The CIA got it right when it came to digital and mobile technology

December 23, 2015 5:28 pm

 The CIA got it right when it came to digital and mobile technology. Photo / Getty Images

Way back in the futuristic year 2000, the CIA convened a group of
experts from outside the agency. Their mission: to gaze into the near
future and predict what 2015 would look like.
The result was a
70-page report covering everything from the rise of nanotechnology
through oil shocks and demographic change to the fate of the global
Fifteen years later, how right were they about the
future? Many of their conclusions were uncontroversial: water would
still be wet, sugar would still be sweet, and ethnic and religious
tensions would continue to drive conflict in nations where governance is
poor. But other predictions have fallen flat – such as the notion we’d
all be eating cloned beef burgers, or that North and South Korea would
be unified.
Here’s a look at what they got right and wrong about the world of today.
The internet revolution: RIGHT
CIA’s experts correctly predicted the explosion in digital and mobile
technology which has transformed the world as we know it.

“Universal wireless cellular communications,” they said, would
create “the biggest global transformation since the industrial
revolution.” Looking at the way smartphones have proliferated across the
planet, putting seven times more computing power than the chess
computer which beat Garry Kasparov into the palm of your hand, who could
The “IT revolution”, as they called it, would also
have political consequences. In the Middle East, a “web-connected
opposition” would pose new challenges to authoritarian regimes – as it
did in the Arab Spring.
Meanwhile, the same technologies would
create new avenues for conflict between states. This was borne out in
reality by Chinese and Russian cyber-attacks in the and by America’s
own use of a computer virus, Stuxnet, to sabotage the Iranian nuclear
The biotech boom: HALF-RIGHT
CIA was overly optimistic about the effects of biotechnology. Personal
genomic profiling and artificially grown replacement organs would be
commonplace, it said. Animals would be cloned to provide meat, while
terrorists would genetically engineer new and dangerous diseases.
even raised the spectre of the super-rich living “dramatically” longer
than everybody else thanks to advances in medical technology.
of this now seems fanciful. But in two areas the CIA was right. The
price of genomics has dropped dramatically in the past five years.
it was right about GM crops. Despite opposition, GM breeds have swept
across the world, accounting for 82 per cent of global soy bean
hectares, 68 per cent of cotton, and 30 per cent of maize.
The rise of Russia: WRONG
CIA could see that Russia might react badly to its loss of superpower
status, and that it would use its gas reserves as a lever to regain it.
resistance to the “new American century” – as one contemporary
think-tank termed it – is an explicit concern of Russian foreign policy.
But the CIA thought that the “most likely outcome” would be a weak
Russia. Instead, Vladimir Putin has built a web of influence from Greece
to Syria, intervening in foreign wars, annexing new territory, and
frustrating Western ambitions.
Other failed geopolitical
predictions include the reunification of North and South Korea and the
creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Population: HALF RIGHT
report correctly believed that the world population would grow to over 7
billion, and that it would slow, or even fall, in Russia and eastern
Europe. But it was wrong about the ill fortunes of Africa. Instead of
declining due to the Aids epidemic, populations in sub-Saharan countries
have shot up.
West’s demographic crisis: RIGHT
The CIA foresaw how ageing populations in developed countries would cause a slow crisis.
The financial crisis: WRONG
The report expected high levels of growth throughout the noughties – and this was true, to a point.
global economy is well-positioned to achieve a sustained period of
dynamism through 2015,” it said. “Global economic growth will return to
the high levels reached in the 1960s and early 1970s.”
It did
consider the possibility of financial crisis, but spent most of its time
talking about the risks to developing countries who had failed to
reform — that is, liberalise — their financial systems. Instead, lax
regulations caused a banking collapse in the US itself which brought
down the global economy and sparked a new conversation about the limits
and wisdom of capitalism.
And the European Union? By now it would
be “relatively peaceful and wealthy”, perfecting “the final components
of EU integration”.
International terror: HALF RIGHT
CIA’s concern about more sophisticated and lethal terrorist attacks was
justified very quickly with the events of September 11, 2001.
But it couldn’t have imagined the extent to which terrorism would define the foreign policy of the West for the next 10 years.
Perhaps only the collapse of Lehman Brothers can claim the same influence on American politics as the fall of the Twin Towers.
this, the CIA’s experts saw insurgent groups, drug smugglers, and
criminal gangs across the world exploiting globalisation to band
together into ever-larger networks.
They would even traffic in
nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons – which would be increasingly
likely to be used against the West.
It was a nightmare vision of
amoral international evil pieced together from the ashes of the Cold
War, its tentacles spreading across borders, selling weapons of mass
destruction to the highest bidder.
That hasn’t exactly come to pass. But the reality might actually be worse.

(Islamic State) is a sophisticated terrorist organisation that carries
out, or at least inspires, attacks all around the world. And it’s funded
through a broad spectrum of criminal activity, from oil sales through
antiques trading to taxation. It is a criminal terrorist entity for all
seasons, with fingers in many pies.
No, the US has not suffered a
dirty bomb attack or a genetically engineered disease outbreak. But
Isis has used chemical weapons it looted from the Syrian Government and
is working on producing its own. And its territory encompasses the site
of a clandestine nuclear reactor destroyed by Israel in 2007 – which
would otherwise now belong to the group.
But unlike the criminal
networks imagined by the CIA, Isis is not just trying to make a profit.
It has its own apocalyptic ideology which puts it at ground zero of a
final confrontation between Islam and the West.
What will today’s experts, predicting 2030, make of that?

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