Are We Secure?

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In the United States, our overarching desire is for security and prosperity. And while there are a number of threats we tend to worry about, there is only one existential threat to the United States. That is ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction! I’ve written a series of articles on this threat and want to share them with you.

North Korea is armed with nuclear missiles. Iran developing nuclear weapons they can put on a variety of missiles. Troubles with Russia over the Ukraine and fears Russia might flex its muscles with missiles armed with nuclear warheads. The question many are – and should be – asking is this: What capability does the United States have to deal with this kind of existential threat.

While all the U.S. military services have a stake in ballistic missile defense the U.S. Navy is now in the lead in this important warfare area. This journey is a remarkable success story – and one not yet told. Over a period of sixty years, the U.S. Navy has evolved the most versatile, and most successful, naval air and missile defense system in the world.  However, it is a journey that has been fraught with difficulty, advancing not in linear fashion, but in fits and starts, always pushing the edge of the technological envelope until it arrived where it is today.

Read more here

Have Enough?

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Read anything that made you think lately? I mean really think? For me, it was Arthur Brooks’ thoughtful piece called Abundance Without Attachment. I wanted to share it with you. Here is part of what he shared:

On a recent trip to India, I found an opportunity to help sort out this contradiction. I sought guidance from a penniless Hindu swami named Gnanmunidas at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi. We had never met before, but he came highly recommended by friends. If Yelp reviewed monks, he would have had five stars.

To my astonishment, Gnanmunidas greeted me with an avuncular, “How ya doin’?” He referred to me as “dude.” And what was that accent — Texas? Sure enough, he had grown up in Houston, the son of Indian petroleum engineers, and had graduated from the University of Texas. Later, he got an M.B.A., and quickly made a lot of money.

But then Gnanmunidas had his awakening. At 26, he asked himself, “Is this all there is?” His grappling with that question led him to India, where he renounced everything and entered a Hindu seminary. Six years later, he emerged a monk. From that moment on, the sum total of his worldly possessions has been two robes, prayer beads and a wooden bowl. He is prohibited from even touching money — a discipline that would obviously be impossible for those of us enmeshed in ordinary economic life.

As an economist, I was more than a little afraid to hear what this capitalist-turned-renunciant had to teach me. But I posed a query nonetheless: “Swami, is economic prosperity a good or bad thing?” I held my breath and waited for his answer.

“It’s good,” he replied. “It has saved millions of people in my country from starvation.”

This was not what I expected. “But you own almost nothing,” I pressed. “I was sure you’d say that money is corrupting.” He laughed at my naïveté. “There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money.” The formula for a good life, he explained, is simple: abundance without attachment.

Read the entire article here. It will really make you think. I welcome your feedback.

Art Meets Life

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What part does writing a good narrative play in your life? What if you don’t want to publish a book or even a story or a blog post? Should you be able to tell a good story? Yes!

Harvard Business Review called it a strategic tool with “irresistible power.” What exciting new 21st-century technology is this?

The age-old art of storytelling — something humans have done since they could first communicate. So why has it become this year’s buzzword? And what is its new value?

In these days of tougher-than-ever job searches, competition for crowd-funding and start-ups looking to be the next Google or Facebook, it’s not enough just to offer up the facts about you or your company to prospective employers or investors. Or even to your own workers.

You need to be compelling, unforgettable, funny and smart. Magnetic, even. You need to be able to answer the question that might be lingering in the minds of the people you’re trying to persuade: What makes you so special?

You need to have a good story.

Read more here

Drone Wars

One of the most innovative technologies used anywhere – and especially in our military – is unmanned or autonomous systems, sometimes called “drones.” These military drones have been talked about a great deal in all media, especially armed drones which are often operated by the U.S. intelligence agencies or our military to take out suspected terrorists.

Few security issues are more controversial. In an effort to shed some light in an area where there is mostly heat, I published an article with Faircount Media entitled “The Other Side of Autonomy.”

A few salient quotes from this article capture the controversy surrounding “drone wars.”

In an article entitled, “Morals and the Machine,” The Economist addressed the issue of autonomy and humans-in-the-loop this way:

As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming—or at least appearing to assume—moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously. As that happens, they will be presented with ethical dilemmas…More collaboration is required between engineers, ethicists, lawyers and policymakers, all of whom would draw up very different types of rules if they were left to their own devices.

Bill Keller put the issue of autonomy for unmanned systems this way in his Op-ed, “Smart Drones,” in the New York Times in March 2013:

If you find the use of remotely piloted warrior drones troubling, imagine that the decision to kill a suspected enemy is not made by an operator in a distant control room, but by the machine itself. Imagine that an aerial robot studies the landscape below, recognizes hostile activity, calculates that there is minimal risk of collateral damage, and then, with no human in the loop, pulls the trigger. Welcome to the future of warfare. While Americans are debating the president’s power to order assassination by drone, powerful momentum – scientific, military and commercial – is propelling us toward the day when we cede the same lethal authority to software.

Looking ahead to this year and beyond, it is clear that “drone warfare” will continue to be extremely controversial. Stay tuned!

Click here to read the entire article (PDF)

A Transformed You!

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Did you make a New Year’s resolution to read more? I suspect many of us have. While many of us value reading as something we enjoy doing and an activity that delivers some sort of hard-to-define intrinsic value, it’s often hard to pin down precisely what that value is. Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic have taken a good stab at it. They suggest writing transforms us. Here’s part of what they have to say:

A great deal has been written about art, but only recently has research begun in earnest about what goes on in the mind and brain when reading literature. Outside the domain of love relationships and some forms of psychotherapy, the idea of communication that has effects of a non-persuasive yet transformative kind has rarely been considered in psychology.

Read more here

Innovation!

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You don’t need to work in Silicon Valley or be an MIT grad to know that innovation is the primary source of competitive advantage for individuals, for companies and even for countries. For those of us in the United States, innovation seems to have been part of our DNA for a long time – a fact recognized even by those who don’t admire us.

Many people write about innovation – some well and some not-so-well. One of my favorites is Walter Isaacson. Three years ago he penned the best-seller Steve Jobs, which gave us a never-seen-before window into the life and work of man who many consider the most innovative genius of the last half-century – and perhaps longer.

Now, Isaacson has delivered another gem, simply titled The Innovators. I enjoyed it immensely and it has also achieved best-seller status. Here is some of what the New York Times review of The Innovators had to say:

As the book gallops forward, Mr. Isaacson must combine the good, the great and the ugly. They all figure in the story of the transistor, which featured William Shockley, the scientist who first saw the potential in silicon and became a Silicon Valley pioneer — but is now remembered for the racist theories that clouded his legacy. His work on the semiconductor, with two powerful collaborators, would never have led to such household popularity had there not been a Steve Jobs-like figure (Pat Haggerty at Texas Instruments, who shared Jobs’ ability to sell products people had no idea they wanted) to put these brand-new devices, now called transistors, into radios, and truly rock the American teenager’s world.

Read the entire review here…and read the book…it may inspire you to be your most innovative self!

Tom Clancy’s Op-Center

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The enormous success of Tom Clancy’s mainline books spurred several series that became part of the Clancy “brand,” among them, Tom Clancy’s Net Force and Tom Clancy’s Op-Center. The Op-Center series included twelve books, all written between 1995 and 2005. For a number of reasons, the series stopped in the mid-2000s.

A decade later we have revived the series. We are dedicated to following the fine Clancy tradition of making these books prescient. Yes, a good plot, compelling characters and all the things a reader must demand from a novel are there. But so is a view of a future. What threats will dominate U.S. security thinking in the future. What will the intelligence communities need to do to uncover threats to American security and prosperity? How will the military and other agencies organize to take on these threats – both internationally and within our borders?

Our first new Op-Center book, Out of the Ashes, has now been out for almost eight months. The first major review of the book, from Publisher’s Weekly, was also prescient. Issued two months before Out of the Ashes release date, suggested the book would do well – and it did – rising quickly on the Publisher’s Weekly and USA Today best-seller lists. Here is the PW review.

Fans of the original Op-Center series created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik that ended with Jeff Rovin’s War of Eagles (2005) will welcome this solid continuation from Couch (SEAL Team One) and Galdorisi (Coronado Conspiracy). The original Op-Center, “an information clearinghouse with SWAT capabilities,” fell under the budget ax and was disbanded, but after a horrific series of bombings at four NFL stadiums, U.S. president Wyatt Midkiff decides to dust off the Op-Center file and bring the group back to life. Chase Williams, a retired four-star Navy admiral, agrees to head the new center and hunt down the terrorists responsible for the devastating attack. The trail takes the men and women of the revitalized agency into the Middle East, where they find a new plot aimed at the American homeland. This thriller procedural packs plenty of pulse-raising action. The open ending promises more to come.

See an excerpt here

The World in 2015 – and Beyond

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As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” But isn’t that what we all want to know? What the future comports impacts our personal lives, our families and even our fortunes.

In the national security realm, we all wonder what the future will hold for the security and prosperity of the United States. There are an overwhelming number of sources inside and outside of government who “hold forth” on what they think the future will hold.

Often the art of all this is picking and choosing among those multiple pundits and focusing on the source – or sources – that hold the most promise of getting it right. For me – and for many my professional circle, that source is The National Intelligence Council (NIC). The NIC is the parent agency for the 16 components (CIA, DIA, NSA etc.) United States intelligence enterprise.

A vast amount of what these agencies do is highly classified and not releasable to the rest of us. But some of it is and the NIC packages the collected analysis of the eighty billion dollar a year United States intelligence enterprise and publishes it in its Global Trends series.

The National Intelligence Council has released their comprehensive quadrennial report forecasting global trends that have a major impact on our world, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.”  In shorthand – GT2030. Global Trends 2030 helps us have an informed and well-nuanced view of the future. This is not as easy as it sounds, for, as John Maynard Keynes famously said in 1937: “The idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”

NIC has been in existence for over three decades and represents the primary way the U.S. intelligence community (IC) communicates in the unclassified realm.  Initially a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the NIC now works directly for the director of national intelligence and presents the collective research and analysis of the entire IC, an enterprise comprising 16 agencies with a combined budget of well over $80 billion.  In a sentence: There is no more comprehensive analysis of future trends available anywhere, at any price. It’s not an overstatement to say this 160-page document represents the most definitive analytical look at the future security environment.

Stay tuned to this blog for more on the future….

Balancing “Being” and “Doing”

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Recently, the CBS news show, “60 Minutes” featured a segment where reporter Anderson Cooper joined mindfulness practitioner Jon Kabat-Zin on a Northern California mindfulness retreat. Anderson reported that initially he was extremely skeptical – especially when he had to surrender his cell phone – but came to appreciate Kabat-Zin’s approach. You can read about this segment see the video clip here.

But the larger issue for all of us remains; will 2015 be a year of “doing” – often at a frenetic pace – or of being in the moment? I’ve written about mindfulness previously on this blog (see previous posts under This Week) and I invite you to visit those posts. The reach for most of us is to understand mindfulness isn’t just something for people in funny robes or in new age communities in Northern California.

Boiled down to its essentials, mindfulness captures what Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested in a previous century. “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters to what lies within us.” Or as Jon Kabat-Zin put it in the Foreword of Search Inside Yourself, “This is the practice of non-dong, of openhearted presencing, of pure awareness, coexistent with and inseparable from compassion.”

At a time when many of us are still making – or already breaking – New Year’s resolutions, ask yourself, is this the year to stop and just “be” for a moment?

Attention! Attention?

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Ever have anyone say to you: “Pay attention?” Is it you – or is it them?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17. The rates of both diagnosis and treatment have increased so much in the past decade that you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease.

And for a good reason. Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.

Read more here