Dec 09

Highlights and Opportunities in the US Strategy for Countering Biological Threats

The National Security Council (NSC) just released the US National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats (PDF), a framework for US Government planning efforts in support of the overall National Biodefense Strategy that dates back to 2003-2004.

NSC Word Cloud

A Cloud: US National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats

I don’t need to tell you that biological threats, natural or man-made, are an international issue, so, the strategy provides a broad approach. While placing significant emphasis on acts of bio-terrorism, it intends to reduce biological threats by (my emphasis):

(1) improving global access to the life sciences to combat infectious disease regardless of its cause; (2) establishing and reinforcing norms against the misuse of the life sciences; and (3) instituting a suite of coordinated activities that collectively will help influence, identify, inhibit, and/or interdict those who seek to misuse the life sciences.

Going on, it identifies roles and responsibilities and provides seven main objectives (PROTECT):

  • Promote global health security
  • Reinforce norms of safe and responsible conduct
  • Obtain timely and accurate insight on current and emerging risks
  • Take reasonable steps to reduce the potential for exploitation
  • Expand our capability to prevent, attribute, and apprehend
  • Communicate electively with all stakeholders
  • Transform the international dialogue on biological threats

So, how do we balance our resources toward a bio-terror threat versus that of naturally occurring disease? Furthermore, are we looking at the issue in a holistic sense? Lastly, how will open government and/or technology play a role in the future of bio-threat reduction?

Continue reading →

Nov 09

My ‘hood

Since I moved in this past March, I have found my block and the Shaw neighborhood in general to be a great place to live. This realtor’s video does a pretty good job showing you around…

So, when are you moving here?

Nov 09

Mapping Africa’s Largest Slum

Do you know where this is?

Kibera : Open Street Map (OSM)

I bet you don’t; and neither did I. Continue reading →

Nov 09

The Rise of the DiploNerd : US State Department Launches “Civil Society 2.0″

I was very interested to see that the State Department has launched the Civil Society 2.0 Initiative, which is designed to “help grassroots organizations around the world use digital technology to tell their stories, build their memberships and support bases, and connect to their community of peers around the world.”

Announced in Marrakesh, Morocco at the 6th Forum for the Future, Secretary Clinton described the initiative as a way to provide new technologies to civil society organizations and indicated the US will send experts in digital technology and communications to help build capacity. Continue reading →

Oct 09

Falcon Crest : A drama starring a boy, a balloon, and media buffoons

By now, if you haven’t heard the story of the Balloon Boy, well, you must live in a bubble (I know, sorry). Frankly, I could care less whether poor little Falcon Heene was hiding in the attic or actually trapped high above Ft. Collins, Colorado in the belly of his Dad’s jiffy pop creation. Nor do I care if the whole thing was a hoax. What does interest me is how a story like this can evolve, or shall we say, balloon, in the media.

Twitter / Clay Shirky: The Runaway Balloon Drama

Know your sources?

The nature of news media, and how a story transitions from non-traditional to mainstream media outlets has been of interest to me for some time. In my opinion, we all want to should know where our news comes from and how trustworthy the source. Most will remember Jason Blair’s handiwork at the New York Times, but in many cases we are not dealing with fabricated sources, rather niche or foreign. In my case, I used to work at a program at Georgetown University Medical Center dedicated to tracking global internet news media, looking for signs of socially disruptive events suspected to be caused by biological agents, like influenza. The approach at Georgetown was analogous to the United States National Weather Service storm warning models (such as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale) to detect and assess threatening weather conditions.

Of course, the concept of using internet news media for detecting and tracking disease is not unique, with excellent examples to include Healthmap and Google Flu Trends. Moreover, there are folks who attempted to leverage news media reports for trading on Wall Street. Take my favorite example from years past, Monitor 110. Once heralded as a “Bloomberg killer”, Monitor 110 was based on a thesis that,

…more and better information is being put out on the Internet every day, information that can be valuable to Institutional investors who are constantly looking for an edge. And these investors were not very sophisticated about how to best access this information; Monitor110 would use technology to help them get that edge.
Monitor 110

Jul 09

Open Source Software for Diplomacy

I just finished reading Steven Levy’s piece in this month’s Wired, Booting Up Baghdad: Tech Execs Take a Tour in Iraq, where at the invitation of the State Department’s “diplo-nerd”, Jared Cohen, several Silicon Valley executives from companies like Google, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, and AT&T met with Iraqis to talk about using technology to spread democracy (the same trip was covered in Business Week in June).

Not too long after the trip to Iraq, it was Cohen who asked Twitter to hold off on a system upgrade during the Iranian elections as it appeared that, according to P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, “Twitter is playing an important role at a crucial time in Iran.” and “We are proponents of freedom of expression. Information should be used as a way to promote freedom of expression.”

Open Source Software Soft Power

I appreciate Cohen’s ideas but I don’t think his approach to U.S. diplomacy through technology is overly unique. However, it got me thinking about how we can internationalize the OpenGov momentum building in the U.S. After all, we live in an increasingly networked society, there is a history of exporting U.S. technology for democracy and, in the US, there has been a growing movement toward participatory democracy through open data like Data.gov and Open Source for America, whose mission is to educate and encourage the U.S. Federal government about the advantages of using free and open source software.

We have recently witnessed a shift in the diplomatic lexicon from “soft power” to “smart power”; whatever you decide to call it, we are talking about “the ability to obtain what you want through co-option and attraction” (wikipedia). So, if “information should be used as a way to promote freedom of expression”, as Crowley described above, is it fair to associate information technology with this goal? Naturally, I’m inclined to say “yes”.

But, exactly how can open source software play a role in “smart power”?

Maybe more importantly…

Does open source software provide an existing model upon which to base the concepts of an “open source diplomacy”?

Continue reading →

Jul 09


Thanks for checking out my new blog. It’s been a couple of months since I left my previous gig at The Global Resource Initiative (where I was co-founder and CTO) and I’m just getting started on some new concepts. As I share some of these ideas with you, feel free to drop me a line and if you are interested, take a look at my bio or follow me on twitter.