Byline: Lorry M. Fenner, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Nearly 55 years ago, the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit, transforming the space race into an all-out sprint to excel in scientific and technological achievements. On the anniversary of that watershed, America still can learn a valuable lesson from its Sputnik experience by using its available resources wisely to revive the spirit of innovation and collaboration on national security research from that moment.
While in recent years the Defense Department has embarked on a new way to harness this spirit, reminiscent of the previous era, it is important to remember this history. In 1958, the Defense Department established the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which revolutionized the way defense research was conducted at the time. Known in later years as DARPA, the agency was designed to be independent from the military services and operate using a lean, nonbureaucratic structure, relying heavily on collaborative research programs within the private sphere and public universities. In other words, DARPA was and is what we now call a force multiplier.
Such force multipliers have become increasingly important over the past 10 years as traditional threats have receded a bit and new vulnerabilities have emerged, as seen through the Sept. 11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and current events in the broader Middle East. Policymakers have acknowledged that the United States has been slow to understand this new security environment. They also acknowledge, however, that what is most needed now is a streamlined and innovative approach to understanding the human element of security - the languages, cultures and behavior of our adversaries and friends.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates recognized this deficiency in 2008 when he launched the Minerva Initiative, which continues under current Secretary Leon E. Panetta. This program is designed to improve our understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, economic and political forces that shape strategically important areas of the world. A component piece of this initiative was to establish the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) at the National Defense University. The CRRC makes primary records from al Qaeda and affiliated movements, as well as Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, available to civilian researchers. As an example of what can be gained, the CRRC collaborated with Johns Hopkins University on a conference on al Qaeda and Associated Movements on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that included both international scholars and policymakers. It will partner with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this month to examine the Iran-Iraq war from Baghdad's perspective. Unique documents and audio recordings have been and will be made public in conjunction with these events. …