Innovation in Arms Control: How Can the Public Support Arms Control Transparency Efforts?

The Problem: Are there creative ideas to use the tools and devices commonly available to the public to support arms control transparency efforts? How can public participation help confirm whether states are complying with treaties or international arrangements addressing weapons and nonproliferation?

The Solution:  Introduction – Cell Phones and Public Monitoring

Is there a way to engage the public in monitoring governmental compliance with arms control agreements? Cell phones are one possibility for monitoring arms control. Sharp Corp. of Japan manufactures a cell phone that acts as a dosimeter, which currently requires the conscious choice of the user. The 2008 Batman movie “The Dark Knight” posited the ‘cell phone sonar technology’ monitoring of all cell phones to track villains. The effort to perform this is intense and (outside of a movie) is not suitable for large numbers of negative results. Cell phones are currently able to detect electromagnetic fields around them with downloadable apps. It is readily assumed that additional capabilities exist or are in development. Their use hinges on worldwide use of cell phones with similar capabilities.

Clearly the use of cell phones is increasing worldwide. Analysys International estimated that there were 450 million Chinese mobile Web users as of July, 2012. The Communications Commission of Kenya reported 29.7 million cell phone subscribers in that country. There are several available sources (e.g., mobiThinking ) for statistics on worldwide mobile phone and app use to evaluate efficacy of cell phone-based efforts.

Nuclear tests may be conducted in regions of low cell phone use and spotty coverage. For example, the North Korean cell phone network covers only 14% of the country. Tests in North Korea might be verified by variations in South Korean phones. Satellites have tracked detonation events for years (cf., discussion of the Vela nuclear test satellites at It is possible that cell phones can be networked with satellite surveillance systems.

Currently, public monitoring efforts involve calls for voluntary disclosure by organizations. Open data initiatives exist for topics such as monitoring donations for development aid. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) seeks to ensure stakeholders can clearly see where donated funds are allocated. The Initiative calls on donors to publicly disclose fund allocations and results when available. In Germany, OpenAid seeks to expand this to include public online monitoring to improve efficiency of development aid.

What does an arms control agency intend to monitor? A solution could directly measure radioactivity, but this may not detect shielded nuclear weapons. A most insidious use of radioactive materials is dispersal of them rather than a single detonation. Alternatively, then, phones could monitor indirect evidence of non-compliance. This might include monitoring the sale of non-radioactive materials that are used in work with nuclear weapons. This could also include financial transactions or activities of physicists and engineers. It might be as indirect as simply noting the locations of users via GPS.

Basic Assumptions
The main target of this proposal is for monitoring of nuclear weapons by a concerned public rather than relying on governmental disclosures. Other targets include chemical weapons and biological warfare. It is noted that many proposed solutions may also monitor subjects other than nuclear arms. This may include disposal of radioactive waste, nuclear power plant construction, civil unrest, political demonstration, or even sightings of celebrities. A solution must consider ways of separating the monitoring intentions to minimize the deluge of false positive information. DARPA grants specifically promoted development of computational methods to monitor intercepted communications for pattern recognition, and these may form an important component of any solution.

There may be specific criteria in mind that delimit possible solutions. These include:
• Active public participation is required for implementation. This may be actively prevented in the most dangerous countries. This may include active initiation by the user of a phone operation. Alternatively, it may be a function the phone performs at all times while being carried by the user.
• Passive public participation may suffice, where the user is unaware either of the monitoring or of the ultimate purpose. This may include use of ubiquitous devices such as cell phones that convey data to be analyzed. Because the goal is to expand transparency, it is assumed this avenue is not desired within this solution.
• Monitoring performed by the general public or by a select group such as, for example, veterinarians or auto mechanics.
• Citizens may detect direct effects such as radiation. This may be done with technologies currently available. Coupling these technologies to cell phones worldwide may be a challenge.
• Citizens may detect indirect effects such as financial transactions, changes in security access to areas, or monitoring incidences of leukemia. Governments track financial transactions for tracking drug money laundering as well as terrorist funds.

The concept of ‘the public contributing to the public good’ differs with political realities. Areas of the world that may be of greatest interest for monitoring are North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, and regions of the now-defunct USSR that store relevant weapons. It is doubtful that North Koreans would be willing or able to decide what is and is not in the public good. North Korea has banned use of cell phones in the past, and clearly controls access. Iranians, however, may be less interested in supporting the activities of the installed government.

Transparency is advocated for purposes such as exposing and eliminating bribery and corruption, spearheaded by groups such as Transparency International ( The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) seeks greater transparency in foreign aid and development spending. It is assumed that monitoring agencies will tap into the efforts of these advocates to benefit from their experience as well as to broaden the net of public participation.

Overt monitoring may be considered espionage and treason, especially in areas of the world most likely to need monitoring. There has been a rash of worldwide uses of Twitter to discuss and monitor governmental activities. This came to public notice during the Arab Spring and its less successful Iranian dissent. Twitter is now even an avenue of dissent within Saudi Arabia. In China, government attempts to cover up problems were derailed by cell phone use – literally. The July 23, 2011, fatal bullet train crash was publicized by photos sent by cell phones in the face of governmental attempts to suppress the story. With the ubiquitous use of cell phones, people can readily serve as silent witnesses to atrocities and disasters.

Some locations lack widespread access to technology such as cell phones. Others may or may not, but the public is not consciously going to monitor its government’s activities when repercussions could be fatal or worse. It is thus assumed that monitoring may require tapping into human needs, with the desired monitoring as a side effect.

Cell phones have been used for surveillance of diseases in humans and animals. The CDC published an example, that of veterinarians in the Sri Lankan Infectious Disease Surveillance and Analysis System. Interactive Research & Development, a partner of the Stop TB Partnership, published a report on the use of mobile phone networks to deliver health information and care. They report that greater than 75% of the world population have cell phone subscriptions with network coverage available to 80% of the rural population and 90% of the total population.

The University of Cambridge studied the use of cell phones for tracking the spread of influenza with an app called FluPhone. Subjects could input presence of their own flu symptoms, and researchers used GPS to map the phone’s location and proximity to other phones. Proximity could transmit flu to others, who then would report new flu symptoms. This model required only a rare need for users to indicate presence and severity of symptoms, while the rest of the tracking was carried out passively by the phone.

Companies such as Rhiza Labs offer software that help visualize, analyze, and share data from cell phones, and is the basis of the H1N1 surveillance program FluTracker.

In these cases, cell phones are not used to detect disease, but to report incidence and to relay lab results back to patients. This is especially crucial in areas where a sample must be transported from a remote location to a distant centralized lab.

Software such as Mobistealth ( exists to allow monitoring of cell phones by parents and employers. In fact a comparison of the top ten cell phone monitoring programs by TopTenREVIEWS is at Clearly the technology exists, and it is a question of ensuring installation on all cell phones without visibility. Most commercially available software provides stealth such that the user will not know they are being monitored. Besides the legal issues involved with this approach, the difficulty may be when phones are produced and programmed overseas.

Solutions that work for world regions of great interest to a given government may also work for regions that the same government does not wish to disturb. It might be problematic if the most efficient detections occur within the US itself or allies – especially if those allies claim they do not possess nuclear weapons. Monitoring agencies must carefully decide if the goal is to have a method that can be used by any and all public participants. The alternative is to employ a method only in places where there is least likely to be cooperative participation.

Governmental programs have been discussed in the press for monitoring of terrorist-related finances as applied to non-proliferation. The Financial Action Task Force reported on monitoring of financial transactions with Iranian banks as part of UN Security Council’s Resolution 1803. Unfortunately, one such report concluded, “Despite its ongoing work, the FATF’s efforts to address proliferation financing lag behind its measures to counter the financing of terrorist activities…”

A nonprofit organization interested in global security is the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). Among other NTI reports, it published a summary of civilian organizations specifically interested in promoting a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. One such organization cited is the Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance, whose work can also serve as a model for public monitoring of activities.

We may envision a solution that involves the general public organizing for a public good, possibly using the worldwide cell phone networks available. Such a solution requires buy-in by the public that is resident under a wide range of governmental situations, some far more restrictive and secretive than others.

The most likely solution is enforcement of an international nonproliferation treaty. If governments come to an agreement, that agreement must include the stipulation of openness and flow of information to citizens. The public monitoring may be noting any interruptions in the free flow of information, either an active notification to a central agency, or passively when the agency notes an interruption.

What access or information must flow? Public access must be set up as part of the international treaty, and not the responsibility of the public itself. If access is denied (as it may well be in several cases), then no agreement should be signed.

What should the public monitor? If monitoring is part of an international treaty, then cell phone manufacturers may be actively involved in new phone development for new apps and/or hardware requirements. Who should monitor in turn what the public monitors? This central data-collecting agency must be an international organization, which may or may not have the same priorities and agenda as the monitoring agency.

The solution itself includes:
1. An international treaty that explicitly requires access by the public in a form that can be monitored from outside each signatory nation.
2. Universal cell phone or web access and monitoring of GPS for patterns and movement.
3. New hardware if any direct detection of radiation is desired.
4. Detection of refusals for transparency to a nation’s public.

The Solution: [1] Cell Phone and [2] Web-based

Cell Phone-Based Solution
• Monitor long-term work by monitoring medical records. This requires international connection to all clinics for their access to medical files. It may be done through WHO initiatives such as the Stop TB Partnership and similar programs clearly beneficial to all physicians worldwide. Examples include monitoring the incidence of leukemia and bone cancers.

• Detect changes in security access by noting when new areas are closed to the public. This red flag may be of less value in countries where the public is barred from large areas under government or private control.

• Monitor radiation at all times for attempts or accidents to disperse radioactive material.

• New ways to monitor the materials used to contain radioactivity. This may mean detecting lead containers while omitting dentists’ office aprons, etc. Yet one lead pig can contain enough material for terrorist activities.

• Monitor education graduates. When students graduate with degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, or other relevant majors, where do they go? Can their careers be tracked to determine if a number have simply ‘fallen off the earth’? This may examine appointments to faculty positions, hirings, and conference attendance. Are there patterns that are suddenly disrupted, that might indicate an engineer being appointed to set up centrifuges for enriching Uranium? This requires accessing academic records as well as analysis of dates and movements. Social media such as LinkedIn, FaceBook, and foreign equivalents may provide the information needed over the long run.

If monitoring of GPS is used, locations must be mapped by the monitoring agency at the time of treaty signing, and monitored as a function of time. This will detect new areas that become off-limits to the public. Construction of new facilities may bring intense GPS activity, followed by little or no GPS activity. These provide clues but not proof of violations, since clandestine operations may often be unrelated to treaty terms (that is, not nuclear-related).

Treaty terms must include that signatory nations declare inventories and facilities related to nuclear weapons at the time of treaty implementation. This must include sites that deal in any way with nuclear materials of any kind, military or civilian. These sites will be placed under IAEA safeguards and serve as a basis for public monitoring.

Web-Based Solution
A separate implementation of the solution is based on a website access that is analogous to the approach taken by Cancer Research UK with their ClicktoCure website. This site features a web-based project called Cell Sorter, which provides public access to archives of stained biopsy slides. The public is invited to view these slides and report the types of cells in view. In spite of work on computer algorithms for pattern recognition, humans remain far better at identifying the presence of morphologically distinct cells within a microscope field. Cancer Research UK hopes that public input will speed up the process of categorizing samples and hence speed up cancer research.

The analogy for arms control may be the use of satellite imagery. Citizens can readily examine photos for evidence of anomalous structures or objects. This approach has already been taken in the case of North Korea, where organizations such as the Institute for Science and International Security examine satellite imagery of test sites. Citizens in any country, not just the target country, can evaluate images from areas not suspected as violation sites.

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