ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Cross-Check

Cross-Check


Critical views of science in the news
Cross-Check Home

Grassroots spying might make world peace possible

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



Except for a smattering of neo-Social Darwinists, religious nuts and arms merchants, everyone wants world peace, right? In a truly peaceful world, nations would not just stop fighting wars; they would cut back their armies and arsenals to levels sufficient for self-defense and internal policing.

The most common objection to disarmament is a variation on the old gun-lovers’ slogan: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. In other words, if responsible nations radically reduce their militaries, how can they defend themselves against violent rogue states or groups?

This problem has become more pressing lately because of the emergence of violent apocalyptic cults, from al Qaeda to the Hutaree, the crazy Christian militia recently busted in Michigan. Even an individual with sufficient technical know-how and resources can wreak havoc. Remember the Unabomber? Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh? Traditional military deterrence—you hurt us and we’ll hurt you worse—provides no defense against people who have no permanent base and will die for their cause. So what to do?

We need a global, grassroots intelligence network to identify bad guys, ideally before they do harm. In 2005 the U.S. intelligence services created Intellipedia, a Web site where spies from the FBI, CIA, NSA and other agencies can swap information and ideas related to national security; the goal was to break down barriers between agencies that prevented them from intercepting the perpetrators of  9/11. Only people with security clearances can access the site, which contains classified information.*

I envision a truly open, unclassified, grassroots Intellipedia, which will publish information on threats to humanity, whether criminal gangs or corporations, religious militias or governments. The site will post reports from any sources, including nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch, international ones such as the U.N., the media, governments, corporations and individuals. Reports may include satellite and cell-phone images, data from radiation and chemical sensors, transcripts of conversations, records of purchases of potential weapons components and any other relevant evidence.

Professional and amateur analysts—like those who maintain the quality of information on Wikipedia—will assess threats and rate them according to their seriousness. Is a Christian sect in Montana hoping to hasten the End Time by cooking up anthrax spores? Are retired Pakistani officers plotting to sell a nuclear bomb? Is a Nigerian oil company violently driving a tribal people off their land? Depending on the scope of the threat, local, national or international police and courts will investigate, arrest and try suspects.

The best thing about grassroots spying is that it’s already happening! Chris DiBona, Google’s Open Source Programs manager, recently declared that "the advent of rapidly updating, citizenry-available, high-resolution imagery will remove the protection of the veil of ignorance and secrecy from the powerful and exploitative among us." The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project has published commercial satellite images that expose possible war crimes in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Darfur.

Wikileaks, which I mentioned in my last post, publishes material that the powerful don’t want us to see, like video of American soldiers gunning down a Reuters reporter in Iraq. Another promising program is Ushahidi, created in 2008 by Kenyan "citizen journalists" reporting on human-rights abuses in that country. Ushahidi (the word means "testimony" in Swahili) allows anyone with a computer, cell phone or palmtop computer to "bring awareness of crisis situations" to the world by posting text, photographs, video and GPA locations to Web-based maps. The more organizations like this we have, the better.

Ubiquitous, omni-directional surveillance may remind some of George Orwell’s Oceania or Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, dystopias in which central authorities keep citizens under constant scrutiny. But the whole point of grassroots spying is to reduce our reliance on traditional, Big Brother-ish agencies like the CIA and KGB, whose secrecy enables abuses of power.

Radical transparency—stemming from inevitable advances in sensing and information technologies—will allow radical disarmament. Privacy—and the right of civilians to bear arms—is a small price to pay for peace, especially since we’re headed toward radical transparency anyway.



*Erratum (5/4/10): An earlier draft of this post stated incorrectly that Intellipedia is an example of "open-source intelligence." As pointed out by commenter "Researcher," open-source intelligence refers to data gathered from unclassified, publicly available sources.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Horgan, a former Scientific American staff writer, directs the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology. (Photo courtesy of Skye Horgan.)

 Image: iStockphoto/JoeLena

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





Rights & Permissions

Comments 15 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. Dr. Paradox 6:17 pm 04/28/2010

    The biggest problem with this argument is that no one ever agrees on what constitutes a ‘threat’. When is someone a ‘threat’? When they have a suspicious conversation? When they meet with a group of suspicious individuals? When they have a suspicious box?

    ‘Threat’ detection is a highly-individualized and circumstance-dependent phenomenon. Allowing anyone to declare someone or something a ‘threat’ is forcing everyone to calibrate their definition of threat to the lowest common denominator, if only for the purposes of verification.

    Link to this
  2. 2. ShawnC 7:17 pm 04/28/2010

    Your initial assumption is bad. All it takes to know there are many who want gratification, power, or things more than peace is to read the daily news…or history. It’s endemic to the human condition.

    Link to this
  3. 3. scientific earthling 2:12 am 04/29/2010

    Lower world humanoid population (at lease half – business wont like this) and you solve the problem. Lowering population can be achieved by creating non pathogenic sterility inducing easily transmissible micro-organisms. Chlamydia trachomatis is one example but it also causes eye disease that can lead to blindness. Look around and you will find one that can be modified to fit the bill.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Researcher 8:30 am 04/29/2010

    "In 2005 the U.S. intelligence services created Intellipedia, a Web site where spies from the FBI, CIA, NSA and other agencies can swap information and ideas related to national security; the goal was to break down barriers between agencies that prevented them from intercepting the perpetrators of 9/11. The program is called "open source intelligence,"

    This statement is in error. Open Source intelligence is initially derived from publicly available data and has nothing to do with Intellipedia. This statement leads me to question the reliability of the rest of your article.

    Link to this
  5. 5. ve3eoq 5:30 pm 04/29/2010

    Go live in Russia. That’s how the secret police work!

    Link to this
  6. 6. Steve D 11:37 am 04/30/2010

    The experience with cybercrime shows that anonymity is a cover for all kinds of misdeeds. However, total transparency leaves people open to attacks from the state. The problem? State agents enjoy anonymity and freedom from accountability. Solution: no anonymity for anyone, in person, on line, any time. Cops and FBI agents – all government functionaries – have listed phone numbers and home addresses. If you don’t want that level of risk, there’s always the french fry machine at McDonald’s. No amnesty – ever – for misdeeds committed under cover of authority. Legalize resistance to unlawful arrest. Bottom line: if you’re going to commit abuses in the name of authority, you will spend your entire life looking over your shoulder.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Robert61 11:14 am 05/2/2010

    As a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), I agree with most of the article. Because of overseas planning, funding and training for attacks within America’s homeland, communication between the CIA & NSA counter-intelligence units with the FBI and local law enforcement agencies is critical. That includes domestic spying by both federal agencies at Fusion Centers, which are currently operating in all 50 states. Visit the DECLASSIFIED SECRETS-2 site and I’d like to hear from you there and on this forum.
    http://declassifiedsecrets2.blogspot.com/

    Link to this
  8. 8. Robert61 11:25 am 05/2/2010

    Sorry, but I must disagree on his comments about OSINT- Open Source Intelligence. All foreign intel services peruse their enemy’s magazines, newspapers, e-mails, etc. OSINT methods are used by writers, journalists…everyone. For example, I have an additional DECLASSIFIED SECRETS site called OSINT Daily, where you can find out daily updated newspaper and journal articles about every intelligence agency on earth. OSINT is not a cloak & dagger, civil liberties-threatening, secretive government operation. Check out my OSINT Daily, which I created using nothing but publicly-accessed Google gadgetry. Go to: http://osintdaily.blogspot.com/

    Link to this
  9. 9. eco-steve 9:57 am 05/3/2010

    Spying is all a question of egoism against the common good.
    The french revolution encouraged the free distribution of science and knowledge as the most efficient way to promote the common good. But rapidly the state intervened to allow patents to protect the national interest. Capitalism tries to centralise wealth and power into the hands of the few. But all such systems have failed, as the few cannot efficiently govern all the complex aspects of society, as all military dictatorships have very soon discovered to their undoing!
    In an open society, spying is pointless. But wars occurred long before guns and will only be abolished when societies are based on intelligent reasoning and common wealth.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Robert61 10:57 am 05/3/2010

    In today’s global world, Western democracies do, indeed, need domestic surveillance and increased funding for survival. The radical Islamists, who do not represent the Muslim faith, are waging a Jihad against all western democracies and they don’t differentiate between military and civilian humanoids or strategic targets. We need increased domestic surveillance to attack planned attacks before they’re operationalized. Britain, a long-standing democracy, funds MI-5 and MI-6, which both conduct domestic sureillance. We need an MI-5 model in the U.S., for our own sake. I talked to Nigel West, an authority on intelligence in Britain, and he said it won’t happen because if you merely place too many security cameras around our freeways and downtown areas, Americans will all become card-carrying members of the ACLU. I understand the historical reasons for our fear of "Big Brother", but one radioactive WMD blown up in downtown Manhattan is likely to happen without it. It’s becoming a very dangerous world for western democracies, and the terrorists to fear are radical Islamists…NOT MUSLIMS! The incredible damage a small cell can do to the U.S. heartland or NYC is unimaginable in this asymetric warfare we’re in. Intelligence-gathering is critical to protect America. An example of what we’re up against, the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) is, as we speak, attempting to gather all the intel it can on Russia’s new Club-K system, which hasn’t appeared in any U.S. newspaper or TV network so far. I urge you to go to my free DECLASSIFIED SECRETS-2 site and read the article I wrote,"(A-B) RUSSIA’S DISGUISED CONTAINER SHIP CRUISE MISSILES- A SOMALIAN PIRATE’S DREAM COME TRUE!" at: http://declassifiedsecrets2.blogspot.com/

    Link to this
  11. 11. Robert61 10:58 am 05/3/2010

    In today’s global world, Western democracies do, indeed, need domestic surveillance and increased funding for survival. The radical Islamists, who do not represent the Muslim faith, are waging a Jihad against all western democracies and they don’t differentiate between military and civilian humanoids or strategic targets. We need increased domestic surveillance to attack planned attacks before they’re operationalized. Britain, a long-standing democracy, funds MI-5 and MI-6, which both conduct domestic sureillance. We need an MI-5 model in the U.S., for our own sake. I talked to Nigel West, an authority on intelligence in Britain, and he said it won’t happen because if you merely place too many security cameras around our freeways and downtown areas, Americans will all become card-carrying members of the ACLU. I understand the historical reasons for our fear of "Big Brother", but one radioactive WMD blown up in downtown Manhattan is likely to happen without it. It’s becoming a very dangerous world for western democracies, and the terrorists to fear are radical Islamists…NOT MUSLIMS! The incredible damage a small cell can do to the U.S. heartland or NYC is unimaginable in this asymetric warfare we’re in. Intelligence-gathering is critical to protect America. An example of what we’re up against, the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) is, as we speak, attempting to gather all the intel it can on Russia’s new Club-K system, which hasn’t appeared in any U.S. newspaper or TV network so far. I urge you to go to my free DECLASSIFIED SECRETS-2 site and read the article I wrote,"(A-B) RUSSIA’S DISGUISED CONTAINER SHIP CRUISE MISSILES- A SOMALIAN PIRATE’S DREAM COME TRUE!" at: http://declassifiedsecrets2.blogspot.com/

    Link to this
  12. 12. bucketofsquid 3:06 pm 05/7/2010

    The only true peace is death. Life is the struggle to survive and prosper. Therefore I am opposed to world peace. I would like the world population to drop by about 4 billion but I certainly don’t want extinction.

    The only real question is what is the cost/benefit ratio of this supposed "spy world"? I certainly favor traffic enforcement cameras. I rather strongly oppose toilet cameras.

    Link to this
  13. 13. Robert61 3:37 pm 05/7/2010

    Researcher; Amen. The OSINT error the author made was one of many. As a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers (AFIO), I’ve attended many seminars and talked to many CIA and NSA case officers. OSINT has always been the first line of available information for intelligence analysts and roughly 80% of all the intel gathered is via OSINT sources. The "enemy" and reason the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) was created is because of al Queda and a myriad of associated radical Islamist groups, not because of right-wing, nutcake, militias with IQ’s around room temperature. The author doesn’t realize who the 16 agencies which comprise the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) are. The enemy is not the Muslim religion, not Muslims, not right-wing militias, not ultra-liberals, not Bushites….it’s radical Islamists, who declared radical jihad on all western democracies and who believe martyrdom and entrance to paradise can be obtained by murdering as many western civilians as they can. Robert at DECLASSIFIED SECRETS: http://declassifiedsecrets2.blogspot.com/

    Link to this
  14. 14. jgrosay 6:10 pm 05/7/2010

    As always, people that implement such evildoers hunting campaigns think as themselves as a compendium of summa perfection, if somebody doesn’t accept them as pattern and ruler, they just begin provocations to elicit a defensive response and put the different in an outlaw position. It also allows taht the freedom judges take the dissident’s goods and assets. For example, such a thing happened in Zimbabwe, taht suffered and induced ultra-high inflation when the government started a campaign to distribute british colonizers owned land to ethnic inhabitants of country, of course there was unnecesary violence and unjustifiable crimes, and compensations could be discussed, but the USA government did not behave differently in cases such as Sutter or the american-spanish war in Cuba, or to some zion state founders against their blood-sharing arab inhabitants of Palestine. A crime is a crime, independently of when and by who is commited

    Link to this
  15. 15. gwenyth7 5:05 am 08/7/2012

    Arizona. Military and government using and researching weapons to commit torture without being caught and committing domestic terrorism. Hiding behind gang-stalking, illuminati, monarch program, new world order, terrorist and narco-terrorist watch lists, police investigations, claim to have federal warrant, federal police, mafia of all kinds. Definitely perverts. Operating in several states at once, been going on prior to march 2009, technology, budget, and being allowed to continue make the project obviously one of military and government. No one else could or would do that.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X