MIT Security Studies Program

Techno-Blinders: How the Cult of Technology is Endangering US National Security

 Elizabeth Stanley
Assistant Professor
Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University

March 18, 2009


What is culture?  How Does Culture Shape Security Policy?
Culture + structural/exogenous conditions -> security policy

Two levels of culture in security studies

US Techno-centric Culture: Values, Assumptions and Beliefs

US Strategic Culture S-Curves

Symptoms of the US techno-centric strategic culture

She identifies nine maladies associated with the US techno-centric strategic culture:

  1. Misallocation of Resources: overspending on technology modernization, underspending on human-centric tools, see this in homeland security, intelligence, etc.
  2. Poor Strategic Assessment and policy choices: US strategic cultural bias leads to both the overestimation of US capabilities and selection of strategies not necessarily appropriate for the problem
  3. Decreased ability to work with allies and coalition partners: Allies and partners have been less willing or able to make similar technological investments, resulting in interoperability problems.
  4. Increased vulnerability to potential adversaries: Both high-technological vulnerability (e.g., cyber attacks) and low-tech ways to get around our technology (e.g., IEDs)
  5. Increased psychological insecurity: As technology becomes more visible, it increases public consciousness of insecurity (e.g., bomb screeners at the airports).
  6. A Misunderstanding of Networks: The US equates networks with a formal set of links between computers. However, the power of networks is human relationships and informal networks between people.  By focusing so much on building the technology side of networks, the US ignores the real power of networks, on which our adversaries very much capitalize.
  7. The outsourcing and privatizing of security: Human beings become an overhead expense.  Private contracts account for 70% of the intelligence budget.
  8. Rigid and archaic personnel systems: Personnel management for armed forces still uses World War I era standards of organization and equipment.
  9. Technical Bureaucratization of the Military and a Concomitant Decline of the Military Profession: A focus on objective data gathered by systems supplants a focus on human judgment, experience and mentorship.

Is the US on the right S-Curve? 
She argues that for today’s adversaries, the US needs a new underlying strategic culture.  Today’s strategic environment calls for a more balanced approach that blends technology with human-centric “strategies of action.”


Rapporteur: Kelly Grieco

back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Spring 2009