Q&A: DNI Chief Scientist Eric Haseltine
So they tried it and it worked. You know, in just a few months we got them the extra money, and then a few months after that they put points on the board and they made this thing go worldwide. I sleep a little easier at night knowing that Argus is out there.
But how does monitoring spikes or anomalies in the world's information grid serve as an indicator of a bioevent?
Well, if you think about a disease outbreak and how it would impact a local community, if a lot of people were sick, would you have reports of absenteeism? If a lot of the medications were no longer on the shelf because everyone was buying antihistamines? It turns out that human societies are like a pond where an event will cause ripples. If you think about your neighborhood and if 30 percent of the people there got sick, do you think it wouldn't show up in some electronic forum, like MySpace or a blog or a website or a local newspaper in electronic edition? Those things show up… and it's immediate. What we found was the coming events cast their cybershadows.
How has Argus been used?
It was used on avian flu, but it's designed to look at social disruption. Initially, we are looking at disease. But I think you can see from my description that anything that disrupts the social fabric is potentially going to be….
Argus was threatened when you found it?
Argus for whatever reason was threatened. So we came in and protected it, stopped it from being cut, and then we started promoting it and getting it more resources.
I want to come back to how Argus is an example of our top priority, which is "speed." Instead of just focusing on fixing what is broken, you focus on nourishing what is already healthy. You get farther faster by doing that. So that's part of our strategy. The two other pillars of our strategy are surprise and synergy. So, three S's.
Surprise means, it really is important for us to do things that are going to surprise our adversaries, that they're not going to expect. I don't think I'm going to reveal any great surprise that we would like to know more about WMD [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation than, in fact, we do. One of the reasons we have trouble is, there's so much known about what we can do that we're not necessarily surprising people as much as we need to. We've got to fix that.
By the way, we have to avoid being surprised. You know, that is Job 1 in the intelligence community. Technology has a huge say in whether or not we get surprised.
What can you do that you couldn't while at NSA?
We're building teams. We have come up with four or five mission-focused technology challenge teams, and I call them the "Take that hill" teams. We have one on IEDs [improvised explosive devices], we have one on counterterrorism, and we have one each for big nation-state problem actors that, let's say, are at the top of the headlines.