The USA PATRIOT ACT includes a category of stuff that cannot be shared with other nations, or even with the American public, because, although it is currently a purely civilian technology, it could be used for military purposes. This is called “dual use” technology. This is a two-edged sword, obviously. If it has weapons potential, we are likely to put a lot more money into it. But we are also less likely to let it out into the civilian realm in the first place.
Anyway, people who seriously want a technology developed need to give some thought to the dual-use aspects of it. For instance:
- What is the world’s largest bomb shelter? (pause for head-scratching)
A. The Moscow subway system.
Which can reasonably lead us to wonder whether that had anything to do with the enormous development of subway systems in American cities in the 1970s. And whether one could use that rationale to repair and expand the older subway systems in New York and Chicago.
Q. Where were the largest deposits of potentially lethal organisms to be found in 2005?
A. In the abandoned refrigerators in the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans.
Which can reasonably lead us to wonder whether FEMA (after having been incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security, no less) missed a major bet by not impounding them under the cover of a cleanup.
Q. What is the fastest way to get a contagious disease to contage?
A. Send your child (between the ages of 3 and 9) to day-care or school.
Obviously we couldn’t subject these children to serious danger. But most contagious diseases hit children in a mild form, while doing considerable damage to adults. (I had chicken pox at the age of 6 months, and reportedly hardly noticed it. My uncle, in his late 20s, caught it from me and nearly died.)
Q. Who are the human race’s natural cryptographers and code-breakers?
A. Teenage boys.
So we need to establish, in every high school, intramural and intermural competitions in hacking (one team plays offense, the other plays defense, and then they switch off, just like baseball) with all of the appurtenances of sports (jackets, rings, trophies, cheerleaders) to encourage these kids to hone their skills with no apparent practical application (a practical application would spoil the sports aspect.)
Q. Who are the human race’s natural spies and investigators?
A. Jealous lovers. What the law today calls “stalking” is laboriously taught in the CIA’s training, but comes naturally to both men and women betrayed by their lovers.
So why not harness this natural energy? Espionage agents are notoriously unfaithful spouses and lovers anyway. Why not have them tailed, gratis, by the people most inclined to do it, and most naturally competent at it?
You get the idea. Almost any civilian problem admits of a solution with military applications. Point the weapons experts at it and get out of the way. The only danger is that the result may end up classified. You heard it here first.