DARPA Proposal and the Viral Blitzkrieg

darpa_50th_logoDARPA (the Defense for Advanced Research Projects Agency) is an agency within the DOD (Department of Defense).  It was established in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration in response to the Soviet Union launch of Sputnik 1.  DARPA’s original mission was to prevent technological surprise and ensure that U.S. military technology was superior to that of our enemies.

DARPA often conducts research and development projects in the fields of technology and science.  This would encompass a wide range of disciplines designed to address the full spectrum of national security.  The organization is noted for “thinking outside the box” and avoiding the trappings of government bureaucracy.

In 2013, DARPA accepted bids for a proposal termed “Defense Against National Vulnerabilities in Public Data.”

DoD DARPA SBIR 2013.3 – Topic SB133-002

The objective was to investigate the national security threat posed by public data available either for purchase or through open sources.  In other words, could a modestly funded individual or group deliver nation-state, damaging effects using only public data (open-source information)?

DARPA’s goal was to identify and assess hypothetical real-time vulnerabilities and construct plans to mitigate the potential damage.

Pertaining to the artificially generated stampede, my greatest fear is the potential for a viral blitzkrieg (a bombardment of information designed to saturate a specific location(s) and exponentially spread panic).  The conceptual similarities between the DARPA proposal content and the viral blitzkrieg are textbook.

A viral blitzkrieg:

  • would require very little technical expertise.  Sophisticated computer skills, hacking or elaborate manipulation of communication channels are all unnecessary.
  • would require virtually no funding.  From a monetary perspective, the transaction cost (rate of return) would easily set a new precedent in the realm of generational warfare.
  • could be attempted by a determined, single individual.  The Department of Homeland Security is often preoccupied with “lone wolf” scenarios.  As a foreseeable act of terrorism, there would be little need for a larger organizational structure and traditional command and control operations.

Regarding the viral blitzkrieg, a major concern is the exposure and vulnerability of the traditional media (television, radio and even print).  People in this industry would not likely possess extensive knowledge of stadium evacuation protocol.  Adding to the problem, their established name recognition affords them an automatic degree of implicit trust with the general public.  Furthermore, all their relevant contact information (phone numbers, email addresses, social media accounts) is overtly placed in the public domain.

A viral blitzkrieg would rely heavily on individual, disparate reactions.  A very high percentage of those in the media have smart phones and are actively encouraged to use social media (facebook, twitter, etc.).  Those real-time reactions could have real-world consequences, especially in the event of a hoax evacuation order or perception of an imminent threat.  Good news travels fast.  Bad news travels faster.

As stated in the “Defense Against National Vulnerabilities in Public Data” proposal, the chief goal is to “develop methodology for risk assessment and mitigation.”  The defining characteristic of the artificially generated stampede involves the acceptance that real-time mitigation is a futile strategy.  This juxtaposition makes for a chilling, volatile contrast.

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the viral blitzkrieg’s bitter irony.  Incident commanders (those entrusted with the authority to order evacuations) tend to be older individuals.  The speed, penetration and saturation of the information age is something fundamentally foreign to many of them.  Most would be very leery of making any substantive changes to evacuation protocol, especially since current models have functioned successfully for decades.  On the other hand, the younger generation has a far better comprehension of wireless communications and the internet, particularly the instantaneous delivery of information.  Unfortunately, when you take an overview of the industry, you’ll quickly discover that very few young people actually hold these jobs.  And that same dynamic exists with NCAA leadership and NFL ownership.  Yet another direct contradiction.

Sometimes you cannot see the forest for the trees.