization provides ever-better methodologies to evade accountability. - public policy may be suborned to cabal self-interest, not democratic consensus or statecraft. - declining effectiveness of markets, institutions. Declining trust in government. Impoverishment. - worst case: lawlessness, or else return to a traditional, stratified, pyramid-shaped social order. Our hopes: - near term: foster agile, anticipatory law enforcement. International cooperation vs. corruption. - long term: foster a resilient citizenry capable of skilled caveat emptor. Eliminate rat-shadows. * Thucydides & Plato taught that all men are guided by phobos, kerdos, and doxa …. fear, self-interest, and honor. A gross oversimplification. But all three remain relevant to this day. (David Brin - 2006)
Aim: Maintain ferment as a source of demand for lucrative services.
Agents: Various. Some rationalizing good intent. (See #3.)
Harm: Quiet-calm-efficient means of achieving national goals get replaced by noisy-frenetic-inefficient ones that offer opportunities for parasitism.
Variants: hypothetically innumerable -
Courts and justice privatized.
Mafia model followed wherever govts fail.
Tribal gambling metastasizes.
Privatized force revives mercenary tradition with its own assertive political constituency (e.g. prison guards).
Prevention: Resist convenience of privatized (unaccountable) force. Retain monopoly on coercion held by thoroughly accountable government.
Solution: Recall how Founders wisely rejected the 5,000 year mercenary/ private force tradition.
The alternative - citizen militia - has drawbacks, but also offers profound advantages. (See #5.)
(David Brin - 2006)
Potential Foes # 4: Opportunists Intermediate: Globalization Fails Aim: Keep the world balkanized … or else push opposite extreme - World Government. Agents: Left wing activists join bank havens and local elites, in order to prevent a loose-but-effective worldwide civil society. Harm: Shrouded territories benefit from uneven spread of light/accountability. Open societies lose competitive advantage. Variants: * Balkanization culminates in local nuke wars. * Banking/ownership secrecy becomes world issue. * Counter-trend: cartels/”regional-unions.” * Counter-trend: groundswell for “world government.” * EU “accession” takes off beyond Europe. Snowball effect makes EU de facto world gov model Preventions: Negotiate credible reforms that establish enough accountability to stave off worldwide calls for planetary government. Solution: Accept that no imperium lasts forever. Pax Americana can begin thinking about “Whatever Comes Next” (WCN) before facing a fait accompli that it had no part in designing. Pro-actively insist that American instincts re: individualism and dispersed authority be fundamental axioms. Devastator: Feudalism Returns Aim: End our recent experiment with “diamond-shaped” social structures. Restore standard human social pyramid. Agents: Almost any group that heeds the pull of instinct, history and human nature. Methods: Innumerable. Every society that had metals/agriculture, quickly replaced democracy/markets with command elites. (Under a wide variety of excuses.) We are the sole exception. It has taken hard work. Relentless innovation. Harm: An end to accountability & agility. Resulting errors in statecraft could lead to “Fermi” extinction. Variants: *Communist elites, *socialist levelers, *theocracy, *aristocracy, *technocracy, *oligarchy, *kleptocracy -- all offering rationalizations. Prevention: Protector caste remembers its loyalty-duty to the Experiment, not to leaders, or to themselves. Solution: Foster reciprocal accountability, individual agility and confident, resilient citizenship. Note: these examples leave out the most obvious versions of “opportunism.” e.g. theft, looting, extortion, malfeasance, bribery, insider-crony manipulation. All that’s needed is for human nature - and 99% of history - to repeat itself…
A pause for reflection… So far, we’ve seen that most foes share one weakness: a near-mortal allergy to accountability and light. We’ll return to this point in Part II: Underdeveloped Strengths But for now, let’s continue exploring the wide range of Non-traditional threats and failure modes. Dangerous Horizons
Non-Traditional Failure Modes Potential Foes #5: Internecine struggle between our castes - e.g. breakdown of trust between professional protectors and citizens, or politicians and voters, rural-urban, native-immigrant, etc. Our fears: - Complexity overwhelms capacity of anticipation to deal with change. - Coddled citizens unready for disruptions. Panic replaces confidence. Resiliency undeveloped. - Stoked on indignation, we all choose sides. - worst case: loss of the reciprocal trust that markets, science, justice, democracy all rely upon. Our hopes: - near term: Professional castes develop amateur/citizen links. Leaders minimize “Culture War.” - long term: Resilient, educated, tech-savvy citizens find strong roles in a robust Third Millennium. Happens in every civilization: e.g. guild-protection, class-resentment, classic “castes.” Extraordinarily mild in U.S., especially since the 1950s. (Replaced by very different “reform” movements.) But historically , this is always a danger. Exacerbated by:
“ Culture War” between future and past.
20th Century’s dominant Age of Professionalization meets 21st Century’s rising Age of Amateurs.
Political/social meddling to repress independently-neutral service professionals.
Any decline in the “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality that has minimized rifts for a generation.
(David Brin - 2006)
Potential Foes #5: Internal caste struggle Near-recent: Protectors vs the Protected Aim: Safeguard life, property… and preserve status. Agents: Well-intentioned officers of local, state and federal government, both democrats and republicans. Despite every superficial difference, during Hurricane Katrina nearly all behaved in the same way. Method: Any sign of citizen initiative provoked “stop!” Surface reasons ranged from “procedure” to liability concerns to prejudice to genuine safety concern. But always arriving at the same result. Harm: On 9/11, every useful deed was performed by agile, resilient, undaunted citizen amateurs, stepping in when anticipation failed. Panic was almost nonexistent. During Katrina, self-organization was thwarted with uncanny consistency. Almost like an immune response against initiative. This theme has gone unstudied. Variants: Citizen-amateurs grow more knowing/capable, yet are trusted less . Rising education levels and tech-savvy do not lead to greater empowerment. A surefire stress-fault in coming years. Solution: Unknown. No other society ever overcame this problem. During the 20th Century, professionalism gave us everything! In the 21st, it may collide head-on with a rising Age of Amateurs. Any Day Now: Failure of the Reserves Aim: Protect U.S. and its citizens from danger. Agents: Well-intentioned U.S. officers who spent lifetimes developing an elite professional force. Now the 3rd best educated American clade (after professors and MDs), they are more like surgeons, engineers and police than warriors of old. Method: Year-by-year in today’s military, technology and skill are used to replace raw manpower. A good trend - so long as nothing too surprising and terrible happens… Harm: … which it will. Eventually. It always does. At which point, while the pros suffer and bleed, buying us time, volunteers will line up by the millions, as their grandfathers did, at the time of Bataan. (We are made of the same stuff.) Only today’s generals have no plan or idea what to do with a million volunteers! No contingency or major investment in reducing ramp-up times. The implicit assumption? Citizens are to protect, but never to be called upon. The era of citizen militia - a bedrock of the American experience - is over. Solution: Unknown. A reflex to look inward is in every caste or profession. Rooted in human nature. But some kind of solution is essential. Because the only safe assumption is that all assumptions will fail. And when that day comes, we shall need a reserve plan. Something to fall back on. Familiar in every other culture, this category sounds odd to Americans. Castes? Here? But the word provokes… The deliberately provocative word “caste” is meant to prod the reader away from recent - and historically anomalous - assumptions. No other large society took for granted flattened hierarchies and social mobility. We forget that turf-entrenchment (often hereditary) is normal. And lethal to our Experiment. Clichés about “left and right” do not adequately represent the kind of fault lines that might crack open, in coming years. (David Brin - 2006)
Few of these examples dealt with today’s fashionable threat - sneaky “SAYM” terror. That danger is serious! But history warns against obsessing solely upon one set of failure modes.* The broad range covered here (and the list could go on) is meant to show how danger lurks on many horizons, some of them well-intentioned or “friendly”! In an era of unprecedented ruction and transforming change, can we afford incompleteness or illusions? Unconventional Foes: Summary Doesn’t it really boil down to a single question? How shall we try to deal with a worrisome and uncertain future? * Anyway, that is not the role of a paid, professional contrarian…
Tools For Dealing With The Future Anticipation and Resiliency Our prefrontal lobes are built to perform gedankenexperiments or “thought experiments” that probe the future’s undiscovered opportunities and dangers. These organs may be our greatest assets, helping us plan and prepare. To Anticipate. Only there’s a problem. Every generation has done this poorly! We assume that we will anticipate well! But this belief is the very essence of delusion. Without prediction metrics, we are likely to stay deluded. Anticipation is necessary! Professionalism and improving skills. We must get better at this crucial human trait. But only fools would stake the future of country and civilization on that bet, alone. Because the greatest rule of human existence is surprise. History shows that enduring civilizations were those best at dealing with transforming changes. Especially unanticipated ones. Robust societies exhibit a trait that is the partner of anticipation. Resiliency It is only natural for professionals to emphasize the importance of anticipation. That is their role, their duty. But recent events… the entire course of American history… and the vast range of potential threats… suggest that we should also place bets upon the underdeveloped strengths of empowered citizenry.
Proceed to Part II: Underdeveloped Strengths Copyright 2006 David Brin Dangerous Horizons