It was just after dawn in Kabul, Afghanistan, when the first bomb exploded sending a massive shock wave through space-time. Close your eyes, and picture the stereotypical face of a G.I. Joe action figure. That’s Jim. Six months before the bomb attack, Jim was offered a lucrative contract to provide security for Justin Bieber. He respectfully declined, and returned to Afghanistan to start his eighth tour. The threat needed to be real, and the goal was to help his country. Jim first tasted it all ten years prior in the United States Marine Corps. He served six honorable years with distinction, before going into private security contracting to provide for his two kids and beautiful wife. They bought a home in the rural heartland of America with rolling green hills, and were manifesting their dreams into a beautiful reality.
It was the third Christmas that Jim had been away from his children. His youngest had never had him home to open presents under the tree. Far from the snow-covered hills of home, Kabul Afghanistan was a hell hole. The air was extremely polluted and smell of death lingered. Jim swapped his Santa Claus costume for 80 pounds of protective gear, a Kevlar helmet, 15 magazines of ammunition, an M-4 and a smartphone to call home if something happened. He spent Christmas day escorting high-ranking government officials through Taliban strongholds in the dead of night. He was so exhausted when he returned to base that he didn’t even have the strength to call his wife and children. New Year’s Day was spent in twelve briefings with the Department of State discussing imminent attacks in the area and the need to revamp their outdated identification and biometric systems.
The ball didn’t drop until three days later. He and his twelve mobile team members had just worked a 48-hour shift, and returned to the dining hall for some food and laughs before they slept. These twelve men, like he, were all elite ex-military members who jumped to the private sector to support their families, and help pay their mortgages. These men are the .1% of the population blessed with a genetic predisposition to help people, the mental fortitude to operate under immeasurable stress, and the physical capabilities of an Olympic athlete.
As Jim and his 12 comrades ate, Mr. Taliban finished loading the last of the 3,000 pounds of explosives into his late model white Toyota Corolla. The suspension of the vehicle could hardly support the weight of the explosives causing his tires to rub up against the wheel wells as he drove over the rugged roads of Kabul. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as he approached the security checkpoint, flashed his fake ID, and accelerated his pale white horse through the security gate. A moment of calm came over him before he tripped the detonator using his mobile phone.
A massive fire ball erupted, visible for miles, causing the ground to quake. Thick black smoke followed. The bomb had been detonated just 150 meters from Jim’s table, knocking him unconscious, and throwing his lifeless body across the room. He awoke seconds later to hell on earth. Blood, body parts, screaming, burning bodies, the smell of gasoline and recently detonated explosives. He reached down to ensure his legs were intact, grabbed his gun, and ran towards the explosion while others fled the opposite way. It was just his nature.
After the dust settled, Jim knew something was wrong and that he would never be the same. The percussive blast wave had obliterated thick concrete walls, metal barriers, and blown out every window within a one mile radius. The delicate structures of his brain and frontal cortex were of no match for that kind of power.
He continued working, as he had done when he fractured his thumb and tore his ACL three weeks prior evacuating an American diplomat out of an IED attack. He was a special breed of selfless human being. Eventually, his mind and body began to fail him. His thoughts were racing. He began to suffer crippling introspective nightmares, panic attacks, and was unable to control his emotions or body. And the headaches. Each headache felt like a new bomb detonating in his brain. He would do anything to stop it all. Control was key in his line of work, and he now lost control of everything, even himself. Eventually, his co-workers forced him to surrender his weapon and return home for medical treatment.
His body came home, but his essence remained in Kabul in some alternate lost reality wherein the bomb didn’t detonate. His life would now be completely different as if he was born into a new world. His personality changed due to a traumatic brain injury. His wife could only take so much of the crying, drinking, anger, rage, depression, abuse and change. Divorce begot the loss of his house and children. Bankruptcy begot a denial in his disability claim, which led to homelessness.
Once Jim took the last pill from his orange pill bottle, he knew what was down the road. The goddamn headaches became so bad, he thought of either ending it all, or taking street drugs to stop the war in his head. Alcohol led to meth, and meth bled into heroin. Heroin was technically what his doctor had prescribed him, he just couldn’t afford to refill his oxycodone prescription. He was now the furthest thing from his manifest destiny of rolling green hills. Not only was his health stolen from him by the bomb but his wife, his kids, his house, his dreams, his destiny and his identity was lost.
For the last decade, I have had the opportunity to help those who have lost everything by virtue of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, Jim’s story is all too common. The majority of the insurgent attacks I deal with have four universal characteristics. First, they involve the use of a mobile phone as either a detonator, or a communication tool to coordinate the attack. Second, they involve the use of fake, stolen or falsified identification documents allowing access to vulnerable military or civilian targets. Third, they are perpetrated by uneducated people who do not have access to the internet. Finally, they are funded by an untraceable transfer of cash from an organized terrorist network. These four problems have plagued U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and pose an almost impossible hurdle to surpass on the road to victory. As a result, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have become the two longest in America’s history. There is a new simple solution to this problem.
In order to win America’s longest war, the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State and other governmental agencies must partner with blockchain companies to become early adopters of this revolutionary tool. Blockchain is a technology that creates an incorruptible digital ledger of data distributed in small pieces across a vast network of users. It is the holy grail of technologies as it is cheap and purges many uncertainties in the world of online business, data storage and distribution. It will eliminate the possibility of the darker side of our human nature to disrupt the digital world by establishing an incorruptible decentralized distributed system. It will phase out hacking, manipulation, data breach, corruption and distrust from the entire digital world.
The partnership between blockchain and the defense industry appears to be inevitable as the United States military has historically been an early adopter of technologies that change the course of human history. The internet itself resulted from the Department of Defense awarding a small private contract to Robert Taylor, Leonard Kleinrock and Paul Baran under the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (“ARPNET”). Under this DOD contract, ARPNET workers developed the internet protocol suite (“TCP/IP”) which advanced humanity beyond the DOD’s wildest predictions in helping create the world wide web. Many now say that blockchain will be as revolutionary as the internet itself.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Defense has demonstrated willingness to adopt blockchain technology to aid in the creation of a more secure battlefield messaging system by seeking bids from blockchain startups. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”) recently stated in an open bid proposal: "Significant portions of the DoD back office infrastructure can be decentralized, 'smart documents and contracts' can be instantly and securely sent and received thereby reducing exposure to hackers and reducing needless delays in DoD back office correspondence. As an example, Military Interdepartmental Purchase Requests (MIPR) could be implemented using the secure ledger.” To date, no blockchain company has been able to fulfill DARPA’s objective, leaving a world of opportunity for emerging startups.
Within the last six months, American defense contractors also first began testing the blockchain waters. In May 2017, defense giant Lockheed Martin announced plans to partner with a small blockchain start up in Virginia to integrate blockchain technology into its already established supply chain and risk management sectors. In a recent statement, Lockheed said, “With this effort, Lockheed Martin becomes the first US defense contractor to incorporate blockchain technology into its developmental processes, enabling more efficient and assured offerings to the federal government." This early move into blockchain technology will undoubtable bolster Lockheed’s receipt of more than $40 billion in defense revenue they receive annually. The sky will be the limit for Lockheed, as it has been, due to their foresight and early entry into this emerging arena. This is even more apparent in Lockheed’s stock price (symbol, LMT), which increased from 267 to 311 in the six months since their announcement.
Within the last 30 days, the U.S. Senate passed a $700 Billion-dollar defense bill which mandates that the military investigate future applications of blockchain technology. Specifically, Section 1630(C) of the bill states, “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the heads of such other agencies and departments as the Secretary considers appropriate, shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the potential offensive and defensive cyber applications of blockchain technology and other distributed database technologies and an assessment of efforts by foreign powers, extremist organizations, and criminal networks to utilize these technologies. Such report shall also include an assessment of the use or planned use of blockchain technologies by the United States Government or critical infrastructure networks and the vulnerabilities of such networks to cyber-attacks.” The implications of this governmental mandate will undoubtedly cause a mad rush of established defense contractors to seek partnership with blockchain startups capable of meeting growing government demand.
Blockchain is a match made in heaven with the defense industry. First, it creates a system that is immune from attacks (physical or cyber) which would traditionally annihilate a centralized controlled data network. This is of upmost importance to operational security in a military setting. In the current traditional system, if one data center is disabled by an enemy, the whole network is vulnerable. However, in a decentralized blockchain system, if one data center is attacked, the entire network remains unfazed as it operates on a distributed network relying on millions of users. Essentially, a terrorist would have to attack or destroy each one of the million users’ computers to decrease the viability of the blockchain network. Second, it creates an immutable data chain protected from alteration or unauthorized access. As data in the blockchain is built and recalled sequentially, the possibility of altering data without a footprint would be inherently impossible. The implication of this characteristic of blockchain will revolutionize cybersecurity. Third, it is efficient and has the potential to be widely distributed. In a world where bloated military budgets are headline news, future military logisticians will need to find room in their budgets to optimize their bottom-line. By having the ability to build on existing systems, blockchain will be the obvious choice for the military in the future. Fourth, as the technology is in its infancy stage, it could allow early partners to form the very future of the technology itself.
There is now a clear consensus that blockchain will be the next big tool to bring humanity into a new age. There is no doubt that blockchain technology will change the world. The question is whether the change will be for the betterment of humanity. I want to revert to the massive terror attack in Kabul that destroyed my friend Jim’s life. I am not exaggerating when I say, blockchain could have prevented that very attack from happening. Unfortunately, the technology that could have prevented the attack was not adopted and deployed in time. Fortunately, early implementation of this technology in New York City can now help Jim and other homeless vets get a helping hand.
One company showing the most promise in this arena is Blockchain for Change. Blockchain for Change is a New York City based startup aimed at tackling the immeasurable task of creating a digital identity coupled with security of personal information and financial inclusion through the use of a smartphone app. Their mobile app, Fummi, makes use of the Ethereum blockchain, optimizing functionality within the ecosystem resulting in a reliable platform to help the end user and service providers. They have created a cutting-edge pilot program in New York City to distribute its android application on mobile phones to empower the homeless community through a usable sovereign ID, digital wallet, and an app that simplifies government assistance benefit access, reservations at homeless shelters, emergency information, suicide prevention, security, and internet access. The implications of their efforts could mean a real eradication of homelessness for the first time in the city’s history. Homeless vets like Jim will now have a real chance at change.
The underlying premise of Blockchain for Change is that verified immutable identity is required to facilitate inclusion in the modern economy. Without verified identity, the economic systems driven by governmental agencies ultimately remain inefficient. By building its blockchain based Smart ID and making it accessible to those who need it most, they are paving the way for societal enfranchisement, and opening space to expand into the defense realm. The technology being developed by companies like Blockchain for Change has the exciting capability of building a future without terrorism.
The Department of Defense, Department of State, and United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”) have existing programs that can be utilized in partnership with blockchain companies to eradicate terror today in Afghanistan. Individually, each program has resulted in either mediocre success or outright failure. Integrating these existing programs under a coordinated blockchain platform will change the face of modern warfare itself. By way of example, prior contracts issued by the Department of Defense and USAID distributed free cell phones to the citizens of Afghanistan, and developed massive data systems under the Afghan Automated Biometric Information System (“AABIS”). AABIS lead to the issuance of ID cards to Afghani citizens for the first time in history. The ID’s ultimately helped American forces track terrorists, yet led to inevitable failure as the ID’s are unfortunately fallible, and are routinely altered to facilitate insurgent attacks. Likewise, the USAID distributed cellphones gave primitive internet access to the citizens, but ultimately were used as weapons and detonator systems due to infallibilities with the existing technology.
Blockchain has the ability to unify these two prior government programs, and create something greater than the sum of its parts. Instead of issuing ID’s capable of forgery, the DOD could adopt Blockchain for Change’s model of digital identification presented on a mobile platform which would result in (1) an immutable form of identification easily accessible by the user and beneficial to the issuing government body, (2) a fast data network impervious to cyber-attack, (3) verifiable digital wallets which would inevitably phase out untraceable physical transfers of cash, and (4) would create an enfranchised traceable user empowered with real access to the internet via a smartphone. Blockchain for Change’s Advisor, Josh Thompson highlights the potential role of blockchain in the defense arena: “As the majority of the developing world accesses the internet via a mobile device, the solution to combating global terrorism will emerge from the mobile arena. Aside from the benefits to the end user, the U.S. government as the service provider would be able to streamline corollary processes, cut costs, protect against data leaks, and gain efficiency while increasing overall mission security. It will surely be the future of United States’ defense and defense contracting, and we stand by to help that become a reality.”
In addition to revolutionizing the Defense industry, other governmental agencies could bring about radical change and better bottom lines through integration of blockchain technology with existing systems. Passports, voting records, birth certificates, visas, permanent resident cards, social security cards, and TSA global entry could be ushered into the modern age by phasing in a secure smartphone based identification application built on immutable blockchain technology. Blockchain for Change and New York City’s early success with their smart ID pilot program proves this dream will soon be a reality in the very near future.