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13 November 2006

Realities of proliferation catching up with the potential

One of the greatest analytical challenges posed by proliferation issues is when the capability – be it a delivery system, a CBRNE payload, or a toolset for manufacturing the same – exists in an unfinished form. These sub-capability components are often dual use commodity type objects, available widely throughout the world through the advances of globalization. Describing them and their use outside the specialized realm of the expert is a difficult if not impossible task that continues to challenge public diplomacy and strategic communications. Detecting their presence when they are scattered throughout a distributed production system is an enduring hard problem, and defeating adversary efforts at denial and deception built around interlocking layers of less than individually damning components harder yet. Entire strategic concepts of virtual arsenals and breakout programs have evolved which center on the development of unfinished or partially completed capabilities which can be rapidly assembled into a final weapons system.

Defense Tech explores the terrible and fascinating potential that new technologies will worsen those challenges to non-proliferation efforts through the ever evolving ability to utilize commodity manufacturing processes for dual use purposes, given the right expertise (itself expected to be increasingly available in pre-packaged form, or through the globalized movement of individuals and education.) This is a part of the dynamic John Robb has sought to describe as “dangerous knowledge”.

These developments were also predicted during the Proteus study. Some key quotes from its conceptualization of the problems posed by “Small Stuff”:

“It was clear that instruments of power and sources of threat in the future would come in smaller and smaller packages-but with no lessening in lethality…

…For the Intelligence Community, Small Stuff- nanotechnology plus biotechnology plus cybertechnology - is a double-edged sword that will create both opportunities and threats. At once, it will be the key to exploring all of the venues of Starlight, and it is the key to both sides of Sanctuary -- penetrating denied areas and sustaining covertness….

…Small Stuff almost certainly will lead to a wholesale redefinition of what sensors are, and it probably will point toward new venues for technical exploration….

.. At the same time, cyber-, bio- and nanotechnologies seem likely to create a whole new environment for deception and destruction….

… We also believe that "smaller" may not mean "cheaper."…."

At the time, this was controversial stuff. Now it has even been incorporated into the standard unclassified lecture slides at selected military institutions discussing future trends in chemical and biological threats.

We watch with interest the real world developments that validate these predictions.

On a side note, it is interesting to note the deliberate effort by an industry publication to advance Red Cell / Red Teaming analytical methodologies. It is commendable in all respects.