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The Most Eventful Night in the White House Situation Room: Year 2051

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The Most Eventful Night in the White House Situation Room: Year 2051

Lydia Kostopoulos

Context

This scenario takes place late February 2051 in the White House. The incumbent President [Addison Grant] has won reelection, by a large margin, and is in the first 100 days of her second term. President Grant spent her whole first term focusing on jobs and upskilling the nation. She revamped the public education system K-12 and made four years of university part of government funded public education in efforts to bolster the domestic talent pool – which was common practice among U.S. allies in Europe. She held companies accountable to provide upskilling opportunities to employees in efforts to curb technological unemployment and keep as many people as possible inside the labor market. As the middle class grew so did her support. While she was criticized for putting more money into education instead of defense, at such a contentious moment, she was resolute in her belief that it was human ingenuity that was going to win the next war not the number of autonomous weapons she had in her arsenal.

Internationally, the world economy was strong. India and China had advanced digital ecosystems and large markets with populations of a billion and a half each who were all digitally connected, socially, financially and health-wise. Many medical advancements have come from China, as it was able to advance faster than the West given its vast amounts of data resources, interconnectivity of its large population, legal and policy system which did not restrict scientific experimentation, and its ambitious 2030 plan to be the AI leader of the world. While many nations struggled in the 2010s to identify a national AI strategy and delayed on committing resources and policy behind it, China already was working towards their 2030 plan. India on the other hand has been flexing its diplomatic muscles and has been leading the diplomatic artificial intelligence governance discussions. By 2050 the African Union had become a strong ecosystem of commerce, talent and innovation much like the European Union was at the beginning of the 21st century. Countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines had transparent digital governance systems which enabled their population to start businesses and take entrepreneurial risks.

Technologically, the world in 2051 was even more interconnected, operating on 5G and leveraging the spatial web where augmented and virtual realities served as mediators between the real ‘touch and feel’ world and the digital world. All the while, artificial intelligence was approaching ‘general’ intelligence and scientists around the world cautioned that it was imminent and that the existing global infrastructure was not going to be able to respond to the potential risks that have been hypothesized to arise.

Militarily, artificial intelligence was helping intelligence analysts make rapid assessments at speeds magnitudes of order faster than in the 2010s when artificial intelligence algorithms still did not capture the environment well and were considered primitively calibrated compared to the know-how in 2050s. Quantum internet, which was still only available to the military, the intelligence agencies and the White House, did much to reduce intelligence leakage and helped facilitate more secure classified communications. However, by 2051, the military competition over AI convergence with other technologies such as robotics, satellites and computing was no longer the offset, as many nations were able to ramp up their military infrastructure to the point where the multi-polar system was all near-peer. With so much technological coordination automated, out of sight and in the cloud, the biggest battles became intangible – because of autonomy sometimes humans didn’t even know battles occurred until after they finished. All nations took note of the 2025 social media orchestrated genocide in the nation of Morsey and how the nation’s opinions swayed so quickly. Even leading military information operations experts were caught off guard when they (along with the rest of the world) witnessed how quickly perceptional reality changed in Morsey in just six months a nation flipped – words became lethal overnight. It seemed that the battlefield terrains shifted from what previously used to be a battle over “sovereign land” to a battle over “cognitive land” and a battle for the control of on-demand access to resources instead of simply controlling the resources.

Globally, the world was decidedly multi-polar, but unlike in the past where there was volatility in a multi-polar world or tension in a bi-polar world, this multi-polar world featured mega-companies whose interests spanned continents and because their global business interests were constantly contested they served as a conduit between nations to resolve political tension, and while it was self-serving to make sure the multi-polar world was stable, there was a notable relative stability emerging thanks to these concerted global efforts of business-diplomacy.

In her second inaugural address in January 2051, President Grant recapped the progress that had been made during her first term with a larger and inclusive middle class contributing to the growth of the domestic talent pool. She reiterated her commitment to making make sure that education remained a priority. However, in her second term she said she was going to have her eye on space, and make sure that U.S. domestic, economic and military interests were protected, preserved and furthered. For all the insiders in DC, they new this was a message to the rest of the world not to interfere with U.S. satellites and that President Grant was going to ramp up anticipatory and proactive military defenses she already had in place. Those in the National Security Council along with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff knew that it was a message to Norak, the rogue nation, to stand down from the aggression on U.S. space infrastructure or risk armed confrontation. Norak’s plan to connect artificial intelligence to their military Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT) was disrupted by a U.S. secret special operations team a few months prior in a classified mission. SecDef and CJCS had already been discussing strategic military options with the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Technology, the military and the economy were so intertwined that the Secretary of Commerce regularly participated in military strategic discussions to offer the economic perspective.

Sunday February 20, 2051, 2100
Situation Room, White House

Late on Sunday evening at 2100 the president has been called down to the White House Situation Room where an urgent meeting has been convened by the Director of National Intelligence. The Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the National Security Council, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Commerce have been urgently called to drop what they are doing and come to the situation room. The Secretary of Commerce was in Africa for a trade agreement with the African Union and wasn’t able to make it.

The Director of National Intelligence walked in the West Wing door into the lobby area perpendicular to the hallway leading to the Situation Room. He was tall and despite being big boned he was a bit lanky in the way he walked, he visibly looked distressed and the top of his bald head was wet from the snow that fell on his head as he was walking from the parking lot to the West Wing door entrance. Behind him trailed two colleagues with backpacks, relatively young and visibly shaken, clasping onto their notebooks, in their rush they clearly forgot their gloves as their fingers were red from the February DC cold – they took a seat in the comfortable Southern Living style couches in the lobby. The White House Chief of Staff went straight to the Director of National Intelligence and with a great deal of concern shook his hand and looked at him in the eyes with anticipatory fear, and with a sense of urgency said “I’ve called everyone up. They are all on their way. They will be here shortly. The President is getting ready…. she will be down any minute. What do you need?”

The Director of National Intelligence appreciated the WH Chief of Staff taking the situation so seriously and said “Just let us into the situation room, we need to set up for the brief”. The WH Chief of Staff nodded and said “Certainly, this way.” And he indicated to the secret service officer to make the room available.

- 15 minutes later –

Everyone who had been invited started to appear and the West Wing lobby started to buzz as the Secretaries brought their aids and closest assistants. A White House staffer took all the wet coats and hung them, though the Navy Mess was closed, someone from the White House kitchen prepared coffee and tea and some evening snacks for the aids and staff that the Secretaries brought with them who anxiously waited in the lobby.

Inside the Situation Room, The Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the National Security Council, and the Secretary of State stood around the Director of National Intelligence who was sitting at the side of the head of the table closest to where the brief was going to be projected. They asked him to tell them what is going on, he looked up from his computer and said I will tell you as soon as the President arrives. Right then the White House Chief of Staff hurried in and said in a hurried tone “She is coming! Take your seats!”.

Just like everyone else who was invited to this meeting, President Grant had no idea what it was about, although given the time of the meeting, its urgency and the members invited, she knew it was something very serious. She stepped into the Situation Room, the secret service officer outside the door, closed the door behind her, everyone inside the room stood up. She came wearing a timeless classic outfit, perfectly ironed pitch black pants, and a crisp white collared shirt open with two open buttons at the top, she wore a cloud grey long winter cardigan which reached to her knees, and black flats, her chestnut colored hair was up to her collarbone and unlike her hair sprayed camera ready hair look, her hair was relaxed and she put her hair behind her ear to hold it back while letting the other side fall forward- this was the effortless style she was known for, and even at 21:41 she managed to pull it off.

“Please be seated” she said gently but with an intentional let’s get to business tone and look as she approached her seat at the end of the table. As soon as everyone was quickly seated, she put her hands on the table and her body and head facing the Director of National Intelligence at the end of the table on her left-hand side and said in a concerned voice “Dan, we are all here, please start.”

The Director of National Intelligence quickly wiped his forehead with the back of his right hand and stood up. There was silence in the room, he looked directly at the president and said, “Madam President, I have bad news.” He paused. And then quickly picked up the tempo and got into brief mode “During your campaigning across the nation for the 2050 presidential election you have been to many public venues and while the secret service has done an excellent job protecting you from physical attack, your body has been compromised.” Everyone’s eye brows raised with confusion.

In that moment the door opened, and the White House Doctor came rushing in apologetically, “I am so sorry for being late, I just got the message. I’m here and I have the results.” The doctor lifted a tablet in the air (While the general public moved away from laptops opting for voice command and the spatial web powered by the cloud, for highly sensitive information such as the President’s health records custom government tablets were made.) The Director of National Intelligence asked the doctor to come sit by him and continued quickly.

“Madam President, during these public appearances your body has been infected with weaponized medical nanobots. From what we can tell they are dormant but can be activated.” The Director of National Intelligence turned to the doctor “Doctor please tell us what you have found.” The President’s facial expression was pensive, and she turned her gaze from the Director of National Intelligence to the Doctor.

The Doctor looked at the President and said “Madam President, in our last few check ups I noticed some irregularity, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Even the artificial intelligence didn’t flag it until today. You have foreign bodies in your system, and they are not our nano-check-up-bots. According to the most recent check up scan we did on Friday evening after your trip you acquired foreign nano-bots in your lungs, and they are present in all four chambers of your heart”. The Doctor lifted the tablet to show the scan where it showed all the nanobots in a florescent green color. Everyone leaned forward to look. “As you can see there seem to be a few hundred maybe a thousand nano-bots inside. You can visibly see them congregated around the pulmonary artery exits.”

The President interrupted calmly but with some tension in her voice interrupted said “But I feel fine. What are these nano-bots? What do they do?”

The Director of National Intelligence was about to speak but the Doctor who was still standing by him jumped in. “You feel fine because they have not been activated.” The Director of National Intelligence sat down and stared hopelessly and blankly into his screen.

Secretary of Defense: “But how do we know what they do?” she blurted impatiently with a flare of anger.

WH Doctor: “We don’t exactly know yet what they do, we just found out that they are foreign, that they are not ours and that they seem to be positioned.”

Skeptically examining the heart scan on the tablet, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said “It looks like they are positioned for a heart attack maneuver.”

Everyone in the room paused at the thought of an impending assassination attempt on the President. This is when the shoulders of the the Director of National Intelligence dropped, and he took a deep sigh and had a very concerned face. Now everyone in the room understood the gravity of the situation. He stood up and tapped the Doctor on the shoulder as if to sit down and let him take the floor.

He took a deep breath and said “Yes Chairman, that is our suspicion. We have some intelligence we would like to share, as we believe we may know who is behind this and why.” He proceeded to start his brief, the screen went from the White House background display to a black screen, he didn’t even have time to label the classification of the brief.

DNI: “Over the past six months we have noticed significant attempted intrusions on our satellite assets (military, intelligence, and commercial), while we don’t have fine border lines in space, we can say that attacks that interfere with the physical integrity of the satellite as well as the cyber, and electromagnetic integrity of the satellite constitute an attack. As reported in previous briefings we have managed to harden our artificial intelligence so it can continue to autonomously operate and coordinate with other satellites, however this is becoming a persistent problem.”

The Secretary of State jumped in “We have been trying to tell the international community that these are red lines and that everyone must respect the territorial sovereignty of national satellites but the United Nations Security Council can’t get a unanimous vote on how to deal with violations, particularly because we are facing the same issue our predecessors faced in the 2010s with the attribution problem of cyber-attacks. There are so many commercial satellites and its one AI against another AI these days. Don’t get me started with the adversarial AI attacks and the GAN (General Adversarial Network) armies.”

The Secretary of Defense responded “We see the attacks and with the help of all the intelligence agencies we are confident that there are nation states involved. As discussed in last week’s briefing, Norak continues to be a problem and we know it’s them-” She stopped in her tracks and looked at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as if something big clicked.

The Chairman looked at her straight in the eyes as if knowing exactly what she meant and they fixated on each other as if communicating with Brain Computer Interface (which was not allowed in the Situation Room) then he said:  “The mission”. The Secretary of Defense nodded keeping her eyes fixed on his.

The Chairman repositioned himself in his chair closer to the table and leaned in, elbows on the table and gestured with his hands in the air as he explained…

“As we are all aware, the mission to prevent Norak from connecting one artificial intelligence brain to autonomously coordinate their weapons, planes, ships, and tanks was successful. Unit 41 got there in time and destroyed the machines at the headquarters of their military computer brain which was going to link up the AI in the Black Forest. While the members of Unit 41 were successful in accomplishing this mission, you will also remember that each of the five members who were sent behind the Norak border did not come back…. they made the ultimate sacrifice.” With regret in is voice he looked down and pulled back from the table slightly and continued:

“We were not able to retrieve the bodies due to the sensitive nature of this particular mission”, and he looked back at the rest of the table “…and the fact that we sent them in without insignia makes this a particularly sensitive circumstance. However, the last member to die wrote a Brain Computer Interface letter to her parents before she died, and her parents came forward to tell us what happened in her last moments. As for security reasons she had to sign out of the USSOCOM Unit 41 BCI network, we missed the last few minutes, but she used those last few minutes to send the BCI letter to her parents on the MWR BCI Network. Rest assured she sent it using memory encryption so only her parents were able to unlock it. We know from her parents that in those last few minutes she revealed information that may be relevant to our current conversation. In her last few minutes she said that she felt her arteries hardening and that through the ventilation vent, Norak officers released an airborne nano-bot weapon into the sealed room she was in. To be clear, these nano-bots are a dual-use technology as you are all familiar with the bot checkups we get on an annual basis which are administered intravenously through IV. Except for weaponized military use, it is illegal and can be categorized as an unnecessary application of force. Our Unit 41 soldier described feeling pain across her body, having difficulty breathing and that she felt the bots clogging up her arteries.”…. he paused…looked down for a moment, took a deep breath as if to compose himself, and then said carefully for fear of alarming the President but in the interest of full disclosure continued... “In her last moments she said that she hoped it wasn’t the kind of nano-bot that had surgical capabilities.” He ended with a soft tone. Everyone in the room froze.

The Secretary of Defense picked up where the Chairman left off and said “This was not an accident. Directing airborne nano-bots in public, on a moving target, that is surrounded, such as yourself is very difficult.” She paused as to make sure that this was happening before she continued with her thought process. She looked to the doctor and said “Doctor, can you confirm that these are nano-bots and that you, nor any member of your staff administered them to the President, and that these are indeed non-approved nano-bots in the President’s heart?”

The doctor looked wearily at the Director of National Intelligence, then at the President and then shifted his gaze to the Secretary of Defense and said “I can confirm that I, nor any member of my team, have administered a nano-bot procedure on the President and that the nano-bots currently present in her body are indeed unauthorized, rogue and not approved by the President’s medical staff.”

The Secretary of Defense quickly jumped in with an authoritative detective deducing tone “Okay, thank you doctor. So, this was not an accident. This is clearly an offensive attack and ….”

The Secretary of State interrupted the Secretary of Defense with a tone of annoyance and said to the Secretary of Defense sitting across the table from him “Wait a minute here, before we start getting into attack mode can we first hear about what can be done to remove these bots from the President’s body?” He looked to the Doctor and asked “What can be done to remove these bots from the President’s body?” and then almost angrily he immediately followed up that question with another one and raised his voice “And why aren’t you trying to get them out of her body right now instead of sitting here talking to us?”

The Doctor blushed and opened his mouth to talk… before a word could come out, the President interrupted with a matter of fact tone of resignation and slowly said in a monotone voice “Because nothing can be done..” she looked around the table slowly and finished her sentence “…I am being held captive.” Everyone turned their head to look at the doctor for confirmation, the doctor seemed to have held his breath during the tense exchange and then released his breath and said with an affirmative tone “The President is correct, we cannot control the nano-bots. This particular class of nano-bots is autonomous and automated, once sent out it completes its task, it can’t be reprogrammed.”

Another blanket of silence covered the room.

The Secretary of Defense looked around the room as if to get approval to speak again, and the faces of everyone in the room gestured it was ok for her to continue.  She faced the President:

“Madam President, I didn’t mean to be inconsiderate. I believe we are in a unique position right now because we know that this is an assassination attempt, we know how it will happen, but we just don’t know when.” Turning to the Doctor she said, “Doctor can you tell us if there is a possibility to neutralize these bots?”

The Doctor took a deep breath and said, “I can not confirm that with certainty.”

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff jumped in and looked to the Director of National Intelligence and said “This is a maneuver. A very bold one. But Norak, or any other peer adversary for that matter, who has this capability would not do this with out a reason. While I could see this as a form of retaliation for what we did to their military’s AI capability, I believe that there is more here. We, the military, targeted their military to further our political interests. We (he pointed to his broad chest and highly decorated uniform), WE are the military targets for other militaries to target. If Norak has chosen to target our President there is much more they are looking to achieve here. Dan, please tell me you have another piece to this puzzle because I worry we are going to run out of time.” It was obvious from his face that he wished he could take that last part back, but it was too late.

There were very few people who knew that CJCS and POTUS had history. It was a short romance many decades ago when President Grant did her semester abroad in Andalucia and CJCS was in Rota. Though brief they had a special connection, after that short overlap they went their separate ways but always called each other when something serious happened, they had an unconditional bond. No one in the situation room that evening knew about this, they like everyone else knew CJCS and POTUS worked well together and that they had known each other for a while – but who hadn’t at that stage in their career in the beltway.

The Director of National Intelligence was visibly happy he could jump back into the conversation and had news to share, he stood up eagerly “Since the Unit 41 mission in Norak we noticed an increase in the tempo of conflict in space. We’ve noticed Norak successfully intercept some of our communications and become better at adversarial attacks on our satellite artificial intelligence systems. On occasion they have negatively affected missions across some geographical AOOs. While they seem to be publicly talking about collaborating with the international community in space, in orbit their actions tell another story. They continue to get closer to our satellites and while the new anti-satellite weapons deterrence system we have in place seems to be working well, we find ourselves in new territory when the traditional domains of land, air, and sea are no longer as important as space. Space is the new land and our AI analysis tells us that: given the positioning of their anti-satellite weapons systems, the shortening of intervals between hostilities in space, Norak billionaires buying up our biggest digital companies or large chunks of them, not to mention they already either hacked or bought all our citizens’ data, the AI forecasts that a digital asset invasion is imminent.” He paused to let the information soak in… but in the interest of time he didn’t let the pause linger and finished off “Everyone knows that without satellites, 5G, great AI and data, the modern economy is in suspended animation, citizens lose coms and a country ceases to exist. Madam President I believe we are about to be digitally invaded and you may be the first casualty.”

There was clearly a lot of discomfort and this information was hard to digest, but somehow everyone in the room could have anticipated it. It wasn’t a black swan, or a pink flamingo, or purple ostrich or any other national security animal analogy metaphor. It was something that was in the realm of the possible, anti-satellite defense, algorithmic warfare, land warfare, sea warfare, and air warfare were easy compared to telling the President, of a liberal democracy, that she couldn’t go on the campaign trail or talk to the public because the air was a threat.

The President stood up, the muscles in her face showed she was tired, yet calm and collected. Without fear in her face she said, thank you Dan for calling this meeting, it was definitely an urgent one” she smiled through her tired face and tried to lighten up the room with some humor. “I believe your assessments are correct, and I want us to continue this conversation tomorrow at 0930 with options for courses of action.” She looked to the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman and tasked “military options and recommendations”, and then looked to the Secretary of State and said “and diplomatic options”, she looked to her Chief of Staff “please arrange for urgent calls with our most important allies” and….

Before she could continue the senior most assistant to the Chief of Staff came into the room with a folded paper, “sorry to interrupt – we just received an urgent cable from Norak’s President”.

The WH Chief of Staff took the paper and the assistant left the room. He gave it the President, she opened it and read it out loud.

“Dear President Grant,


My space unit will be annexing some of your space assets, specifically your newest quantum satellite constellation on Tuesday February 22nd at 00:00 Eastern Time.
We have doctors who can treat your heart condition, please let us know before the time mentioned if you would like medical assistance

.
President of Norak”

“Hmm…” President Grant said with a tone of disdain then continued sarcastically:

“He is quite the arrogant one, isn’t he?”

The Secretary of Defense stood up angrily and shouted “THIS IS WAR!!!!”
“HE IS DECLARING WAR!! LETS NUKE THEM NOW!!”

The President looked at the Secretary of Defense with an understanding tone, but also irritated by the letter “Look, I would love to go to war with Norak, but what does war look like these days? Nuclear weapons? This is not 1945. This is 2051.” She dropped the Norak cable on the table and started to raise her voice, louder with each word “This is the era of technological convergence and surgical operations for
MAXIMUM.
STRATEGIC.
IMPACT!”

The room was silent.

She continued again with her raised voice “This is the era where we are globally too interdependent to destroy anyone’s satellite because we don’t know what 2nd or 3rd order effect it will have on our domestic or global economy.”

She paused… no one commented. The Secretary of Defense sat down.

Still standing up President Grant continued…

“We are going to destroy them by turning the whole international community against them, and….”  she paused to look at the watch on her wrist for time, it was 00:04 on Monday February 21st … “and we are going to make the most of my last 24 hours alive.”

The Secretary of Defense’s jaw dropped, the Secretary of state gasped, and the Chairman stood up in defiance and with a pleading voice and a face of desperation called her by her nickname “Addie –“

President Grant interrupted him, waived her left hand in the air towards him gesturing not to argue and affirmatively said “NO!” she said as she pointed her right-hand index finger onto the table –

“Let’s start mobilizing our allies NOW! I want courses of actions that protect American citizens, not ones that put them in harm’s way, and I want the wrath of the world to come upon Norak and let that be the face of justice here – not the physical damage that ruins the lives of Norak civilians for generations to come, the kind of justice where those on our side project power to destroy the current regime FOREVER.”

 

Categories: Science Fiction

About the Author(s)

Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos’consults on the intersection of people, strategy, technology, education, and national security. She addressed the United Nations member states on the military effects panel at the Convention of Certain Weapons Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) meeting on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). Formerly the Director for Strategic Engagement at the College of Information and Cyberspace at the National Defense University, a Principal Consultant for PA and higher education professor teaching national security at several universities, her professional experience spans three continents, several countries and multi-cultural environments. She speaks and writes on disruptive technology convergence, innovation, tech ethics, and national security. She lectures at the National Defense University, Joint Special Operations University, is a member of the IEEE-USA AI Policy Committee, participates in NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Program, and during the Obama administration has received the U.S. Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her pro bono work in cybersecurity. In efforts to raise awareness on AI and ethics she is working on a reflectional art series [#ArtAboutAI], and a game about emerging technology and ethics called Sapien2.0 which is expected to be out early 2019.