Neuroscience and National Security

On August 13th, 2008, the National Academy of Sciences issued a press release titled “National Security Intelligence Organizations Should Monitor Advances in Cognitive Neuroscience Research.”

National Security and Breakthroughs in "Brain Science"

In part, the press release noted that,
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according to a new report issued by the National Research Council, advances in specific fields of neuroscience could have implications for U.S. national security, and should be closely monitored by the intelligence community.

In the new NRC report, the committee developed and utilized a specific methodology, developed by neuroscience experts, to determine what areas of neuroscience should be of most interest to the intelligence community due to potential impact to U.S. national security.

The areas noted of primary relevance to U.S. intelligence included:

  • Detecting and measuring neurophysiological factors that provide insight into “psychological states and intentions of individuals.”
  • New drugs and technologies with the capability of altering “human physical or cognitive abilities.”
  • Brain imaging technological advances
  • Advanced technologies that could lead to systems that can “mimic functions of the human brain,” such as the ability to organize complex data.

The NRC report stressed that the U.S. intelligence community should be prepared and capable of monitoring such advancements by making sure intelligence analysts are trained and qualified within the fields of advanced science and technology, and by collaborating more closely with academic and scientific communities within these fields of research.

Why Should U.S. Intelligence Communities Care about Neuroscience?

It might not seem readily apparent to many why seemingly innocuous fields of research as artificial intelligence or brain imaging advances would have an impact on national security.

Dr. Christopher Green is the chair of the NRC committee who authored this 2008 report (Committee on Military and Intelligence Methodology for Emergent Neurophysiological and Cognitive/Neural Science Research in the Next Two Decades.)

Just over a month ago, on the online roundtable discussion at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on October 29, 2008, ( titled “The military application of neuroscience research” Kit Green provides more insight into his belief regarding emergent science and technologies when he writes:

“But I've also learned that all of us underestimate the pace of global change in neuroscience and the way that applications are emerging before the underlying science is understood.


In general, the impact has been felt most acutely in legal and medical circles, not on the battlefield, and have thus engaged nongovernmental organizations, such as international sports authorities, and pseudo-experts as neuro-witnesses."

Earlier, in August 11, 2008, he wrote:

"First, I stand by my initial belief that the pace of discovery in the neurosciences is unlikely to accelerate faster than it is today and will not happen preferentially in the West. Second, we should not assume that the military applications of this research can be influenced by incremental additional financial support.


If governments or scientists were to try to develop a system to pre-screen neuroscientific cognitive manipulators, which would be HIPAA approved and tested, and robust in its core science, success would be as likely as it was with mines and cluster-bombs--meaning not likely. And if we did have such success, our enemies of the future would not care.”

These quotes help to explain why a former CIA neuroscientist with high levels of security clearances, would choose to emigrate to China in order to conduct research within a more “flexible” environment.

A source within the current IC sent the following comment in June of 2008:

“I was told that Kit is still receiving consider funds from a foreign ‘donor’ to conduct his ‘research.’”

No elaboration was provided, but from this comment, we can extract two things. First, this IC source has little respect for Kit’s foreign research (notice the quotes around the word). Secondly, this isn’t the first time that it’s been implied that Kit and Hal both are constantly in search of unconventional funding sources for “nontraditional” scientific research (note the last HFGW post). Whether or not that is true is another matter – but a good indication or confirmation of the truth of the statement is whether or not patterns from the past reflect it as accurate.

It should be noted, in fairness to Dr. Green, that he (Dr. Green) did make a point via email, last year, that he felt certain persons within the IC had reason to belittle or attack what he considers to be his own valid research. This possibility will be examined as well.