Category Archives: Emerging Technology

How Can the Military and Others Employ the Wisdom of Crowds?

Following up on some ideas for Transparency Camp 2010, new improvements to the theory of civilian crowd-sourced intelligence have been made. I especially want to thank Noel Hidalgo for helping record this information during the session.

Core Idea

Give raw data to civilians for analysis and voting then directly transmit the information to both military and civil crisis commanders. Significant advantages from civilian crowd-sourced intelligence may exist over professional analyses.

What is Civilian Crowd-Sourced Intelligence?

  • Civilians use the internet to propose ideas, make analyses and vote on those analyses.
  • Analyses and votes are forwarded, unfiltered, straight to battlefield commanders for consideration.
  • Civilians do not gather the data; they just analyze and vote on it.
  • These citizen volunteers come from the United States, NATO and Allied nations.
  • In a “crisis situation” (however this is defined), it is activated by the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense, NATO or whatever organization is authorized.

Role in 5 Scenarios

  1. War: Naval and ground force movements can be monitored.
  2. Disaster relief: We’ve already seen Crisis Commons demonstrate this capability by updatingmaps of Haiti right after the early 2010 earthquake. It’s also useful for monitoring resources of civilians, NGOs and governmental agencies responding to crises.
  3. Treaty enforcement: Civilians make sure Russians, Chinese, North Koreans and Iranians are living up to what they say they are doing. It also promotes nuclear arms verification.
  4. Human rights violations: If a village shows up on Google Maps in 2003, but doesn’t in 2008, something big probably happened. The US Holocaust Museum is using Google Earth to show the genocide occurring in Darfur. Other applications exist such as the potential to locate mass graves.
  5. Digital infrastructure: Ensure that civil and defense agencies can have accurate, real-time maps and information by plugging into pre-established organizations like Open StreetMap.

Big Pros

  • If the US Intelligence Community is incapacitated or overworked, a network of civilian volunteers can fill the gap.
  • Crowd-sourced intelligence from lots of people may offer deep insights that a smaller number of professional analysts may have missed or not considered.
  • Permits the general public to stay engaged with events.
  • It serves as a counter-point to the media.
  • This can serve as a recruiting tool for militaries.

Big Cons

  • If terrorists got this information, it could be used against the United States and its Allies.
  • If you pay people, they become spies. Therefore, non-monetary incentives are necessary to avoid likely treaty violations and public outcries.
  • Our adversaries could infiltrate the network to (a) see the information, (b) plant erroneous information, (c) offer false ideas and analyses, and (d) skew votes.

Models for Development

Currently, models for development exist. By combining the systems below, you can get a better picture of what tools are needed for a successful effort


In addition to the models for development listed above, a few other uses should be noticed.

  • List Building: At least a basic list of individuals is necessary for this idea to work. Twitter can be used for early efforts. An example of a Twitter list can be seen here.
  • Directory: A central directory of individuals with specific training and background would be another useful asset. LinkedIn and other social networking sites can provide an early proof of concept.
  • DoD Backing: Department of Defense support would likely inspire military families to contribute to this effort, drawing some of the first recruits.

An Experiment to Test for Military Use

We have already shown examples of civilian crowd-sourced intelligence being use in disaster relief, but what about in other operations? How can we test if crowd-sourced citizen analyses measure up to professional analyses?

I propose that non-vital but classified, real-time satellite imagery be released to the public on a set date. If civilian analyses measure up to professional analyses, we know we have some potential. If it doesn’t come close, then we can bury the idea for military applications.

Questions We Couldn’t Answer

  • What is the proper balance between openness and security?
  • Would civilian volunteers have security clearances?
  • Could a quick, cost-effective security check be done?
  • While models for development exist, what specific software or webware can be used to implement these ideas?

Expanding on the Idea

Civilians can be the “eyes on the ground” with mobile phones. Brave North Korean civilians are already doing this. It would be controversial for military uses, but the idea is ripe for development. It is best to study the idea and see where it leads in case our adversaries attempt something similar against us.

What’s Next?

These ideas were developed by people outside the US intelligence Community, so our contacts are limited. If you like these ideas and have contacts inside the US Intelligence Community, pass this idea along to them. Better yet, pass along their info to me, I’ll reach out to them.

Cross posted from All Things Sterling
Photo: nathaninsandiego

A Comprehensive Analysis of the US Army on Facebook

Many of our loyal fans know that we have had the honor to be working with members of the U.S. military for much of the last year or two.  We have learned much about ourselves, the world and the sacrifices so many young men and women make for our country, and we are grateful.

Over the last few months, our analysts conducted an assessment of military-use of social media that has been presented to the Pentagon — with a few excerpts and insights available here for your review.  Like just about every other organization or company in the world, it is fair to say that the Army really doesn’t own the Army brand — “we do.”  While that might be easy for me to say, we think our point becomes more clear with the following illustration that represents the “U.S. Army’s Brand” presence on just one of the social platforms, Facebook.  Each of the colored spheres within the Army’s ORBIT-map depicted below represents one of the 100-plus Facebook pages and groups dedicated to Army business.  Think about it, every sphere below has an owner or group of owners communicating to thousands, or millions in some cases, of their fans about Army business whenever they want.  Some of these may be official channels, most are not.

I’d argue that at an absolute minimum, every organization on-line should have a similar map and understanding — whether the brand is GE, Harvard or Nestle — knowing what they’re saying about you, who’s organizing for or against your brand (and what to do about it) is business critical in 2010.

So, when it comes to the Army on Facebook, here are ten things we think are worth knowing —

1. By an order of magnitude, the largest groups and pages related to the Army are those supporting the troops.  The largest of these pages (Support Our Troops)  has close to 1.5 million members, and a few others have well over 100,000.  Outside of the “support the troops” pages, only the official reason US Army page has more than 100,000 members;

2. In general, the large troop support pages fall into the pattern of being somewhat active but not engaged, meaning that they get a relatively high volume of comments and posts for their size, but there is very little interaction surrounding that high volume of postings.  For the most part, they come in the form of a page fan or group member leaving a note or post, and no one commenting on the post or “liking” it.  For groups of this size, that is uncommon;

3. Benchmarked to the Marine Corps official Facebook page, the Army page has room to grow, and could become more engaging.  The USMC’s official page has more fans (235,000 compared to 147,000); the Army is more active in updating its page with official posts – the Army updates close to daily while the USMC updates about once a week.  Still, even benchmarked to its size, the USMC’s page is more engaging, with over 1,000 interactions for every post (with many over 2,000), compared to most Army posts which end up in the hundreds;

4. A major difference exists in the way that the US Army and the USMC handle their default settings on their official pages.  The default view for the US Army page is for the page’s wall to feature the posts from both fans and official posts from the US Army; with dozens of posts per day, official Army posts get lost very easily.  The USMC’s default setting is to have only official posts from the USMC show up on the main wall.  As such, when one logs into the USMC page, the official postings are the first things visitors see.  The Air Force’s official page follows the USMC format as well;

5. The US Army’s official main recruiting presence is far and away the largest of the four branches.  Navy’s recruiting has just over 1,000 members and comes in the form of messages from “Commander, Navy Recruiting,” and the Marine Corps and Air Force roll their recruiting into their main pages.  For a page of its size (28,000), the activity level associated with the official Army recruiting page is relatively high.  For its size, the Navy’s interactions are relatively low;

6. There are dozens of individual recruiting station pages that greatly vary in size. Still, most have less than 100 members, and are not particularly active in terms of posting content.  One recruiting station stands out those both in terms of how they are using their Facebook page, its size, and the tone of postings.  The Army Recruiting WilkesBarre stands out because it is the largest with over 1,000 fans, and the most active in terms of both posting and trying new and engaging techniques for getting content and engaging fans.  An example is their posting pictures of new recruits in photo albums called “Future Soldiers.”

7. Individual commanders are using Facebook as well to open up discussions about installations and their units.  While these officers do not have large followings (most number in the few hundreds), they are trying to engage.  An example is Lt. General Frank Helmick, whose official fan page links directly to a discussion forum where he’s asking questions of his fans, “What is the dumbest thing we do at Fort Bragg?” and “How do you get information about Fort Bragg?”

8. Relatively speaking, the amount of activity surrounding protests of the Iraq war is relatively small compared to the troop support and the official presences of the Army.  The two largest groups both set out with the goal of attracting over a million members and have 31,437 and 25,790 respectively.  Additionally, these pages for the most part are relatively inactive with little activity relative to their size;

9. The activity surrounding wounded and fallen soldiers falls into two main categories.  First, for wounded warriors, the activity is centralized around a) the Wounded Warrior Project’s official Facebook page, which has over 93,000 members; and b) its Facebook Cause, which has over 163,000 members and has raised $39,229 –with engagement and activity levels on par with the US Army’s official page.  

The second group of pages are those for fallen soldiers, which, though not as large individually as the Wounded Warrior Project’s official page, do have individual pages that reach into the tens of thousands;

10. Individual units and bases vary greatly in their size. The two largest, Fort Benning and Special Operations Command both have around 10,000 fans and follow the same basic formula:  updates at least once a day, a combination of posts that are posting of human and general interest items along with useful news about services, and active posted media – both official and fan generated.

Cross posted from SocialSphere

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With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: Twitter and Facebook Now Allowed Within the Firewall

Last month, the Pentagon reversed its policy on accessing e-mail, instant messaging, discussion forums and social networking sites while using government computers.  As of the February 25th Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026, our nation’s Airmen, Soldiers, Seamen, and Marines around the globe are authorized to access Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and thousands of other formally restricted websites through the DoD’s unclassified network.  Obviously, years of internet security protocols, firewalls, and service specific policies did not evaporate instantly, but the services are implementing this new policy as we speak.

To check on the status, I made an informal inquiry to my brethren still in uniform via a FB post asking if they had access to Facebook at work, yet.  Within minutes, a Marine who was actually at his desk replied: “Yes…right now as a matter of fact.”  Shortly after, an AF officer checking Facebook while on lunch break wrote: “Not yet, but supposedly, its coming.”  To say this new policy will improve troop morale is an understatement; service members around the globe can’t wait to reconnect with family and friends.

On the other hand, as the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines implement these new relaxed procedures, policy makers must consider the inherent risks associated with granting freedom and access through government networks paid for by taxes.  Balancing troop morale with security, manpower, unit cohesion, and bandwidth will be a challenge.  Will a Soldier watching YouTube downrange clog the portal?  Is the Signal Corps going have a special unit dedicated to reading MySpace posts from government computers?  Will there be a Navy “authorized” template for blogging?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

More importantly, what about sharing secure information over the internet?  As you would expect, our service men and women are constantly surrounded by sensitive information and everyone must fully understand their responsibilities in this critical role as “trusted agent”.  That said, often innocuous bits and pieces of information can be put together by our enemies to paint a pretty clear picture.  How easy will it be for someone to type an official email in one window and blog in the next?  What measures will be in place to prevent information from “leaking” between open applications?  It is incumbent upon those with access to the government network to protect sensitive information…literally, lives depend on it!

Thankfully, a common sense approach to securing sensitive information provides the 90% solution for operations security (OPSEC) and after serving over 10 years on active duty, I can attest to the professionalism of the men and women who continue to wear the uniform.  This new policy is a wonderful step in the right direction especially as the DoD recruits the next generation tech savvy leaders.  But then again, can you imagine a young Lieutenant flying a Predator UAV with one hand and Tweeting with the other?

How Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti: Increasing Access to News Coverage

In my February 26 post titled “How the Rise of Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti,” I identified five ways in which social media aided or altered the disaster relief effort in Haiti. I concluded that it appears social media have fundamentally changed disaster relief, though of course they are no sort of cure-all. Since my February 26 post I have condensed my list of five ways in which social media changed disaster relief in Haiti into four. This post is the final part in a series explaining these ideas.

Increasing access to news coverage

Social media also served as an extremely effective tool for keeping Haiti in the news. The rapid growth of social media has enabled everyone with access to technology outlets to receive live-updating information on disaster relief efforts. Social media’s ability to integrate seamlessly with traditional media outlets sustained a heightened sense of urgency as the days and even weeks passed. Various television and Internet news outlets featured live-updating Twitter and Facebook messages from individuals on the ground in disaster relief initiatives. As a result, traditional news coverage of relief efforts was more comprehensive, and likely more compelling as well.

As the weeks passed and journalists began to leave the scene one by one, disaster relief providers were able to fill the gap by continuing to update their social media outlets—Twitter, Facebook, and blogs—which were in turn integrated with traditional media outlets. Even after the majority of journalists returned to their homes, relief providers continued to supply new and traditional media sources with photos, interviews, and updates. Popular access to high-quality cameras, cell phones, and the Internet made this effort possible, with the help of highly integrated information sharing technologies. Facebook soon created a page dedicated to providing disaster relief information. As a result of these phenomena, an issue that might normally have become unpopular after dominating traditional news outlets for several weeks was given additional time on the front pages and headlines.

As the Haiti relief effort was given an extended stay in the news, relief efforts received continued funding and support. More time in the news kept Haiti relief efforts in daily conversation longer, kept micro-volunteers engaged longer, and allowed the “text ‘Haiti’ to 90999 to donate $10 to Haiti” message to continue running longer. Social media, in these ways, benefited the relief efforts in Haiti by increasing their access to news coverage, via both traditional and alternative outlets, which in turn benefited other aspects of the relief effort.

Conclusions: What social media can accomplish, and what they can’t

Social media may have changed disaster relief forever. Future natural disaster relief efforts will likely continue to feature similar response initiatives as social media continue to develop and expand, and continue to supply new avenues for relief. Of course, Haiti’s close proximity to the US may have actually allowed the social media disaster relief revolution to take place; the US is a nexus for social media, a highly modernized country, and one with a vast collection of relief organizations. Likewise, a similarly monumental social media relief effort would be likely to take place near, say France or Japan, but less likely in sub-Saharan Africa. In this way, social media’s impact on natural disaster relief efforts may continue to increase on average in the future, but likely will be heavily influenced by other variables. In any case, it is clear that social media provide substantial advantages to disaster relief efforts, but it is important to remember that social media’s abilities to enhance disaster relief efforts are not without limits.

While social media are certainly able to expedite and improve humanitarian relief efforts, there is a wide range of objectives which they cannot accomplish. They increased a sense of immediacy in responding to the earthquake in Haiti, but that did not necessarily equate to a substantial impact. Social media may have significantly lowered what would have been a higher casualty count (in an area distinguished by poverty and urban slum sprawl), but we cannot know for certain how significant a contribution they made. More sophisticated coordination among relief organizations likely could have improved relief efforts in ways that social media technology could not; whether social media can assist in developing this sort of coordination in the future is questionable.

Standing at a Crossroads: Climate Change and the National Security Threat

On December 4th, 2007, I stood among a crowd of uniformed US Army officers, and watched as my fellow West Virginian and West Point classmate Ben Tiffner was lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery. Ben was killed in action a month earlier, in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on his Humvee in Iraq. As my friends and I left the cemetery, we reflected on Ben’s life as well as on the lives of too many other soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion for our great Nation.

If you haven’t been to see one of our national cemeteries, you need to. The endless rows of white headstones open up into a new section, constantly growing, devoted to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in today’s War on Terror. Remembering my own time in Iraq leading an infantry mortar platoon, and the dangers we struggled through, I know our military fights a long, difficult war. And due to our addiction to cheap fossil fuels, the long war is going to get longer. This is why I choose to fight a better fight, here at home, for cheap, clean energy independence. Our national security depends on it. The lives of soldiers such as Ben’s depend on it. And the lives of our children depend on it. For these reasons we, the people need the US Congress to pass strong energy and national security legislation this year.

To be sure, I know the American economy is today powered predominately by fossil fuels. I also know that many people dispute the truthfulness behind the science of climate change.  However, I do not write this as a climate scientist.   I write today based on my own experience as a United States soldier. On the battlefield, a soldier doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for 100% certainty before acting. Too often, waiting for certainty results in bad situations getting progressively worse and soldiers dying unnecessarily. We must act when we are sure enough, and the benefits of action outweigh the costs of inaction.

Climate change offers us a similar situation. Despite the dressing down the IPCC has received for sloppily handling some of its business, the reality is that the problems that have been raised do not appear to be systemic, and do not diminish the power of the thousands of scientific papers that support the consensus view.  In fact, the world’s top scientific minds agree with 95% certainty that climate change is going to drastically alter the way we live, and that much of climate change is man-made. I’d take that bet any day of the week, especially when my soldiers’ lives are on the line.

Which takes me back to my main point. Assume dry parts of the world dry up even more, and wars over precious drinking water become even more prevalent. Slight sea level increases force the coastal populations of the world’s poorest regions to flee as climate refugees. Instability opens up more holes for extremists preaching anti-American terror to step in and take control. Who is going to have to respond to these threats? China? India? No! We will: American fighting men and women. It is the American soldier who will bear the brunt of inaction. And that will cost us dearly.

We stand at a crossroads. We can choose to do nothing, and be confident that other brave Americans such as Ben Tiffner will see their way into our most hallowed of grounds, all because we could not summon the courage to act when needed. Or, we can make an investment in our future today, and reap the benefits for decades to come.

The time for investment is now. The US Senate is set to soon begin consideration of a new bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Kerry (D-MA), Lieberman (I-CT), and Graham (R-SC) that can and will offer just the added incentives we need to avert the worst of climate change. And just as importantly, it is going to keep our fighting men and women safer, and our great Nation more secure. We cannot let these benefits pass us by.

Over the course of several posts, I plan on providing more detail on the nature of the security threat we are facing, what our military and defense apparatus is already doing to deal with the threat, and how we as a nation can adapt and overcome this great challenge of our time.

Photo: nestorgalina

How Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti: Enabling Efficient Donations Systems

In my February 26 post titled “How the Rise of Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti,” I identified five ways in which social media aided or altered the disaster relief effort in Haiti. I concluded that it appears social media have fundamentally changed disaster relief, though of course they are no sort of cure-all. Since my February 26 post I have condensed my list of five ways in which social media changed disaster relief in Haiti into four. This post is part three in a four-part series explaining these ideas.

Enabling efficient donation systems

Social media also prompted a maturation of global giving during the Haiti crisis by enabling a substantial increase in donation efficiency. A Red Cross mobile fundraising campaign went viral after being released on Twitter, raising more than $21 million in about one month via $10 donations. In 2009 mobile donations to all charity organizations totaled about $4 million. By developing agreements with all major cell phone companies, as well as the US Department of State, the Red Cross enabled anyone in America with a cell phone to instantly donate $10 to the relief effort simply by texting the word “Haiti.”

This initiative removed all barriers between the relief effort and potential donors—donations were directly added to individuals’ phone bills. In the past, potential donors would have to write and mail a check or make a physical donation at a relief organization detachment. The number of mobiles phones in use in the US is approximately 89 percent of the number of the total population; by integrating disaster relief with cell phone technology, the Red Cross was able to turn all mobile phone users in the US into potential immediate donors.

The campaign effected a sense of immediacy, and likely many people donated for the fact alone that it had never been easier to give. Meanwhile of course, the campaign was appearing everywhere; it appeared on television and Internet ads, during news programs, and even during the Super Bowl.

Still, the donations were not as instant as they appeared; due to billing and legal restrictions, donations may take as long as 90 days to be deposited into Red Cross accounts—many still have yet to be deposited! But still, as Red Cross spokesman Jonathan Aiken said, “The processing delay doesn’t mean we’re waiting. Our policy is always to work in good faith and assume people will make the contributions they pledge.” The Red Cross extracted massive stores of funding to address the Haiti disaster, understanding that its coffers would be replenished by deposited funds over the course of the coming months. While the process is imperfect, in this way social media enabled a massive global giving movement that significantly aided the disaster relief effort in Haiti.

Check back tomorrow for part four in this series.

Photo: curiouslee

A More Resilient Nation: Crafting a Comprehensive Cyber Deterrence Strategy

Many cyber security experts and national security policy makers assume that it is impossible to achieve a comprehensive cyber deterrence strategy. Deterrence involves convincing an adversary not to initiate a particular action or actions due to the credible prospect that he will not succeed in achieving his objectives and/or he will be subjected to a punishing response such that the costs incurred will far outweigh the benefits that might be gained.

One reason that cyber deterrence is viewed as impossible because unlike the Cold War there is not one monolithic adversary to deter. During the Cold War the United States only had to worry about deterring nation-states and primarily achieved this goal via the threat of a nuclear retaliation. In today’s cyber threat environment there are a number of adversaries including:

  • nation-states;
  • terrorists;
  • patriotic hackers and;
  • cyber criminals.

Each of these adversaries has different interests and objectives. Further, some of these adversaries, like terrorists, believe they have nothing to lose and therefore are not threatened by the use of force – digital or physical.

Accordingly, cyber security experts and policy makers believe it is difficult to develop a deterrent strategy to address all of these adversaries. While it is certainly more difficult to develop individual deterrence strategies for the above adversaries rather than the one deterrent strategy needed to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it is by no means impossible. A closer examination of the various adversaries capabilities and intentions reveals the United States can easily develop a credible cyber deterrent strategy for its adversary.

Deterring nation-states is relatively straightforward. The United States still possesses its nuclear deterrent used to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This deterrent capability can still be used to deter nation-state adversaries from launching devastating cyber attacks on critical infrastructure targets.

Deterring terrorists, patriotic hackers, and cyber criminals is a more difficult challenge. Currently, terrorist groups have demonstrated intent but not the capability to launch crippling cyber attacks against critical infrastructure targets. Therefore, in order to successfully deter terrorist from pursuing cyber warfare the United States should focus on improving its cyber security and resiliency. Improved defense may convince terrorist groups that the execution of a successful cyber attack is well beyond its capabilities.

Additionally, improved resiliency may convince terrorist groups that even if successful a cyber attack may not have the desired crippling effect. Improved resiliency, via the use of redundant systems, can be designed to prevent devastating and cascading failures in critical systems. A terrorist group may be less likely to waste precious resources attacking a target they perceive to be invulnerable to attack.

Patriotic hackers have demonstrated the capability and intent to launch successful cyber attacks against critical infrastructure targets. For example, Chinese patriotic hackers are believed to be responsible for an ongoing series of cyber espionage attacks against various targets within the Defense Industrial Base sector. According to media reports, untold amounts of valuable intellectual property and military logistics data were lost in these attacks. Given the patriotic hackers de facto connection to a nation-state it is reasonable to treat this adversary as an extension of its patron nation-state.

The United States should carefully articulate its belief that attacks carried out by patriotic hackers will be treated as attacks sponsored by the hacker’s patron nation-state. As such, the United States should threaten the patron nation-state with retaliation in an effort to deter attacks launched by patriotic hackers. Ideally, nation-states will find this threat credible and seek to control and limit attacks emanating from patriotic hackers within their borders.

Cyber criminals have also demonstrated the capability and intent to launch cyber attacks against critical infrastructure targets. Cyber criminals have launched successful attacks against various targets in the financial sector. Additionally, CIA analyst Tom Donohoe publicly stated that presumed cyber criminals caused blackouts overseas. Donohoe said,

We have information, from multiple regions outside the United States, of cyber intrusions into utilities, followed by extortion demands. We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of these attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge. We have information that cyber attacks have been used to disrupt power equipment in several regions outside the United States. In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities.We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the Internet.

Cyber criminals appear to be the most difficult adversary to deter due to their perceived capability to overcome advanced defenses as well as the inability to tie them directly to a patron nation-state. While difficult, the United States can deter cyber criminals by improving its attribution capabilities. Improved technical attribution coupled with effective intelligence gathering and increased information sharing by international law enforcement partners will enable the United States to more accurately identify the sources of a cyber attack. Once identified the United States should use traditional law enforcement strategies to pursue and arrest cyber criminals. Improved attribution and an effective response from law enforcement will likely discourage cyber criminals from launching high profile attacks on critical infrastructure targets like the power grid.

Developing a comprehensive cyber deterrence will by no means be easy to achieve and will take lots of patient work. Just because our Cold War deterrent strategy is no longer applicable and a replacement is not immediately obvious it does not mean we should conclude that cyber deterrence is impossible. After World War II and the introduction of nuclear weapons, policy makers took time to develop the sustainable framework of mutually assured destruction. This strategy was not immediately obvious at the dawn of the Cold War and we should therefore not expect that a cyber deterrent strategy would also be immediately obvious.

Photo: ctankcycles

How Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti: Expanding Foreign Volunteerism Opportunities

In my February 26 post titled “How the Rise of Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti,” I identified five ways in which social media aided or altered the disaster relief effort in Haiti. I concluded that it appears social media have fundamentally changed disaster relief, though of course they are no sort of cure-all. Since my February 26 post I have condensed my list of five ways in which social media changed disaster relief in Haiti into four. This post is part two in a four-part series explaining these ideas.

Expanding foreign volunteerism opportunities

Social media technology drastically increased the global public’s ability to contribute via micro-vounteerism. Through three main activities, individuals were able to contribute volunteer work from anywhere in the world to help provide relief to survivors in Haiti. The Haiti earthquake relief effort marks the single greatest micro-volunteerism effort in human history; social media made this effort possible by providing new avenues of communication and collaboration.

First, foreign volunteers contributed by developing computer programs and technology applications to assist the relief effort. Many of these programs helped enable the massive social media relief effort that proceeded. Ushahidi, a program originally built to track election violence in Kenya, created, a site that tracks people, emergency incidents, and search and rescue operations.

The maps created for this initiative rely on open-source mapping software that depends on volunteers to provide geographical information. Prior to the earthquake, the map of Haiti contained only major roads.A day after the quake, Port-au-Prince had been almost completely mapped by groups of volunteers, a task that normally would have required a great deal of time and money. These maps enabled people on the ground to more effectively provide relief when and where it was needed.

Second, foreign volunteers contributed to the Haiti relief effort by participating in people locating projects. One example, the Haiti Earthquake Support Center project, created by The Extraordinaries—a micro-work volunteer website—allowed volunteers to log online to match photos of missing persons in Haiti to pictures taken at relief centers. By doing this, friends and families of the missing individuals would be alerted that the missing were safe. Individuals would post photos of missing relatives and friends, and others would post photos taken at relief centers.

Volunteers had two primary tasks: to sort and tag these thousands of photos by age, gender, and other attributes in order to develop a missing person database, and to sift through this database in an attempt to match missing persons with people photographed in relief centers. Each time a match was confirmed, the survivor’s friends and family would be alerted: a photo of the survivor had been taken at a relief center; thus the survivor had made it out of the destruction and was out of immediate danger. The organization also created an iPhone application, which allowed volunteers to work remotely. Through these implementations, social media enabled volunteers to contribute to the relief effort from anywhere in the world.

Third, foreign volunteers assisted the Haiti relief effort by participating in crisis camps, groups that would do both of the aforementioned activities, and also scour Twitter and other social media sites for information from victims. They would respond to requests from relief teams on the ground in Haiti, looking up coordinates for buildings, finding directions, and answering other needs from people on the ground with limited technological access.

These crisis camps set up command centers in major cities including Washington, Los Angeles, London, and Bogota, pooling the efforts of groups of volunteers to provide assistance to survivors and relief teams in Haiti. Google also created a crisis response center to provide similar support services. Along with missing person finders and map- and program makers, these crisis relief centers were a significant contribution to the Haiti relief effort as an example of micro-volunteerism through the usage of social media technology.

Come back tomorrow and Saturday for the remaining two parts in this series.

How Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti: Search and Rescue Operations

In my February 26 post titled “How the Rise of Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti,” I identified five ways in which social media aided or altered the disaster relief effort in Haiti. I concluded that it appears social media have fundamentally changed disaster relief forever, though of course they are no sort of cure-all. Te-Ping Chen at agrees with this argument, in her March 1 post discussing ways in which social media efforts unveiled in Haiti were reused in the Chile relief effort. Since my February 26 post I have condensed my list of five ways in which social media changed disaster relief in Haiti into four. In posts over the next four days I will explain these four ideas.

Enhancing technical search and rescue operations

Social media dramatically improved Haitians’ and outsiders’ abilities to locate missing persons and repair critical infrastructure. Moments after the earthquake struck, social media served as a first responder. Many survivors who were unable to use phone lines to alert their status to friends and family—due to massive infrastructure breakdowns—used social media to do so, primarily through Facebook and Twitter. Many of these individuals were able to contact friends and family long before any relief or news teams could arrive.

As the search for survivors progressed, in some cases individuals who could not access phone lines were able to alert search teams as to their whereabouts, again via Facebook and Twitter. Individuals with Internet access also used social media to describe conditions of local structures and to communicate locations of potential survivors to search teams.

Open-source mapping software also played a pivotal role in these efforts. A variety of organizations created mapping programs to track developing relief initiatives, identifying locations of medical centers, relief shelters, and emergency threats. Individuals with Internet access can log on and update local data; even if an individual only has a small amount of information to share, the collaborative maps are expansive, allowing those in need to more effectively locate relief provisions. These maps are further able to identify the areas most badly damaged by the earthquake, and enable relief teams to efficiently navigate the streets.

Before the Haiti crisis, this technology had never been so comprehensively integrated into search and rescue disaster relief efforts. In Haiti, these efforts experienced measured success: by combining multiple technologies, and by allowing large numbers of individuals to provide live information, social media enabled a diverse group of survivors and rescuers to coordinate complex relief initiatives.

Finally, social media enhanced governmental initiatives in assisting ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti. The Department of Homeland Security joined the social media disaster relief movement by creating the Haiti Social Media Disaster Monitoring Initiative. The initiative was designed to track up to 60 social media websites in order to learn about conditions in Haiti and send alerts to US Government agencies in the country. In one example, a Homeland Security employee discovered a message on Twitter giving the location and coordinates of a person trapped under a building. The Department of Homeland Security forwarded the information to the State Department, which sent a rescue team to the site. In this way, social media has enabled foreign governments to involve themselves more closely with efforts to connect relief teams with Haitian earthquake victims in need.

Challenges Along the Digital Frontier with National Security Ramifications

Let’s face it: we love technology. The instant delivery of information to our fingertips is a powerful addiction that has become the fuel for rapid expansion in both the private and public sectors. But as the Internet continues to surge exponentially both in size and in its integration with our daily affairs, it raises a host of novel and confounding issues relating to privacy and security.

Three areas in particular deserve closer attention:

1. Public/private sector information sharing – Should there be a revolving door between Internet technology companies and law enforcement officials?

An unofficial report recently exposed the clandestine partnership between Google and NSA, ostensibly a collaborative effort to develop better strategies for cybersecurity in the wake of Chinese attacks on Google’s network. Additionally, Google has publicly admitted that it readily cooperates with law enforcement officials in criminal investigations pertaining to end users. Constitutional issues aside (and there are enough to fill an entire blog in itself), it is inevitable that this sort of public-private cooperation will grow in importance as a key source of national security intelligence. The increasing prominence of a shrinking number of large, consolidated corporate entities in the Internet field will mean that governments will find it cheaper and more efficient to rely on preexisting (and constantly innovating) private infrastructure instead of relying on an uniquely government-run channels. Just as the military has found it useful to outsource counter-terrorist and nation-building operations to private firms like Blackwater (now Xe), it is not unfathomable to imagine Google designing and implementing the algorithms that track terrorist and criminal activity online.

2. Globalization and “Digital Sovereignty” – how should the United States government act with regard to information that exists in the Internet domain?

Although the Internet is widely perceived as a boundary-less resource, serious legal and logistical issues arise when it comes to tracking and sourcing sensitive online data. Servers that store content can be physically located on the opposite side of the planet from the end user, with data likely flowing on a trajectory through any number of intermediary nations along the way. How does the government justify intrusion into a nation’s “digital domain” for the purposes of collecting intelligence or tracking subjects? The answers are far from clear, and these are some of the major issues being hammered out in the nebulous arena of international law, where sovereignty interests compete strongly against security interests. (This should be a hint to law students looking for unique career options.)

3. Cyberwarfare – Within the next decade, it is likely that we will face some sort of large scale terrorist attack that at least temporarily disables a key element of our technological infrastructure. The “weaponry”, so to speak, on this battlefront is cheap, accessible, and constantly increasing in sophistication. Just as medicines and vaccines must continually be tweaked and refashioned to combat the latest infections and diseases, so too must firewalls, encryption, and anti-virus systems against the ever-growing threats. Given that our military is becoming increasingly reliant on computer technology for combat operations, it is imperative that we prioritize cyberdefense. And as we have seen with the recent Google-China controversy, the actors in digital confrontations are not limited to hostile states.

These broad categories only scratch the surface of the complex security issues that lie at the frontier of the Internet domain. But increased awareness of their importance is our first step to developing coherent and sensible policy in a 21st century framework.