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18 September 2008

Contagions and their higher order effects

Anyone who attends conferences or tradeshows on a routine basis is painfully aware of the risks of common illness created by bringing thousands of strangers together in a small series of rooms for several days – especially when programs seemed entirely designed to keep participants on the move, and consuming either the typical rubber chicken plates – or worse yet – boxed meals.

Thus it was from the recent DNI OSINT conference. There seems to our (admittedly anecdotal sample) that most attendees last week have fallen ill within a short number of days. Of course, there has been significant overlap with enough other events within the relatively small conference circuit for intelligence professionals, creating a more ideal environment for incubating pathogens. After all, September has been the INSA’s Analytic Transformation, NDIA Disruptive Technology, DNI OSINT, and DNI Proteus conferences.

However, while this year’s sicknesses are merely the usual expected issue, our Red Cell attuned eyes do wonder what the potential impact of a targeted, small scale biological attack would be for such an event – particularly given the highly cross disciplinary, interagency nature of these kinds of conferences. Of course, this is exactly the value which brings participants together, but a longer incubation strain could inflict significant damage.

This potential for damage is nonetheless offset by the nature of who typically attends such conferences. After all, the working level grunts usually can’t break away for an event, nor get travel approvals through layers of management. Perhaps the net result might even be an increase in productivity, assuming that the chain of infective transmission doesn’t spread too widely within the vaults once participating managers are back at their home agencies…

While this has been an idle thought experiment, and we are rarely given to commenting on the reasons for our little band’s absence from blogging, suffice it to say our group’s interest in the abstract is driven by personal experiences (admittedly of an entirely more mundane nature) in this matter. At the very least, it was the conversational upside of inevitable biological realities. And we would not be surprised if next year on the conference circuit we see the comeback of the Asian style designer medical masks, as well as the increased presence of indoor biodetection sensors – if only for the experimentation, modeling & simulation folks to mull over in a very different kind of crowdsourcing exercise.

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