Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller's Google+ Hangout

Rose Gottemoeller
Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Washington, DC
March 4, 2013

Daniel Terdiman: Innovation in arms control as well as to announce the winners of the innovation challenge, I would like to introduce Acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Thank you Daniel and thank you everyone for being here. It’s great to try out this new technology. I have to say I have been fascinated by the potential for the information technology revolution to help us out in the world of arms control, verification and monitoring. In fact for a long time, since I was negotiating the New Start Treaty with Russian colleagues in Geneva, I was thinking that a lot was happening out in the information arena that we hadn’t thought about using in the arms control monitoring and verification world. Beyond traditional treaties, like the New START Treaty that are also areas of nuclear safe guards, the International Atomic Energy Agency for example is always looking for ways to hone and modernize and improve its ways of safe guarding nuclear facilities, civil energy facilities around the world. So, I was very interested in work that we can do that would help us in this arena. So, about a year ago we got the idea of putting together a competition, a challenge, an innovation challenge, to see if a community of experts working in these areas, whether in the arms control arena or else in the information and technology arena could help us think about some new ideas for really tackling these tough policy problems, and I am very happy to tell you that while it was quite a bureaucratic tussle as you can imagine to work this out, but for one thing the U.S. Government is very encouraging now of technology innovation challenges , we’ve been working some with the Defense Advanced Research Projects, you can see DARPA has long been at the forefront of efforts to move these information technology challenges, they were very, very helpful and we managed to get it done.

I am very happy to announce the results of our first competition, and we have all three of our competition winners here on the screen. The first, our first prize winner is all the way from Beijing where it is 2 o’clock in the morning, and she has joined us today. Her name is Lovely Umayam, she is a graduate student from the Monterey Institute of International Studies at Middlebury College, and she has been awarded first prize of $5,000 for her creation of "Bombshelltoe". This is an online education platform that examines the intersection culture and nuclear issues in order to facilitate a better understanding of basic arms control and nuclear policy-related issues. So congratulations to Lovely and thank you very much for joining us all the way from Beijing. We will be hearing more from her in a minute, but let me turn to the other two prize winners. The second is Mr. Allen Childers, an aerospace and defense industry consultant from Florida. He has been awarded the runner up prize of $2,500 for his proposal of a mobile application that provides a platform for users to connect and interact, as well as a rewards program for sharing information on various arms control treaty regimes. Our third winner is Dr. Rudolph “Chip” Mappus, a research scientist at Georgia Tech. I should say he is our second runner up, our two runners up of the same status. He is a research scientist at Georgia Tech Research Institute and he has been awarded the second runner up of $2,500 for his proposal of a unique geographically based online social game for verifying treaty compliance. All three of these prizes that we’ve awarded are related to the education of the public and really figuring out how to get the public more engaged in arms control monitoring and verification, and to develop public understanding of the challenges that face us in this policy arena. So again a very big thanks and expression of appreciation to our three prize winners, and Dan I’m going to turn it back over to you for, for your comments and questions. Thanks a lot.

Daniel Terdiman: Okay, well thank you very much. We did want to hear from each of the winners, I believe each of you have a little, small presentation about your, about your submissions. Lovely, do you want to start us off?

Lovely Umayam: Sure, again thank you so much for this opportunity. I am in Beijing, but it’s totally fine and again I am really excited to be here. So, as Under Secretary Gottemoeller said earlier, my proposal is “Bombshelltoe”, which is a nuclear policy blog dedicated to examining nuclear issues through popular culture. In the nonproliferation field, I’ve noticed we take for granted some basic knowledge like the difference between uranium and plutonium, what a nuclear weapon free-zone is, etc. But the public is starting with zero knowledge and usually they get their knowledge from movies and TV shows and so forth, and so “Bombshelltoe” or the goal of “Bombshelltoe” is to foster a more meaningful conversation about arms control issues by exploring the intersection between the two that would hopefully pique the interest of the public into diving deeper into the details of arms control policy, and Under Secretary Gottemoeller is a big component of social verification and its exciting and it’s an idea worth exploration. But, our conceptualization of such an issue needs a pragmatic approach, and what I want to advocate is that we cannot leave social out of social verification, and this means engaging in education for the public. So that’s a snippet of “Bombshelltoe” and I am excited to unleash it in the universe and share it with you all, so thanks again.

Daniel Terdiman: Thank you Lovely, one quick question that I have for you is have you seen other projects like this, that you know involving other issues?

Lovely Umayam: I have actually, one of the inspirations for “Bombshelltoe” was Radio Lab from WNYC and there is also you know Wired Magazine. It is basically taking their complex issues and simplifying it, and and I guess interpreting it with a twist, so it’s a little bit more interesting. And I mean I think that is really where social verification needs to start, if we are going to try to use information technology, at the end of the day its people using such technology. So they need to be well informed and they need to be interested, especially with national security issues. So I hope that, well you know “Bombshelltoe” in and of itself is experimental, I think it’s going to be a challenge to condense the very dense issues about nuclear policy, about arms control policy into a nuclear policy blog, but I sure hope to try.

Daniel Terdiman: Very good, thank you so much. Allen do you want to give us a little of a primer on your project, please?

Allen Childers: Sure, thank you for having me here today and awarding me a prize, I was pleasantly surprised when that happened. I have a background in the military, I have 26 years in the military and part of that time was spent in the State Department and much of that time that I had in the military and as a contract consultant after I left the military was in the arms control world, so I come to it with a little bit different perspective. I thought that a great idea would be to create a game along the lines of “Where is Waldo?”, except we would call it “Where are TLI?” or we create a title for something like that, and I look at it as an opportunity to gather information not necessarily to do intelligence gathering or verification of arms control treaties, because I personally believe the government is responsible for that. And we don’t want to create a social network of people who are “pseudo-spies” necessarily because from a military perspective we don’t want our own citizens spying on us and I am certain from my experience with the Russians and other countries we don’t want to put their citizens in a situation where they’re perceived as spying on their own militaries or their own government. So a “Where’s Waldo?” concept came up because when you go online and look at Waldo, he is leaving a number of tools around a number of hints of where he is at all the time and what happens is when you take treaty limited items outside of their normal environment for example you take a warhead off of an ICBM, and you transport it somewhere, we as a country and any other country involved in an arms control agreement would like to understand where that warhead is all the time, when it is not where its suppose to be and that’s really the gap that we have in verification of arms control treaties. Generally we know from data exchanges and from on-site inspections where things are when they are suppose to be there. We have trouble finding out where they’re at when they’re not supposed to be. So, my proposal was basically to create a system of avatars, everyone would log on to a system, a “Where’s Waldo?” type of game as an avatar. So they are not identified as a person providing particular information, we don’t provide them with anything other than a series of points that they can be awarded when they identify “TLI” that is not in place, and we provide them with some kind of idea what a “TLI” not where its suppose to be might look like, for example a warhead would not travel as a warhead on the back of a flatbed truck so that everyone can see, it would travel in a trailer, we would find those kinds of trailers and have people identify if they see that kind of data. So, then we would have to establish a number of ground rules too with our treaty partners, we would have to test the system regularly. I was particularly encouraged last week because I noted in an article released by Reuters that Google, Facebook, and are going to take this kind of approach in a cancer research study, were there is so much data out there that can be shared with social media and people with five minutes or something can review that data and look for particular anomalies in that data and tell a scientist that they see it, so you take millions of people, researching the data for them. And that’s my contribution, thank you again.

Daniel Terdiman: Very good thank you, that sounds very interesting, and Chip would you like to let us in on what you’re working on, please?

Dr. Rudolph “Chip” Mappus: So, thanks again for letting us all be here today, my proposal dovetails with what Allen was proposing. Mine sort of focuses on or is inspired by existing online games that utilize consumer-grade GPS and smartphone technology to hide things in the open, right, so you know these notions of geocaching or QR codes that are hidden in plain sight but are only, players are only aware of them and their significance by locating them. My proposal was to have experts, treaty experts post online locations and tasks for players to complete and then the players would go out, seek out these locations, note the needed information that is necessary for treaty compliance, and then submit it online so that the experts can then again verify that the players have completed the tasks. So it’s sort of a running game now where there are millions of these geocaches located throughout the world and people play it insistently almost and this game, this proposal game is a play on that.

Daniel Terdiman: Well thank you very much. Under Secretary Gottemoeller, I’m curious from your prospective were you surprised to see that two of the three winners had proposed games? I mean was that what you were expecting?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Well, honestly I hadn’t thought about games, but they’re two important points that all three of our prize winners will point out for the community -- and first of all that is we need a way to engage the public that really gets them interested because the whole area of nuclear arms control, conventional, chemical biological weapons, it seems so arcane somehow, and you never seem to get the level of interest that we had during the Cold War these days.  These days its seems very remote and something that’s not really important to people’s day-in, day-out lives.  So I was very pleased, actually, that all three of our prize winners came up with ways to engage the public and engage the public in very lively ways that really point out the relevance, I think, of this arena of arms control policy and nonproliferation policy to everybody’s everyday interests, and so I actually in the end was surprised, I have to say, but in the end I got it. And I said this is really interesting. And this is a great way to engage the public and by the way to get young people interested. Because especially for the younger generation, I think a lot of them think, "Oh man, that’s something from the Cold War," or "That’s something we don’t have to think about today at all," so I really welcome that each of these three prize winners came up with ideas that will engage the public and that will keep the younger generation interested because I’m certainly looking for the next generation of policymakers to take over in this arena when I am ready to retire. The other thing I think is that their work points out is that, especially our latter two prize winners, the role of ubiquitous sensing these days.  That we have sensors everywhere -- sensors on smartphones, iPads, a great number of sensors all producing data and information and we have to figure out a way to use that information for all kinds of applications. I think the medical applications are terrific, just mentioned a few moments ago of the use of this great flow of data for cancer research and potentially cancer treatment.  I think this is a really exciting area in the medical arena and I say to myself, "Why not apply it to the kind of sensing task we need in the arms control treaty and monitoring arena?" So I really welcome also that they pointed us in that direction in this competition.

Daniel Terdiman: Absolutely, very good. You mention that you want to get young people involved in this. Do you have a sense of whether if there were school-aged people that made submissions to this innovations challenge?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Well, I was just delighted that Lovely is our first prize winner and she is a graduate student, as I mentioned at the Monterey Institute, although now doing a year of dissertation research in Beijing, so we had a number of very, very good applications from students all over the place. This particular competition was limited to students in the United States, but we had quite a few good ideas coming in from students and I am very pleased about that. And by the way, we are looking forward to a new competition, so stay tuned for that. I am not ready today to announce the details, but we will certainly be putting out the details of a new competition within a short time. Sometime this spring.

Daniel Terdiman: Very good. Well, we have some questions that were submitted by people by Twitter and also on Google+, and I thought we would give you a chance to answer a few of those. They are not related directly to this challenge, but they are more to the question of arms control and international security. So, one is vaguely related, and so the question is, “What is the most outrageous information and communication technology, or concept that you would have loved to see applied to help solve a global security problem?”

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: The most outrageous? Wow, that’s in the eyes of the beholder, but I think that that’s a great question. I think I will take us back to the notion of ubiquitous sensing and how we make use of this kind of information, because a lot of the challenges we will be facing in the future in the arms control arena, it’s kind of like the “Where’s Waldo?” issue that was described a few moments ago.  We are going to very small objects, widely disbursed, things like warheads. President Obama has talked about in the next phase of nuclear arms reductions focusing in on warheads that are in storage facilities or warheads that are held in reserve as one of the goals for the next stage of nuclear arms reduction.  Up to this point, we have always focused in on big items, that you can see even from outer space, even from satellites, or from overhead aircraft, like missiles or bombers or big submarines, really large objects. But when we start focusing in on warheads, that are held behind closed doors in storage facilities we are going to have very, very different kinds of challenges, so having widely dispersed sensors that can help us with the right analysis and, of course, the right acquiescence with our treaty partners to get out looking for and finding some of these smaller objects.  I think it will be a very important step forward. So, I would say that’s our greatest challenge and so I’m looking very useful, but I think never the less, at this point, becoming well-developed technologies are not new things but are well deployed around the world and we are just looking for better ways to use them.

Daniel Terdiman: Can you step back in time a little bit and explain what the term “societal verification” means?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Yes, societal verification was first developed during the 1950s. One of its first proponents was Joseph Rotblat who was one of the founders of the so called ‘pugwash movement’ that was really one of the first efforts to bring together Soviet scientists, U.S. scientists, and scientists from other countries to tackle the problem of nuclear arms control and nuclear nonproliferation. So "Pugwash" did a great job and Joseph Rotblat very early on said that we need to get the public more involved in and more excited about these issues and really try to get them into -- into cooperating with the government on arms control implementation. It is a challenge, and several of our winners have pointed to this. It is a challenge you want to make sure this can be done in cooperation with governments and make sure that people won’t be accused of contradicting national policy or getting in the way of government policy when they participate in this kind of partnership with government on verification activities. But one thing I like to point out is this notion of societal verification is already well established in the environmental sphere. When we had the big oil spill down in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago, it was local communities who were really engaged and involved in providing information about the conditions on the ground there back to governments, both local city, and in the end the Federal Government in order to provide better data on the oil spill. So, societal verification is established in some fields and I think we need to think about its proper use in this more narrow field, never the less very important one of arms control.

Daniel Terdiman: Got it. And you talk about this idea being around for quite some time and I’m curious why you though, you know, I guess the challenge was announced last August, but why is this the right time to be starting challenges like this? Is it because of technology just become kind of ready or why else do you think?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: We think it’s partially the revolution in information technology. I can see that these kinds of applications are emerging in other fields, in the environment and medicine, two that we already talked about today, and finally I felt this really compelling need to engage the public and to get them interested in this field of policy. The President has been very committed to the so-called “Prague Initiative,” that is his idea of eliminating eventually over time nuclear weapons and really insuring we eventually get to zero. So in terms of engaging the public this was all important I think in order to be able to fulfill this task.

Daniel Terdiman: Well, very good. Let me turn to a couple more questions from viewers that are not related to the competition itself. When dealing with other countries to negotiate the control of weapons of mass destruction, who are our greatest enemies and who are our greatest allies, and why?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: I rather say what, rather than who in this case, our greatest ally, in my view is experience. We’ve had forty plus years of experience in reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons, first with the Soviet Union, now with the Russian Federation. This experience over time has really given us a good idea of how to go about it and by the way how to constantly improve it. I really like to think about new methods and technologies for verification and monitoring because there are always better ways to do what we have already done. But I think we have been able to clearly establish with the experience of the last 40 years, that these kind of deals are in our national security interest, so that’s why I say experience has really shown us the compelling reasons that we need to embrace nuclear arms control and to continue to pursue it. And that goes for other weapons of mass destruction too. Chemical weapons have been very much in the press because of what is going on in Syria and before that in Libya. So, it is very important to work on these issues. Our greatest enemy, I think, is time because there is never enough time to address every single problem that needs to be addressed. And certainly in negotiating these arms control treaties, some of them are very complicated and we need to work out a lot of details and you really need to keep your eye on the prize of what you are trying to accomplish in policy terms, and not forget about that, because otherwise you can get wrapped around the axle about all the problems that need to be confronted. And we just have to realize that, although time is an enemy, we can take the time we need to make a really good agreement happen.

Daniel Terdiman: You mention time -- and one of the things that it made me think about is the idea that we talk about it with hacking and computer security a lot -- is that you come up with the solution to a problem, and just as you come up with a solution the bad actors are already moving on to a new kind of attack. Is that kind of something where you worry that as these technologies become available, the people that you're worrying about are already moving onto whole new approaches to cause problems?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Well, certainly this has been a very fast moving field and I’m not here today to talk about the challenges affecting the information security, computer security realm but I would say that we have to be smart how we work these areas of policy, the U.S.G.  The U.S. Government has been putting a lot of attention into how we tackle the problem of cyber security and the challenges in this arena and we have to stay a couple steps ahead of the game in every way we can, but at the same time I think we have to be embracing the potential here and having to figure out we can make use of these great technologies to help us out with what we need to do.

Daniel Terdiman: But in the arms control arena, the same question, do you worry that as technology is becoming your ally, solving these problems in the country, the terrorist groups are already moving onto new technologies that could, that can…?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: If you’re talking about ways to hide the ball, in other words, to obscure what they are doing, yeah, we’re always concerned about that and we’re always trying to stay a couple steps ahead of the game in that regard as well. Because these are important assets for actors and we worry very much about non-state actors, terrorists who might get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. In fact, that’s why the President has been so intent on working on not only nuclear arms control and elimination, because if you get rid of nuclear weapons you deal with part of that problem worrying about nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, but the other thing he has been working on is nuclear material security. Let’s lock things down, let’s make sure we do everything we can to make sure that nuclear materials don’t get into terrorist hands. You have to stay two steps ahead of those guys at all the time.

Daniel Terdiman: Well great, I think we have time for one more question from our Twitter and Google+ viewers, this question is: “Why are the P5 scared to talk about the consequents of the nuclear weapons that they predicate their security on?”

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: I don’t accept the premise of that question at all, the P5 have been at the forefront of countries that have been working these problems from the get-go, in fact, the United States and the Soviet Union and now the United States and Russia, have been wrestling with this problem for forty years as I mentioned a moment ago, so I don’t accept the premise of the question. I think the question comes from the fact that the P5 and that is the U.S., U.K., Russia, France, China have decided not to attend a conference in Oslo on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. The reason is that, we understand very well what the humanitarian consequences are and we are focused on, in a step-by-step way, reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. We’ve been concerned that an activity like the Oslo Conference would obscure this pragmatic step-by-step approach that we feel is the all important way to get our arms around this problem and solve it. But I would like to make one thing really clear, there could be some confusion among friends and colleagues in the nongovernmental community, we are very, very keen to continue to see education on this very important issue to take place among the public, because it is true that the public has lost sight of the dangers of nuclear use, and I think it’s very important for the expert community as well as the allies and colleague in the academic community as well as the government to continue to educate the public about the heavy consequences of nuclear use, so it is a very important goal, but as far as the P5 are concerned we are very knowledgeable about this issue overall as well as being very committed to it being done in a step-by-step way and we don’t want to be distracted from that step-by-step path.

Daniel Terdiman: Very good, do we have time for one more question perhaps?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Yes, I have time for one more question, if we don’t get zeroed out here somehow.

Daniel Terdiman: I’m curious, you mention the P5, but I’m also interested in has it been difficult as you precede with these innovation challenges and you hope to implement the submission, the winning ideas, has it been difficult, or do you think it will be difficult to get other countries on board with implementing these solutions?

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Well I think it’s always difficult in a government-to-government settings to move out with new ideas, but I will say in the context of the New START Treaty when we were negotiating that in Geneva, both we and the Russians realized that we needed to think about some new ways to get at the problems were tackling in that negotiation. We decide for example that we wanted to be able to count warheads in this treaty rather than just the missile systems and use then a more generalized counting rule to approximate the number of warheads on each missile. So that involved a more detailed on-site inspection regime in the New START Treaty for warheads, or re-entry vehicles as we call them, on their delivery systems, on their missiles. So we are always looking for ways to innovate, and I think this technology revolution means some big new steps in that direction and I don’t think it’s going to be simple to implement them in policy, but never the less I do think there will be some compelling reasons to look at these approaches and to eventually incorporate them into some new agreements. We’ll see how it goes.

Daniel Terdiman: Very good, I think we are about out of time but I wanted to ask if Lovely, Allen, and Chip if you have anything before we finish this up?

Allen Childers: I just wanted to thank again for the opportunity, I think the contest was an outstanding idea, I would like to see more of it, and I would like to see it from other agencies too. I think the State Department has really stepped out onto something that’s quite valuable and as a person who spent a lot of years in the Defense Department, I would like to see them follow your lead. Thank you.

Lovely Umayam: Yea, thank you as well.

Dr. Rudolph “Chip” Mappus: Yea, I was quite optimistic with both the challenge and the outcomes, I think we are on a brink of an opportunity here…

Lovely Umayam: I just wanted to add one more thing, also I’m really excited to know that this challenge is starting off with public engagement, I’ve heard of social verification before and I know the nonproliferation field, that has been a topic of debate. And the challenges of really understanding what that concept is and how do we educate the public and get them interested in the issues. I am glad to see the other winners are interested in that, and I think we are off to a great start. So, thank you.

Daniel Terdiman: Well, thank you for all your thoughts, that you Under Secretary Gottemoeller, and thank you to all those who tuned into watch this great discussion.

Acting Under Secretary Gottemoeller: Thank you, Daniel. I had a great time.