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Media: A Crucial, Overlooked Aspect of National Security

Granted, this is my opinion, but I feel fairly certain that the most evident challenge least frequently discussed as a matter of National Security is in media. Let’s talk about Defense and the Military, aspects of every country and a critical consideration in innovation.

Visual Capitalist has a wonderful new infographic highlighting the Top 40 Countries in Military Spending. The visual is rich with insight, as is often the case with Visual Capitalists’ work, revealing considerations not so surprising (such as the United States drastically outspending everyone or the Ukraine, understandably, straining the limits relative to their GDP) as well as surprising (such as China’s massive budget being a tiny fraction relative to their GDP), but it was the stereotype of what imagery to associate with matters of national security. Take a look at the graphic: a warship, helicopters, missiles, and trucks – begging the question in my mind, ‘on what do countries allocate their national defense budgets?’

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Not an answer easy to uncover.

I recently had an opportunity join a National Security Innovation Council conversation with Honorable Patrick J. Murphy, former Member of Congress and 32nd Under Secretary of the US Army. It was in that meeting that I heard many of the buzzwords familiar through Department of Defense conversations – cybersecurity, robotics, logistics, and satellites. Murphy remarked (and I’m paraphrasing), “The greatest threat to national security and our miliary is physical fitness in schools and Veteran programs to help them after their service.”

Now, I’m fixated because Veteran programs for retraining, education, small business, and entrepreneurship, could be very easily provided thanks to the internet – through media and learning management systems that could teach everyone. Mental healthcare and therapy, another critical service to Veterans, could also be easily provided through support of media and the respective technology. Where is budget typically allocated??

This is the best I could find, thanks to Bloomberg Government:

In an era of humanity fixated on social media, online privacy, fake news, communications, and media bias, is there not a grave concern that media is NOT a significant allocation of budget to national security? Have you noticed how frequently issues of media are the foremost of attention by politicians and that you’d not even know anything at all about foreign policy, world affairs, wars, national discourse, or considered legislation, without the media – which is tracked, influenced, biased, and faked?

This headline caught my attention, “The Army Tests AI-Enabled Social Media Tech for Decision-Making

As militaries and governments throughout the world explore the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to bolster battlefield operations, the U.S. Army is making strides by testing a specialized AI-enabled social media tool known as Data Robot. This technology was among 17 innovations put to the test during the recent Cyber Quest experiment at Fort Gordon, GA, under the leadership of the US Army Cyber Center of Excellence. The experiment saw soldiers evaluating technologies from 11 different vendors in areas like electronic warfare, networking, and cyber operations.

Data Robot stands out for the ability of the technology to utilize open-source data in detecting bots and deep-fake algorithms. By providing an information “overlay,” this tool could give Army commanders crucial insights to make informed decisions, which currently remains lacking in their arsenal.

Moreover, the media’s importance in the military goes beyond Data Robot. Various applications across different military sectors demonstrate the significance of media in bolstering national defense:

1. Education and Training

Whether evident in Harvard providing their entire curriculum online, a platform for learning such as Kahn Academy, YouTube classes and lessons even found in our k-12 schools, or MediaTech Ventures’ virtual, white labeled, incubators, media now plays the dominant role in education and training, and so too can and should be the case in modern military education and training. Moreover, in addressing the distinct needs of Veterans returning from service to the workforce. Advanced simulations, virtual reality, and interactive video-based modules have transformed the learning experience for soldiers. These technologies help train troops in realistic scenarios, preparing them for complex situations they might encounter in the field.

2. Drones

Drone technology has revolutionized modern warfare but what’s generally overlooked in what most think about when hearing “drones” is that the technology and skills involved are those that we find in video games, cameras, and video, as much if not more than they are flight. Drones are flown remotely, akin to operating a video game. The intuitive nature of the controls allows for precise maneuvering and effective execution of missions, making them a formidable asset in military operations.

3. Robotics

Likewise, robotics are largely dependent on camera technology, video, and remove, video game-like operations, providing real-time feedback and situational awareness to operators. These visual aids enhance decision-making and allow personnel to safely execute tasks in hazardous environments.

4. Communications

Mobile apps and social media platforms have become essential tools for military communication. They facilitate seamless information sharing among troops, commanders, and support staff. These platforms also serve as effective channels for engaging with the public and disseminating vital information during crises.

5. The Internet

The internet’s history is intertwined with military origins. Originally developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the US Department of Defense as ARPANET, it was designed for academic and research purposes. This endeavor laid the foundation for the modern internet and its widespread applications beyond the military.

Social media, in particular, is anticipated to play a pivotal role in at least three of the five pillars identified by the Army to achieve information advantage. Data Robot, in response to specific requests from soldiers in the Indo-Pacific region, has already demonstrated its capabilities in bot detection during an exercise in Hawaii. Its potential for creating an information overlay using open-source data on military systems further strengthens its relevance.

While facing some technical challenges, the Army is making promising progress with Data Robot and is committed to incorporating this technology in future endeavors. Notably, it may find application in next year’s Project Convergence, contributing to the broader Joint All Domain Command and Control effort.

There are organizations in the United States prioritizing technological innovation, largely through Texas:

Army Futures Command (AFC) is a transformative force dedicated to ensuring the Army’s future readiness for war-winning capabilities.

With its headquarters situated in Texas, AFC boasts a workforce of over 17,000 personnel spread across the globe. As the newest addition to the Army’s four major commands, established in 2018, AFC holds the responsibility of keeping the Army and its soldiers at the cutting edge of technological innovation and warfighting prowess. Its mission is to proactively shape the Army’s future, fostering a force that remains agile, adaptive, and fully equipped to face the challenges of tomorrow’s battles.

The National Security Innovation Council (NSIC) aims to accelerate problem-solving, enhance government support for innovation, and provide Texas-based companies and institutions with collective access to more opportunities than they could achieve individually.

The Army Application Lab defies the traditional notion of a laboratory. Instead, it focuses on testing and refining scalable business models for the entire Army. By challenging conventional capability development approaches, it fosters collaboration between industry and the military, paving the way for innovative ways of working together.

AFWERX, a Technology Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the innovation arm of the Department of Air Force, facilitates swift and cost-effective capability transitions by fostering collaboration between innovative technology developers and Airman and Guardian talent. Within AFWERX, AFVentures expands the Defense Industrial base for advanced technologies, Spark empowers Airmen and Guardian talent, and Prime drives the transition to operational capability.

As I look to our work in Texas, when it comes to innovations for national security, it becomes evident why the Texas Startup scene is ideal for this work. Beyond the major cities, accessible to infrastructure and affordable for entrepreneurs and Veterans, we find the great majority of U.S. space work outside of Houston, on the outskirts of Fort Worth, or north of Austin with organizations such as Firefly Aeropace; on the edge of downtown San Antonio we find the NSA’s Cryptological Center, where, “The agency has a “geographical advantage” in San Antonio that allows it to partner with other federal agencies, industries and academic institutions also located in the region, an NSA spokesperson said. The agency also has been “leveraging” its San Antonio presence to recruit more cybersecurity, analysis and information technology professionals.”

With this in mind and that acknowledgement of aerospace north of Austin, we dug deeper into the ideal region in Central Texas

“With easy access to both Ft. Cavazos in Killeen and the bustling downtown of Austin, the small (but growing!) town of Round Rock offers the best of all worlds to military connected families and employees. Bunker Labs, a national nonprofit serving veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs, has shifted their physical footprint in Central Texas and strengthened their relationship with the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce in order to reach more of their stakeholders. We’re grateful to see more programming for military entrepreneurs coming into the area, as well.”

Lauren Postler, Ambassador for Bunker Labs and Veteran Leadership Scholar with the George W. Bush Presidential Institute

NW Austin… where we find Telsa, IBM, Apple, Samsung, and other innovative companies beyond

Coined Austin’s ‘second downtown,’ there is a $3 billion dollar development in N. Austin recognizing the demand for substantial property in the direction that Austin is shifting. I’ve explored the region quite a bit before with it’s incredibly central nature to DFW, Houston, and San Antonio, as well it’s more affordable and accessible community, Postler is right, I’d propose, the City of Round Rock is at the center of the future of the region, and in many ways, much more ideal to entrepreneurship and innovation than expensive and inaccessible downtown Austin.

Dell is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, for those of you who don’t know, about 35 minutes north of downtown Austin, at what I’ve called the crossroads of technology. Literally, it sits where an outer freeway loop of Austin carves north, while the 45 freeway cuts from the region’s venture capital residents, past Apple’s amazing campus, and up to Samsung’s new incredible semiconductor plant, it rides the I-35 freeway, bringing everything closer to Waco, Dallas, and Fort Worth, and it’s a stone throw from here to College Station and Texas A&M. 

Ultimately, probably evident, I’m very “private sector” and our work is largely with companies, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs, which is to say, I’m not privy to questions of U.S. national security nor what and where the Department of Defense should focus. But what I can say is that when I look to the tremendous innovations in media, through our programs and throughout the media and entertainment industries, and I look to the needs of defense, serving Veterans, and even addressing many of a country’s challenges in education, social media, and news, we must work together. Collaboration, public and private sector, in the right place, for the right purpose, and with the experienced mentors, advisors, and programs in place, serve best. With some intention, focus, and that work together, with governments ready to make a difference, we can tackle the fact that the media is a challenge, an opportunity, and frankly the critical path to all innovation in national security.

Paul O'Brien

Silicon Valley technology and startup veteran, Paul O'Brien is affectionately known as SEO'Brien for an extensive past in the search industry. Today as CEO and Founder of MediaTech Ventures, O'Brien works in Venture Capital Economic Development, serving the investment and venture capital economies directly, through thought leadership, consulting, and startup development. More, a regional Director of the Founder Institute incubator and mentor in DivInc, Galvanize, and various startup Accelerators.

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  1. Paul O’Brien Hi Paul. Do you know of any startups looking for series A or pre-seed or seed money ? I have 2 sources in mind. Feel free to tag anyone to this post.

    1. We should chat because I have way more than a couple but, we don’t really refer/broker because we’re in the program and platform business. Would make more sense to get you caught up on and involved in what we’re doing since the majority of LPs these days are saying they want sector specific funds and platform (so Fund management and ROI is more explicit to the sector focus).

      1. I have more details about what the two funding resources are looking for. Happy to find time to get on a zoom call

  2. re: Not an answer easy to uncover.

    Fun fact: In the 2016 State of the Union addess, Obama came close and said the following:

    “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”

    Again, this was the SOTU and the POTUS. Hidden in plain sight…

    1) Only two of those eight are not allies.

    2) That was 2016, given the DoD budget increases since, I’m confident it’s probably “next ten” or “next dozen”. Maybe worse.

    3) All the budget didn’t really help in Afghanistan.

    4) A few lines later in his speech, Obama got a standing ovation from the Dems *and* the Reps. fwiw, there was a time a liberal or anyone left of certain would be ridiculed for championing the DoD, the spending, etc. My how times of changed 🙁


    p.s. My working understanding / presumption is the Intelligence Community has “double agents” high up in any/all media organizations of size/influence. Given the IC’s objectives, it would be naive to think otherwise.

  3. Paul O’Brien, it a good article but i’ll admit somewhat of a nuanced issue. There are thousands of public affairs officers working across the four services who would probably feel somewhat hurt by your opinion 🙂 However, the fact that you, a media expert, are not fully aware of their efforts adds substance to your argument. Regarding Mr. Murphy’s comments, saying anything is the “greatest threat’ is hyperbole. What’s decisive, or capable of determining success or failure, changes based on conditions. The Senior Service Colleges conduct training for commanders, but most of the training is how to interact with the media, not necessarily leverage it for common interests. I think if you had the time you’d find examples of excellence across DoD, but you’d also find significant challenges. Your five application examples of effective in making your point that media is broader and deeper than many understand. However, I would point out that National Strategy is really only considered at the COCOM (combatant command) or nation state level, meaning, most of what you see across the services are themes and messages intended to advance the initiatives of various commands.

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