Biowarfare, A Means To Our End

Biowarfare, A Means To Our End

The Wall Street Journal (1 February 2013) has an interesting book review on “The Soviet Biological Weapons Program.”

Although 85 nations, including the Soviet Union, in 1975 signed the “Biological Weapons Convention” (BWC) pledging not to develop, produce, acquire or stockpile bioweapons or toxins for hostile purposes, the Soviet regime was “covertly expanding them.”

In the following years, the Soviets “built the most extensive facilities for the weaponization of bacteria and viruses in history” with “tens of thousands of scientists and support personnel and guarded by hundreds of Ministry of Interior troops.”

Both civilian and military laboratories were used under the guise of biotechnology, and factories that produce flu vaccines and pesticides for crops could relatively easily be converted to mass-produce deadly bioweapons to use against the West.

Apparently, motivating the Red Army were there own horrible experiences in the early 20th century when disease such as typhus and lice killed millions “mowing down our troops.”

“Fighting disease became a priority…and such efforts morphed easily into weapons research.”

While the Soviets could not financially keep pace with the U.S. and eventually lost the Cold War, they continued to funnel their military dollars into nuclear and bioweapons, where they could literally get the most bang for the buck!

Often I think that despite the safety we generally feel in this country surrounded on both sides by large expanses of Ocean and the freedoms that protect us within, we are really only a nuclear suitcase or bio epidemic away from great catastrophe and chaos.

In such an event, would we know who to retaliate against, would we have time, and even if we do, what good does it do us with mass casualties and disruptions?

Make no mistake; being able to retaliate against the perpetrators is critical to bring justice and respite to the nation, to prevent the potential for national annihilation, and to deter other maniacal acts.

However, it is vital as well to protect us from ever getting hit by weapons of mass destruction in the first place and depending on treaties alone cannot be enough.

Rather, excellent intelligence, early warning systems, antimissile defense, stockpiles of antidotes and countermeasures, premier medical facilities, superbly trained first responders, a high state military readiness, and refined continuity plans are all necessary to keep us from a premature and horrible end–and ultimately to preserve the peace. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Pere Ubu)

Safeguarding Our Electrical Grid

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Popular Science (28 January 2013) has an interesting article on “How To Save The Electrical Grid.”

Power use has skyrocketed with home appliances, TVs, and computers, causing a significant increase in demand and “pushing electricity through lines that were never intended to handle such high loads.”

Our electrical infrastructure is aging with transformers “now more than 40 years old on average and 70% of transmission lines are at least 25 years old” while at the same time over the last three decades average U.S. household power consumption has tripled!

The result is that the U.S. experiences over 100 mass outages a year to our electrical systems from storms, tornados, wildfires and other disasters.

According to the Congressional Research Service, “cost estimates from storm-related outages to the U.S. economy at between $20 billion and $55 billion annually.”

For example, in Hurricane Sandy 8 millions homes in 21 states lost power, and in Hurricane Irene, a year earlier, 5.5 million homes lost electricity.

The solution is to modernize our electrical grid:

– Replace a linear electrical design with a loop design, so a failure can be rerouted. (Isn’t this basic network architecture where a line network is doomed by a single point of failure, while a ring or mesh topology can handle interruptions at any given point?)

– Install “fault-current limiters” as shock absorbers so when there is a surge in the grid, we can “absorb excess current and send a regulated amount down the line” rather than causing circuit breakers to open and stop the flow of electrical power altogether.

– Create backup power generation for critical infrastructure such as hospitals, fire stations, police, and so on, so that critical services are not interrupted by problems on the larger grid. This can be expanded to installing solar and other renewable energy resources on homes, buildings, etc.

– Replace outdated electrical grid components and install a smart grid and smart meters to “digitally monitor and communicate home power” and automatically adjust power consumption at the location and device level. Smart technology can help manage the load on the grid and shift non-essential use to off-hour use. The estimated cost for modernizing the U.S. grid is $673 billion–but the cost of a single major outages can run into the ten of billions alone. What will it take for this investment to become a national priority?

I would add an additional solution for safeguarding our electrical grid by beefing up all elements of cyber security from intrusion detection and prevention to grid protection, response, and recovery capabilities. Our electrical system is a tempting target for cyber criminal, terrorists or hostile nation states that would seek to deprive us of our ability to power our economy, defense, and political establishments.

While energy independence has become feasible by 2020, we need to make sure that we not only have enough energy resources available, but also the means for reliable and secure energy generation and distribution to every American family and business. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Resilience In The Face Of Disaster

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This year when ball drops in Time Square next week to usher in the New Year, it will be a little different than in prior years, because rather than blanket cheer, there will be a good amount of consternation as we hit the debt limit of $16.4 trillion as well as the Fiscal Cliff where broad spending cuts and tax increases are to go into effect (whether in full, partial with some sort of deal, or in deferral).

Like the statue pictured here, the strength and resilience of the American people will be tested and we will need to stand tall and strong. 

In this context, it was interesting to read in Wired Magazine (January 2013) a interview with Andrew Zolli, the author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, an exploration of the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. 

Whether in response to natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy or man-made ones like the financial crisis and terrorism, we need to be prepared to adapt to disaster, respond and continue operations, and recover quickly to rebuild and grow. 

According to Zolli, we need shock absorbers for our social systems that can “anticipate events…sense their own state…and can reorganize to maintain their core purpose amid disruption.”

Adaptability is important, so that we can continue to operate in an emergency, but also vital is “self-repair” so we can “bounce back.”

These concepts for resiliency in emergency management are similar to how Government Computer News (December 2012) describes the desire for building autonomous self-healing computer systems that can defend and recover from attacks. 

The notion is that when our computer systems are under cyber attack, we need to be able to defend them in an automated way to counter the threats in a timely fashion. 

Thus, acccording to GCN, we need IT systems that have situational monitoring for self awareness, real-time identification of an attack, continuous learning to adapt and defend againt changing attack patterns, and self-healing to recover from them. 

Thus, bouncing back from social and cyber disasters really requires similar resilience, and for some challenges, it may be sooner than later that we are tested. 😉

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal)

>The Twitter Miracle

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Twitter-stages

Twitter is a crazy thing–little blue birdie…tweet, tweet, tweet.

Why do we even do it (tweet)?

Here are the “4 Stages of Getting Twitter” (Credit: Andfaraway):
  • Stage 1–It starts with utmost skepticism and even denigrating the tool (e.g. it’s stupid, dumb, a time-waster…)
  • Stage 2–Then it moves to well why don’t I just try it and see what all the commotion is all about–maybe I’ll like it?
  • Stage 3–As the interaction with others (RT’s, @’s and messages) start to flow, you have the ah ha moment–I can communicate with just about anyone, globally!
  • Stage 4–I like this (can anyone say addiction!). I can share, collaborate, influence–way beyond my traditional boundaries. This is amazing–this is almost miraculous.
Here are some other things I like about Twitter:

1) Like a journal, it’s a way to capture your thoughts, experiences, feelings, likes/dislikes. (One thing I don’t like about Twitter is there is no good way that I know of to archive or print them–I hope they fix this, please).

2) Another thing about Twitter (and Blogger and Wikipedia for that matter)…I imagine sometimes that this is an incredible social time capsule (i.e. knowledge repository) that we are putting together (almost unknowingly) that will carry humankind forward past any future natural or man-made disasters. Years ago, people would bury a few mementos in a treasure chest or something, as a time capsule, and what a find this would be for people years later when they would open it up and learn firsthand what life was like “those days.” Now, imagine the treasure trove of the exabytes of information contributed to by hundreds of millions people from around the world. What is also fascinating to me is that people contribute enormous amounts of their time and energy and all for free–hey, this is even less than what Amazon’s Mechanical Turks could do this for! 🙂

Clearly, people want to express themselves and connect with others–and social media gives ever new meaning to this beyond physical space and time.

>Doomsday Clock Architecture

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There is something fascinating to me about the doomsday clock—where we attempt to predict our own self-destruction and hopefully prevent it!

The chart in this post from the Mirror in the U.K. shows the movement of the Doomsday Clock over the last 60 plus years.

Currently in 2010 (not shown in the chart), we stand at 6 minutes to midnight (midnight being a euphemism for the end of the world or Armageddon).

Since 1947, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has hypothesized and visualized with the dials on the clock how close they believe mankind is to self-extinction.

The closest we’ve gotten is 2 minutes to midnight in 1953 after the U.S. and Russia test the first nuclear devices.


The furthest we’ve gotten from midnight is 17 minutes in 1991, when the Cold War was over, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed, and the U.S. and Russia took their fingers off the hair-trigger alert on their nuclear arsenals pointed at each other.

While some may take the Doomsday Clock as a morbid or pessimistic reminder of our human frailties, missteps, and movement toward potential calamity, I see it as a tool that attempts to keep us—as humankind—from going over the edge.

This is very architecture-like, to me. We look at where we are and (implicitly here) set targets for ourselves to move the hands backward away from Armageddon. The architecture piece that we need to concentrate on is a crystal clear plan to get those hands on the clock way back to where we can feel more secure in our future and that of our children and grandchildren.

Wired Magazine (October 2010) has an article called “Suspend the Deathwatch,” calling for the measurement of “a wider variety of apocalyptic scenarios” and for the addition of a “Doom Queue, with a host of globe-killing catastrophes jockeying for slot number one.” The main idea being that we “do more than predict The End; it would organize our collective anxieties into a plan of action.”

I definitely like the idea of a plan of action—we need that. We need to plan for life, continuity, and a flourishing society that goes beyond the limits of sustainability of our situation today.

We are aware of the world’s growing population (aka the population explosion), the scarcity of vital resources like water, energy, arable land, etc. and the potential for conflict that arises from this. We need to plan for the “what ifs” even when they are uncomfortable. That is part of responsible leadership and a true world architecture. That is a big, but meaningful job indeed.

>Enterprise Architecture Panel – Snowmaggedon and the End of the (Desktop) World: The Mobile Workforce

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[Pictured (Left to Right): Andy Blumenthal, Chief Technology Officer, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Ms. Doreen Cox, Chief Enterprise Architect, U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Mr. Rod Turk, Chief Information Security Officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.]

Introduction:

Good afternoon. I’m Andy Blumenthal, the Chief Technology Officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It’s a great honor for me to be here with you today to talk about telework and how EA is shaping it’s adoption.

Just coming out of the blazing hot summer, the blizzard this past February seems like ages ago. Yet this storm brought the federal workforce in D.C. to a halt for 6 days, costing more than $100 million in lost productivity per day. This was offset only by the 1/3 of the federal workforce which was teleworking.

Just in case you don’t remember take a look at this:


I still remember Snowmaggedon because that was when we shoveled out the wrong car because the snow was so high we couldn’t see which was ours.

More seriously though, telework benefits federal agencies in many ways:

1. Increases productivity
2. Enhances work-life balance and morale
3. Helps the environment by keeping cars off the road
4. Can save the taxpayer money by reducing the agency’s footprint

Data from the Telework Research Network indicate that telework could save agencies and participants as much as $11 billion annually (on such things as real estate, electricity, absenteeism, and employee turnover) and that if eligible employees telecommuted just one day every other week, agencies would increase productivity by more than $2.3 billion per year (driven by employee wellness, quality of life, and morale).

According to OPM telework adoption is growing. As of 2008, telework increased 9% over the previous year and now slightly more than 5% of the federal workforce are teleworking.

Telework got a boost when the House and the Senate passed similar bills–in May and July respectively–to expand telework opportunities. The two chambers now must reconcile their versions before a final bill heads to President Obama for approval. The Telework Enhancement Act would make employees presumptively eligible and require that agencies establish telework policies, designate a telework managing officer, and incorporate telework into agency’s continuity of operations plans.


Five years ago nobody would’ve thought that EA would inform the discussion on telework. EA was still primarily a compliance only mechanism and didn’t have a real seat at the decision table. Now thanks to the efforts of all of you, it’s strategic benefit is recognized, and
EA is playing a vital role in planning and governing strategic IT decisions such as in investing and implementing telework solutions for our agencies.

Our distinguished panelists here today will discuss how EA is informing the discussion of telework from both the policy, systems, and security perspectives.

>Making More Out of Less

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One thing we all really like to hear about is how we can do more with less. This is especially the case when we have valuable assets that are underutilized or potentially even idle. This is “low hanging fruit” for executives to repurpose and achieve efficiencies for the organization.

In this regard, there was a nifty little article in Federal Computer Week, 15 Jun 2009, called “Double-duty COOP” about how we can take continuity of operations (COOP) failover facilities and use them for much more than just backup and business recovery purposes in the case of emergencies. 

“The time-tested approach is to support an active production facility with a back-up failover site dedicated to COOP and activated only during an emergency. Now organizations can vary that theme”—here are some examples:

Load balancing—“distribute everyday workloads between the two sites.”

Reduced downtime—“avoid scheduled outages” for maintenance, upgrades, patches and so forth.

Cost effective systems development—“one facility runs the main production environment while the other acts as the primary development and testing resource.”

Reduced risk data migration—when moving facilities, rather than physically transporting data and risk some sort of data loss, you can instead mirror the data to the COOP facility and upload the data from there once “the new site is 100 percent operational.”

It’s not that any of these ideas are so innovatively earth shattering, but rather it is their sheer simplicity and intuitiveness that I really like.

COOP is almost the perfect example of resources that can be dual purposed, since they are there “just in case.” While the COOP site must ready for the looming contingency, it can also be used prudently for assisting day-to-day operational needs.

As IT leaders, we must always look for improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency of what we do. There is no resting on our laurels. Whether we can do more with less, or more with more, either way we are going to advance the organization and keep driving it to the next level of optimization.