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Engineering as an Instrument of National Power

Originally published in The Military Engineer here.

To understand how we might make America great again in the world of international affairs, it is instructive to explore our engineering heritage and how it might reinvigorate our posture on the global scene. 

By Dr. Christopher K.Tucker

It seems that America has forgotten what once made it great, both at home and abroad.  America used to be a nation of builders, engineering a future that advanced American interests and principles.  Early Americans explored and mapped the frontiers, and engineered all manner of “internal improvements” that laid the groundwork for the American Century. On the international scene, America has a long, rich history of helping partner nations build capacity in support of our collective stability, security, growth, liberty and democracy.  But, somewhere along the line, the American national security establishment suffered a sort of institutional amnesia, forgetting the engineering foundations that made the Pax Americana possible.  To understand how America found itself in this spot, it is instructive to explore our current conceptions of American grand strategy.


Some think that engineering is simply a subset of the economic instrument of

national power. History tells us otherwise.


For years, the continuous repartee in Washington about “American Grand Strategy” has generated much heat but shed little light.  In this debate, the characterizations of our core national interests and our desired end state have been broad enough for nearly any agenda.  At the same time, the characterizations of our instruments of national power have demonstrated a kind of institutional amnesia about what made America strong and established America as a dominant force for good on the global scene.  Since grand strategy seeks the seamless integration and synchronization of all aspects and instruments of national power so to achieve the desired end state, this dual deficit has left our collective discussion on grand strategy wonting.

Perhaps some clarity can be achieved by exploring how we define and use the term “instruments of national power.” These “instruments” are those tools that each country uses in order to shape the international environment to its advantage by influencing other countries, international organizations, non-state actors, and corporations.  In the United States, Congress mandates that the president lay out how they plan to use these instruments of national power to achieve national security objectives in a National Security Strategy (NSS).

The standard reference for describing the “whole of government” range of instruments of national power is summarized by the acronym “DIME”: Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic. These four instruments are surely essential to the art of statecraft.

First, diplomacy is our primary conduit for engaging other nations, international institutions, and populations around the world.  Second, it is essential that we shape the informational landscape of our national security environment to our advantage, thereby protecting and advancing American principles and interests abroad.  Third, constituting a military capability that can both deter and/or compel our enemies, while also shaping Phase 0 environments through security sector assistance, is key to quelling those who would oppose American principles and interests by force.  And fourth, our nation must wield the economic instrument of power so as to ensure free access to markets, predict and prevent economic and financial crises, and to encourage economic growth. Some have advocated for the addition of Financial, Intelligence and Legal instruments of national power (DIME-FIL), which are also essential to the art of statecraft, and welcome additions.

However, what if this complement of instruments of national power was necessary but not sufficient?  What if they all were predicated upon another instrument of national power that is so ingrained in our modern way of thinking that we fundamentally fail to recognize it, organize and resource it, and then wield it to our advantage?  This has been the case for a long time.  But, what could be so ingrained in our modern way of thinking as to be invisible to national security decision-makers?  What is the capability on which the success of the United States, and other developed nations is predicated?

In short, the missing piece is engineering. It is the ability to engineer our landscapes with infrastructure, and the built environments that depend on this infrastructure, that is a fundamental instrument of national power.  It is what people around the developing world and in conflict zones yearn for, but which we in the developed world take for granted, and forget to properly resource in our adventures abroad.

It is easy for those of us in the developed world to forget about the infrastructure that provides us potable water and separates our wastewater from our storm water. The prime power generation and distribution that brings us the electricity needed for nearly every facet of modern life is often invisible to us—at least until a power outage occurs.  Freedom of mobility, at great speed and over great distances, whether for freight or for passengers, is simply an assumption of modern life, due to widespread transportation infrastructure.  And, our ability to avoid travel over great distances in order to communicate is predicated upon the engineering of a near ubiquitous telecommunications infrastructure. These and many other forms of engineering are the basic building blocks on which the developed world is based.

Yet, national debates on a grand strategy are nearly devoid of any discussion of engineering, and the infrastructure it creates, even though these are in large part what people around the world desire, and to which they aspire.

Some think that engineering is simply a subset of the economic instrument of national power. History tells us otherwise. In the evolution of a nation, it is engineering institutions that enable new forms of economic activity long before commercial industries drive widespread engineering-based progress. Without these basic engineering institutions, and infrastructural building blocks, our partner nations and those who aspire to model their lives on the developed world are left adrift. DIME(-FIL) methodologies have stalled progress in large swaths of the planet as they have simply omitted the obvious: engineering.



If American interests and principles are to see a renaissance across the globe, it is essential that American citizens and American policymakers recognize the centrality of engineering to modernity, and recognize that it requires more than American economic power to bring the marvels of modern engineering to places that suffer for lack of capacity, stability, and security.  To achieve this goal, we require a refactored national security posture that properly harnesses America’s engineering institutions and properly integrates them into American national strategy.

People often forget that America began as a colonial nation at the edges of a great frontier that required comprehensive engineering surveys to inform the needed “internal improvements.”  America was a fragile nation at risk of instability with its ungoverned frontiers, myriad diseases and natural hazards, security threats, as well as enormous resources—many of which were unknown and all of which required costly engineering to unlock.

While the Corps traces its roots to June 16, 1775, when the Continental Congress first chartered the U.S. Army with a chief engineer, the modern U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was established in 1802 as part of the Military Peace Establishment Act, which had been drafted by Thomas Jefferson as an advancement of a new set of authorities for, and limits on the U.S. military.  The Corps and its home at West Point were established with the primary function of training expert engineers loyal to the United States. The worldview that guided this founding was informed by a number of observations, including concerns that America’s canals were woefully inadequate for the timely and cost-efficient transport of goods and people, and that its ports had no means of defending their perimeters. During this era, the young nation’s roads, canals and natural navigable waterways required engineering and maintenance to support regular trade.

The General Survey Act of 1824 furthered this mission by authorizing the Corps to survey roads and canal routes—an act that then caused the Corps to be named as the responsible party for the “Act to Improve the Navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.” Such need for engineering internal improvements continued to grow exponentially, and by 1838, Congress established a dedicated U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to undertake the mapping, design, and construction of federal civil works, coastal fortifications, and navigational routes. This division of engineers later merged back into the Corps in 1863.

In World War II, the Corps built some 27,000 military and industrial projects all over the world.  The Marshall Plan called on the engineers to establish new districts in Europe where infrastructure and construction were required to put Europe back in working order.  The Corps also played a key role in the occupation and reconstruction of Japan.  During the Cold War, the Corps played a leading role in engineering infrastructure within over a hundred countries worldwide.  In many places, this work helped to build a persistent presence and bi-lateral relationships with the host nation partner – relationships that have continued to this day.

Over the past several decades, policymakers and strategists have come to confuse the kinds of technical assistance projects advanced by the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) with the kind of infrastructure systems that had demanded the establishment of USACE engineering districts.  These districts once covered geographies so large that they could provide integrated engineering strategies sized to meet the political demands of host nation partners. Now, however, the previous vision of national engineering projects based on engagement and committed to capacity building, stability, and security has been displaced by a short-term focus on “aid” projects, modestly linked to an integrated strategy for advancing U.S. interests abroad.

To provide partner nations with capacity building, stability, security, and prosperity, a long-term engineering vision must be established in collaboration with each partner nation or region, with an eye toward establishing governance, long-term economic growth, hazard mitigation, stability, and security.




Engineering is not simply a subset of the economic instrument of national power.  Engineering’s roots run deep in the development of nations, and must be treated as such.  The basics of governance require an engineering of the land.  Going back to colonial days, the engineering of a country’s domain began with a geographical survey of its domain.

1)     Governance. Governance is not just a product of the law and politics. Indeed, its foundations are literally engineered. Land is surveyed. Boundaries are established. Parcels are apportioned. Deeds are assigned to these parcels. Addresses are assigned. Identities tie individuals to these parcels based on residential ownership or rental contracts. Contracts become enforceable because of the accountability borne out of tying individuals to specific locations on the landscape. Censuses then count individuals as they are tied to the land.  These censuses help the government to apportion democratic representation, allocate public resources, regulate private action, and shape private investment. This is all geospatial engineering in action.

2)      Growth. Many discuss the importance of America’s economic instrument of national power.  This discussion tends to focus only on the importance of financial and trade mechanisms as they shape the behavior and success of both partner nations and adversaries.  It does not focus on the equally important mechanisms by which America can help nations achieve long-term economic growth—namely engineering, which shapes a nation’s land for connectivity, productivity, and long-term economic growth.  Engineering is the instrument of American national power that should be leveraged and invested in so as to put our partners on a successful path of long-term economic growth. Before economies can truly develop, the physical infrastructure must be developed in order to provide transportation, telecommunications, and energy distribution connectivity.  The land must be engineered to meet agricultural, industrial, and health requirements. Local organic engineering capability and engineering educational institutions must also exist to ensure long-term self-sufficiency and viability.

3)      Hazard Mitigation.  Too often, we talk about natural and human disasters as exogenous shocks that by and large cannot be helped.  However, engineering has a long tradition of pre-emptively mitigating the effects of such disasters by building resilience in an otherwise fragile system.  In the direct aftermath of a disaster, national policy rightly focuses on the undeniable human toll paid and how humanitarian assistance/disaster response (resource should be deployed.  This kind-heartedness also represents a kind of institutional myopia, or rather, a failure to appreciate that the thoughtful and strategic deployment of engineering capabilities to at-risk environments could make such responses less acute or even less necessary.  Such a use of engineering as an instrument of national power would mitigate the great loss of partner nations’ capital stocks, including their physical capital stock, financial capital stock, and human capital stock.  By engineering hazard mitigations and resilience in our partners, America’s engineering instrument of national power can help them move more smoothly up what one might call the “stability maturity curve.”

4)      Stability.  Even if systems are engineered to be resilient, and both natural and manmade hazards are mitigated through engineering, “stability” requires the full suite of engineering initiatives.  A foundational geographical survey must be established, and continually nourished, as the only constant of a nation’s landscape is change. The engineering foundations of governance must be built, drawing on this data.  Foundations of long-term economic growth must be engineered.  And, stability partnerships must be established across nations that are committed to some level of data transparency, openness, and sustained presence by partners.  Through institutionalized engineering capacities within partner nations, we create long-term, non-political, technocratic, bi-lateral relationships that can provide stability by preventing isolation, opacity, and autocracy.

5)      Security.  To be clear, security is no afterthought.  Engineering as a state institution in modern societies often began within the Army in order to help engineer security into the landscape.  And while one could and even should legitimately discuss engineering as an instrument of national power through the lens of Security Sector Assistance and Security Cooperation, it is crucial that engagement with partner nations deploys this instrument of national power in whatever manner will ensure local success.  USACE is a 37,000 person civilian agency with a military leadership. This allows it to deploy into harms way as part of the Army or other military components and to undertake complex engineering endeavors. It also allows for the deployment of engineering capabilities in support of partner nations’ civilian engineering institutions.  Engineering as an instrument of national power, as manifested in USACE, has the flexibility of deploying as a military to military, military to civilian, civilian to civilian, or civilian to military capability, depending on which is culturally and geopolitically appropriate.  This ensures that America’s security goals, interests, and principles can be advanced through the deployment of engineering capability and that it can be done without demanding a large military footprint.



It is not a new thing for USACE to deploy its considerable engineering might as part of a coordinated national security strategy aimed at building partner nations’ capacity, stability, growth, liberty, and democracy.  Post-World War II and Cold War examples abound.  But the past several decades have seen a shift away. First, we have lost sight of history too much, and underappreciate the role the Corps played in building the United States into the dominate and resilient power of today.  America’s modern domestic political narrative often recognizes the Corps for both its contributions and also failures as it relates to the management of navigable waterways, the flood plains they traverse, and the human disasters that can result. This narrative forgets about engineering’s long-established role in foreign affairs.

Second, the Army has made a profound transformation from a “constructive Army” with its early officer corps trained as engineers to a “destructive Army” with an officer corps that sees USACE for its combat engineering prowess and its military construction budget. Third, to some, USACE is a military organization headed by a three-star general who reports to the Chief of Staff of the Army. To others, USACE is a 37,000 person civilian engineering organization. Fourth, USACE’s Interagency &International Services program is a crucial resource for providing technical assistance to non-defense federal agencies, state and local governments, tribal nations, private U.S. firms, international organizations, and foreign governments—yet it is still funded on a reimbursable basis, without its own budget.

Lastly, it is also important to note that due to many of its environmental and social justice implications, the engineering heritage of the early 20th Century has led some to shy away from engineering solutions to the needs of developing countries. Critics rightfully shy away from the kinds of large-scale “white elephant” projects that are so iconic, and both their neocolonial overtones and environmental liabilities.  The engineering community has learned many lessons from the past. Engineering with nature has become valued in the modern era, as has critical thinking about how the human/infrastructure nexus can be tuned to support human security and social justice.  Still, such critiques have sapped the enthusiasm around the kinds of engineering and infrastructure centric approaches that offer such great hope to the developing world.

This mix of issues has meant the long-term neglect in innovative thinking about how USACE might guide the application of the engineering instrument of national power across the American foreign affairs portfolio. With a few tweaks to its congressional authorization and some reallocation of national security appropriations, USACE could rapidly be transformed in to a formidable force on the international scene. It could reshape the world for the better through the strategic deployment of American engineering power that will, in turn, support partner nations and advance American interests and principles abroad.


By engineering hazard mitigations and resilience in our partners, America’s engineering instrument of national power can help them move more smoothly up what one might call the stability maturity curve. 





While many have raised concerns about the militarization of American foreign policy at the turn of the 21st century, others have bemoaned the country’s loss of influence in foreign affairs.  Few seem to have reflected on the value that American power can and should bring to the world. In business, if you are not bringing value to your customers and investors, you fade in to irrelevance.  Any nation that refuses to re-imagine its value to both its partners and the wider world will also fade into irrelevance.

The DIME (-FIL) construct that is taught to every national security decision-maker, whether military or civilian, envisions a certain array of value that America might bring to the world.  It suggests a certain constellation of ways in which America can shape the world to support its interests and principles. Perhaps it is time to raise the status of engineering so that it is, as it deserves to be, an instrument of national power—DIME-FILE, if you will.

Looking around at the developed world, one sees a heavily engineered built environment that provides modern amenities on which our daily lives depend. If we open our eyes further, we should see in these environments the foundations for our society’s stability, security, prosperity, and even our liberty and democracy.  Rather than taking it for granted, we must explicitly recognize that infrastructure and the engineering capabilities that bring it to us, are the foundation of modern society. It is high time we appreciate that most people in the developing world desire the benefits that engineering brings, and aspire to the benefits of modern infrastructure. If we believe that advancing American interests and principles worldwide depends on developing enduring partnerships with stable societies abroad, it is vitally important that we once again make engineering an integral part of our grand strategy.

Solving the “Big Hot Data Mess”

By Anthony Calamito; Christopher Tucker, Ph.D.; and Abe Usher

This article was originally published in USGIF’s State & Future of GEOINT Report 2017. Download the full report here.

You can’t talk about GEOINT these days without acknowledging the explosion in new big data sources or the accumulation of traditional data sources into large, hard-to-manage data repositories splintered across multiple networks. Big data is also being fragmented by security half-measures and otherwise made generally inaccessible to all of the newfangled big data solutions with which everyone is so enamored. In short, you can’t talk about GEOINT these days without talking about the “big hot data mess” the GEOINT Community currently faces. In this article, we will raise more questions than provide answers, as the answers to date have proven elusive.

Senior leaders, enterprise architects, technology vendors, and software experts are promising to make GEOINT data analysis faster, better, and cheaper, and to provide amazing insights never before possible. They promise to let us collaborate in new and interesting ways using GEOINT data. And they promise to magically have this data flow to the very edge of every network on which the mission is conducted — until, that is, they see the current state of our data.

These new technologies assume all entities, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), have actually acquired/licensed the right data and have meaningful access to this wide array of data. These technologies also assume the data hasn’t been squirreled away into countless different physical storage environments on multiple networks with no concern for how many redundant copies of the data have been and continue to be generated. This is compounded by the fact that the full metadata needed to help solve analytic problems is not always available.

The global GEOINT Community — intelligence professionals, warfighters, humanitarians, first responders, municipalities, and businesses — yearns for the wonders of ubiquitous, secure, and time-dominant access, big data analytics, machine learning, and everything else they hear about in the latest Silicon Valley tech press. So, how can the GEOINT Community reach this technical nirvana that has become our new base expectation? How can we understand the big hot data mess and take concrete steps to transform our basic GEOINT infrastructure to comport with modern technological expectations?

The Kitchen Metaphor for Data Challenges

To understand the GEOINT Community’s data challenges, we must have a clear understanding of how impact and value are produced. The value creation process of deriving intelligence from data is much like the operations of a well-run kitchen. Chefs (subject matter experts) use utensils to process and combine raw ingredients using repeatable recipes to produce nutritious, delicious food. Similarly, analysts use technology tools with specific methodology to process and combine raw GEOINT data to produce relevant intelligence products. In the GEOINT Community, we have great “chefs” with excellent “recipes,” but we don’t have a good handle on our “ingredients” (data).

Not everyone knows where to find the ingredients they need to do their job. Some ingredients are stored in the wrong place — like storing ketchup in a freezer where it is rendered useless, or burying spices in the backyard where they will never be discovered by other chefs. Think of a talented chef who repeatedly makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because those are the only ingredients she can find or has access to. As a result of our “ingredient challenges,” we are extremely limited in the advanced “utensils” (tools) we can bring to bear.

Know the Data

Why doesn’t every GEOINT desktop have access to every piece of relevant spatiotemporal data that exists, whether government-generated, commercial, or open source? Does the GEOINT Community have a grasp of the massive proliferation of data that is occurring? Does it at least have an exhaustive accounting of what exists, even if it doesn’t have the actual data? Does the community know who is the primary source of the data and not the middleman? What are the business and legal terms (the data licenses) under which it could gain access to each?

Do governments or businesses have a contract vehicle that allows for immediate, time-dominant data access? How do government and commercial entities share and exchange data? How can citizens provide free services back to the government? How can citizens and corporations pay for government collected or collated data so the government can continue to provide data to them in a form that allows easy consumption and provides for commercial entities to profit from government provided data? How can the government leverage citizen scientists to collect, correct, and update unclassified data sets open to the public? What are the privacy implications of unclassified data being made publically available?

Has the massive proliferation of such sources of data outstripped the GEOINT enterprise’s ability to maintain such an ongoing assessment? It’s unclear. However, the confusion spawned by this proliferation and our haphazard grasp of it contributes to the big hot data mess. Does NGA have access to the newest, hottest, best source of data? Of course it does. Somewhere. But whom do I ask for it, and how can I discover this data?

Buy the Data

NGA’s proposed Commercial Initiative to Buy Operationally Responsive GEOINT (CIBORG) vehicle for acquiring data may solve the problem of U.S. government access to this proliferation of data. It is too soon to tell, but perhaps CIBORG will provide transparency with regard to the terms under which NGA and National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) partners can rapidly acquire every kind of spatiotemporal data under the sun. Perhaps it will become clear what it means to have each data source available to the U.S. national security community, international partners, humanitarian partners, and indeed the whole of government and even private citizen use. Will this be the moment when NGA proactively, vigorously, and exhaustively builds a dynamic acquisition vehicle that provides the kind of transparency needed to clean up this big hot data mess? Actions, not rhetoric, will tell the tale over time.

Crowdsourcing the Data

With the popularity of citizen science and the desire for more transparency within government, how can organizations like NGA better leverage crowdsourcing as a means to create and collect data? Initiatives like OpenStreetMap have proven the value of leveraging a community of users from around the globe for creating data sets in areas that have been underserved, are too dangerous to visit, or have not been a focus of data creation.

So, what changes to policy are needed to ensure valuable crowdsourced data sets like OpenStreetMap and others are considered valid, timely data sources like those created by NGA? Will NGA open its unclassified data sets and enable citizen scientists to verify and edit them as needed? With a growing number of autonomous data sensors and an increasingly capable citizen science initiative, how will NGA adapt and leverage crowdsourced data sets as much as possible?

Migrate the (Legacy) Data

Assuming NGA understood all the data sources and mastered their acquisition, we then have the huge burden of the legacy/heritage environments that splinter the management of this data across many networks, file systems, databases, and APIs. This burden makes the timely, efficient, and effective use of big data questionable at best. Plenty of baroque technological strategies have been pursued in the past two decades to wicker these legacy/heritage environments together so seamless data access could be achieved. However, it is the cloud — and, for the GEOINT Community, the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE) cloud — that finally offers the promise, but not yet the reality, of migrating data into an environment that will allow the community to take advantage of modern technologies and strategies. IC ITE offers hope that at least parts of the big hot data mess may soon end. But the path ahead remains challenging.

Cloud Manage the Data

The authors recommend a four-step process to begin to address complex data challenges:

1. Mission needs inventory: Create specific user stories that define the most common activities that support common GEOINT mission threads.

2. Data inventory: Inventory government, commercial, and public GEOINT data sources.

3. “Unlock” analytics: Decouple data from analytics by storing GEOINT content in IC ITE cloud-based open storage systems (e.g., Hadoop, HBase, Accumulo, Elasticsearch) that provide multiple ways of accessing content such as ArcMap, QGIS, full-text search, Google Earth, etc.

4. Simplify data discovery: Put significant effort into communicating to analysts, software engineers, data scientists, and leaders how to access data for each GEOINT mission thread.

Once the transition to the IC ITE cloud occurs, the U.S. government GEOINT Community will be able to consistently apply new and evolving big data and machine learning techniques — on every data source, at global scale, and at whatever arbitrarily dense temporal rate available. Because the IC ITE cloud will exist at every level of classification, powerful technologies will allow for data to be stored at the level of its classification, with seamless cross-domain access for people and processes on every higher network.

Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) web services and other kinds of micro-services will be enabled on this data and deployed on the elastic cloud within powerful containerization strategies that provide unprecedented flexibility and scalability.

Suddenly, the data will be easily exposed for cataloging and a wide range of indexing schemes that will revolutionize discovery and access. This will also enable a real discussion about new ways individuals, teams, and communities with a vast array of processes can collaboratively interact with each other among the data. The age of the big hot data mess will be over. But, what will it allow us to do?

Leap Forward in Advanced Analytics

The face of GEOINT will be radically transformed by decoupling data analytics from data storage by moving relevant data into an elastic cloud with simple standards for data structure and access. The GEOINT Community will be able to fully exploit the global wealth of data generated about the planet every second of every day, to provide our nation time-dominant decision advantage in the realm of international affairs.

An endless variety of analytic algorithms will be run in real time, concurrently, and service many different mission sets. Machine learning will enable the augmentation of human analytic capabilities, sifting through the endless deluge of data, finding the known, and queuing up the unknown for analysts to solve. And geospatial narratives will be fed and constantly updated by these processes, collaboratively curated by the modern analytic workforce. The volume of continuously dispatched data will be enormous. The fidelity of data derived from it will be unparalleled, and its update cycle will be significantly faster than today. This will be the era in which GEOINT accelerates intelligence insight to action as never before imagined.

To learn more about USGIF, visit the Foundation’s website and follow us onFacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.


Afghanistan Needs an Army Corps of Engineers

Originally published in National Interest.


Why did the United States pay to raise an Afghan National Army but fail to institute an Afghan Army Corps of Engineers? It seems that we built a capacity to fight, but did not fight to create a capacity to build. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provided the facilities and infrastructure that the Coalition needed for war, but a much-needed Afghan Army Corps of Engineers was not developed in parallel to lay the groundwork of a sustainable Afghan society. How was this basic concept overlooked? Certainly it was not for lack of engagement by the ubiquitous and well-funded USACE presence within Afghanistan.

Perhaps this oversight is the result of ignorance concerning the role that the USACE has played in America’s own transformation from a frontier backwater into one of the most developed and resilient nations ever to exist on the planet Earth. Our quest to enable regional stability by building partner capacity will continue to falter until foreign-policy makers learn to embrace the critical role of engineers, and the engineering institutions that have made the United States strong.

History of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The United States Military Academy at West Point was the first engineering school in the United States, founded in 1802. This institutional focus speaks as much to the long history of land armies as centers of engineering competence as it does to “nation building”—literally constructing nations—as they were winning battles and wars. In today’s popular discourse, our military’s role in building capacity and infrastructure both at home and abroad has suffered from a form of revisionism that has sought to lionize its war-fighting role.

The USACE was responsible for mapping the interior of the United States as it expanded into the frontier. The Corps took on responsibility for making our waterways navigable, and for the structures (including dykes, levees, canals, locks, dams and bridges) that allowed America to harness hydroelectric energy. In some cases, this involved the creation of entirely new lakes and reservoirs to power these electrical generation projects. The Corps created and maintained commerce-enabling ports and harbors. The Corps was also key to the construction of a national and international network of bases and airfields that brought security, personnel and resources to remote corners of the world.

Throughout this process, the USACE established standards for the design, construction, and management of cutting-edge structures and infrastructures. Perhaps most importantly, the Corps trained massive numbers of both uniformed military engineers and civilian engineers who later spilled out into the U.S. workforce to satisfy the continually expanding engineering needs of a growing nation.

Despite all of this, the critical role that the USACE has played in the development of the United States is often reduced solely to combat engineering and military construction. The long history of the engineers in “nation building” within the United States is often neglected. Epic engineering projects that fundamentally changed America’s national-security posture—projects like the Panama Canal—are overlooked as sui generis moments in the world’s history. Forgotten are the thousands of projects that USACE has designed, built, and managed in over one hundred countries around the world over the past century.

By this point in its history, USACE has developed a deep kitbag of engineering capabilities, and it has built the requisite business processes and institutional knowledge to project its skillset around the globe. This is accomplished with a series of “school houses” that train engineers on this complex of capabilities, as well as a series of laboratories that enable leading-edge research and development into complex engineering challenges. USACE is a national resource that few understand, but truly embodies the U.S. “whole of government” national-security mission.

USACE can be brought in by virtually any U.S. government agency or international NGO, under a wide variety of rationales and legal authorities, to provide the engineering capability that helps meet various missions around the world. It is this mode of operation that may keep USACE in the shadows, with unassuming engineers quietly undertaking complex projects under the banners of other organizations. But those who keep an eye out for the Corps’ red and white castle insignia, which unfailingly accompanies their presence across the globe, understand who is behind this projection of engineering might.

The Power of the School House

West Point ceased being an engineering school long ago, though it certainly still educates many engineers from each year’s cadet class. As the military evolved more sophisticated occupational specialties, a system of school houses was developed to provide training in the technical nuances of these fields. Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri, is home to various engineering school houses that educate successive waves of engineers who fan out across the U.S. Army with key engineering competencies.

At the most basic level, Army engineers are trained to design, construct, operate and maintain: high voltage power systems, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, water systems (for potable, waste, and storm water), security perimeters, buildings and structures that these systems service, and the transportation hubs and corridors that connect them. They are taught to meet the standards, regulations and requirements of organizations like Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Health and Human Services Department (HHS), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as they design and deploy these capabilities.

Beyond the fundamentals, these engineers are taught to study, adapt and apply new technologies for unique mission challenges. They are expected to continually learn about commercial techniques and to contract for them (and even for commercial field service representatives) as necessary. In some cases, engineers serve as managers, outsourcing much of the actual hands-on work to contractors, but accounting for the costs, schedules and performance standards that must be met.

This curriculum of baseline expertise and innovative intuition is what the engineering school houses teach. USACE engineers support military missions and domestic and international civil works portfolios. Eventually, these soldiers complete their service and bring their talents and skills to the civilian workforce, the social impact of which should not be underestimated.

Building the Afghan Corps of Engineers

“Nation building” is a term that has fallen out of favor lately—and for good reason, given the ham-handed approaches of recent U.S. interagency efforts. Aid must begin with a cadre of builders; it is essential to construct the capacity to construct. A corps of engineers is necessary to continually generate the workforce upon which the other functions of a state are built.

Engineers must be trained in surveying and mapping the nation’s natural and built terrain so that effective planning can happen. Engineers have to understand the management of waterways, floodplains, dams, reservoirs and the separation of potable and waste water. Engineers must plan to meet a growing nation’s energy needs through the judicious application of a wide range of locally appropriate power-generation technologies. Engineers have to drive the construction of public transportation and communications infrastructure, as well as establish construction standards in the civilian sector.

So, why has the United States and the Coalition invested in building an Afghan National Army that lacks an Afghan National Army Corps of Engineers? Why, after a decade of American presence, have we failed to build an Afghan Army Corps of Engineers as a national institution that runs an engineering school house for the benefit of Afghan society? American policy makers fundamentally misunderstand how nations move up the stability maturity curve; they fail to understand how their own nation became the powerhouse that it is today.

Building Success in Afghanistan

Much effort has been expended in transitioning Afghans to basic defense and security roles. However, how many electricians, high voltage electrical engineers, HVAC engineers, and plumbers have we trained? How many Afghans that are qualified to manage large diesel generators and complex water treatment facilities have we trained? How many Afghan engineers are there to maintain and improve transportation facilities and corridors? In short, what indigenous engineering-supply network have we cultivated?

More important than this shortcoming in the immediate future, however, is the lack of an institutional cadre of Afghan engineers that will literally construct a prosperous and stable state. What school house do they have to ensure a steady flow of qualified individuals who can maintain and renew facilities over time? We have utterly failed to foster strategic engineering-planning capability—the exact capability essential to the future of Afghanistan.

Perhaps we could take a page from our own history—our own original success story—and lay the foundation for long-term Afghan success. We must not leave Afghanistan without first establishing a strong, vibrant Afghan Army Corps of Engineers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built much in Afghanistan, but it has not yet built up indigenous capability to perpetuate its work. A bilateral, institutional partnership between professional engineers in public service is essential to long-term success. At long last, perhaps U.S. policy makers could respect one of the keys to our own historical success and leave behind the one institution that can truly build success in Afghanistan.

Space time features: the highest order bits

Originally published in Geospatial World. Co-authored with Jeff Jonas, IBM Fellow.


When dealing with an endless and dynamic flow of space-time data, how does one determine what represents an important change, or even where on the surface of the earth to train one’s attention in the first place? Increasingly, mankind will be relying on analytic sensemaking engines to suggest and direct human attention. Will these engines be right? Or, will they constantly misdirect human attention (false positives) leaving the most important discoveries out of sight?

Detecting insight and actionable relevance requires access to a wide observation space; an ability to contextualise the available observation space; and have principles by which one can assess opportunity and risk — enabling the triage of relevance.

For a moment, imagine looking out your kitchen windows only to witness your neighbours in an epic argument. The next day you see the husband at the store purchasing a firearm. Four days later, late night while trying to fall asleep you can’t help but notice a somewhat muffled ‘bang’ sound from outside. The next morning, while pulling out in your car for work, you see the neighbour laboring as he drags what looks like a few blankets filled with heavy stuff towards his pickup truck.

Insight adds up
The point is, insight adds up. Take any one or two of these observations independently and there would be very little basis for alarm. However, the combination of these insights would cause any alert human being to at least raise an eyebrow.

Sounds easy. But this innate capability of human beings to piece together such diverse observations over space and time – incrementally accumulating context – has been difficult to replicate in machines. Just ask an organisation running a risk assessment system with queues growing faster than their workforce can keep up – overwhelmed by false positives. Now imagine feeding these processes substantially more data. In fact, the thought of having to also process the merging ‘big data’ to these existing processed forces one to stand back for a moment and ask; “How many more false positives can we afford?”

The only way to wrestle big data to the ground involves first placing information into context. In the same way, puzzle pieces mean more when attached to other puzzle pieces, big data in context makes it possible to lower false positives and false negatives at the same time. No surprise, as more puzzle pieces come to form the picture – the more precise the understanding of the big picture (risk or opportunity).

The contextualisation of diverse data sources has seen some gains over the last few decades. For example, entity resolution systems allow machines to determine with great certainty that both transactions were carried out by the same person. Alternatively, little gain has been made in the area of video or imagery, when it comes to classifying an object and determining with certainty that is the same entity as seen in previous observations over the same, secondary, or tertiary data sources.

The game changers
Fortunately, big breakthroughs are afoot as space and time move from being a means to correctly place symbols on maps or to conduct spatial analysis, to being the magic bits of which computers will use to contextualise very diverse observations over time. In the story about the neighbour with the argument, gun, bang and dead weight, the space and time of these observations are in fact the “highest order bits,” aiding one’s ability to estimate the big picture.

As more sensors produce more accurate geospatial data about where things are and how they move, the speed and accuracy of context accumulating processes will be a game changer for machine triage and attention directing systems.

Beyond space and time points that demonstrate a point-in-time presence, the motion of entities themselves is telling. Imagine the journey of a cargo container ship. Tick tick tick as it moves along over the surface of the water — following a recurring, predictable route optimised for fuel conservation and time. Then it reaches a port and begins to hang out (hover). Tick tick tick as it is observed to remain in one place. Over a period of time, one discovers that most vessels have a finite number of “hangouts”. In fact, the collection of frequent hangouts strung together can be thought of as a pattern of life or “life arc.”

Artifacts such as hangouts and life arcs might be useful for projections on maps for human presentation, but data points such as these are pure super-food to context-accumulating, sense-making systems.

Let’s face it. There are not going to be enough humans to ask every smart question every day. And while this is true today, tomorrow, thanks to the big data phenomenon, it will be become orders of magnitude more difficult to make sense of all this data in the future. A new paradigm is needed.

The future: The data must find the data and the relevance must find you
How will the data find the data? For starters, diverse observations must be co-located into a shared space. Then one must integrate such diverse observations as they happen, fast enough to do something about it while it is still happening. In both cases, more diverse data, co-located, placed in context (organised fundamentally in terms of space and time) will prove to deliver unprecedented advances in understanding, whether this involves detecting actionable relevance or whether it enables one to deliver materially better story telling.

Analytic exploitation of the space-time features will usher in advances in high-quality prediction systems. This happens when diverse data converges in ways only possible with space and time alignment. What follows is better context, better understanding, and superior sensemaking, which in turn enables better business and mission outcomes.

What Americans Can Do About the End of Their Ruling Days

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This book review was originally published in the Huffington Post.


In the wake of World War II, the United States was overwhelmingly the most dominant world power, establishing international institutions that favored its preferred world order characterized by a system of coherent states. And in this context, America proceeded to assume the role of policeman of the “Free World”. Even in the face of the gathering storm of the international Soviet and a defiant China, the United States effectively ruled the world, in the limited way that yesteryear’s technology and adolescent industrial capitalism enabled. But, that world has changed, with America enjoying less and less control of the international system that it helped establish. As a result, the American international affairs community has spent much of the past two decades exploring their collective existential ennui inspired by this seeming decline. As a result, they have been tilting at windmills, on a quest to determine how America can re-achieve its onetime uncontested glory.

Viewed through a mid-century American lens, the disarray into which the international system has fallen is inexplicable. It has come to pass that, as the Parag Khanna has observed, “No one is waiting for permission from Washington to make deals with whomever it wants.” The world has seemingly fallen into something most similar to the Middle Ages, “with Asian empires, Western militaries, Middle Eastern sheikhdoms, magnetic city-states, wealthy multinational corporations, elite clans, religious zealots, tribal hordes, and potent media seething in an ever more unpredictable and dangerous storm.” Clearly the time has come for the American international affairs community to cease their longing for a bygone Pax Americana. The time for hand wringing is now over. Not just Americans, but the entire global community, is yearning for a new framework for thinking about how to run the world, now that no one nation can possibly rule it.

Luckily, Khanna has not just written a book of keen observations, but has offered some strategies that we should all heed. And, while his book How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance, strays far from the Washington Consensus, his counsel offers a path forward to a far better moment in human history, which the American international affairs community should yearn to enable. His metaphor is compelling. The world has once evolved from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and as is frequently observed, history has a way of repeating itself. If the right strategies are deployed by the right players, such a transformation should indeed by achievable.

But what are those strategies? And who are the players?

Firstly, as Khanna points out “Our maps of the world no longer reflect reality on the ground.” Perhaps he is being generous, in that many of these borders never had any real basis in reality, only reflecting the gross ignorance of the power elites around the table at the time. To build and revere an international order built around such a suspension of disbelief is hard to defend. Still, few in the American international affairs community ever speak about the fundamental need to recarve up the world map, providing states to a much broader array of currently stateless nations.

To do this, and most everything else in his recipe book, Khanna suggests that America and the other principal stake holders in the current system should shy away from defending the “grand toothless global architecture” that has evolved, and rather should encourage regional responsibility. The myth of a global system of coherent states must give way to an understanding of the diversity of institutional actors at play in this new Middle Ages, and the far flung, yet networked “islands of governance” that actually constitute the international system. America should deploy all of its experience, capability, know-how, and remaining goodwill to help these regional collections of islands to organize effective and resilient regional organizations for security, and ultimately much more. After all, as Khanna points out, today “”Where regional security organizations are strong, there is order; where they are weak, there is chaos”. And the chaos has been very bad for America and Americans.

Surely many in the American security establishment are loath to delegate primary responsibility for strategic matters (such as borders) to regional bodies, but our track record in regions where we lack such regional organizations (such as the Middle East and South Asia) are miserably bad. Too many Americans feel far more comfortable with a government that engages in the kind of “great power clientelism” that has a proven track record of institutionalizing instability around the world. But this American impulse is anachronistic, and is a major source of America’s diminished influence in the international system – not to mention the emasculation of the international institutions that America formed in the first place. Accepting and robustly supporting regional institutions must become the new American way.

Lastly, Khanna paints an exciting picture about how a global community of actors far afield of the “stiff walz” of bureaucratic, interstate diplomacy can each make important contributions to the new global order, and help run the world. Indeed, contributions that no state is capable of making. “Mega-diplomacy” is a term he coins (a rhetorical hyperbole which grows on you as you read) to describe the “jazzy dance among coalitions of ministries, companies, churches, foundations, universities, activists, and other willful, enterprising individuals who cooperate to achieve specific goals” across the globe.

In the end, Khanna’s message is one of empowerment. You don’t need to be a member of our anemic (though admirable and able) foreign service (only 5000 strong) to have an impact on the world stage. You can help run the world in this new age, and help steer it to a new Renaissance. Anyone with a vision, high-leverage idea, and an entrepreneurial spirit can reshape the world. Khanna marshals far too many examples of people and organizations that are doing it, despite the system, for one to dismiss his concept of mega-diplomacy. If the guardians of these “islands of governance” (yes, the United States is one of the larger islands of governance) refuse to open their doors and minds to leverage the energy and momentum being generated by these “new diplomats”, then they will simply become less and less relevant.

If you do not aspire to be an independent (though patriotically American) diplomat engaged in mega-diplomacy, that’s ok too. You can still demand of your government that it enable their success. Demand the establishment or regional security organizations, and no more unwieldy and condescending American-led global architectures which are untenable in today’s world. Demand the end to the cartographic fictions over which transnational flows of peoples, goods, weapons, diseases, conflicts and natural disasters flow freely. And require that they guide these regional security organizations to undertake a shock therapy of state re-carving that enables the currently abandoned nations of the world to become self-governing and prosperous.

America’s international authority and legitimacy over the long haul depends upon the alignment of the interests that we pursue with the principles that we hold dear. America’s national security politics and institutions has demonstrated a tendency toward the mis-alignment of interests and principles, diminishing our place in the world order, and undermining the world order that America established at the close of WWII. But, this imbalance can be corrected both within and beyond government.

As an American, you can demand that your leaders instigate the structural changes that enable all of us to ply our trade as the new breed of diplomats that Khanna so eloquently and passionately describes, and practice the principles of mega-diplomacy. As Khanna observes, the global responses to many recent crises and challenges have shown that “The greatness of America lies in the talent, depth, wealth, and generosity of its citizenry” – not just in America’s public institutions, and the sclerotic political cultural that too often diminish their contributions to the global order.

“How to Run the World” is the right question for tackling today’s transnational challenges. The days of ruling the world are over. Parag Khanna gets it right.

Parag Khanna’s “How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance” is released January 11th, and is available for pre-order from Amazon. The book launch will take place at the New America Foundation on January 12th, with a book talk at Politics and Prose that evening.

Cross-Domain GEOINT

Originally published in Geospatial Intelligence Forum

The application of cross-domain security technologies to the world of GEOINT is not new. High-priority missions, innovative system designers and forward-leaning security officials have from time to time created the opportunity to apply these specialized and highly restricted technologies to the flow of particular kinds of data between particular networks for particular purposes.

For far too long, however, information sharing in this manner was considered an exception, not a rule. As such, this class of technologies was thought of, and even engineered, as point solutions without broader and more extensible application.

Those days must now come to an end. It is time for the era of cross-domain GEOINT to begin.

Achieving geospatial situational awareness across the extended national security community demands that data from many networks of differing classifications comes together seamlessly. While the average citizen assumes that such seamless geospatial situational awareness is provided to national security leaders, military commanders, operators and analysts as a matter of course, everyone in the business understands that this is simply not the case.

In the face of a host of commercially available cross-domain technologies, the establishment of the Unified Cross Domain Management Office (UCDMO), and executive orders that give the highest priority to solutions that will allow for the ability to share national security information, the lack of cross-domain security has led the level of geospatial situational awareness to be inexcusably thin. As GEOINT matures as a discipline and cross-cutting framework for intelligence and national security integration, it is time for it to become inherently cross-domain.

The Goal

The president of the United States should be able to draw a bounding box on a map, declare a slice of time, and discover, browse, access and exploit everything that the extended national security enterprise knows about a topic of interest over that location, at that moment in time. The president should be able to do this, at the click of a button, despite the fact that the source data resides on servers hidden behind a blinding array of unconnected/ balkanized networks of different classifications.

While the commander in chief has many other demands on his time, it should be possible when crises hit to demand instantaneous access to everything on the situation room map. Sadly, he and his staff cannot—and it’s not even close. Perhaps worse, the president’s national security team, military commanders, warfighters/operators and intelligence analysts suffer from the same challenge.

Technology, Law, Policy and Culture

Many in Washington love to explain how the problems we experience with information sharing are due not to a lack of technology, but rather to culturally induced legal and policy limitations. It is said that since various agencies and their personnel are rewarded for hoarding information and breaking new intelligence, there is no incentive to reform the micro- and macro-level legal and policy frameworks that could improve information sharing, and in the world of GEOINT, geospatial situational awareness.

For the past decade or more, those voicing this worldview have often paid short shrift to the major technology challenges that have plagued the sharing of information across security domains. Point solutions have wrongly been touted as being wildly extensible to every possible cross-domain challenge. Innovation in the field has too often been neglected, and it certainly has not been the focus of widespread acquisition.

Despite this lack of attention to the technology challenges, a new class of cross-domain solutions has emerged that makes it possible to deploy bi-directional ICD 503 PL4/PL5 cross-domain solutions that are agnostic as to the data source, and capable of real-time streams of big data. That is, despite the system, technology pioneers have succeeded at rendering the technology issues moot. It is now time for leaders to demand the enterprise-wide adoption of their innovations.

Paralysis by Jargon

One of the reasons for the slow adoption of cross-domain security solutions across the National System for GEOINT, and the national security community more broadly, has been the arcane technical and policy jargon one must master for the successful deployment of these solutions. In the course of crossing security domains, it is not enough just to master the nuances of Director of Central Intelligence Directive 6/3-DCID 6/3 PL4/PL5 (or is it now Intelligence Community Directive 503 PL4/PL5?) documentation, configuration and mitigations.

You also master the DoD Information Technology Security Certification and Accreditation Process/DoD Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process criteria; DoD Intelligence Information System accreditation process support and documentation; DoD Directive 8570.1 compliant training and support; and Secret and Below Interoperability and Top Secret and Below Interoperability, as well as the current state of thinking at any moment in time within the UCDMO.

Even worse, one must master the distinctions between Multiple Independent Levels of Security (MILS), Multiple Levels of Security (MLS) for the purposes of data access, and MLS for the purposes of transfer.

Each has been a valuable step in the evolution of information sharing. MILS desktops have enabled organizations and users to conserve on the hardware required to access data on different networks, with a MILS workstation that could be rebooted to access networks of different classifications. MLS desktops have enabled users to have views into data (“access”) from different security domains on the same desktop at the same time, requiring no reboot or switching.

Even so, neither technology path enables the necessary transfer of data across security domains in order to enable actual processing and exploitation. What is missing in the MLS desktop is the ability to transfer information, data and images from one application/security level to another (“transfer”).

Now that analysts are experiencing the benefits of access, their desire to transfer has become manifest. And, when operators and analysts discover that they can see and think in MLS, they immediately want to transfer in MLS. But this requires an enterprise that is cross domain at its very core.

An implementer not only must understand these disparate languages, but also must master the complex kabuki dance of dealing with multiple accrediting authorities, each with a different jargon and process. This even holds true when the domains being crossed are unclassified in nature (for example, NIPRnet to the World Wide Web), as everything is considered a “national security system,” leading to costly and crippling processes. For many years, it has been unrealistic to think that any such cross-domain solution could be deployed generically across the enterprise when plagued by all of this technical and policy jargon.

Point to Point Misses the Point

While the executive orders demanding information sharing are clear in their mandate, the difficulties of achieving a multilevel secure enterprise that provides near-ubiquitous access and is operationally seamless to the user between disparate environments are significantly more complex than current point-to-point cross-domain security solutions can handle. The history of ICD 503 PL4 and PL5 controlled interfaces is not one of agility.

Historically, such controlled interfaces have been designed as single purpose devices deployed to secure the flow of particular data types for a single application between particular networks, and so have not been engineered to support the dynamism required by today’s time-dominant information sharing challenges. There are presently commercially available controlled interfaces, however, that can be used as the keystone of an agile enterprise security infrastructure deployed on elastic cloud computing infrastructures.

It will not be enough to simply use more of the point-to-point PL4 and PL5 cross-domain solutions that we have used in the past. We must move to a new generation of cross-domain controlled interfaces, and the architectural concepts that underpin the future agile enterprise.

Enabled in All Directions

In order to achieve an agile enterprise, cross-domain data flows have to be enabled in every direction. It must be possible for applications/users on a high-side network to transparently request data from a low-side resource (reach down). It must be possible for an application/user on a high-side network to transact data from the high-side via a low-side web service into a low-side database (transact down).

It also must be possible for applications/users on a low-side network to request data via a low-side web service into a high-side, label-aware database (reach up), and for client applications/users on a low-side network to transact data via a low-side web service into a high-side, label-aware database (transact up).

Obviously, only data of the appropriate classification should be able to move in any of these directions. In addition, no data spillage downward or insertion of malicious code upwards can be tolerated. Particularly since Army Private First Class Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosure of classified data to WikiLeaks, it is critical that data be label secured, and that such PL5 controlled interfaces be in place as gateways to any data movement. Cross-domain controlled interfaces should be considered a key part of the strategy for mitigating the “Manning effect,” rather than an enabler for future intentional or unintentional spills/leaks.

Legitimate, high-mission-value GEOINT workflows demand that each of these flows be enabled at the core of the enterprise. At the most basic level, data would ideally exist only once across the enterprise—albeit with appropriate redundancy—on the network of the data’s classification, and accessible to all users on higher classification networks.

Analysts need to be able to dynamically and seamlessly bring low-side, time-dominant GEOINT resources into their high-side exploitation environments. Operators need to be able to dynamically and seamlessly release appropriately classified data resources from high-side environments to low-side users when crises occur.

In the case that data of different classifications reside in high-side repositories, there will be occasions when operators without clearances require the ability to reach up into that repository and access the data appropriate to their needs. Operators with no clearances, or operating from exposed environments, also must be able to contribute data into high-side exploitation environments by transacting data upward.

What is needed is to deploy an agile enterprise cross-domain architecture that can flexibly enable any such flow without developing an entirely new System Security Plan and the continual deployment of additional engineering resources. The GEOINT enterprise must be cross-domain down to its very core.


“Napoleonic Know-How” in an Age of Persistent Engagement

Originally published in Small Wars Journal.  Co-authored with Douglas Batson and LTC Al Di Leonardo.

A bevy of prominent national security thinkers have suggested that the US has entered an era of persistent engagement with troubled regions of the world. From this perspective, failing or failed states are likely to lure the US into counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, foreign internal defense, and other modes of irregular warfare for decades to come. The sources of these difficult situations will inevitably vary greatly, from ethnic conflicts to natural resource grabs; predatory kleptocracies to narco-terrorist regimes; proxy wars to religious extremism; and more.  Yet all of these situations owe their origins in large part to the absence of the same governance infrastructures that have enabled successful modern states since the days of Napoleon.

Kinetic operations will almost always play a role in achieving conflict termination and
establishing some measure of stability. But, too often, field commanders and national security policymakers fail to understand the administrative underpinnings needed to find and fix an elusive enemy, to achieve post conflict “stability, development, peace, and effective local sovereignty,” and to keep insurgencies and the like from forming in the first place (Demarest 2008, p. 352; Manwaring 2006).

This paper asserts that a suite of administrative capabilities first mastered by Napoleon,
what we call “Napoleonic Know-how,” should be elevated in the considerations of commanders and national security policymakers as they wrestle with courses of action in the engagement of nations and regions of special interest. Only when the US prioritizes the preemptive establishment of such administrative capabilities over post-crisis kinetic action will we know thatUS foreign policy community is truly interested in conflict prevention and long term stability during this era of persistent engagement.

An Introduction to Napoleonic Know-how
In a classic 1975 biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, Will and Ariel Durant stated that the
Emperor “became almost as brilliant in government as in battle. He predicted that his
achievements in administration would outshine his martial victories in human memory, and that his legal codes were a monument more lasting than his strategy and tactics. He longed to be the Justinian as well as the Caesar Augustus of his age.” (Durant, 1975; PT II, p. 250.)

But Napoleon was no benevolent emperor. His art of government was to keep people
reasonably happy by giving them what they wanted and to obtain from them all that one could get. Despite their clamor for it, liberty was not viewed among peoples‟ basic wants. And if certain conditions were met, Napoleon could easily repress liberty with impunity. Concerning liberty he quipped, “they would gladly renounce it if everyone could entertain the hope of rising to the top…What must be done then is to give everybody the hope of being able to rise.” And this Napoleon genuinely did. His is no empty boast, “I have closed the gaping abyss of anarchy, and I have unscrambled chaos…Liberty means a good civil code. The only thing modern nations care for is property.” (Herold, 1963; 97-99).

Even a Napoleonic ego is woefully in-sufficient to adduce what an understatement those
last words are for the 21st century. If he were alive today Napoleon would certainly gloat at how modern nations, a.k.a. the International Community, has failed to heed his example and instead pours billions of dollars, and millions of military and civilian personnel, into foreign aid and counterinsurgency operations that achieve far too little of the desired aims of peace and stability. With scorn he would berate the G8 leaders who are vexed, not by competing nation states but by non-state actors, who should have been marginalized long ago by three of the Emperor‟s methods: the Census, the Cadastre, and the National Identity (ID) card. Below we will examine these three ingredients of “Napoleonic Know-how”.

1. The Census
The development of historical statistics was encouraged by the needs of the Napoleonic
state and its increasing sophistication with public administration. Therefore, while it was the nascent United States of America that conducted the first modern, recurring census in 1790, Napoleon had more extensive uses for his census than simply congressional districting. With the manpower that he did not conscript into his Grande Armee‟ via the census, Napoleon created a legion of civil officials. He dispatched these bureaucrats into every village, town, and city in order to link together, first the entire French nation, and later an Empire that encompassed half of Europe, under a rational, strong, centralized civil administration that registered births, deaths, and marriages among other public records (Kreis, 2000). Indeed, the compilation of public data under Napoleon led to the formation of government commissions for investigative and regulatory commissions, even outside of France.

In fact, “the country where the French revolution had most immediate and permanent
effect was the Netherlands.” (Johnson, 1991). The “French period” of the early 19th century changed social structures and politics in Holland and revived Dutch national mercantilism. And, it profoundly impacted the identities of individual Dutchmen. Napoleon‟s administrators forced them to have surnames, which was not a common practice in all the Low Countries. The Dutch were wise to the Emperor‟s designs on taxes and soldiers and, thinking this would be a temporary measure, offered comical names as a practical joke on their French occupiers. But, ultimately, the joke was on the descendents of those Dutchmen of yesteryear, some of whose descendants are stuck with ridiculous last names such as Suikerbuik (Sugarbelly), Naaktgeboren (Born Naked) and Zondervan (Without a Surname).

Under Napoleon‟s system, each person was tied to a physical address which fell within
an administrative district. The milestones of these individuals‟ lives were recorded as official government statistics, which in the aggregate allowed civil authorities to promulgate regulations and administrative actions based on concrete data, and to monitor the effect of these measures. The effect? Little breathing room remained for scofflaws and illicit activity. With Napoleon‟s Census, everyone and everything was accounted for.

2. The Cadastre
As Napoleon’s continental administration expanded, it became increasingly reliant upon
the cadastre (land and property registry). This extension of the government’s role was based on three assumptions. First, intrinsic to the territorial economy was private land ownership. Second, the cost of governing the territory was to be generated mostly from taxation of the privately owned parcels. And third, a record system, uniformly organized, would be necessary in order to provide protection for rights by the owner as well as collecting taxes on the parcel (Mitchel, 1976).

Professor Robert Burtch explains that the Napoleonic cadastre did not just develop from
the whim of the Emperor, but rather evolved due to the expansion of the French Empire into areas of Europe that had retained feudal land tenures that poorly defined peoples‟ rights and interests in land.

Half-measures always result in loss of time and money. The only way to sort out the
confusion in the field of general land records is to proceed with the surveying and evaluation of each individual land parcel in all the communities of the Empire. A good cadastre will constitute a complement of my [Civil] Code as far as land possession is concerned. The map must be sufficiently precise and complete so that they could determine the boundaries between individual properties and prevent litigations. (Napoleon Bonaparte in Blachut, 1975)

But an economy-stimulating land market and ease of administration were not Napoleon‟s
only rationale. Napoleon‟s statement, “The only thing modern nations care for is property” underscores how well he understood that in order to imbue his subjects with a sense of their rising to the top, they first had to be somebody, somebody with his name recorded with rights and interests in a land parcel. In other words, equality, liberty, and fraternity were made manifest to millions by their obtaining a postal address—another Napoleonic civil administration reform. A key to the Napoleonic cadastral effort was a record system which was designed to meet several purposes. Three of the more important are (Mitchel, 1976):
1. The record would consist of a complete history of all the transactions that occurred
within the parcel.
2. The record was expandable and capable of including other types of informational
needs that became obvious through government and private industry operation.
3. The record formed a basic management information system in that the government’s
managers could generate summaries of selected jurisdictions.

Under this system, criminal actors (as Napoleon would have characterized any citizen
generating wealth off of untaxed property transactions) were pinched. This had the side benefit of minimizing the extent to which bad actors could engage in predatory behavior and organized illicit activity. Sanctuary was largely eliminated through these public administration advances.

3. The National ID Card
Napoleon‟s 1803 implementation of national ID cards, the ancestor of all modern ID
cards, transformed the free society of the earlier French Republic into a tightly controlled police state.

The Republic had created a degree of freedom unheard of in Europe, allowing free
speech and giving workers the right to change their job or go somewhere else. By contrast, in most of Europe at this time the majority of the population lived in various forms of bondage, such as indenture. Unfortunately, in France, a free market and mobility of labour were driving up wages. In response, the French authorities criminalized industrial action and introduced an ID card for workers, which aimed to …make it impossible to change jobs [in search of better wages] without an employer‟s permission and [to] restrict movement, by requiring workers to get an impossible string of visas to move legally (Allonby, 2009).

Allonby notes that after the demise “of the French Empire, the liberated countries often
retained the systems of census and control [that] Napoleon had introduced – they were too useful and efficient to abolish.”

Allonby sums up the matter from Napoleonic history. “Identity systems require
dependency to provide control. They have to be inescapable to work. Napoleon … felt [his] authority undermined by workers‟ self-help and welfare groups, where people helped each other out and disseminated information on how to get around the system.” Napoleon‟s national ID cards came about to control labor costs and ultimately repressed civil liberties. However, such identification systems have also become the basis for the provisioning of both public and private services in civilized societies.

Napoleonic Know-how in the Context of Population-Centric Operations
Attorney and former U.S. Defense Attaché Officer Geoffrey Demarest recognizes the
same civil-military-legal quandary COIN operators share with Napoleon: there is a significant “overlap of the concepts of public intelligence that underpin a peaceful society and the Big Brother intelligence that allows the State to repress resistance and opposition.” (Demarest, 2011.)

Nevertheless, Demarest underscores precisely how and why elusive non-state actors
remain beyond the reach of law enforcement and COIN operators. They resist cadastral surveys in their ungoverned sanctuaries just as they resist any public administration advances that threaten their anonymity and impunity. Unlike the European serfs and indentured peasants of 200 years ago, modern insurgents don‟t want to be somebody. They don‟t want a fixed address. When dealing with bad actors in the context of population-centric operations, the more administrative systems in place that tie identity to property parcels, the more civil/law enforcement authorities can limit the mayhem they can cause.

Particularly at Phase 0 (e.g., at the pre-conflict “shaping” phase of involvement), military
commanders and civil authorities must be involved in achieving comprehensive, transparent and available public records, (i.e., census, cadastre, and national ID cards), or else they are needlessly aiding and abetting havens for the insurgent. Such neglect also means a failure to build the administrative infrastructure necessary to achieve and sustain peace, prosperity and security. However, the positive identification that such Napoleonic Know-how can enable can be just as important during Phase 3 or 4 kinetic operations, in support of more traditional ISR assets. In the end, as ADM Eric T. Olsen points out:

DoD defines irregular warfare as a “violent struggle among state and non-state actors for
legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s).” 4IW is then inherently both political in purpose and local in character. The focus is on populations and effective governance rather than on territories and material dominance. This has distinct implications for the way irregular wars must be fought and for the forces that fight them. (Olsen, 2010)

In post-conflict Afghanistan and Iraq competing land claims have impaired Stability
Operations (SO) and thwarted hopes of a lasting peace. This situation will occur more frequently until commanders and civil authorities appreciate the relationship between people and their land, 5 information typically registered in a cadastre (land and property registry). An enlightened commander engaged in a population-centric operation is

interested in the demographics and behavioral characteristics of the population, the
center of gravity, within his footprint; namely, identifying the power brokers on the
ground whose support or obstruction may determine mission success. By tying a
name to a place, cadastral data can answer the difficult “who” question, i.e., who is
impeding road construction or restricting access of a minority group to a health
clinic? The intelligence analyst is interested psychological characteristics of a
people group, and cadastral data can identify a group’s ideologies and economic
pillars. (Batson, 2010)

Two centuries ago Napoleon Bonaparte, renowned for his military genius, moved
decisively to improve post-conflict governance and called his cadastre the greatest achievement of his civil code. Perhaps his only oversight in that statement is the powerful impact that the cadastre has in combination with his other administrative feats, the census and national identification.

Napoleonic Know-how in Action (and Inaction)
Such administrative capabilities, and the data they accrete over time, can be effective in
enabling effective population-centric operations at all phases of operational engagement, and are key to reconstructing a shattered nation – “stability, development, peace, and effective local sovereignty” (Manwaring 2006) cannot be realized without them. Operational examples of their criticality abound.

Afghanistan: In the current counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, the complete
lack of land ownership records and postal addresses (outside the major cities) creates major impediments for ISAF military forces. Analysts have been forced to create geospatial databases based purely on location descriptions and historical activity of civilian and insurgent-related compounds and buildings. This painstaking task is done to aid in the characterization of the insurgent landscape and to decrease the likelihood of civilian casualties. Yet, the fact that the data is sometimes the result of misinformation or disinformation rather than validated civilian, administrative data means that unfortunate military accidents occur more frequently in the population of noncombatants. A comprehensive set of land ownership records and corresponding postal addresses would serve to eliminate many of these events, helping the Government of Afghanistan and ISAF win the hearts and minds of the Afghan populace by reducing civilian casualties. The lack of a national identification scheme only magnifies this problem, making it difficult to irrefutably tie individuals to locations. And, in a country where the lack of a census means a chronic mis-estimation of the population on the scale of several million, it can even be difficult to determine who is and is not Afghan.

Iraq: Not only does cadastral data enable population-centric operations, but understanding the differences in cadastral data allows irregular warfare forces to swiftly adapt to the areas they operate in. For example, the parcels of Iraq’s urban areas are based on a rigidly structured and well-designed address system where streets and houses are assigned numbers. The Iraqi people may indicate the precise location of a nefarious actor using this system, as it is one they use themselves every day to travel the city. While military operations are often run using geographic coordinates, the existence of an address system and parcel database can determine the accuracy, speed, and the footprint required to undertake a successful security operation with minimal impact to the population.

Major Dan E. Stigall, a U.S. Army Judge Advocate (JAG) trained in continental civil law at Louisiana State University, deployed to Iraq in 2003, and has published widely on Iraqi civil
law since that time. Stigall notes that Iraqi property law is derived primarily from Continental (Napoleonic) civil law but also contains elements of Ottoman and Islamic land law. Though there is still a great need to increase the administrative capacity of the judiciary, Iraq has been and remains capable of sound land administration (Stigall 2008, pp. 20-21). Even within Iraq, land administration systems differ but still offer the advantages of Napoleonic Know-how. While addresses in urban areas are based on street and house numbers, the rural areas of Iraq are based on an agricultural and irrigational parcel system. For example, land plots in areas of Sulaymaniyah Province are defined by a canal system that derives an address based on canal segment-branch-parcel. A rural location can be found at stunning accuracy based on this system. Similarly to the urban example, the accuracy and footprint required are inherently linked to the success, scale, and impact of the operation. Of course, a rigorous addressing scheme does not always imply an orderly administrative infrastructure for maintaining land parcel ownership information. And, this can undermine their value in achieving positive identification and legal occupancy, and winnowing on illicit activity.

Regardless, respecting and understanding the systems that already exist increases the
degree to which irregular warfare forces can work with the local population to find what they are looking for, regardless of operating environment. Further investment can help a nation (or region) mature its cadastral system, build a personal identification system that ties legitimate individuals to property, and keep track of the dynamics over time through an ongoing census.  Aiding developing nations in the establishment of or improvement to their Napoleonic administrative systems, benefits both the irregular forces and the host nation in many ways as they exchange data and capabilities.

Sudan: There are also cases in which systems that vaguely resemble those of Napoleon
are abused to empower certain factions of a society over others. Yet, these are also the same administrative systems that an irregular expeditionary force should pay the most attention to in the future. In the currently unfolding crisis in Sudan, the Khartoum government has manipulated its census so that the southern population (where the oil fields predominantly are) cannot demonstrate its majority status and effectuate a legitimate secession. In the face of the January 2011 referendum, the Sudanese Government conducted a National Census in April of 2009 in which they intentionally left off questions on tribe or clan affiliation. The government felt that if the Ethnic Dinka in the South realized they now outnumber the Northern tribes, then they would most certainly vote for succession.

In such a context, establishing a (or overhauling an existing) census system, and making
it rigorous by tying identity to individual land parcel records, can be powerful tools in bringing about sustainable governance. As such, before falling into an abyss of kinetic action, military commanders and the larger community of national security decision-makers should seek to institute Napoleonic systems in the target country.

Somalia: While Somalia represents a failed state in many respects, the northern parts of
Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, are far more stable than Southern Somalia. This is in part because the basic concepts of the Napoleonic Know-how were put in place with local
government. Disparate clans control the South much more than in the Northern parts of Somalia, with no real land administration/cadastral property rights scheme to temper the competing claims to legitimacy. A continual lack of stability is the result, with terrorist activity from elements like Al-Shababb not only fostered in the Southern Somalia but also provided safe haven to conduct operations worldwide.

Senegal: Senegal has long taken a strong stance against terrorism, and in addition to
signing on to regional (Trans-Sahel) counter-terrorism efforts, has worked hard to invest in the both the physical and the administrative infrastructure that highly constrains nefarious activity. In September 2009, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) signed a five-year, $540 million compact with the Republic of Senegal designed to reduce poverty and invest in economic growth by unlocking the country‟s agricultural productivity and expanding access to markets and services. This goal will be achieved through the rehabilitation of major national roads and strategic investments in irrigation and water resource management infrastructure. The government of Senegal (the Government) has identified two national-level strategies – to reduce poverty in Senegal through economic growth and to increase the country‟s food security. Both of these priorities will be facilitated through MCC‟s $540 million compact with the Republic of Senegal.

In order to succeed at development, Senegal recognized that it would need a sound
infrastructure for identity. As a result, Senegal has taken impressive steps. The new national identity and voter‟s card system interfaces with the Government‟s own central database. In addition to personal data, a digital facial image, signature and four fingerprints are collected from applicants at one of the permanent or mobile registration sites. The data is then transferred to a central Dakar site for eligibility checks, including fingerprint comparison. Upon approval the data is transferred to a central production system where an automated, high speed system personalizes, quality assures and produces up to 80,000 cards per day. The National Identity and the Voter‟s Card are produced from a single system. Both card types are laminated Teslin, incorporating multi-layered security features and a 2D barcode to store the biometrics. Senegal‟s National Identity and Voter‟s Card system was implemented within 10 months and included the training of 1,800 personnel. Once launched, the system issued 9 million cards within a 12 month period. Yet, Senegal comes up short on the land administration front:

Despite the efforts to control land tenure in Senegal through a framework of formal law,
customary law continues to govern land rights and the transfer of land in much of the country. In Senegal’s highly-stratified society, customary practices tend to favor elites (i.e. elders, and religious and political figures) at the expense of lower-caste farmers. The outcome of purportedly democratic elections of rural council members is strongly influenced by candidates‟ social status and political party. The council members, who wield the power to manage territorial lands, may themselves serve as elite landholders and village chiefs, and it is common for them to approve tacit land sales and leases, circumvent legislation, and engage in other corrupt and self-serving tactics in many areas (Faye 2008; Cotula 2006). (USAID Country Profile, Property Rights and Resource Governance)

The lack of formality in land administration, and the gross infrequency of a census (the
first took place in 1976 and the most recent in 1988), has meant far too much breathing room for nefarious actors. Yet, the progress Senegal has made on identity offers great promise for the future of Napoleonic Know-how in diminishing the threat of terrorism in Senegal.

Mali: Mali is an example of a place where the lack of a rigorous identity infrastructure
allows nefarious actors (say, Al-Qa‟ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb – AQIM) too many degrees of freedom. Everything in Mali is paper and is physically filed away in one the many decentralized government buildings in Bamako. Passports, while controlled, do not contain biometrics and are not held by everyone. Driving a vehicle requires a license which is made of paper, and the license plates in most cases are numbers painted the back side of the truck or car. Most Malians drive mopeds, which require no license and are totally unregulated. As such, policing nefarious actors is highly problematic.

Refugee Camps – Pakistan/ Kenya/Somalia/Etc.: Terrorists recruit many of their
ranks from refugee camps in which people have little identity, property or representation in a census that might even use statistics to articulate their struggle. The means for unwinding this complicated mess is the subject of long debates. Beyond a focus on aid that alleviates the most acute suffering, national security decision-makers should look to the establishment of Napoleonic administrative systems as a means of slowly untying these Gordian Knots, and bringing order to the chaos. Establishing individual identity, determining a population‟s needs through a Census, and, as land administration capacity allows, recording refugees claims to physical land parcels is key.

The New Napoleonic Complex
Sophisticated military commanders, civilian authorities and national security
policymakers understand that they must develop an understanding of the socio-cultural dynamics at play over their geography of strategic concern. MG Michael Flynn‟s bold 2010 report “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” had this imperative at its core.

The census, the cadastre, and national identification silently underpin everything that
contributes to peace and stability in developed societies. Unfortunately, policymakers have not given impetus to collecting, in countries or regions of interest, the kinds of socio-cultural information on which developed societies rely. Nor have they set the establishment of administrative infrastructures as Reconstruction and Stability goals, despite the many lessons learned from counter-insurgency (Galula, 1964; Sepp, 2005). They leave the collection and analysis of such critical socio-cultural information to either an intelligence community ill equipped to collect and analyze open source data from public records, or they expect practitioners with other duties (for instance Provincial Reconstruction Teams, NGOs, etc.) to “gather as they go.” The work of the Human Terrain Teams (HTTs), while admirable, were never meant to, nor would not meet the standards set by Napoleon‟s administrative infrastructure.

Such realities virtually guarantee that the necessary socio-cultural data will not be
available to support foreign aid/investment, development activities, stability operations, law enforcement, or even the more coercive actions usually associated with the military. After all, when a nation lacks systems for positively identifying individuals, for keeping demographic records, and for rigorously tying individuals to precisely defined land parcels, it lacks the capacity to make the determinations necessary to properly govern, to thwart non-state actors, to curb corruption, organized crime, and illicit transactions, or to defend legal freedoms. A government must invest in its citizenry so that the voluntary institutions of civil society emerge to reinforce democratic gains, invigorate commerce, and promote peace and stability.

There is a need for a radical doctrinal shift in the way the U.S. national security
community thinks and behaves, so that its prioritizes the rapid establishment of administrative processes that accrete Napoleonic-Know-how in regions of the world predisposed to persistent conflict. This certainly would be a major departure from the way the U.S. national security community has expended its resources to counter instability in the post-Cold War era. In an era of diminishing budgets to conduct 21st century military operations abroad, now, more than ever an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Citations are available in original article here.

The President’s Daily Map

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

With the appointment of the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper, we have a unique opportunity to apply a new approach to conveying national security information to the Commander in Chief. DNI Clapper is often described as the father of Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT). In an earlier job, DNI Clapper coined the term Geospatial Intelligence, and even renamed and reorganized an intelligence agency around the concept. This was not to establish yet another intelligence “stovepipe”, but to provide an integrative framework for all intelligence and operational national security information. Under his watch, it became common to hear every speaker in the national security community say things like “All Actionable Intelligence Exists in Space and Time” — a truism that has become accepted wisdom by all national security professionals. The map became accepted as the common frame of reference for all national security knowledge.

Recently, there has been lots of press coverage of DNI Clapper’s moves to re-organize the ODNI bureaucracy. What has not been covered has been his efforts to re-tool the President’s Daily Briefs (PDB) to breathe life into this anachronistic, if not completely moribund medium, to make it more responsive to the President’s needs. This was sorely needed. Yet, might I suggest that it is the medium itself that constrains the way in which the President receives intelligence. The PDB — a thin paper collection of highly vetted and heavily edited intelligence reports — is the anachronistic means by which the Leader of the Free World achieves situational awareness of the national security risks that face our nation.

The PDB was established by the CIA during President Kennedy’s first year in office as a means of conveying foreign intelligence regarding sensitive international situations. While the topics of 1960 were no less important, Presidents and National Security Advisers of yesteryear all agree that the information environment was infinitely less complex, that the pace of change was much slower, and that the number of international (or even non-state) actors that had to be understood was orders of magnitude smaller. A dozen or so briefs delivered once a day might have been sufficient back then, but I believe that this model will fail us in the dynamic and evolving future.

We are at an inflection point in how intelligence could and should be conveyed. We could abandon the outmoded and inadequate PDB framework for informing the President and his national security principals. We could embrace a new metaphor. Not a short paper brief — but, rather, an interactive digital mapping interface that is integrated into all of the datastores in the national security community. The President’s Map. And, we happen to have the right DNI, James R. Clapper, to make this happen.

But wait, there’s more. It is not just about how the President and his principals are informed, and how they cognitively integrate national security information. It is fundamentally about how information is shared across the national security community, and achieving a means for transparency and accountability that allows for actual leadership. If information is shareable to the President’s Map, according to some known set of technical standards, then it is shareable to anyone else across the national security enterprise that has sufficient security credentials. Finally, we would have a means to demonstrate concrete sharing of information, actually anchored to real-world locations and times. This in itself would be a revolution. It would make complex national security issues much more tractable. This would make many resource shortfalls and resource allocation issues plain as day, and it would empower national security managers to take action based on evidence. In short, it would enable “fact based analysis” which is often a rarity in the national security enterprise. Yes, we would still suffer from some degree of information overload, but at least we would not be under the illusion that a dozen short pages of the PDB constitute a meaningful means of informing the President of the United States.

Perhaps if commentators explored the sheer inadequacy of this means of communicating the complexity of the modern security environment, they would be more effective in identifying potential pathways for the reform and re-invigoration of the US Intelligence Community. More importantly, if only we opened our eyes to obvious alternative metaphors for conveying complex information, perhaps we could not only better inform the President, but also make the Intelligence Community (or even the larger national security enterprise) more effective.

It is time that we evolve with the times, and take advantage of new means of communication within the national security community. It is time that we take steps to launch the President’s Map, and move beyond the limitations posed by the President’s Daily Brief.

Cerfing (Cyber)Space

Originally published in Air Force Space Command’s High Frontier Journal

The inventor of the Internet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network [ARPANet]), and more specifically the co-creator of transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), Vint Cerf has ventured into the world of wiring up space, what has been dubbed the “Interplanetary Internet” (IPN). In doing this, Cerf and his team have created a new protocol, disruption-tolerant networking (DTN), capable of dealing with the delays and disruptions of space communications. Cerf and others took this as an opportunity to solve some of the inherent security problems of TCP/IP and the fundamentals of today’s Internet. Moreover, it just so happens that when you engineer your core network technology to inherently deal with disruptions, there are enormous security benefits. This article will discuss the cyberspace security lessons learned from the space-based DTN experience. And, it will also discuss the potential for and benefits of replacing TCP/IP with DTN as the core protocol powering the Internet of the future—interplanetary or not.


In 1998, after 25 years of the Internet’s evolution, Vint Cerf began envisioning the Internet in 2025. Realizing that the Internet had come to span the planet Earth, Cerf took on the challenge of networking the solar system. This challenge had its root in the flurry of manned and robotic space exploration that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and others had planned and underway. Cerf knew that TCP/IP was simply not designed to deal with the delays and disruptions inherent in networking in space. So naturally, Cerf in concert with team members from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, the Mitre Corporation, and Intel Research, Cerf began inventing a protocol that would enable complex space missions—DTN.

As the co-creator of TCP/IP during the original ARPANet project, Cerf had experience the nascent days of the Internet when their hub at the University of California, Los Angeles was connected only to a handful of other nodes. Notably, this sparse network diagram closely resembled the IPN experiments that Cerf and his team later initiated. The experiment simply involved uploading the new DTN protocol software onto a few spaceborne platforms and conducting some dial tone experiments.

DTN, like the original TCP/IP was relatively simple to demonstrate. But, this ease belied the enormous amount of security that was built into DTN which TCP/IP never enjoyed. The driving motivation of all this security work was the avoidance of a future headline such as “15-Year-Old Takes Over MarsNet.” DTN has many TCP/IP security lessons learned embodied in its implementation. As national security decision-makers decide on how to staunch the information bleeding, or perhaps more aptly the hemorrhaging that currently characterizes the current cyber-threat environment, an analysis of DTN is clearly in order.

Lessons from Space Communications

When Cerf and his team embarked on their quest to achieve an IPN, it quickly became clear that the brittleness of TCP/IP would simply not do. When speaking at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco in 2009, Cerf summed up the network communications challenge posed by space:

There was a little problem called the speed of light. When Earth and Mars are closest, we’re 35 million miles apart, and it’s a three and a half minute trip one way, seven minutes for a round trip. Then when we’re farthest apart, we’re 235 million miles—20 minutes one way, 40 minutes round trip. Just try using TCP/IP for a 40 minute round trip.… [Moreover] The planets rotate, and we haven’t figured out how to stop that.… It’s a very disruptive system, and it’s potentially a variably delayed system, because these planets are moving further apart based on our orbits.1

The example of communications between Earth and Mars is illustrative. But, similar delays and disruptions can occur with much shorter distances. Satellite to satellite communication links are orders of magnitude shorter, but yet pose similar patterns of disruption and delay, as has been shown in NASA experiments.2

The continuous connection that TCP/IP assumes would fundamentally never exist in a space scenario. When using TCP/IP, a lost connection means that most applications simply will cease working. At the most basic level, DTN was designed address this challenge of delay/disruption by simply hanging onto packets until they can be safely transmitted.

Achieving Mission Success Despite Disruption

If we have learned anything with modern networking (and networked) technologies, delay and disruption are hardly unexpected. Whether traversing space, the Internet, or mobile networks, the common denominator of all missions is that they must “fight through” disruptions. In the world of satellite to satellite communication, or interplanetary communications, disruptions due to solar flares, orbital dynamics, or any number of other mitigating circumstances cannot be allowed to compromise a mission. At the tactical edge of a military network, disruptions due to power outages, broken physical links, radio frequency jamming, and more cannot be allowed to compromise a mission. Dependent on commercial cellular infrastructure, first responders must be able to conduct their mission, despite the crush of calls during a catastrophe that make cellular service intermittent.

And, in the realm of cyber-security threats, missions need to “fight through” network penetration with core network infrastructure that is capable of preventing the exfiltration and modification of data, as well as the denial of service. Running a mission, or simply conducting business, requires that users be able to access critical information available over the network without being denied by their adversaries. Even under attack by a sophisticated, internal adversary, operators need to have access to critical information, and know that it will not be disclosed.

The key DTN feature that enables mission success is that unlike TCP/IP, it does not discard data in times of disruption. It implements a “store and forward” model which is different from the way IP multi-casting currently works.3 DTN provides secure, persistent storage for the data that traverses the network, until delivery is assured. This can be thought of as a DTN cache. The data can be marked with metadata that can be encrypted with different keys from the keys used to encrypt the payload data itself. In this way, DTN maintains the cryptographic integrity of the data in motion and at rest in these caches. And, to provide an extra measure of disruption tolerance, the DTN team has been adapting a convolutional/erasure algorithm scheme (the same sort of encoding associated with RAID devices) that allows data to be reconstituted despite the loss of up to 15 percent of the data traversing the network.

Hardening the Internet’s Core

In a TCP/IP environment, current cyber-security measures are commonly limited to protecting our organizations’ perimeters and perhaps encrypting our file systems, which just happen to be unlocked at boot. Data exfiltration, modification, and the denial of service are commonplace. And, our responses to network attacks that breach our perimeter are limited. In general, we must take compromised components offline, and curtail our mission-readiness.

If atop TCP/IP you used public key infrastructure and Internet protocol security and insisted on having all devices authenticate, then indeed you would materially improve your organization’s security. Assuming that you could trust all the certificates that this construct would rely on, it would harden the core of your network, rather than simply relying on your perimeter defenses. And, many organizations have done just that. But, that is a massive added expense, and a level of technical know-how that typically exceeds that possessed by average organizations.

DTN, at its core, was designed to bring this overlay of security measures into the core design of the network. And, it drew upon other mature techniques learned from other parts of the information and communications technology domain to build an IPN that would not be hijacked by 15-year-olds.

DTN leveraged encryption and structured fragmentation in order to protect against data exfiltration. It used signing and erasure coding to protect against data modification. It looked to diffusion-based replication strategies that protect network resources against denial of service. And, DTN used cache over-encryption in order to achieve dynamic access control. While one would need a forensic analysis of DTN’s security architecture in order to trust such an innovative approach to securing network traffic, it is clear that DTN represents an enormous leap in terms of the “built-in” security provided by the core network protocol. It is useful to perhaps dwell on each of these four DTN security features.

As a result of these technical security measures, DTN is able to provide a high level of assurance that missions will continue despite network compromise, and the disruptions and delays due to compromise. In the face of network compromise, DTN enables assured availability and confidentiality. DTN uses a diffusion-based replication strategy, that leverages an encrypted cache architecture, in order to move data to the right user, despite delay and disruption. DTN is designed to provide this level of availability and confidentiality despite network penetration by an adversary who can gain access to both client and data storage nodes, and even eavesdrop on network traffic.

A Critical Layer of Indirection

For those intimate with the inner working of today’s Internet, DTN is indeed somewhat unfamiliar. It does not follow many of the assumptions that drive today’s Internet.

[DTN uses] a flexible node addressing scheme in lieu of the traditional IP naming conventions. DTN architecture revolves around a data-centric model, not a network-centric model.… DTN uses a unique, new naming convention for routing the data bundles—not packets—throughout the network. Data is protected while at rest and can be stored along the network path to the destination if the network is not stable.4

DTN in some ways is more akin modern wireless telecommunications networks, where each device has an endpoint

identifier (EID) that specifies and uniquely identifies it as an endpoint connected to the network. The information about the location of a given endpoint on the network is given by a “locator” which may change as the network topology changes. In this framework, ongoing communication is not disrupted when a locator changes since endpoints are identified by their EIDs and not their locators.

In the worlds of telecommunications and mobile computing devices, it is not uncommon that a given end device will be connected to more than one IP address. As a user moves from cell tower zone to cell tower zone, it may touch the network (and even the Internet) in multiple places at the same time. To do this, such locators help to dynamically bind the routing layer and the physical endpoints. When you introduce such a layer of indirection, you have the benefit that the device no longer cares which network path(s) you are traversing. The device could simultaneously traverse multiple networks at the same time.

DTN is designed on just such principles. So, as the network topology is disrupted for any reason, communication does not cease. And, due to the caching strategy employed by DTN, data is not lost when a node drops out of the topology. Quite simply, the data finds other ways to make its way to its intended recipient, even if it takes a while.

Security Early and Often

TCP/IP was designed with little regard for security. It was designed to get messages through networks which were assumed to offer high availability. As a result, it is rife with security vulnerabilities because it does not enforce security measures early and often. DTN on the other hand promptly prevents unauthorized applications from having their data carried through or stored in the DTN. It prevents unauthorized applications from asserting control over the DTN infrastructure. It prevents otherwise authorized applications from sending bundles at a rate or class of service for which they lack permission. DTN promptly discards bundles that are damaged or improperly modified in transit, ensuring the highest level of integrity. And, DTN promptly detects and de-authorizes compromised entities.5

[DTNSEC] utilizes hop-by-hop and end-to-end authentication and integrity mechanisms. The purpose of using both approaches is to be able to handle access control for data forwarding and storage separately from application-layer data integrity. While the end-to-end mechanism provides authentication for a principal such as a user (of which there may be many), the hop-by-hop mechanism is intended to authenticate DTN nodes as legitimate transceivers of bundles to each-other. Note that it is conceivable to construct a DTN in which only a subset of the nodes participate in the security mechanisms, resulting in a secure DTN overlay existing atop an insecure DTN overlay. This idea is relatively new and is still being explored.

In accordance with the goals listed above, DTN nodes discard traffic as early as possible if authentication or access control checks fail. This approach meets the goals of removing unwanted traffic from being forwarded over specific high-value links, but also has the associated benefit of making denial-of-service attacks considerably harder to mount more generally, as compared with conventional Internet routers. However, the obvious cost for this capability is potentially larger computation and credential storage overhead required at DTN nodes.6

Adopting and Adapting

DTN is not just an idea. It has been implemented in an open source software stack that has been through the bureaucratic processes to determine that export restrictions should not prevent its distribution to other space-faring nations. The DTN protocol suite could easily be adopted by commercial infrastructure providers such as CISCO, Juniper, F5, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent, and US Tellabs. Google, no doubt by virtue of Cerf’s employment, has already rolled DTN into its Android platform in order to take advantage of its ability to overcome the disruption and delay in mobile networks. Microsoft could, no doubt, roll out DTN in upcoming releases of Windows operating systems.

The Internet is continually adapting, with the term “Internet year”7 used as the provocation to every innovator to remind them how fast they must act, or else be overcome by events. It would only take a handful of Internet years to ensure DTN is ubiquitously available. Some public sponsorship would be required, akin to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency support currently being applied to the exploration of DTN’s battlefield benefits.8 But, the scale of resources that would be required to enable the adoption of and adaptation to DTN would inevitably be orders of magnitudes less than that required to secure a TCP/IP based Internet.

Ending Internet Hostilities

For a long time, popular culture has embraced the notion that the Internet is rather safe, in terms of cyber security. Even more sophisticated enterprise views of security have assumed that their perimeter security measures are keeping their operations safe and secure, in the face of possible cyber threats. It is high time, however, that we begin to understand that whatever cyber activities we engage in, we are engaging in them over a hostile Internet infrastructure. It is hostile in large part because TCP/IP as a protocol leaves users and enterprises wide open to panoply of attacks simply because of its original design. And, its vulnerabilities have become so well understood that random 15 year olds can wreak enormous amounts of havoc.

Unless the user or enterprise is very sophisticated in its security investments atop this insecure infrastructure, they will be utterly defenseless in the face of rising, organized Internet hostilities—whether posed by nefarious nation states, non-state actor networks, organized crime, or lone bad actors.

Many billions of dollars are currently being amassed and spent to address these hostilities. And, epic engineering efforts are currently being envisioned. In this context, it is not too much to ask that we evaluate the fundamental shortcomings of today’s Internet, and entertain a wholesale switch to a stronger and secure foundational protocol.


While “Cerfing (Cyber)Space” suggests that Cerf alone is responsible for the future of the Interplanetary Internet, Cerf takes great pains to acknowledge the contributions of his colleagues Robert Durst, MITRE; Adrian Hooke, NASA; Scott Burleigh, JPL; Keith Scott, MITRE; Leigh Torgerson, JPL; Kevin Fall, Intel Research; David Israel, Goddard Space Flight Center; and Jay Wyatt, JPL.


Citations are available in the original article here.

Rethinking Human Dynamics

Originally published in Geospatial Intelligence Forum.  Co-authored with Dr. Robert R. Tomes.



Recent efforts to expand the gathering, analysis and use of sociocultural intelligence in full-spectrum operations have created a paradox. On the one hand, there is almost universal recognition that the national security community requires ever-greater insights into the human dynamics that shape perceptions, decisions and actions. A wide and varied discourse about both the need for and benefits of increased social, cultural and political knowledge has ascended to the apex of national security reform discussions.

On the other hand, and despite important exceptions, responses to expanding human dynamics knowledge requirements have been relatively narrow and unimaginative given the measure of global knowledge available. Specifically, “human terrain” efforts have favored large, complex technical acquisition programs that show little appreciation of where the lion’s share of human dynamics expertise actually resides, how human dynamics differ by geography, or how today’s human dynamics have been shaped by the past.

It is time that we explore how “human dynamics” knowledge could better be accumulated, adjudicated and organized—within a geospatial and temporal framework—and made broadly accessible to benefit not only the global security community, but also global society writ large.

As the U.S. national security community moved into an era of population-centric operations across complex and urban terrain during the 2000s, it became clear that decisions and operations had to be anchored in knowledge of human, social, cultural and behavioral dynamics. We simply did not have the capacity to do this, and our doctrine, operating principles and approach to operations did not require it. Doctrinally, we avoided operations in urban areas, resisted interventions, and favored rapid, decisive military campaigns with minimal ground operations.

As our need for and knowledge of human terrain grew during the last decade, it became clear that we had to further anchor human terrain knowledge with fine-grained, real-world geographic information. It was certainly no longer acceptable to speak of particular peoples and their behaviors without discussing them in geospatial and temporal terms.

When speaking and thinking geospatially, moreover, it was no longer acceptable to understand human dynamics at a 1:250,000 cartographic scale; nor is it acceptable to temporally limit users to data from moments in time. Increasingly, decision makers and action takers also demand data on how others perceive or view the local “map,” able to represent cultural features, historic grievances, and relevant ethnic, tribal and other demographic data.

After nearly a decade struggling to understand the human terrain in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have countless cases where better— and necessarily geospatial—knowledge of culturally significant and often sensitive locations would have enabled a much higher level of operational success in military operations, such as counterinsurgency, force protection, reconstruction and stability operations, as well as in diplomatic efforts and development planning.

Some yeoman’s work has occurred through efforts to map human terrain in conflict regions, particularly South Asia, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. But the resulting systems and programs have in no way been integrated into a unifying framework that could yield a detailed geospatial and temporal grasp of the global human dynamics landscape. Placing human dynamics on a global map requires that we build a spatial and temporal framework—essentially a media channel— able to integrate data collected by a vast, currently disparate community of international experts, social scientists, non-governmental organizations and others.

Much of the data U.S. national security planners will need in the coming decades remains inaccessible to current government programs. NGOs, for example, collect data around the world to support relief operations and disaster recovery, but have no outlet for the data when their funding for a specific crisis runs out and they move on. Academic researchers collect and analyze data to support their publications, but have scant storage room on university networks or the capacity to geospatially enable their research for others to use.

Many researchers and analysts are driven by an instinctual need to both convey and understand human dynamics in terms of place and time. As a community, we must enable this instinct to bear fruit as a positive “network externality”—a term that generally applies to data or information that is collected for one purpose but has much greater utility to a larger community.


In the new world of Web 2.0 technologies and social software applications, we all have become more aware of the collective wisdom, energy and sustained momentum that virtual groups, or “crowds,” bring to knowledge tasks and problem solving. Under the right conditions, architectures of participation can be leveraged to crowd source information and generate knowledge with staggering results in terms of timeliness, efficiency and accuracy.

Some of the latest technical strategies for crowd sourcing geospatial data, sometimes called volunteered geographic information, enable experts to collaborate using addition dimensions of reality (spatial and temporal), employ visualization capabilities to further knowledge discovery and creation, and incorporate spatial analysis into the collective work of participants.

We believe that many of the current challenges with global human terrain mapping, including collection of baseline cultural data and collaboration with non-governmental experts, are best addressed through a specific type of architecture of participation that is designed, led and resourced specifically to organize and integrate global human dynamics research. We are not implying that all crowds are inherently “smart,” or that crowd sourcing using geospatially enabled social software can satisfy all requirements for human terrain data. A fine line exists between wise crowds and dumb mobs.

As always, analysts should validate information and knowledge, vet experts, and practice sound critical thinking skills when presented with information. When it comes to leveraging the expertise and knowledge contained in groups, there is ample evidence that networks of like-minded experts sharing a common interest in the co-creation of knowledge outperform isolated groups.

The majority of experts with knowledge in the realm of human dynamics work outside the U.S. national security community, and many reside outside of the United States. Tens of thousands of social scientists, journalists, NGO staff and experienced regional “hands” have spent years or decades cultivating sophisticated understandings of the human dynamics within specific geographies, have time-series data that demonstrates change over time, and have developed models based on trend information allowing them to make predictions or forecasts. Most of these people are not members of the U.S. national security community, nor will any recruitment and hiring campaign change this fact. How can the official defense, diplomacy and development communities leverage this knowledge?

Many in the human, social, cultural and behavioral community, which is overwhelmingly academic, place great value on “peer review” systems. In this day and age, there are opportunities to empower the entire expert community, and not just a small peer review panel, to suggest concrete amendments to canonical datasets published by others.

Imagine taking issue with specific line segments within a polygon that represents a tribal boundary, because your on-the-ground experience provides you definitive knowledge of a shortfall in the existing polygon. By waging such disputes, and having a space where colleagues can come together to systematically resolve these disputes in a time dominant fashion, we would bring a transparency and accountability to the accumulation of human dynamics data that has never been available to this community. It is possible to devise an online space in which experts can adjudicate and resolve disputes about the geospatial, temporal and other dimensions of their human dynamics knowledge.

Why would experts in sociocultural human dynamics be compelled to crowd source their knowledge, particularly the geospatial and temporal dimensions of their knowledge? Why would they exert considerable effort to ensure that the entire world of human dynamics, over the entire globe and over the course of human history, becomes accessible to both the expert and lay communities by simply panning and zooming within a map interface, selecting a period of history with a chronology bar, and picking the layers of meaning to their particular purpose? These are legitimate questions and concerns.

We believe that an organization can be designed and staffed to build the global human terrain map in a way that builds (and in some fashion rebuilds) social capital among experts and data collectors around the collective interest that already exists in making use of existing data and knowledge. We know that expert networks exist, share data, and assist relief operations and other crises. We also know that the technology and user base to begin building such an organization exists today.

One only has to look to the enormous success of other crowd sourcing channels such as Wikipedia, Picasa and Flikr; social media outlets like Facebook; and geospatial crowd sourcing initiatives such as OpenStreetMap, Wikimapia, GeoCaching, and the use of Ushahidi for crisis mapping. Despite their success, these examples only scratch the surface in terms of the value that architectures of participation can provide a community of users that is interested in bettering our understanding of the world.

Crowd sourcing strategies thrive by offering a community of users a common task to which they can all contribute, which for many is a reward in itself. With opportunities for the public recognition of their knowledge, expertise and unfailing contributions, these architectures bring with them a non-monetary incentive structure that promises long term viability and sustainability. This is something that our expensive and narrow national security platforms simply cannot promise.

Moreover, geospatial crowd sourcing has proven effective in providing help during international crises. Haiti is only the most recent example of the “crisis mapping” community coming together to rapidly marshal geospatial situational awareness data that spans the worlds of physical, built and human geography in support of crisis response and recovery. This leads to rapid bursts in the accumulation of enormous data stores over non-obvious geographies.

While these efforts are a recent historical phenomenon, their overwhelming success has spawned “crisis camp,” where energetic, socially minded geospatial engineers meet on the weekends to collectively innovate on how they could better respond to the next crisis. This social element of parties is yet another incentive that is a hallmark of crowd sourcing strategies.


As the national security community struggles with the proper way ahead for the human dynamics enterprise, it is useful to pause and ask ourselves what we are trying to accomplish.

Are we trying to develop a tactical human terrain system for use by the military over the geography of today’s fight? Or are we looking to develop a sustainable knowledge base that covers human dynamics of the entire globe that everyone across the extended national security enterprise can share in?

Do we now recognize that the lion’s share of global sociocultural knowledge, particularly that relating to the geographies of interest to U.S. national security, is held by people outside the U.S. national security community? Do we understand that sociocultural knowledge lacks sufficient context unless it is tied to fine-grained, real-world geographies, as well as specific moments in time?

The challenge of mapping the world’s human dynamics requires a different approach. For a fraction of the cost currently spent on large, complex systems, a private foundation jointly funded by the public and private sector could implement an innovative, collaborative approach leading to an international consortium of human terrain experts.

We believe that a combination of microgrant funds and an “X prize” approach to stimulate new social science research and modeling will draw hundreds of international experts, data collectors and NGOs into the organization. We also believe that this approach can be instantiated using an existing, resilient cloud architecture with an open standards backbone and a user-friendly interface for accepting and visualizing data.

Our approach will enable less technically savvy users to participate, including senior anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and others who have never touched geospatial software but know the geography well.

We also believe graduate students and future researchers will encode their knowledge in geospatial and temporal representations that can be hyperlinked to citations of academic or other expert knowledge.

Mapping the global human terrain to advance socio-cultural intelligence requires a trusted social network connected and empowered through an open, geospatially enabled, architecture of participation. Let’s get on with it.