Transcript of:

This is a transcript of the phone interview Dan Bricklin did with VADM (Ret.) John Morgan on September 25, 2008. The audio can be found at The raw transcription was done by and has not been checked by Dan yet for errors or unclear audio. The timecodes refer to the original audio.
Dan Bricklin: [0:00] Hi, this is Dan, and with me is retired Vice Admiral John Morgan of the US Navy. Admiral Morgan has an economics degree from the University of Virginia. He entered the US Navy in 1972 and for the next 36 years was steeped in the practical side of planning, execution and organizational leadership.

[0:19] On September 11, 2001 John was commanding 10,000 men and women of the USSS Enterprise Carrier Group, just then exiting the Straight of Hormuth. Upon getting word of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center he immediately turned the group, on his own authority, to be the first in the theatre of operations against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

[0:40] Morgan capped his Navy career as a key adviser to Mike Mullen, then Chief of Naval Operations and, starting in 2007, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. In that capacity he directed the creation of a cooperative strategy for the 21st century sea power.

[0:57] Two years in the making, the global strategy is now in effect and reflects the input of national and international leaders in business, military, civic organizations and think tanks. It is aimed at protecting vital interests in an increasing interconnected and changing world.

[1:11] Welcome John.
John Morgan: [1:13] It's great to be with you today Dan.
Dan: [1:15] Thanks a lot for being willing to do another podcast with me. You've worked on both operations and you've worked on strategy, what's going on today and what's going on tomorrow. You have a vast experience in a variety of diverse areas. And having retired after 36 years, I think I'd like to take advantage of that perspective, asking some questions.

[1:38] Here's where I'm coming from. I'm not a person with military background and I'm not looking at the current military in the Middle East or US party politics in this discussion. I have interests as part of the high tech ecosystem and the economy that creates new systems and provides new tools for the world.

[1:57] And when I say tool I mean it very generally, its systems and products that leverage people. I have personal experience of how designing the right tool can leverage millions of others in their work to do a better job. And we're now building systems that provide the new fabric through which much of interpersonal communications take place.

[2:18] It's enabled by computing power, the Internet and ubiquitous connectivity. It went from email to MySpace, Facebook, You Tube, blogs, Wikipedia, the original Napster, Skype. And now with mobile we have SMS, text messaging, iPhone, Twitter, Quick with live video, and they connect millions and millions of people. So, my questions will be driving at information that can be useful in that context.

[2:47] First, anything about your background that people may not get from the short bio that might be helpful?
John: [2:54] Well Dan, you and I have grown up in different worlds but its interesting that we've arrived at a common point of view. I admire the work that you have done across your adult life and I think your efforts to try to find systems and products that leverage each other for the betterment of mankind is exactly where I am at the end of my 36 year naval career.
Dan: [3:24] My background as an MBA and as an engineer gives me a particular viewpoint. What would be the viewpoint of somebody with your background, having commanded large fleets and strategies for countries and having the weight of the world on your shoulders?
John: [3:41] Dan, you know its funny, as you've described your interests and as I concluded that my interests were very much along the lines that you are pursuing. I'll tell you; here the higher thought that's important to both of us. Despite our different upbringings and perspectives we both would agree that there's a global system at work right now. And that global system is very important to maintain.

[4:11] I tried to defend and protect that global system and in so doing I think you have to. You tried to understand the inner connectivity of that global system and make it work more efficiently.
Dan: [4:24] OK, so that's where your goals are. Let me ask some questions about what you've seen over these 36 years. We have to get this question out of the way, how has the role of computer technology changed in the Navy?
John: [4:43] It's been a huge change. For instance, just for us to be able to gather what we call situation awareness, high speed computing has brought that kind of information to us all the time. And it's only gotten better and better and better over time.

[5:02] My ability, when I was the commander of the Enterprise Carrier Group off of Afghanistan after 9/11, was that I was never at want for information. I had plenty of information. In fact, the challenge for the military commander is managing a lot of complex information and deciphering what's important and what's not.

[5:25] High speed computing has been essential to military commanders for their ability to have an accurate sense of the situation around them.
Dan: [5:35] And have you seen changes, how is it different doing something now than it was, lets say, back 30 years ago?
John: [5:44] Let me give you a very specific military example. You are right, I brought the Enterprise Battle Group south through the Straights of Hormuth on the night of the 10th of September, and on the 11th of September we watched the events unfold in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania and the reaction around the world and we pressed up off the coast of Pakistan.

[6:05] But, when we launched the first strike in Afghanistan we did so by firing Tomahawk cruise missiles. And here's the technology example: We directed all those Tomahawk cruise missiles by means of a chat room. It's staggering...
Dan: [6:24] Chat?
John: [6:25] Yeah, by chat.
Dan: [6:26] You, running the aircraft Enterprise and all that were using chat rooms?
John: [6:33] We were using a chat room for the Tomahawk cruise missiles. I can't go into the specifics because that gets classified. But, the use of, now Internet tools like chat, obviously secure chat, is going on every day. The means of us exchanging large volumes of information from overhead satellite photography is because of our high speed computing capabilities.

[7:01] And our computer protection in defense is going to be very important to us in the future because militaries follow the trend of technologies and this is one good example of it.
Dan: [7:12] So, back 30 years ago you weren't doing it that way?
John: [7:15] We were not doing it no; 30 years ago there were no chat rooms. I don't want to tell you that every detail was passed through a chat room, that's not the case. But, the advent of chat rooms and you find them around the world today with military applications, some can be classified, some are unclassified. But, chat rooms didn't exist 10 years ago, much less 30 years ago in the military application.
Dan: [7:42] One of the things about that is, with a chat room, as opposed to walkie-talkies, or the equivalent...
John: [7:47] Or radios.
Dan: [7:48] Radios... is that you have multiple people sharing and some people lurking, some people talking?
John: [7:55] Absolutely, and it did a couple of things that I found fascinating. As I first looked at it I said, "We can't be doing it this way because that's not the way I grew up, this will never work."

But, what I found Dan, these two things: [8:09] One, it made our command centers much quieter. There were not people talking, multiple conversations going on over radios. It was all being done on computer screens. So, it almost induced a sense of calm and order and discipline.

[8:31] The second thing it contributed to was this collaborative nature. That somebody somewhere could say, "Hey, wait a minute, I think that's wrong." And that kind of information was made assessable to me as well. It was a very interesting combination of how new technology was being applied in the military scenario.
Dan: [8:53] Its not just new technology, it's the use of groups working together. Are these huge groups, medium groups?
John: [9:01] We had multiple ships, and each command center, my command center was probably the largest, but each command center must have had 30 to 40 people in it. I couldn't give you a tally of the number of people, but I would say there had to be a couple of hundred people in chapters.
Dan: [9:23] In one chapter? Now, is this one or are you doing multiple at the same time?
John: [9:27] They're multiple chapters.
Dan: [9:29] OK, boy! So, are these people who know each other face-to-face?
John: [9:34] Sometimes they've never met.
Dan: [9:37] The mixture is in general, it is people who have worked with each other before? Are they people who are together for the first time?
John: [9:47] Well in the case of the Enterprise Battle Group, we had worked together for closely for over year, half of that time being before the group deployed and then during the six month deployment, which actually ended up being 8-8 1/2 months.

[10:05] It was all these people are located on different ships. So, they're obviously separated by space and distance across water obviously. So, it was really was this collaborative group of people, that may not necessarily have seen each other's face.
Dan: [10:21] Now, do people know the rank of people? Do they know anything about them, background or anything like that?
John: [10:30] I wouldn't say they're anonymous. I mean there certainly is a relationship in different, what we call "Watch stations," where the senior officer present will be the senior person there, or the coordinator for a given mission will be probably a mid-grade officer. So, their identities were never hidden, but they were never as apparent as if you were in a command center together and you could see which rank a person you're talking to.
Dan: [11:00] So that when somebody participates, they could be talking to someone way over their rank without having to go through each of the steps going up?
John: [11:09] Either that, or certainly somebody much more senior to them could be observing on their computer screen what's going on in the chat room.
Dan: [11:17] So, you as commander could sit there and have a feel for what's going on, lurking - it's sort of like watching "Twitter" in today's world.
John: [11:24] Yeah, that's a very good example.
Dan: [11:26] Wow! So that puts Twitter in a different perspective. Now, what about non-text stuff? You have all those images and stuff. How does that tie-in - live video feeds, things like that?
John: [11:43] In many respects what we use that for in that specific application, was we would certainly look at that type of imagery as we prepared to launch missions, so we could understand that an anti-aircraft site wasn't completely destroyed. Should we have to completely worry about that? We could watch for logistics flow, lines of trucks moving, anything along those lines.

[12:13] We would certainly do that before we left for a mission, and then after a mission we would call it a damage assessment. Did we destroy the target that we wanted to get to? So, rapid access from imagery to do that was most helpful to us.
Dan: [12:29] To sort of pivot a little bit from that, over these years; how has the community aspects of ships and the Special Forces changed over the last 30 something years?
John: [12:39] Well, I think that the Special Forces, and I know many of them well, and I've worked with them for well over 30 years. I think the role for the need of Special Forces is obviously increasing. They bring such diverse set of talents; they're so skillful in so many ways. Many times our Special Forces spend more time helping avert a conflict than actually fighting in a conflict.

[13:09] They're obviously very heavily engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan today, but they are a very, very special group of men and they're doing remarkable things. I think because of the changing nature of conflict, and I think there's almost a new generational level of conflict that's about us, I think Special Forces will be increasingly important in the future.
Dan: [13:32] They're like a really cohesive group, and has their since of community changed? Are things different with the technology of communications? Are they more connected now? Are they less connected now? How do they work with each other?
John: [13:49] Well I think that they're more connected now, but I don't think it's the sect of their bond. I mean they are such a special and such an elite group, that they fundamentally depend upon each other more so than depending upon technology. They understand and take advantage of technology, all that it can bring to them. Their core of camaraderie, of being part of a team, of being part of a very elite group of people; I don't think that's changed at all, and if anything it's just stronger.
Dan: [14:23] Oh, is there a connection from them to the outside more, to the other forces and stuff like that, or has that more or less been the same?
John: [14:32] No, they're certainly well connected not only to other forces, but to the general situation and global awareness. So, they certainly take advantage of being much better connected today than they ever been, but it has not altered their core camaraderie.
Dan: [14:50] OK, and then what about ships, the community aspects of ships? Now that you can be on daily connectivity with your spouse and your family, is there any change in the community aspect? Are people, because of these chats and stuff like that, are they closer with people in the ships, any changes over the years?
John: [15:10] Well, I think they're closer with their families while they're so far away in distant places, and that's been a huge improvement. The ability to stay in touch with your loved ones at home, friends and family, has been an enormous benefit for all of us. That difference is light-years, in what used to be just 10-15 years ago.
Dan: [15:34] So, it's not a distraction, it's viewed as a positive thing from on top?
John: [15:38] I think it is a positive thing. I think your thoughts are certainly about the mission at hand, but we in the military are not made of wood. We have emotional relationships, and I think if you're balanced emotionally you're better prepared for your mission.
Dan: [15:58] Now, you talk a lot about community, like community's trust and things like that in discussions we've had and writings you have. How do you define community? What are the attributes of a community?
John: [16:10] Oh, I think the attributes are grouping of people with similar aspirations, and ambitions, and desires, similar interests obviously, that's what brings a community together. It goes back to my point earlier about, the larger point here is about a global system, and the global system is made up of a variety of local systems.

[16:39] It's that system approach, and I don't mean it in a pure system engineering approach, Dan. It's the notion that there's something that's larger then self, that you benefit by a community benefiting. It's that notion that's central to where I think you're channeling your efforts, and where I'm now channeling my efforts.
Dan: [17:03] What have you learned about self-forming groups, or enhancing cohesion? Obviously, that's one of the things you have to do when you have new recruits and stuff like that on the ship. Self-forming groups are things that come about on their own or something, or like the experience you had putting together the 1000 ship Navy.
John: [17:24] Indeed, Dan. I think self-forming groups are very important. I was watching a video on "TED Talks" by Clay Shirky. Clay gave a presentation in Oxford, I think in 2005. He spoke about how institutions in the future are going to be challenged by what he called, "Interactive infrastructures," and I think Clay was exactly right.

[17:51] I think interactive infrastructures, communities in some cases, can be very, very powerful things. Clay's assertion is that they're going to become more powerful over time. It may take some time; it may take 40-50 years. He sees the emergence of interactive infrastructures, as almost akin to the advent of the "Printing Press."
Dan: [18:18] How's that applying to some of the stuff that you've been involved with?
John: [18:22] I think military men and women aren't any different then citizens in the United States, or around the world. I mean any tool that we have, and I am a fundamental believe that I like collaborative approaches ... I'm a "Wisdom of the crowd kind of guy" from Jim Surowiecki. It always made us stronger and in what we do, obviously there are life and death implications to what we do, you're constantly in search of the best idea, and I think communities and groups help you find that best idea.
Dan: [19:05] How has the nature of adversaries and other challenges changed?
John: [19:11] Well, I think we are in a transition now. I think perhaps there's a new generation of warfare emerging. Certainly in Iraq what we saw was a significant insurgency and how you fight an insurgency is far different than how you fight state-on-state or nation war. And we're becoming, unfortunately, very experienced at that in the American military. But, there's probably no more experienced force in the world right now than the United States military is to dealing with that type of danger. And it is a real danger.

[19:54] You may agree or disagree with what went on in Iraq but there are always going to be sources of conflict in the future. They may arise for different reasons in the future. It would not surprise me if someday conflict arises over a competition for resources. One of the most fundamental resources may be water. Some of the things that are going on in Darfur right now, some people are claiming it really has its genesis in the environmental change due to climate warming. And that nature of conflict is so dreadful and so different than state-on-state war that somebody is going to have to understand that.
Dan: [20:41] So, it's going from nations to different groups than nations. The individual is getting more powerful. Are we talking about them alone? In formal groups? In ad hoc groups?
John: [20:56] Well certainly I think the threat of state-on-state conflict is diminished somewhat but it is not gone away. There are militaries around the world that are expanding and in some areas of the world there is a rise in nationalism.

[21:17] In other areas of the world there are these groups that are forming - Al Qaeda, the Taliban, they're prime examples. There are other terrorist groups around the world and they are somewhat more ad hoc than, obviously, a nation state. But, make no mistake, they're very dedicated to their beliefs, to their cause, and they will resort to violent means to achieve those. And that's one of the dangers we face in this world.
Dan: [21:47] So, is a lot of it from the group or is it individuals who are leading the group? Is that a difference?
John: [22:03] I think there's always a role, Dan, for leaders that emerge. Clearly there's a leadership cell in Al Qaeda. Every tribe has a leader. Obviously every nation has a leader. So, leaders will still be important. But, how they motivate and inspire and compel the groups they belong to, to act in the manner in which they desire is important. Some are more rigidly formed, others are more loosely formed, I'm not so sure "one size fits all."
Dan: [22:42] Reports have been that they use the same chat rooms and stuff like that - the same technologies that everybody else does.
John: [22:48] Absolutely. Sure. Internet cafes are a very popular place for global terrorists.
Dan: [23:00] Now, what have you learned about being members of multiple groups that have sometimes conflicting goals and needs?
John: [23:09] That's constantly present and will never go away and it's how do you ... not necessarily arbitrate those conflicts, but how do you at least understand them. How do you find, when there are competing interests, one beneficial path where most of the groups get most of what they want. That's the delicacy of diplomacy. In some cases that's the need for enlightened leadership is to be able to suggest to the varying groups with varying interests, that it's this common path that serves most of their interests. Once again, I think that's the notion that comes back to keeping the global system intact. That's a fundamental concern of mine.
Dan: [24:01] Of keeping it intact?
John: [24:03] Yeah. Not breaking it. It will never be in perfect harmony but the bigger question, Dan, is - Is there a global system running in the world today? I think the answer is, yes. I spend a lot of my time now thinking, "What could break that global system?"

[24:26] And then I spend a lot of my time figuring out ways to try to sense that there's a danger raising that could potentially break that global system. And then, what do we do to prevent that?

[24:41] During the course of my military career I spent time thinking about, "How do I win a conflict?" I'm now spending time, maybe it's a function of my age, trying to avoid a conflict, realizing that the world is not perfect, it is not safe, and until it is safe I understand that we may, once again, have to resort to our hard power. But, the military has a number of elements of soft power that can try to prevent the breaking of that global system.
Dan: [25:12] So, we have this system that's working and we have some definition of what would be bad - of what happens when it starts breaking in some bad way.
John: [25:24] Right.
Dan: [25:25] And you're looking for indicators that something is into a feedback loop or some loop that's about to break off.
John: [25:33] Right.
Dan: [25:33] OK. So, you're looking for something that can be squashed in the bud, so to speak.
John: [25:40] Right.
Dan: [25:41] Nipped in the bud, sorry. So, what type of examples of that... obviously we have some in the financial world right now, there were leading indicators and stuff like that, but how did you know that it would spiral as opposed to dampen?
John: [26:00] Precisely. I think today's financial crisis is a great example, Dan. I've been with some leading business men and women who I've asked if their businesses have been affected by the financial crisis and some clearly it has. But, a handful of those business leaders said, "You know, we saw this coming about a year ago and we began to protect our positions and we began to strengthen other elements." So, there were people who were able to see this financial crisis coming and did something about it. Now, they did something about it at their local business level but you wonder if that kind of foresight could be applied on a global scale.
Dan: [26:46] Right. At the system level, at the higher level.
John: [26:48] Yeah. And so I'm working with a couple of people who are trying to see if that's possible. You know, we're not going to be able to predict who's going to win the World Series this year but we certainly think that with the use of high-speed computing and in some cases the use of some behavioral insight - can we anticipate that something is really beginning to go south here? And then, how do you gather the group of people with greater insights than your own who can say, "Jeez, maybe there is something going wrong here and maybe we can find it in the early stages so remedial action can be taken sooner."
Dan: [27:32] I can think of one example that I know about with a friend of mine who works in public health. What they do is try to get daily reports on things from emergency rooms to see if there is a spike that you wouldn't expect, to be able to catch epidemics or attacks of various sorts quickly before they become an epidemic, which is an example of that. Can you give examples of other things you're thinking of?
John: [28:00] Well I think that's one of the best examples and there are a couple of others. But, just think about what the rapid spread of disease would do in this global system that we've talked about.

[28:14] If you were to ask me Dan, "John, what things could disrupt the global system?" One of the things that I would tell you is one causation for breakage would be a global pandemic. And in the global transpiration today something can spread from Africa to London in 12 hours.

[28:40] Do we have a network on a global basis, not just a local emergency room that can say that one strain could potentially spread to a global pandemic? Certainly that was the concern with Avian flu. And there are means right now to be able to fence that global system.

[29:01] Other things that I think could break this global system would be a major state on state war. God forbid if the United States and China ever went to war, it would probably set back the world economy by 50 years. You can understand why the elevation of the prevention of something is terribly important in my judgment.
Dan: [29:23] That's not what you are taught in military school, I take it, or didn't use to be?
John: [29:29] I'll credit Admiral Mullen, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now. One of the tenets that we subscribe to in the new maritime strategy is that we've elevated the notion of the prevention of war to rival that of winning war.

[29:48] Once again, we don't think the future's a panacea and no one should interpret that people in uniform have become pacifists. That's not the case; we understand there are harsh realities about life in the world. And our job is often to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

[30:10] We understand that there are elements of military soft power that can help prevent, and if prevention doesn't work then you can rely upon us to prevail. But, it is a more nuance, more sophisticated, I think, a very mature look. And I credit Admiral Mullen for really being the champion of this notion of preventing the next fight. And the core is the preventative medicine.
Dan: [30:35] When you are practicing something what would you practice doing to be able to stop something before it gets too big, rather than being able to get in there and just wipe out the other side?
John: [30:51] One of the clear things that we're doing these days is the US military is promoting military to military relationships with China. We want the Chinese military to get to better know us and we want to get to better know them.

[31:07] We think, through the exchange, particularly education opportunities, and I think the next generation of leaders, both in their military and our military, if we're closer, and if we get to a situation where we don't understand what the other side is doing you would hope that somebody could pick up the telephone, enter a chat room, send an email to somebody that they've know for 10 or 15 or 20 years. And say, "I just don't understand what you're doing, can we talk about this? Is there something else we ought to consider?" That's the kind of dialog that we need to foster, I think.
Dan: [31:43] I get this image that instead of the hot line phone that you pick up that there's this chat room that major governmental people around the world are involved in.
John: [31:54] I think whatever means available Dan. Sometimes there's no replacement than a face-to-face meeting. But, otherwise if you can quickly get on the phone and say, "Ahh, I didn't understand that's what you really meant to say." Those are the types of things that we need to be better off at doing to once again get back to the central notion of "how would we prevent state on state conflict?"
Dan: [32:20] So, misunderstanding, paranoia, those which you may think of as individual problems in individual relationships, we have that at a state level and we have to prevent that.
John: [32:32] Indeed, and the other factor that I would throw in there is a cultural bias. What don't we understand about an advisory's culture? Why are they motivated to do what they do?
Dan: [32:46] So, this is the thing of when somebody says something we misinterpret it as meaning something else.
John: [32:52] Indeed.
Dan: [32:53] And then we say, "Do you really mean that? And they say "of course" and that's a spiraling thing, a spiral to negative area, to the wrong place.
John: [33:01] It can be that. There was a great Greek philosopher Thucydides, who once said "People fight for fear, honor and interest" and I think that's exactly right. In time of fear groups and nations can behave irrationally.
Dan: [33:22] And its often unfounded fears that we're talking about.
John: [33:24] Indeed.
Dan: [33:25] The way of finding out if it's unfounded or not, some of it has to do with the trust of actually knowing the people and of having more than one meeting, but actually having a testing relationship with the other side.
John: [33:41] Precisely, and I think it takes years to build those relationships and it takes years to build that trust.
Dan: [33:49] How do you practice having people in situations where there's a perturbation so that they may swing out of control, and instead learn how to be able to put the brakes on and say, "Whoa, this is spiraling out of control, I better double check."
John: [34:05] I think, there are a couple of very encouraging signs in the US government quite honestly, in its approach that's called DIME, D-I-M-E. What DIME stands for is Diplomatic Information Military and Economics. And what military leaders and generations behind me are now being schooled in and become experienced in is that there is more than just a military solution to a problem.

[34:36] There are diplomatic avenues, there are information avenues, clearly there are military avenues. But, that M in dime for Military can either be a big M or a small m. The big M is probably our hard power; the small m is our soft power. And then there are economic conditions.

[34:52] And across the government I think there's a growing realization that there's this more sophisticated approach to resolving conflicting interests and it is this DIME approach. But, that almost goes back to your question earlier Dan, about how do you get groups with competing interests and desires to cooperate or not try to kill each other at least?
Dan: [35:19] Since you have had to work with people who had opposing interests, how did you do it? There's work with the Chinese, work with all sorts of people, putting together the 1000 ship navy, for example.
John: [35:38] The 1000 ship navy is a great example. The first thing that we did is that we wrote about it. We wrote about the need to cooperate in this global system. That it's in nobody's interest, it's not in the Chinese's interests, it's not in the Americans interests, it's not in the Iranian's interests, its not in the Iraqi's interest, its not in the Russian's interests if we break the global system.

[35:59] It's in everybody's interest if we can keep the global system running as smoothly as it can be running. Not running perfectly, but as smoothly as it can be running. And there are global indications of financial crisis right now, that's in nobody's interest.
Dan: [36:15] You have to teach people that it isn't zero sum everywhere.
John: [36:18] You got it. When people put aside their nationalistic interests, their selfish interests, they begin to understand that and they're far more inclined to cooperate in a larger hold, because it's to their benefit. That's why we named the maritime strategy a Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power. The word American is not even on the cover of the document.
Dan: [36:48] The first paragraph, "Security, prosperity and vital interest of the United States are increasingly coupled to those of other nations. Our nation's interests are best served by fostering a peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people and governance."

[37:06] Preventing wars is as important as winning wars and one of the things in it is that trust and cooperation cannot be surged. That you can't decide at the last minute, "OK, we've changed to a different way."
John: [37:21] Exactly.
Dan: [37:22] You basically have to agree that cooperation and working as a group is important, or as cooperating multiple groups with divergent needs.
John: [37:35] That's the answer to your question, Dan. I mean, so I have to credit the leadership of not only Admiral Mullin, but the head of the Navy, Admiral Gary Roughead, and the head of the Marine Corps, General Jim Conway, and the head of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen.

[37:52] I mean those leaders were bold enough to put that philosophical belief in writing. They signed it for the first time in history of the United States Military, they've testified for Congress for it. So, our belief is there for the public to scrutinize.
Dan: [38:10] So, it's so non-isolationist.
John: [38:12] Right.
Dan: [38:13] Because that's the world we depend upon isn't - can't be that way.
John: [38:16] Indeed, and I mean that's what technologists like yourself have done for us. I mean the Internet alone just opened up an enormous world for people that they never saw before.
Dan: [38:29] How so, example?
John: [38:31] I mean just the whole connectivity of knowledge. Now it can be used for bad uses, I understand that, but on whole the sharing of information; how it's changed people lives, that you can pay your bills in your living room if you want to, that you can access information in the Library of Congress, that you can try to understand cultural differences better all from just your laptop or now your cell phone.
Dan: [38:58] So, now for those of us who are designing things, how should we design them so they are more likely to be used for good and less likely ill? Everything's a "Double-edged sword" as they say, so what properties enhance being used for good? So, like something that's decentralized is usually more robust and less brittle.
John: [39:23] Right.
Dan: [39:24] On the other hand, you have less control over it in other situations.
John: [39:26] Right.
Dan: [39:28] So, any ideas about if I was designing a system - I'm building the next Facebook or the next MySpace, which are probably used by some pretty bad people just as much as by some really good people?
John: [39:42] Right. Dan, I'm not an expert in the business, and so I don't have a good pat answer for you. I do believe though, that on balance the openness of the system and the flexibility of the system probably outweighs the detriment.

[40:04] As you inject safety measures, and there have to be some logical safety measures; from sexual misconduct, to stealing money, to fostering hatred, those types of things. I think there has to be some safeguards, but on balance I think the goodness of the system will tend to beat down the bad - maybe I'm too naive there.
Dan: [40:28] Well, you've seen some pretty bad stuff though over the years.
John: [40:31] I've seen some pretty bad stuff.
Dan: [40:33] How do you not over-react in terms of clamping down? I mean they're crazy ideas that really end up being key important things, the whole - "Innocent until proven guilty." You don't want to have a system that ends up looking for anything that's deviant and squashing it, like may have happened way back in history when governments and religious institutions were trying to have a very strong orthodoxy.
John: [41:01] Yeah, I think there's a balance point to be found between freedom and responsibility. I mean that's one of the things we're seeing in the financial crisis today. If market's run too unregulated, the greed and avarice really seep in and a handful of people make a bunch of money, while a large group of people lose a lot of money.

[41:26] So, where the balance point is between regulation and freedom, it's been a constant debate across the history of our country. I think more often than not, Americans have fallen on the side of more freedoms, but complete freedom introduces other difficulties as well.
Dan: [41:49] When you start throwing in the concept of personal security coming in, people worry about "Well, they're going to wipe us out" etc. then maybe you can over-react in terms of, "Will this help?" What you're saying is sometimes that too much holding back just in case, to have overkill of protection, 'may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.'
John: [42:17] It could be, and once again, I'm not an Internet expert, and I've not studied "Meet the Law; Build a Philosophy Behind It All." Certainly an example that I'm aware of is; how Wikipedia balances out correct information from bad information, and how self-organizing groups can begin to say, "Wait a second, that's not right!" and whether it's factually incorrect or "Wait a minute, that's not a proper practice." I don't think you're ever going to be able to completely rely on self-organizing groups, but my sense in the aggregate, more freedom is probably better than restricted freedom.
Dan: [43:02] That's right to hear, because you worry about that, "Oh, my God!" whenever you hear that some bad guy is using the things that you championed or that you helped develop, "Oh, my God! I helped Al Qaeda, " I mean God forbid.
John: [43:18] Right.
Dan: [43:21] You want to also realize the other way around. Well, the worry I would have is like; oh, people in your position probably go, "Oh, you horrible technologist! You've opened up 'Pandora's Box' for us, and we have to put it back together." That doesn't sound what I'm hearing from you?
John: [43:39] No, it's not Dan. I agree that some very evil people have used tools that they didn't have 10 or 15 years ago to their great benefit and to our detriment, and we just have to understand that those tools are fair game. Then what we need to do is understand how we can better use those tools to attack their vulnerabilities as they use those same tools, and then if the abundance of evidence is that something is really amiss here, then we can take some action.
Dan: [44:15] That's interesting. So, the thing is that rather than say, "Oh, my God! Bad guys will use something, " this goes to everything from; copy protection, of people who have rights, and all too, others.
John: [44:24] Right.
Dan: [44:30] It's; well, there's a technology, learn to use it and to take advantage of learning to use it, and think how to use it for good, rather than worrying about how it might be used for bad.
John: [44:40] Precisely.
Dan: [44:41] Because the good might, like cooperating with bad people-like cooperating with our enemies, which is what you're doing in the military right now in order to stop piracy and things like that. It's more important for us all then 'rising tide raises all ships, ' or whatever...
John: [45:01] Right.
Dan: [45:02] ... then to make sure that the guys we don't like don't get any benefit.
John: [45:07] Right.
Dan: [45:08] So, what happened in the straits around Indonesia where there was cooperation against pirates? That's worked very well.
John: [45:18] It has worked very well.
Dan: [45:20] Is it still working that well?
John: [45:22] It really is. You have to really applaud what Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia are doing. Once again those are three countries that were not necessarily the closest of friends, but they had a common interest, and that was the maritime straits have closed by all three of those countries.

[45:43] About five years ago Dan, if you were the owner of a private ship that was transiting through the straits of Milaca, you were paying Lloyds of London wartime shipping rates for insurance, and it was all because of piracy.

[45:58] About five years ago, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia got together and said, "How could we cooperate to better see what's going on in the straits, and patrol the straits?" They did exactly that, and today if you were that private ship owner you'd be paying peacetime shipping rates to the Lloyds of London - just out of cooperation.
Dan: [46:19] And that's still holding?
John: [46:20] It's still holding, and they're doing a great job, and I commend them for it.
Dan: [46:23] What type of cooperation are they doing to do that?
John: [46:26] They have a specific program called "Eyes in the Sky." What they do is they use aircraft to patrol the straits, and there are always members of all three of those countries present. It's just been a great story of cooperation, of information sharing, and how they've really turned a situation around. Now, I can't say the same as the case with piracy off of Somalia. Unfortunately, piracy there is really beginning to have a very negative impact on humanitarian aid getting into drought-stricken Somalia and it's a shame.
Dan: [47:06] Is there a difference in the parties cooperating or anything? Or is it just the pirates or worse, or what?
John: [47:12] Well, the problem in the Somalia is that you don't have a recognized government in Somalia, and so there is no basis for cooperation. There's a degree of lawlessness that prevails and there are limits the United States needs to recognize that even if they don't recognize the government of Somalia.

[47:32] So, we abide by international law so we can't go inside - there's a line drawn at 12 miles off of a coast. The pirates know that the line is drawn 12 miles off the coast. The United States won't go inside that 12 miles.
Dan: [47:49] There's no cooperation from inside to help you?
John: [47:51] There's no cooperation from inside to help us.
Dan: [47:53] So, that's the example which is while it's not working, it helps prove the thesis.
John: [48:02] Right. What's not working about it is what's missing.
Dan: [48:07] What about where the work where we have transponders on ships and we're sharing that information with the whole world?
John: [48:16] Right.
Dan: [48:16] So that information is given to people who are economic and perhaps military adversaries?
John: [48:23] Right.
Dan: [48:23] How's that been working? That's more in like what Mediterranean, Black Sea, and things like that?
John: [48:30] Yeah. It really started in earnest in the Mediterranean. A good friend of mine, Admiral Harry Alrick was really a champion that loved that system. For your listeners, I'll draw a relationship that you probably can better understand.

[48:44] Whenever you get on an airplane to travel either domestically, or even internationally, there are transponders on that airplane that share information with anybody in the world.

[48:53] In fact, you can log onto your computer right now and you can see air traffic patterns around the United States, around the world. All that information is unclassified. There's no military application to it, none of that, and it's all shared in the global system.

[49:09] Unfortunately, the same is not true for what's sailing on the surface of the oceans of the world. When you realize that 70% of the earth is water, there's a lot of commercial traffic going across the oceans of the world. The amazing realization is that 90% of the global GDP flows across the oceans of the world. Yet we don't have a similar type of system that's in the air space around the globe.

[49:34] It's not a technology limitation deal. We have the technology to share this information; people have just not wanted to share the information.
Dan: [49:43] Have we started doing that?
John: [49:44] We have started doing that. There's a major program that's going on, certainly in the United States government, called Maritime Domain Awareness, where there's a Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, the Navy and the Coast Guard that spreads to the Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy.

[50:04] We all have a vested interest and understand where commercial goods are flowing across the oceans of the world, and lots of other places, as well.

[50:14] You know, you're back to Singapore. Singapore, now, is requiring you, even if you have a 50-foot Chris Craft boat that you want to just spend on the water on the weekends, you're now required to have these kind of transponders. They know everything that's moving in and around the straits of Malacca.
Dan: [50:36] Are you worried with something like the transponders on the airplanes? That means that people know where airplanes are at and can shoot them down and stuff like that. But, I guess we worry about the bad side, but we haven't seen that.
John: [50:50] But in fact, it's just the opposite that's happening. Because it is transparent, because it is cooperative, because the information is shared we think less bad things happen, not more bad things happen.
Dan: [51:05] Huh. Well, that's interesting to hear. And some things are pointing that out. So, what do you see for coming about in the future and stuff? Where do you see some of the stuff going?
John: [51:20] Well, Dan, I think the global system is in transition today. I think a number of local systems are in transition. There's a phrase used in Europe that I like and the phrase is, "Radical novelties about what the system looks like." Honestly, I also think that the nature of power is changing.

[51:43] So, I think it's a remarkable time right now and I think those are the three major forces at work, based upon the advantage point that I've had over the last four years with the chief strategist of the Navy. I think we probably need everybody's help to try to tackle this challenge.
Dan: [52:03] What do you mean the nature of power is changing?
John: [52:06] Well, I think the nature of power is changing this way: I think we're moving toward a more power sharing arrangement in the global system. I think, from the period of time where from the end of the Cold War up to the recent president, I think that people would not argue that America was the dominant power.

[52:29] But, I think the challenge for America is how do we began to share some of that power in the global system without sacrificing our American way of life or our American interest? I think that will be important.

[52:43] I think you can see the financial markets today, the power is changing. I mean, just the shift a couple of days of Goldman Sachs is now the banking holding company as a pure investment firm. Then the nature of their financial power just changed rapidly. I think the demise of some companies, because of the financial crisis; I think you can see the nature of power is changing in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

[53:11] I think the nature of power is changing almost on individual basis in ways that technologist like you have enabled; this growing power, the individual, through access to greater and greater information. That's a power change as well.

[53:28] And I think it's going to take some time. I think what Clay Shirky talked about, the notion of the power of the institution versus the power of an interactive infrastructure; I think that's another example of how the nature of power is changing.
Dan: [53:41] Does this have any historical precedent?
John: [53:47] I certainly think that the global system has been in transition before. I mean, the Roman Empire was probably the first major change in the global system. I think the West Valley Estate, where states were recognized as the big powerbrokers in the world, was another indicator of when the global system was in transition. But, I think the global system is back in transition now and I think it will take a lot of cooperative help to make sure it transitions in the best way.
Dan: [54:15] So, it's moving from absolute I, when you lose, to, what, to we each win in our own way?
John: [54:27] I hope it's moving in that direction, Dan. I think we may be at a juncture. I mean, I don't want that to sound as if it's an ultimatum, but I think the world collectively can make a bad choice.

[54:45] I think we can go back to a point of a binary solution to our challenges of win or lose. Or I think we can find a more secure, more prosperous way where we keep larger systems intact and we understand and reap the benefits of what they stay intact.
Dan: [55:06] We end up with systems that have to be maintained in equilibrium that there are normal things that might cause it to spiral out.
John: [55:16] Yeah. I'm a big fan of balance and equilibrium, Dan. You know, winner takes all; the consolidation of power I think is probably behind us. If we were to return to that, it would probably mean that the system was broken in order for somebody to consolidate that power.
Dan: [55:33] OK. Well, thanks very much. Do you have anything else you want to say to these listeners; anybody who got this far?
John: [55:39] No, Dan. I really appreciate it. I'm always stimulated by the chance to chat with you, you understand, once again. I have admired your body of work over the last 35 or 40 years and it's striking that we're sort of looking at the world in the same lens.
Dan: [55:55] Well, thanks very much.
Announcer: [55:57] This recording was done by Dan Bricklin as part of the Dan Bricklin's log podcast series. To find out about other recordings I've done, go to You can contact John Morgan at john dot morgan at

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