Review: Internet-Based Intelligence in Public Health Emergencies – Early Detection and Response in Disease Outbreak Crises

5 Star, Disease & Health
Publisher's Page
Publisher’s Page

Editors Mordini, E., Green, M.
Pub. date March 2013Pages 160
Binding softcoverVolume 105 of NATO Science for Peace and Security Series – E: Human and Societal Dynamics
ISBN 978-1-61499-174-8Subject Computer & Communication Sciences, Security & Terrorism, Social Sciences

Momentous social events result from the sum of micro-level changes in daily individual life, and by observing and fusing publicly available data, such as web searches and other internet traffic, it is possible to anticipate events such as disease outbreaks. However, this ability is not without risks, and public concern about the possible consequences of improper use of this technology cannot be ignored. Opportunities for open discussion and democratic scrutiny are required.

This book has its origins in the workshop Internet-Based Intelligence for Public Health Emergencies and Disease Outbreak: Technical, Medical, and Regulatory Issues, held in Haifa, Israel, in March 2011. The workshop was attended by 28 invited delegates from nine countries, representing various disciplines such as public health, ethics, sociology, informatics, policy-making, intelligence and security, and was supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme. Its starting point was the 2009 outbreak of swine flu in Mexico. The book includes both scientific contributions presented during the meeting and some additional articles that were submitted later.

Interactions between public health and information and communication technologies are destined to be of great importance in the future. This book is a contribution to the ongoing dialogue between scholars and practitioners, which will be essential to public acceptance and safety as we rely more and more on the internet for predicting trends, decision-making and communication with the public.

Foreword by Robert David Steele


Two years in the making, this volume with nineteen authors contributing eleven articles is a break-through for NATO.  For perhaps the first time since NATO began considering the concept of public intelligence in 2000, and in close harmony with Admiral James Stavrides TED video testimonial about “open source security,” this book bundles in one collection concepts that were once dismissed (and are still dismissed within too many secret intelligence communities), and now, finally, 20 years later, acknowledged as essential by those who actually care to address the public interest with intelligence and integrity.

It is especially fitting that the first volume along these lines deals with health, as the elite of today have yet to relearn the lesson of the elites in NYC in the 1920’s, to wit, infectious disease cannot be bought off.

+  Intelligence is properly defined as actionable knowledge.

+  The availability of digital data and tools that can forecast epidemics in time to contain them is ably explored — HealthMap, Google Flu Trends, MediSys, Argus, EpiSPIDER, BioCaster, and Wildlife Disease Information Node are just as few of the cited examples.  Now imagine if we were applying the analytic tradecraft discussed in this book to all ten of the high-level threats to humanity, the other nine being poverty, environmental degradation, inter-state conflict, civil war, genocide, other atrocities, proliferation, terrorism/legitimsate grievances, and transnational crime (including Wall Street).

+  Cultural intelligence is applied — at the same time that the deficiencies of the secret world are identified (and in the case of NATO and the UN, the additional burden of the Member states not having and if having not sharing, also a factor), the editors and contributing authors recognize that to get the proper level of decision-support attention, the issue of public health must be “securitized.”  This is directly in keeping with Admiral Stavrides call for “open source security.”

+  The book as a whole has a superb emphasis not only on preventive monitoring and rapid intervention, but on real-time science.  This may be the only book I have read that recognizes that changes in natural as well as catastrophic man-made threats require real-time science — real-time collection, real-time processing,  real-time analysis, and real-time decision/action.  This is not something the secret world can do across the ten high-level threats, and even if they could, it is not something that governments, corporations, civil society, and international organizations are organized to support — witness Haiti, as great a crime against humanity as any I have witnessed in my lifetime–I refer to the grossly incompetent response of the US Southern Command, whose ineptitude was compounded by its decision to put in 20,000 troops with their logistics tail into an already catastrophic situation.

+  Some of the authors address crowd-sourcing and what Dr. Patrick Meier calls crowd-seeding, and it is clear this book is on the very forefront of intelligent thinking about the future of public intelligence — I am truly honored to have been sought out and asked to do the Foreword.

+  Although the book does not embrace Open Source Everything (OSE), still a topic unknown to most intelligence professionals (or most medical profesionals for that matter), this is also the first book I have found that is a superb representation of the Swedish-based concept that I have enhanced, that of M4IS2 — Multinational, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making.

+  There is a great deal of methodological information in this book, information that on balance questions many of the prevailing assumptions within the national intelligence communities with respect to anticipation and prevention; while also expanding the model — I am especially respectful of the new approaches that demand that the wildlife and plant health be included in the total model, this appears to add significantly, along with supermarket off the shelf purchases, to anticipation and hence the possibility of prevention and containment.

+  Although not emphasized as I would have, the book has a very important Human Intellignece (HUMINT) dimension.  While focusing on humans primarily as the recipients of Internet-based information and warning, the fact is that the hundreds of thousands of people RECEIVING this information are also immediately mobilizable as sources, analysts, red teams, and so on.  The authors also recognize the difference between formal and information sources, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to leverage both of them in harmony.

+  Included in the book are chapters addressing the Internet as a means of communication with the public, and the authors are acutely aware, as most bureaucracies are not aware, that the public is the CENTER of the communication network, not the “target.”

+  The last two chapters discuss security issues in relation to both individual health information, and the trustworthiness of raw data streams, analysis, and then the broadcasts to the public that demand some form of trust-building in advance if they are to be effective “in the moment.”

As a general comment it is clear the various authors are not as conversant with open source discovery, discrimination, and distillation as some of the standing masters of the craft such as Jan Herring, Mary Ellen Bates, Ran Hock, Arno Reuser, Ben Gilad, Mats Bjore, and so on.

Click on Image to Enlarge
Click on Image to Enlarge

The book is priced for institutional buyers rather than individuals; the publisher’s page provides a link to recommend the book to the librarian but sending the below link is easier, or even better, copy the headline of this post with its embedded link, and send that to your librarian.

My Foreword is available free online above; the one additional thought that can occurred to me in reading the full book now, is that we should be taking this book’s approach to all four of the health challenges (individual health, environmental health, natural and alternative cures, and medical and pharmaceutical services including the 50% that are fraud, waste, and abuse.  And of course, the health of nations demands that a holistic strategic analytic model be embraced, as shown below.

Click on Image to Enlarge
Click on Image to Enlarge

See Also [from Earth Intelligence Network]

THREAT #02:  Infectious Disease

2007 Threat #02 Infectious Disease Top Cited Authors

2007 Threat #02 Infectious Disease Top Books

2007 Threat #02 Infectious Disease Top Centers

2007 Threat #02 Infectious Disease Forecast

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