Defense Science Board on Avoiding Strategic Surprise

The Department of Defense needs to take several steps in order to avoid “strategic surprise” by an adversary over the coming decade, according to a new study from the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory body.

Among those steps, “Counterintelligence must be enhanced with urgency.” See DSB Summer Study Report on Strategic Surprise, July 2015.

The Board called for “continuous monitoring” of cleared personnel who have access to particularly sensitive information. “The use of big data analytics could allow DoD to track anomalies in the behaviors of cleared personnel in order to thwart the insider threat.”

“Continuous monitoring” involves constant surveillance of an employee’s activities (especially online activities), and it goes beyond the “continuous evaluation” of potentially derogatory information that is an emerging part of the current insider threat program.

“Insider actions often generate suspicious indicators in multiple and organizationally separate domains–physical, personnel, and cyber security. The use of big data and creative analytics can be carefully tuned to the style and workflow of the particular organization and can help to audit for integrity as well as individual user legitimacy,” the DSB report said.

The DSB report broadly addressed opportunities and vulnerabilities in eight domains: countering nuclear proliferation; ballistic and cruise missile defense; space security; undersea warfare; cyber (“The Department should treat cyber as a military capability of the highest priority”); communications and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT); counterintelligence; and logistics resilience.

To an outside reader, the DSB report seems one-dimensional and oddly disconnected from current realities. It does not consider whether the pursuit of any of its recommended courses of actions could have unintended consequences. It does not inquire whether there are high-level national policies that would make strategic surprise more or less likely. And it does not acknowledge the recurring failure of the budget process to produce a defense budget that is responsive to national requirements in a timely fashion.

Why FAS Adjunct Fellowships Matter

It is hard to believe that it has been almost two years since I accepted an Adjunct Fellow role here at FAS. To be honest, my time at FAS has far exceeded any of my expectations. So, I wanted to take a brief moment to reflect on the last two years and, in so doing, make the case for others to consider serving in similar roles in the future.

One of the most important benefits of being at FAS has been the opportunity to engage in global policy debates surrounding two specific topics: 1) emerging security; 2) regional security in East Asia. During the last two years, I was invited to join Track 1.5 and Track 2 initiatives on emerging security issues, attend off-the-record expert exchanges on the future of regional security in East Asia, and participate in next generation foreign policy leadership exchanges in Asia, Europe, and North America. I was also given the opportunity to publish numerous articles in the journals of leading think tanks and provide commentary to international media outlets.

Reflecting upon these milestones, I can assure you that these benefits were of great professional value. They not only helped build my own brand as an expert on these issues but they also: 1) Widened and deepened my knowledge about contemporary security issues; 2) Expanded my global network of contacts working on converging and space technologies; 3) Amplified the reach and impact of my insights on these topics.

But, there were also a number of indirect benefits that often get overlooked. So, I wanted to briefly jot down a few for those considering an adjunct fellowship in the future.

By far the most important was the chance to work with Mark Jansson and Charles Ferguson, who have always supported my professional ambitions within and beyond FAS. In fact, both are now involved in a nonprofit that I founded a few years ago to focus on emerging security issues beyond the domain of WMD. As a consequence, I will have the opportunity to continue to work with them for years to come. And, for this, I remain deeply grateful, as they are true champions for science diplomacy.

Another benefit of my affiliation is that it has enabled my consulting agency to expand into new subject matter areas as a direct result of the knowledge and skills gained under my FAS fellowship. There is no doubt that serving as an unpaid adjunct fellow entails certain sunk costs. These are particular burdensome for those in the private sector who find it difficult to justify the time commitment to their management. However, my experience shows that such affiliations can still benefit those in the private sector. By allowing for such affiliations, business leaders not only illustrate the firm’s commitment to corporate citizenship but also provide its employees with new opportunities to expand their knowledge about contemporary security issues. They also ensure that the business sector maintain a vocal presence on policy issues that will inevitably affect their business interest alongside their country’s national security environment.

While the list of indirect benefits is long, I will only mention one more today. And, this is the benefit for career transition. In my case, I was leaving media after working as a foreign policy commentator and foreign correspondent for the last five years. Serving as an adjunct fellow at FAS provided an opportunity to reposition myself within the global ecosystem of experts on my chosen topics. When I started my fellowship, most of my colleagues in the think tank community identified me as a journalist or commentator. However, two years later, many have come to accept me as a member of the global think tank community. This was evident when I was recently introduced as a “policy wonk” in Tokyo. I owe this new socially constructed role in the expert ecosystem solely to my affiliation with FAS.

In closing, I would like to first express my gratitude to FAS for all that my fellowship has provided, including all of friendships and professional relationships that will endure well beyond my two year fellowship. FAS is like a family and you have always made me feel welcome throughout my fellowship. I also would like to thank those who have contributed to FAS and made my fellowship possible. Finally, I would like to challenge others to consider serving as Adjunct Fellows at FAS as well. The organization provides a platform unlike any other for you to make a policy impact on nuclear and nuclear-related security issues.

From my perspective, it is so important for those with expertise on these issues to contribute to the global discourse on nuclear and nuclear-related security policy. This is especially true of scientists and business leaders whose unique perspective on these issues help to inform policymakers of the real costs and benefits of policy decisions under consideration. It is therefore critical that these actors do not abdicate their own agency on these issues. For, if they do, security at all levels of analysis will be weakened by security policy decision-making that fails to take account for the full spectrum of interests impacted by science and technology policies. I therefore urge those who support the great work of FAS to continue doing so and for those who are considering an adjunct fellowship to put their name forward. Your efforts are making a difference in the world we live in today and the world that our children will inherit tomorrow.

Michael Edward Walsh has served as an Adjunct Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists since 2012. In a few weeks, he will be leaving FAS to focus on other professional commitments. He can be followed on Twitter at @aseanreporting.

FAS Fellow to Participate in Upcoming U.S. – Japan Future Leaders Exchange

FAS is pleased to announce that Adjunct Fellow for Emerging Technologies, Michael Edward Walsh, will be traveling to Tokyo next week as part of the Japan Foundation’s “KAKEHASHI Project – The Bridge for Tomorrow.” Promoted by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the program provides a unique opportunity for future leaders to build new networks between the United States and Japan. Mr. Walsh will be attending the event as a member of the Pacific Forum CSIS Young Leaders delegation.

PfPC Emerging Security Challenges Working Group Tackles Nano and Cyber

From 20-22 November, the Partnership for Peace Consortium’s Emerging Security Challenges Working Group held its third workshop at the Swedish National Defence College in Stockholm, Sweden.

Entitled “Nano and Cyber,” the workshop addressed a wide variety of issues, including recent trends in nano and cyber. The occasion also provided an opportunity to take account of the working group’s progress to date and deliberate over its agenda for the future.

The Federation of American Scientists was represented at the event by Michael Edward Walsh, Adjunct Fellow for Emerging Technologies, who served as a commentator in the session entitled: “Educating for Emerging Security Challenges.” Mr. Walsh participated in the prior workshops in Rome and Warsaw as well.

Following the event, Mr. Walsh provided the following statement, which was highlighted in a press release by the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies: ““This working group continues to provide an important forum for facilitating expert exchange on the security implications of emerging technologies … (and makes) … a unique contribution to defense cooperation in the Partnership for Peace community and beyond.”

After three meetings, the working group is already starting to make a difference. The working group’s chairpersons Gustav Lindstrom (GCSP) and Detlef Puhl (NATO) and Senior Adviser Sean Costigan (The New School) published its first policy brief on 13 November. Based on presentations from the first two workshops, that brief examined the policy issues associated with Emerging Security Challenges and offered considerations for response.

Review: Emerging Security Challenges: Framing the Policy Context

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Laurent Ajdnik reviewing emerging security challenges. 

There are times when you need to question the core meaning of the objects and concepts commonly used in security discourse – even though there seems to be rough consensus on what they are. This is what Graeme P. Herd (Plymouth University/GCSP), Detlef Puhl (NATO) and Sean Costigan (New School University) did a few weeks ago by addressing a seemingly simple yet complex question: What exactly is an Emerging Security Challenge? In “Emerging Security Challenges: Framing the Policy Context,” one can find more than enough takeaways to justify a review. But, the three below are the ones that stuck out as most important to me.


The Meaning of the Term

One of the key questions tackled in the piece if of course the question of what is an emerging security challenge. According to the authors, the term is a contested concept with no general agreement. To them, it has become a “default catch-all for all ‘non-traditional’ threats, rather than a category defined by the essential nature of the challenges in question.” And, they are not alone. In fact, Strategic Security Blog readers might recall that their views are similar to the position taken by Michael Edward Walsh (FAS/ESTPC) in his April piece on the topic.

To move the field forward, the authors argue the need for a working definition centered on the sub-term security challenge. In their words, security challenges embody “actions or events that put at risk the material or identity basis upon which individuals, societies, states and perhaps even the planet have come to expect or rely.” These security challenges then assume an emerging status when debate opens up between security experts and policy makers with the objective to implement an appropriate policy response. And, they cease being emerging when they have moved “beyond discussion and debate of policy responses to agreed policy implementation.”

These assertions will of course inspire some rather heated debate about security scholars. But, whether one agrees or not with their positions, they should be congratulated for inserting themselves so prominently in this debate over what the emerging security challenges field even represents. It will indeed raise the profile of this discussion and ensure that more attention is paid to the terms being used to discuss emerging security issues.


The Rate of Emergence

The second main contribution made by the article is their reminder that such challenges do not just appear “slowly over a long gestation period.” Instead, many emerging security challenges, especially those related to rapid technological developments, are “ab ovo.” By this they mean that they “emerge onto the policy landscape very suddenly, complete and entire.” They then leverage this insight to question whether traditional policy-making process and implementation can provide an appropriate response to such challenges.

Their piece leaves one with the impression that they cannot. According to the authors, “present policy institutions remain ill prepared to address the speed at which emerging and new technologies create vulnerabilities, risks and threats.” This is especially true of those technologies that achieve maturity and widespread diffusion before securitization has been enforced, in particular with spin-on technologies (transferring from civilian to military use) becoming more and more common. This in turn raises the importance of early detection. But this comes with a risk of derailing research and development as well as restricting innovation.


The Role of Awareness

The final key takeaway provided by the authors is their most pragmatic insight. According to the authors, policy-makers will have better insight on how to respond to emerging security challenges if they are more aware of the emerging security threats that the world faces. Unfortunately, the authors point out, “the analytical capacity of policy institutions to raise awareness and planning to address the known emergent challenges is lacking, never mind their ability to devise strategies for the unknown or to engage policy makers in a learning process.” They therefore advocate for “appropriate partnerships that bring together experts from NGOs, think-tanks, business and academia” in order to “provide reasoned, insightful, and clear analysis that provides state actors the opportunity to deeply consider what is genuinely emerging, focus on awareness and produce better policy.” Such efforts will help to “reduce strategic surprise” and ensure more effective policy responses.

Laurent Ajdnik is a Senior Manager at SNCF (France) where he leads the Internal Auditing Service of the branch dedicated to chemical and nuclear freight. He is also the Adjunct Fellow for Strategy and Analysis at the Emerging Science and Technology Policy Centre where he contributes to global discourse on emerging technology issues. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employers nor the Federation of American Scientists.

After Action Report – Second PfPC Working Group Workshop on Emerging Security Challenges

Earlier today, the Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes released its After Action Report to experts who participated in the Emerging Security Challenges Working Group Workshop #2. The PfPC has given permission to the Federation of American Scientists to publicly release these findings.


Lessons Identified / Policy Recommendations

Societies need critical knowledge in advance of technological or scientific changes that may affect security and the state, and yet, few efforts exist to satisfy this need.

Technological change is faster than educational and legal change: Military, defense and policy makers at all levels broadly need education in technology literacy, risk recognition and mitigation.

Emerging Security Challenges (ESC) educational products for policy and military leaders should bring together a mix of practitioners of science and technology and experts from history and the social sciences.


Unanimous acceptance of need for military and defense curriculum and training in the field of emerging security challenges.

Leadership from Bulgaria, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland promised to seek to establish centers of excellence or hire talent in the field of emerging security challenges.

Acceptance that definitional debates are important but must be by-passed in order to facilitate partnership educational mission in ESC; group trust has been generated sufficient to make that possible.

Three publication products planned, two for summer 2013 delivery.

Planning underway for next two workshops and support for Senior Executive Seminar at the Marshall Center.


Government systematically underestimates the potential disruption made possible by technology and scientific advances. Policy makers not only need concrete information and recommendations from which to operate, they also need to decrease stove-piping of issues – a holistic approach to emerging technologies will help.

With emerging technologies and their associated capabilities, new and disruptive capabilities can readily fall into the hands of adversaries or ill-willed individuals. Ubiquitous advances and cost reductions in computing, navigation and hobbyist technologies are apt to reduce barriers to remote and other forms of warfare. Policy makers need to have an increased awareness of the dual-role of emerging technologies and their unintended consequences and possible threat to national and international security.

Alliance risks include force interoperability when a technological leader pursues radical change while domestic political tolerance and blowback for such new technologies encourage further stress and ambiguity in relations.

Projected US defense spending and cuts in Alliance defense budgets are likely to result in new challenges for NATO, particularly as increased high technology defense developments could alter the balance between partners’ capabilities, budgetary plans, and interoperability.

As warfare is outsourced to only those who are “near peers” in technology and societal views shift, decreasing political tolerance for alliance security efforts may stress alliance unity. Support for the traditional transatlantic compact (European political support in return for US military guarantees) may be seen to run counter to individual ‘social contracts’ within the alliance member states.

Policy makers need to be aware of the risks for societal disruption via technologies. Technologies regularly have two sides. For example, information technologies can easily create crowds and amplify social unrest (i.e. Arab Spring lessons via social media networks), yet they are not as useful for controlling the results – the demonstrations, violent protests, etc. Another example can be demonstrated with an everyday use device: Smart Phones. Low price navigation in smart phones is helpful to people and commercial interests, yet these phones have everything needed to acquire and navigate to potential targets.

Military and defense education products are sorely needed at present to extend understanding into risks and opportunities in ESC.

FAS Joins Emerging Threats Working Group

Appointment provides a unique opportunity for FAS to collaborate with NATO and other Euro-Atlantic states to better address the emerging security threats arising from science and technology breakthroughs.

The rapid pace of scientific discovery and technological innovation demands the redoubling of efforts by scientists, policymakers, non-governmental experts, and the business community to adapt to the security implications. That is why FAS is pleased to announce that Michael Edward Walsh, the Adjunct Fellow for Emerging Technologies and High-end Threats at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), was recently named to the Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes (PfPC) Working Group on Emerging Security Challenges. Continue reading