World war 3 is silent fought over global world domination

non consensual experimentation is used for military purposes

Changing Hearts and Brains: SOF Must Prepare Now for Neurowarfare

By Dr. Shannon Houck, COL John Crisafulli, Lt Col Joshua Gramm, Maj Brian Branagan

The timeworn “changing hearts and minds” idiom may soon take on a more literal meaning as we confront the weaponization of neurotechnology. In December 2016, CIA officers and American and Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana, Cuba reported hearing pulsing sounds, sometimes accompanied by pressure sensations in their heads. Neurological symptoms followed – symptoms like headaches, dizziness, cognitive difficulties, fatigue, and hearing and vision loss.[i] Over 40 U.S. government employees were affected; 24 were diagnosed with brain damage. These were not isolated incidents. Similar reports have emerged from U.S. personnel in China, Russia, Uzbekistan, and CIA officers working in several different countries.[ii] Two separate cases in the Washington D.C. area are currently under investigation after U.S. officials suffered from the same sudden symptoms, one occurring in an Arlington suburb in 2019, and the other in the oval lawn of the White House in 2020.[iii] Most recently, media reports from April 2021 indicate that DoD officials briefed the Armed Service Committee, stating they are “increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of U.S. troops in places such as Syria, Afghanistan, and various countries in South America.”[iv]

No official cause has been stated and multiple investigations are ongoing. However, evidence from the Cuba incidents suggest these were targeted attacks. Dr. James Giordano, a neuropathologist and one of the State Department-appointed scientists who investigated the Cuba cases, stated in his 2018 USSOCOM/J5 Donovan Group SOFWERX brief: “this is intentional, this is directed, this seems to be a beta test of some type of a viable neuroweapon.[v]” This conclusion leaves many questions. Who coordinated and executed this beta test? What neuroweapon(s) were used? What state and non-state adversaries have or will soon have advanced neurowarfare capabilities? Are the same actor(s) responsible for the attacks overseas and now domestically? Scholars and practitioners hypothesize different possibilities, including pointing the finger at Russia,[vi] but as of 2021, definitive answers remain unclear. And the most important question looms: What neurowarfare attacks are coming next that we must prepare for now?

SOF operators do not currently receive any direct training on neurowarfare (indeed, most are unfamiliar with the concept entirely), and published research is strikingly limited. Of the small number of academic publications on the topic, only a handful directly address neurowarfare. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are uniquely positioned to confront the complex and dynamic threats neurowarfare poses but is currently under-prepared to take up the challenge. Part of the reason is a lack of general awareness. Although US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) prioritizes neuroscience research and innovation, especially for cognitive enhancement, comparatively less is known about neuroweapons that cause cognitive degradation.

In line with USSOCOM’s 2020 ‘Innovation for Future Threats’ priority,[vii] the present article aims to fill this gap by providing actionable recommendations: (1) immediately implement training across the SOF enterprise; (2) invest in research on (a) cognitive degradation caused by neuroweapons, and (b) neuroweapons detection, disruption, and targeting; and (3) develop doctrine on neurowarfare. Ultimately, SOCOM needs to take a proactive stance by developing ‘neuro SOF professionals’ equipped to strategically navigate this new battlespace. To provide the necessary foundation for these recommendations, we first define neurowarfare, briefly discuss its use in defense and security over time, and then detail the critical significance for SOF today.

What is Neurowarfare?

Neurowarfare is the strategic takedown of a competitor[viii] through the use of neuroweapons that remotely “target the brain or central nervous system to affect the targeted person’s mental state, mental capacity and ultimately the person’s behavior in a specific and predictable way.”[ix] Just like cyber warfare, neurowarfare can be waged defensively or offensively. In a defensive capacity, neurowarfare could prevent conflict before it starts, easing tensions by shaping attitudes and perceptions about the potential adversary.[x] In an offensive capacity, neurowarfare could “manipulate the political and social situation in another state,” thus destabilizing the adversary, either as a stand-alone tactic or in conjunction with a military strike.[xi] Psychological operations share similar goals but achieve them through communication, typically over the long-term. Neuroweapons physically manipulate the brain and achieve immediate effects.

Neurowarfare: Then and Now

Brain modification in defense and security is not new. Under the guise of Project MKUltra, the CIA conducted human experiments during the 1950s and 60s in the hopes of exploiting mind control through hypnosis and experimental drugs.[xii] Over 80 institutions were involved, ranging from universities, hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies.[xiii] This program was largely a response to fears of Soviet and Chinese Communist thought-control, or ‘brainwashing.’ Also consider that during the Vietnam War, some American soldiers took various pharmaceutical agents (e.g., codeine, dexedrine) to heighten alertness and dull feelings of vulnerability.[xiv] Dexedrine/dextroamphetamine – a stimulant drug shown to improve cognition, alertness, and reduce fatigue – is still used today and is indeed an approved cognitive performance mechanism by the U.S. Air Force.[xv]

What makes brain modification new for warfighters today is the rapidly advancing technology in neuroscience. In the 21st century, neuroscience research, development, and innovation, combined with biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, has paved the way for entirely new industries that will likely lead to commercial development. Most of the research is currently being done in universities and the private sector; however, in 2013 President Obama marshalled the American BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, a National Institute of Health (NIH)-directed plan to further understanding of the human brain by integrating multiple scientific communities, agencies, and organizations.[xvi] As of 2019, over 700 grants totaling $1.3 billion have been allocated, with the initiative continuing at least through 2025.[xvii] As far back as 2013, the neurotechnologies market potential was estimated at more than $150 billion, with projected growth in Asia and South America to surpass the West by 2020.[xviii] The U.S. is not alone in these endeavors, and will need focused attention to stay atop the research and development leaderboard.

The return on investment is evident. USSOCOM is becoming increasingly adept at developing the hyper-enabled operator (HEO) – “a SOF professional empowered by technologies that enhance the operator’s cognition at the edge by increasing situational awareness, reducing cognitive load, and accelerating decision making.”[xix] Yet these same advancements that add value for cognitive enhancement pose risks when used for cognitive degradation.

Cognitive enhancement versus degradation

Neurotechnological advancements present a double-edged sword, offering opportunities for both cognitive enhancement and cognitive degradation. Both are relevant to SOF readiness and resilience. Enhancement capabilities generally fall into three categories. First, neuropharmacology uses drugs designed to target specific areas of the brain,[xx] potentially even breaching the blood-brain barrier.[xxi] Second, brain stimulation uses electric currents to stimulate specific areas of the brain.[xxii] Third, brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) involve opening up pathways to connect the brain to a computer in order to allow the two-way flow of information, either to program new behaviors or control external machines and devices.[xxiii] Such technologies have the capability to improve warfighter performance by enhancing memory, concentration, motivation, and situational awareness while negating the physiological ills of decreased sleep, stress, pain, and traumatic memories.[xxiv] According to a 2020 RAND report, “In general, BCI could theoretically be applied to help future warfighters make more informed decisions within a shorter timetable or to more effectively engage with more robotic systems than their current counterparts.”[xxv] In the future, military commanders may not only be able to monitor but also control the mental performance of troops under their command by increasing performance without sleep, modulating emotions under stress, and thinking through emerging threats. The U.S. Army is even pursuing ‘synthetic telepathy,’ a technology designed to allow military members to communicate using only their brains.[xxvi] But in the hands of an adversary, all enhancement technologies can also be used for degradation.

Neuroweapons cognitively degrade a target using different modalities. First, similar to neuropharmacology on the enhancement front, biochemical agents can incapacitate or influence the actions and emotions of enemies and noncombatants alike.[xxvii] Second, directed energy weapons include a broad class of devices that use intense energy to achieve a desired effect, be it lasers, electro-magnetic pulse (EMP), or radio-frequency/acoustic weapons that impair brain function causing temporary incapacitation and/or death.[xxviii] Some form of directed energy weapon was likely responsible for the attacks against U.S. personnel in Cuba and China.[xxix] Finally, information- and software-based weapons can manipulate the brain, either tangibly with implants or at a distance by manipulating brain responses.

The Department of Defense has rightly recognized the benefits that neurotechnology can have on individual soldiers, and so the focus, at least from what is publicly available, is overwhelmingly on cognitive enhancement. The same level of effort is now needed to understand cognitive degradation and forecast what is on the horizon in the neurowarfare domain, especially given the stated priorities of U.S. adversaries. For example, China is seeking to dominate the field of neuroscience; their Grand Strategy calls to be a world leader by 2030.[xxx] China’s aggressive research into this field makes it likely China will find ways to effectively militarize this emerging technology in future years.[xxxi] In spite of the DoD’s acute focus on Great Power Competition, relatively little attention is granted to neurowarfare. SOF needs to strategize how to combat this threat now and forecast accelerating developments in this domain in the coming years.

What does this mean for SOF?

Great Power Competition is about access and influence; so is SOF. Similar to the ideological battles of the Cold War, the competition space between an American-led world order and a Chinese or Russian-led one is likely to play out on the periphery more than direct confrontation. These are the very places SOF lives and excels. Serving as human sensors and being attuned to the changing global dynamics requires innovative, adaptable, and highly specialized warfighters that SOF brings every day. SOF should position themselves in a leading role in the domain of neurowarfare for several reasons.

First, SOF is small, specialized, and thrives under uncertain and dynamic conditions that require constant adaptation; neurowarfare will also continue to develop under a veil of uncertainty, complexity, and secrecy that will require an attuned ethos. Second, SOF has a large global footprint, operating in as many as 141 countries as recently as 2019.[xxxii]This means they are both uniquely engaged and uniquely exposed to new forms of warfare. Due to the longer training cycles and specialized skills, SOF would be considered high-value targets for potential adversaries. Similar to high-value cyber targets, emphasis should be placed on hardening SOF against neuroweapon threats. Third, the past two decades of counterterrorism operations has enabled SOF to develop strong interagency partnerships that can be leveraged in neurowarfare. Finally, SOF has experience being at the forefront of technological developments and is already heavily invested in cognitive enhancement research and development. Much as they do today in many areas, USSOCOM can be a pathfinder organization, serving as an incubation laboratory that builds expertise and capability, which can subsequently be exported to the rest of the force at reduced costs.

Recommendations for USSOCOM

  1. Training and education across the SOF enterprise.

            Awareness of current and emerging threats is critical for force readiness. In the short-term, formalized training should be developed and implemented now. All USSOCOM components would benefit from a general awareness training on neurowarfare that covers basic information — what it is, why it matters, effects on the brain, and warning signs to be aware of. But more in-depth, specialized training is merited for information practitioners working in intelligence, psychological operations, and cyberwarfare. Such training would ideally detail the neuroscience of influence, defensive and offensive cognitive enhancement and degradation applications, current and near-future neuroweapons capabilities, and an analysis of neuroweapons attacks case studies.

            Longer-term, it will be critical to develop ‘Neuro SOF’ professionals who remain at the cutting edge of the neuroscience of war. Naval Postgraduate School, for example, is perfectly positioned to serve as the critical nexus between the strategic and operational challenges of neurowarfare. Similar to the cyber domain, competing with our adversaries in neurowarfare requires technical experts who can think through the terrain and develop innovative solutions. In the longer-term, primary military education (PME) institutions should staff credentialed neuroscientists who can fill current curricular gaps to rising military leaders. In the meantime, PME’s may be able to leverage currently employed cognitive scientists or scholars in the private sector to contribute to this educational need. Moreover, strengthening education and training requires ongoing, rigorous research.

  1. Investigating neuroweapons: Cognitive degradation research

            To compete in this space, USSOCOM must place the same level of investment and momentum on research specific to cognitive degradation as it does cognitive enhancement. This means making cognitive degradation research a documented priority and putting resources behind it. These simultaneous lines of effort are mutually beneficial. Considering operator well-being and performance holistically means building up enhancement capabilities such that operators are “hyper-enabled” and hyper-protected. Right now, the force is vulnerable to neuroweapons attacks, in part because we do not have answers to basic questions. How do we detect and disrupt neuroweapons? What is needed to overcome the challenges with discerning attribution of neuroweapons attacks? What type operators should be developed into ‘neuro SOF professionals’ and what skills should they have? Under what conditions should SOF employ neuroweapons against adversaries, if at all?

Similar to SOF’s “Hyper-enabled operator,” USSOCOM’s acquisition arm, SOF Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (SOF AT&L), is flexible and responsive enough to stay engaged with private sector advancements and transmit information rapidly to the force. The possibilities and potential use-cases for neurowarfare are almost endless and will depend on the technologies created, thus a tight relationship is essential. This uncertainty in the face of rapid neurotechnological acceleration underscores the importance that SOF is guided by doctrine to help shape the way forward.

  1. Develop doctrine      

            As in all areas of conflict and competition, USSOCOM’s actions in the neurowarfare domain should be guided by doctrine. Currently, there are no national laws or international agreements that restrict the weaponization of the human brain. While U.N. treaties against biological and chemical weapons send a signal to be wary that future bans may be coming, neuroweapons fall into a legal and regulatory gap. Similar to nuclear development, science often forges ahead of political and ethical matters of use, a term called “the Collingridge dilemma.” As neuroweapons likely expand in the future, the legal and ethical challenges that need to be address will become paramount. SOF has developed expertise in precise, narrowly tailored effects on the battlefield that likely have similar spillover properties for neurowarfare.

Additional Considerations

            While we’ve focused on the unique role SOF and USSOCOM can and should play when it comes to neurowarfare, the fact is that this new form of warfare will ultimately require the United States to take a whole-of-government approach, requiring attention and resources not only from the DoD, but also the interagency and the National Security Council. The most difficult—and likely to be the most contentious—are the serious moral and ethical concerns of whether the United States should consider pursuing offensive neuroweapons. Should the United States pursue an offensive capability, even if only discovered accidentally through private sector research? If so, what sort of weapons would be morally acceptable to use and how should they be employed? Should these weapons be reserved for high-priority targets or will we get to a point where neuroweapons are routinely employed in conjunction with more traditional forms of warfare? It is beyond the scope of this article to enter into that debate, but we acknowledge the seriousness and gravity with which academics and policy makers will need to approach this topic.  

  

Conclusion

The weaponization of neurotechnology poses unique challenges in a strategic environment that emphasizes competition between major powers. As powers compete for influence against one another, neuroweapons that directly target the brain to sway an adversaries’ actions are likely to be employed with increasing frequency. USSOCOM must adopt a proactive stance. Too often, reactionary measures leave U.S. Forces playing catch up, as we are currently doing in the information environment. No longer should we conceptualize the human mind as a target for psychological influence through communication operations over long periods of time; neurotechnology paves the way for influence via physical brain modification to achieve almost immediate psychological shifts. SOF needs to decide now how to operate in this domain.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors alone. They do not reflect the official position of the Naval Postgraduate School, the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other entity within the U.S. Government.


[i] Gardiner Harris, “16 Americans Sickened After Attack on Embassy Staff in Havana,” The New York Times, August 24, 2017, sec. U.S., https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/24/us/politics/health-attack-us-embassy-havana.html.

[ii] Barnes, Julian E. “C.I.A. to Expand Inquiry Into Mysterious Health Episodes Overseas.” The New York Times, March 4, 2021, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/us/politics/cia-havana-syndrome-mystery.html.

[iii] Jankowicz, Mia. “NSC Official Hit by ‘Havana Syndrome’ Symptoms Near White House: CNN.” Business Insider, April 29, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/nsc-official-hit-havana-syndrome-symptoms-near-white-house-cnn-2021-4.

[iv] Betsy Woodruff Swan, Andrew Desiderio, Lara Seligman, and Erin Banco. “U.S. Troops Increasingly Vulnerable to Directed-Energy Attacks, Pentagon Tells Lawmakers.” POLITICO, April 22, 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/04/22/troops-directed-energy-attacks-484246.

[v] SOFWERX. “J5 Donovan Group Radical Speaker Series: Neuroweapons.” https://sofwerx.org/neuroweapons/.

[vi] Lara Seligman, Andrew Desiderio, and Betsy Woodruff Swan. “Pentagon Investigated Suspected Russian Directed-Energy Attacks on U.S. Troops.” POLITICO, April 22, 2021. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/04/22/pentagon-russia-attacks-us-troops-484150.

[vii] Special Operations Research Topics. (2020). The JSOU Press. https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/SchoolFiles/JSOU19a-2020Research-Topics-Final.pdf?ver=2019-08-22-124232-560

[viii]  Armin Krishnan, “Attack on the Brain: Neurowars and Neurowarfare,” Space & Defense 9, no. 1 (Spring 2016):  17–18.

[ix] Armin Krishnan, Military Neuroscience and the Coming Age of Neurowarfare (Taylor & Francis, 2016), 169–70, https://books.google.com/books/about/Military_Neuroscience_and_the_Coming_Age.html?id=8iIlDwAAQBAJ&source=kp_book_description.

[x] Krishnan, “Attack on the Brain: Neurowars and Neurowarfare,” 17.

[xi] Krishnan, 17.

[xii] “1977 Senate Hearing on MKULTRA: Cover Page,” August 3, 1977, https://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/rp3h/lansberry/mkultra.pdf.

[xiii] Nicholas M. Horrock, “80 INSTITUTIONS USED IN C.I.A MIND STUDIES,” The New York Times, August 4, 1977, sec. Archives, https://www.nytimes.com/1977/08/04/archives/80-institutions-used-in-cia-mind-studies-admiral-turner-tells.html.

[xiv] Kamienski, L. (2016). Shooting Up: A short history of drugs and war. New York: Oxford University Press

[xv] Scharre, P. & Fish, L. (2018). Human Performance Enhancement. https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/human-performance-enhancement-1

[xvi] Overview | Brain Initiative. https://braininitiative.nih.gov/about/overview

[xvii] Overview | Brain Initiative. https://braininitiative.nih.gov/about/overview

[xviii] Sarah Canna, “Leveraging Neuroscientific and Neurotechnological Developments with a Focus on Influence and Deterrence in a Networked World” (Carnegie Endowment Neurodeterrence Workshop, October 18, 2013), 6, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/U_NeuroDeterrence_Workshop_Approved_for_Public_Release_31Jan14v2.pdf

[xix] Alex MacCalman, Jeff Grubb, Joe Register, and Mike McGuire. “The Hyper-Enabled Operator.” Small Wars Journal, June 6, 2019. https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/hyper-enabled-operator.

[xx] Kenneth Ford and Clark Glymour, “The Enhanced Warfighter,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 70, no. 1 (January 1, 2014): 43–53, https://doi.org/10.1177/0096340213516746.

[xxi] National Research Council et al., Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies (National Academies Press, 2008), https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=K6icAgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT21&dq=Emerging+Cognitive+Neuroscience+and+Related+Technologies&ots=tJwj7rFg7G&sig=9UsAphSPpKR8Rk3Ry6pEVwz-li4#v=onepage&q=Emerging%20Cognitive%20Neuroscience%20and%20Related%20Technologies&f=false.

[xxii] James Giordano, Neurotechnology in National Security and Defense: Practical Considerations, Neuroethical Concerns (CRC Press, 2014), 172.

[xxiii] Patrick A. Cutter, “The Shape of Things to Come: The Military Benefits of the Brain-Computer Interface in 2040:” (Fort Belvoir, VA: Defense Technical Information Center, April 1, 2015), https://doi.org/10.21236/AD1012768.

[xxiv] Kelley, A., Feltman, K., Nwala, E., Bernhardt, K., Hayes, A., Basso, J., Matthews, C. (2019). A Systematic Review of Cognitive Enhancement Interventions for Use in Military Operations. https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/AD1083490.pdf

[xxv] Binnendijk, Anika, Timothy Marler, and Elizabeth Bartels. “Brain-Computer Interfaces: U.S. Military Applications and Implications, An Initial Assessment.” RAND Corporation, 2020. https://doi.org/10.7249/RR2996.

[xxvi] Giuliano J. de Leon, “US Army Soldiers Could Soon Have Telepathic Ability,” Tech Times, November 27, 2020, https://www.techtimes.com/articles/254546/20201127/telephatic-ability-possible-armys-new-technology-allow-soldiers-use-brain.htm.

[xxvii] Armin Krishnan, “Attack on the Brain: Neurowars and Neurowarfare,” Space & Defense 9, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 11–12.

[xxviii] Krishnan, 12–13.

[xxix] SOFWERX. “J5 Donovan Group Radical Speaker Series: Neuroweapons.” https://sofwerx.org/neuroweapons/.

[xxx] James Giordano, “Is Neuroscience the Future of Warfare?,” Defence IQ, April 17, 2019, https://www.defenceiq.com/defence-technology/articles/neuroscience-and-future-warfare-1.

[xxxi] Giordano, “Is Neuroscience the Future of Warfare?”

[xxxii] Nick Turse. “America’s Global Military Presence Skyrockets under Trump: US Commandos Now Deployed to 141 Nations.” Salon, April 1, 2020, sec. News & Politics. https://www.salon.com/2020/04/01/americas-global-military-presence-skyrockets-under-trump-us-commandos-now-deployed-to-141-nations_partner/.

Weaponization of The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Algorithmic power, NATO and Artificial Intelligence

NATO has formally approved its first Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy as it seeks a leading position in the adoption of AI for defence, but it may face some critical hurdles ahead in implementing the strategy, according to Simona Soare.

NATO defence ministers have formally adopted the Alliance’s first artificial intelligence (AI) strategy. The document lays out six ‘baseline’ principles for ‘responsible’ military use of AI – lawfulness, responsibility and accountability, explainability and traceability, reliability, governability, and bias mitigation. It also provides an insight into key implementation challenges. 

The strategy is meant to provide a ‘common policy basis’ to support the adoption of AI systems in order to achieve the Alliance’s three core tasks – collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. The strategy is also designed to challenge established Alliance processes for procurement, technology development and wider engagement with the private sector and academia.  

Only a summary of the strategy has been made public. However, it reveals four critical obstacles to implementation that NATO will face: reconciling the objectives of member nations; securing sufficient political and financial support; bridging any disconnect between the Alliance’s policy and operational units; and managing the transnational bureaucracy that will implement the strategy.  

Hard questions 

As well as being a consensus-building policy document, the strategy attempts to position NATO as the leader of AI adoption in defence. It reiterates the allies’ commitment to transatlantic cooperation on the development and use of AI in security and defence, an important element of which is ensuring inter-operability and standardisation. 

There are still hard questions, however, about how NATO will coordinate different national approaches to managing the development and application of AI in defence, combined with restrictions on technology use, access, sharing and transfer. For countries like the United States, it is a priority that allies agree practical guidelines for the operational use of AI-enabled systems and the necessary data-sharing, a challenge that should not be underestimated. Some allies, meanwhile, are not satisfied with the granularity of the six principles of responsible use, while others consider that overemphasising the normative approach risks ceding technological advantage to peer competitors.  

Similar tensions are playing out in the European Union. The EU’s proposal for an AI act is more restrictive for high-risk, high-impact applications of AI, though its impact on defence will be indirect, as it do does not apply to the military domain. In the defence realm, the European Defence Agency’s Artificial Intelligence Action Plan for Defence shares more similarities with the NATO strategy. While the plan is not public, it reportedly includes a list of use cases for military applications of AI which member states may consider for collaborative development and principles of responsible development and use. 



Another question that remains to be answered is the extent of NATO’s ambition to adopt AI. The strategy is meant to be implemented in a phased approach, partly to build political support for AI military projects. Initial ambitions seem modest, reportedly focusing on mission planning and support; smart maintenance and logistics for NATO capabilities; data fusion and analysis; cyber defence; and optimisation of back-office processes. As political acceptance grows and following periodic reviews of the strategy’s implementation, the goal is to also include more complex operational applications. 

Finally, the AI strategy runs parallel to NATO’s Military Strategy, a military-led process launched in 2019, and its Warfighting Capstone Concept, which examines alliance requirements in future operating environments. However, the AI strategy is a stand-alone document. To avoid creating narrow implementation tracks, meaningful early engagement between NATO’s policy and military communities would be beneficial to cut across any disconnect between threat-based assessments of the impact of AI on military capabilities and politically driven processes for the development and use of AI.  

Avoiding friction 

The executive summary of NATO’s AI strategy does not reflect any alignment of the roles and resources of the different NATO and national innovation bodies. It is unclear from the summary how the NATO Innovation Unit, Allied Command Transformation, the Science and Technology Organization and the NATO Communications and Information Agency will coordinate to implement the strategy.  

The Alliance aims to exploit AI developments in the commercial sector by adopting an open innovation model and deliberately moving away from its present procurement model. However, this will require an effort to map out the relationship between old structures, such as the NATO Industrial Advisory Group, and new engagement channels with the private sector, such as the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic and others created by the AI strategy. 

While NATO has adopted the AI strategy, there is no dedicated line of funding for it. Finance will depend on a combination of common budget funding and off-budget mechanisms such as the NATO Innovation Fund. Besides the uncertainty over the availability of funding, some Alliance agencies are concerned that their budgets could be cut and redistributed towards the implementation of the AI strategy. The allies have set a USD1 billion target for the NATO Innovation Fund. However, whether this amount is sustainably generated and distributed over the long term, and by what means, is more important for encouraging innovation than the announced figure. 

The promise of AI for military applications has been clear for some time; less obvious is the route to deliver on it. For all the implementation challenges it faces, the Alliance’s AI strategy represents a step in the right direction.  

Weaponization of Neuroscience

Hervé Le Guyader

This essay is part of the author’s contribution to the NATO Operations 2040 study by the NATO Innovation Hub.

While it has been said that everything could be weaponized, neurosciences and, more broadly speaking, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Sciences (NBIC) are clearly providing state and non-state actors some true game changers.

The story narrated in this essay begins in 2018 with weak, and not so weak signals, and ends in 2040 with NATO triggering Article 5 because of NBIC attacks on some of its allied Nations. During these 22 years, pivotal decisions are taken at NATO Summits, fundamental choices are made for the design of the successor to the Alliance’s main surveillance and control system, and NATO manages to embark a large number of nations, far beyond its core allied nations, into a pragmatic educational program on global security.

All of this because of the “Weaponization of neurosciences” challenging topic that was to be addressed.

This essay uses fiction and mixes actual facts and events, fairly logical foresights and some fictitious extrapolations drawn from a couple of long term key geostrategic initiatives launched by today’s big players. Of course, the roles played in this story by those big players could be interchanged, albeit with some work.

Using a few dramatization tricks, at the cost of being a bit provocative to try and keep the reader’s interest doesn’t mean not being serious at voicing out one’s deep beliefs.

In this particular case:

  • Yes, “Human mind” should be NATO’s next domain of operation,
  • Yes, AWAC’s successor must address NBIC,
  • Yes, global security is what’s at stake today, and it will take more than professionals of the defense, security and military sectors to address it efficiently.

However difficult it will be. 

Brussels, July 17, 2026, NATO Summit: “Human mind”, the 6th domain of operation

Excerpt from the Brussels Declaration, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels 16-17 July 2026.

Article 11 … To stay secure, we must look to the future together.  We are addressing the breadth and scale of new technologies to maintain our technological edge, while preserving our values and norms.  We will continue to increase the resilience of our societies, as well as of our critical infrastructure and our energy security.  To effectively do so, NATO and Allies, within their respective authority, must constantly take stock of the pace and breadth of scientific research being conducted, in particular outside the Alliance. Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Sciences (NBIC), whose development rate is staggering, have an immense potential to deeply transform our societies, but the dual nature of this potential poses a new set of challenges to our security.

For decades, NATO and Allies, and our competitors too had been used to operate in a three-dimensional environment, where air, land and sea represented familiar, distinct but interoperable operational context.

The 2014 Wales Summit identified that Cyber-attacks presented a clear challenge to the security of the Alliance and could be as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack. By way of consequence, NATO and Allies agreed that cyber defense was part of NATO’s core task of collective defense.

The 2016 Warsaw Summit then recognized cyberspace as a domain of operations in which “NATO must defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, and at sea”.

Three years later, the 2019 London Summit declared, in the article #6 of its final declaration, Space as an operational domain for NATO, recognizing its importance in keeping us safe and tackling security challenges, while upholding international law. Of note, the same article also stated “We are increasing our tools to respond to cyber-attacks, and strengthening our ability to prepare for, deter, and defend against hybrid tactics that seek to undermine our security and societies. We are stepping up NATO’s role in human security.  We recognize that China’s growing influence and international policies present both opportunities and challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance.”

Progresses in NBIC make it today possible for our competitors to develop new ways to reach their offensive objective. While propaganda and influencing strategies have always existed, the depth and sophistication of NBIC-fueled hybrid attacks today represent an unprecedented threatening level inasmuch they target the most vital infrastructure we rely on: the human mind.

Norfolk, we have a problem
As it turned out, preparation to the 2026 Summit had not been as exhaustive and sturdy as it should have
been. Years of under-budgeting and under-staffing had taken their toll and Article 11, the “Mind hacking”
article, was one key casualty.
Enthusiastic accolades were shared and raucous applause heard across the world but, soon enough, once
the dust had settled, impartial observers were prompt to identify two main fault lines:
• IC, and notNBIC
While Article 11 had correctly presented NBIC, as a whole, as being the issue to address, only one
and a half (or thereabout) out of its four components had been in reality looked into with the
necessary rigor: Information (technologies) and their own, specific capacity to tamper with human
Cognition. But Nano, Bio technologies, and their own impact on Cognition (hence the 1.5 vs. 2.5
approximation) had, in reality, been put on the backburner.
• Doctrine? Rules of engagement? Training? DOTMLPFI17?
Under public and diplomatic pressure, NATO had managed to reach consensus among nations on
this fairly disruptive concept of Human mind as a domain of operations and to pull off a unanimous
decision but, unlike the five first domains of operation, “NBIC warfare against human mind” was
pretty much terra incognita, most certainly in terms of lessons learned.
People had been fighting for hundreds of years on land, at sea, for a little bit more than a century
in the air, for a few decades in cyberspace and space. Historians, scientists, defense specialists,
military and civilian experts and practitioners had built considerable knowledge regarding wars
waged over land, sea and air. More recent conflicts had added Cyber and even Space warfare data
and analysis to the mix, and dozens of exercises, executed at the coalition (NATO) level had
allowed for all concerned parties to optimize their readiness level.
But human mind as domain of operation??? What’s the equivalent to the “smoking gun”, how
can it be detected, identified, attributed to … something, somebody??? Where is my OODA
loop??? My C4ISR?, What are the ad hoc CCIR18’s???
And then, the real killer issue: What would cause triggering Article 5?
Adversaries and competitors were merciless in overtly mocking NATO’s apparent unpreparedness,
stressing the “existential risks this “marketing rather than strategic” decision was creating for the human
race”. More covertly, troll farms19, fake news factories20 and 50 Cent Army21 worked double, triple,
quadruple shifts to make sure gullible (remember Weapons of Mass Cretinization?) folks would go down
streets and avenues around the world with new, anti-NATO slogans.
Ironically, the same time pressure that had prompted NATO to issue its declaration in 2026, in an
admittedly rushed out fashion, ended up also applying to its competitors who, in turn, made a series of
bad moves that ended up in “incidents”. Epitomizing the NBIC threat and serious enough in their disastrous.

We therefore recognize the human mind and bodey as a domain of operations in which NATO defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, at sea, in cyberspace and in space.

Annex: Recommendations
This is an annex to the main “Weaponization of neurosciences” essay, aimed at providing some
recommendations related to the three main points summarized in its conclusion.
Going too far without interacting first with NATO, based on its reaction to the paper, would probably be
unrealistic and useless, so here are some fairly concrete recommendations for the two first main points
raised by the essay. The third point raises some strategic and geopolitical issues that clearly need to be
better appreciated in order to provide plausible recommendations.
Point # 1: Human mind as NATO’s 6th domain of operation.
Reaching that level may be a long shot but, whether or not that objective is achievable, the reality of the
human mind hacking threat is undeniable and NATO must react in a concrete manner, and do it quickly.
The code name proposed for NATO’s response is: “Human mind hacking: Light, camera, action!”, a
three-year project.
• Light: Because it is a developing and complex subject, Human mind hacking needs light being shed on
it to be made clearer and more decipherable.
This will start with an exhaustive state of the art study addressing the nature, plausibility, development
of that threat, together with an impact assessment of attacks already perpetrated. That particular task
may be coordinated by the Innovation Hub. Evidence gathering, structuration of the study do not raise
any particular issue and can be distributed among several military and non-military int’l partners, but
particular attention must be given to the quality of the deliverables so that they lend themselves well to
the two next steps of NATO response.
This is a 10-month effort, going from April 2020 till February 2021. Updates every six month.
• Camera: Because the relevance and potential impact of the Human mind hacking issue address the full
gamut of stakeholders, from leaders to first responders involved in complex, hybrid crises, from their
awareness and understanding of the situation to decision-making process, cameras (figuratively
speaking, of course) are needed to capture and broadcast in the most efficient manner the takeaways
from the study summarized above, and to do it with messages customized to targeted audiences.
While this effort must start immediately (April 2020) and be sustained for the whole duration of the
project with regular updates to the material that will be generated, a first production of communication
material will have to be out by September 2020.
• Action: Led by ACT, and starting in April 2020, this third pillar to the project has two primary
objectives
o As an in itinere work package, from Month 1 and for the three years’ duration of the initial
effort: setting in motion the production of the entire DOTMLPFI and coordinating its
progresses,
o As an immediate priority: Make sure that each and every exercise, wargame scenario, training
material … includes Human mind hacking material generated by the (“light” and “camera”)
two other components of the project.
Weaponization of neurosciences, HLG, ENSC, February 2020 33
Point # 2: Allied Future Surveillance & Control (AFSC)
This is obviously a major project for NATO in terms of strategic importance and in terms of budget. Even
if the current AWACS has benefited from many updates along its existence, AFSC’s design faces unique
challenges because of the complexity of today’s conflicts (see main report re: hybrid, complex warfare …),
let alone the exponential growth of (NBIC) technologies.
In other words, AFSC, in whatever shape/s or form/s this “system of systems” will take, will epitomize the
depth and sophistication of NATO’s understanding of tomorrow’s conflicts.
I am convinced that addressing all possible threats is a vital necessity.
My recommendation is to extend that mind set to the whole design process.
Point # 3: Security is not merely a military issue. Global security is a society issue.
To develop that point and come out with concrete recommendations capable of providing some added value
and not merely “state the obvious” would necessitate a better understanding of how NATO and chiefs of
government, but also NATO and large international institutions work together and craft common agendas.
One point, though, goes without saying: the communication material put together by the “Human mind
hacking: Light, camera, action!” project needs to be designed with these partners in mind.
Considering the geographical and political breadth of this issue, this is probably the most challenging
point of the “Weaponization of neurosciences” recommendations to address

Read the full essay

OUR BRAINS ARE THE NEW GLOBAL BATTLEFIELD

By Kit Klarenberg, an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg

The idea of the human brain being the battlefield of the 21st century is being heavily pushed by NATO through a series of papers and talks – all the while manipulating people to lose track of their perception of reality.

On October 5, the NATO Association of Canada, which brags of its “strong ties” to both the military alliance and Canadian government, hosted a panel discussion on the subject of “cognitive warfare.”

Gray zone journalist Ben Norton has exposed at length NATO’s long-held ambition to perfect methods of “harming the brain,” by using “neuroscience and technology” in various ways to “influence human ecology.” In fact, the Cold War relic’s in-house ‘Innovation Network’ published a number of highly illuminating, and deeply disquieting, papers throughout 2020, which outlined numerous ways in which the“human domain” could be added to established spheres of conflict such as “air, land, sea, space, and cyber.”

The ultimate goal of these cognitive warfare efforts “is to make everyone a weapon” and spearhead the “militarisation of brain science,” as “the brain will be the battlefield of the 21st century,” and “future conflicts will likely occur amongst the people digitally first and physically thereafter in proximity to hubs of political and economic power.”

NATO seeks to achieve dominance in this sphere by 2040, and many of the released documents outline ways in which this could be achieved. One file, literally titled ‘War fighting 2040’, which is repeatedly referenced in the papers, forecasts a world transformed by climate change, which has “caused a lasting disorder, particularly in terms of security,” out of which “new actors have emerged and consolidated their power at the expense of states and international institutions that have become impotent.

“The world has become de-Westernized, paving the way for the Sinicisation of the world. The character of warfare also has changed,” the file ominously projects. “The majority of conflicts remain below the traditional threshold of the commonly accepted definition of warfare, but new forms of warfare have emerged such as information and cognitive warfare, while the human mind is being [sic] a new domain of war.”

Given this xenophobic, alarmist doggerel could easily have been plucked from the yellowed pages of a low-rate sci-fi novel, it’s entirely fitting that more than one short story on cognitive warfare can be found among the documents. 

For example, a 33-page meditation on the “weaponization of neurosciences,” authored by Herve Le Guyader, professor of evolutionary biology at Bordeaux’s Institut de Cognitique, avowedly “uses fiction and mixes actual facts and events, fairly logical foresights and some fictitious extrapolations,” and “a few dramatization tricks, at the cost of being a bit provocative to try and keep the reader’s interest,” to weave an extensive, sensational fable about the steps NATO could take to launch a cognitive war.

Herve imagined that 2024 would see the launch of the “five brains initiative” – an obvious allusion to the ‘Five Eyes’ global spying network – by France, Germany, Japan, Norway, and the US, which aimed to forge “a doctrine and ad hoc rules of engagement for reacting when confronted to aggressions labelled as ‘malicious mind hacking’.”

The endeavor would “quickly [gather] momentum,” with the human mind specifically added to NATO’s stated spheres of defense just two years later, at a NATO summit in Brussels. However, the military alliance’s overseas adversaries – China and Russia, of course – have a head-start, and in response use “Weapons of Mass Cretinization” to con “gullible” Western citizens into “[going] down streets and avenues around the world with new, anti-NATO slogans.” 

Cut to 2039, and autopsies conducted on Chinese soldiers killed in skirmishes with US and Australian troops over Beijing’s Silk Road initiative in Zambia find that the deceased are not only equipped with “brain monitoring and brain stimulation” technology in their helmets, but they themselves are in fact “supra-human,” the product of gene-editing in a lab, which has imbued them with superior muscles, night-vision, and “resistance to sleep deprivation, thirst, extreme heat and humidity.”

The next year, dastardly Chinese “fake news/deep fakes smearing campaigns against Norwegian and Finnish national politicians” to undermine their opposition to local Silk Road initiatives, and efforts to test bioweapons capable of “specific ethnic genetic attacks” on “some of the most vocal and organized Sámi reindeer herders” in the region result in NATO triggering Article 5, and war with Beijing. The author closes by declaring that “yes, ‘human mind’ should be NATO’s next domain of operation.”

Ludicrous and farcical Herve’s fever dream may be, but what’s absolutely no laughing matter is that his fabricated timeline gives every appearance of having been adopted as a blueprint. As the NATO Association of Canada roundtable made amply clear, cognitive warfare is currently “one of the hottest topics” for the military alliance, and many of the more serious plotlines detailed in the story have been and are coming true. 

The discussion was led by former French military officer Francois du Cluzel, who in 2013 helped to create NATO’s Innovation Network. He was also the official in charge of conducting the alliance’s cognitive warfare study, and is quite clearly a true believer in the idea.

“Cognitive warfare has universal reach, from starting with the individual to states and multinational organizations,” he stated. “Its field of action is global and aim[s] to seize control of the human being, civilian as well as military.”

NATO’s Innovation Network is situated in Norfolk, Virginia – not far from the CIA’s headquarters. Throughout the Cold War, that agency justified its clandestine crimes against humanity – such as mind control experiments on unwitting targets – on the basis the Soviet Union could well have been doing the same, and it was foolhardy to cede a competitive edge to the enemy. 

So it is that references in Herve’s work to China gaining the capability to conduct “specific ethnic genetic attacks” acquire an especially sinister resonance, albeit not for the reasons he intended. 

In 2000, neoconservative think tank Project for a New American Century published an enormously influential document, ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses’, which outlined various strategies by which Washington could “preserve and extend its position of global leadership.” Among other things, it advocated funding research into “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes,” as this would be “a politically useful tool.” It’s a matter of public record that the US military has since collected the DNA of foreign citizens, including Russians, for “research purposes.” 

In December 2020, a full 10 months after Herve’s dystopian narrative was spun at NATO’s behest, then-US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe directly accused Beijing of “[conducting] human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities,” leading to a flurry of alarmist headlines in media outlets across the Western world. Substantiating evidence was nonetheless unforthcoming.