The Safe Room (Ch. 5) – Bionic Bug Podcast Episode 005 – Natasha Bajema

The Safe Room (Ch. 5) – Bionic Bug Podcast Episode 005

Hey everyone, welcome back to Bionic Bug podcast! You’re listening to episode 5. This is your host Natasha Bajema, fiction author, futurist, and national security expert.

First, I have a personal update. Project Gecko, Book Two of the Lara Kingsley Series is now with my editor. I’m on pins and needles waiting for his initial feedback, which I will get in mid-May. While I have a bit of free time, I’m currently busy outlining Book 3 which is called Genomic Data. I’m also working with a graphic designer on the cover. You should have a sneak preview next week.

On May 4, I published my first-ever guest blog post on the Creative Penn. For any of you who are writers, this is Joanna Penn’s blog. She’s a widely acclaimed self-published author and industry guru. My post is titled “How To Build 1,000 Superfans When You’re Starting From Zero” and offers some lessons learned about building a reader audience from my experience as a new author. I learned almost everything I know about self-publishing and running an author business from Joanna’s blog and weekly podcast. Check it out if you’re interested.

Three related headlines caught my attention this week. It’s no accident that the story in Bionic Bug kicks off with a drone swarm. This is a topic that fascinates me, terrifies me, and one that I find incredibly concerning given the lack of attention it’s received from the U.S. government until now.

The first headline is from Patrick Tucker from Defense One on May 3: “A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To Obstruct an FBI Hostage Raid.” Bad guys are getting increasingly creative in their use of small drones.

In this case, they used a drone swarm to interfere with a FBI operation in a large city in the U.S. The head of the FBI’s operational technology law unit said that the FBI team lost situational awareness as a result of the drone swarm. Also, the criminals were able to gain video footage of the FBI agents, assisting them in their activities. Bad guys are using drones to smuggle drugs across borders, deliver contraband into prisons and assist in burglaries. There is no easy solution to this problem in domestic situations. Jammers interfere with cell phone signals. Shooting them out of the sky could lead to injuries.

The new FAA authorization bill contains two small improvements: 1) the legislation would make it illegal to weaponize drones; 2) the bill would require drone operators who fly their drones beyond line-of-sight to broadcast a signal allowing law enforcement to identify the drone and its operator.

The second headline is also from Defense One on May 3: “Terrorists Are Going to Use Artificial Intelligence.” Machine learning tools are going to bring drones to the next level of swarming capability. Terrorists have already adopted small off-the-shelf and home-made drones to enhance their operations. These consumer drones provide operational intelligence, but can also be outfitted with small grenades or explosives. The author of the article suggests that terrorists such as ISIS in Syria and Iraq may start leveraging social networks to take towns by force.

Two recent incidents highly the potential power of drones for both state and non-state actors. In March 2017, the Russian military allegedly used a drone to deliver a one-pound thermite grenade on an ammo demo in the Ukraine, detonating more than a billion dollars worth of munitions.

In January 2018, a swarm of armed-drones attacked two military bases in the Russian military headquarters in Syria. About 12 makeshift drones carried small rockets. The Russian military shot down seven drones, and captured six of them.

The third headline is a Tweet from AI and China expert Elsa Kania: “The China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) has established a new record for a swarm of 200 drones, breaking their previous record of 119.” The article is in Chinese, but suffice it to say, it offers further evidence for the rise of drone swarms.


If you’re interested in some further reading, I highly recommend a newly released book from my colleague Paul Scharre at the Center for New American Security. It’s called Army of None and examines the implications of autonomous military technology and the future of war technology. Also, the Congressional Research Service just released a new report on Artificial Intelligence and National Security. If you’re not familiar with CRS reports, I highly recommend them. They are written to support members of Congress and are unbiased accounts of the all the key issues for understanding complex technology issues.

Okay, let’s get to the chapter for this week. This is a good time to remind you that I am not a professional narrator and apologize in advance for my mistakes. In this episode, you may cringe if you’re a scientist. I was reading Chapter 5 and crashed into the word for a bacteria and didn’t know how to say it. So I probably messed it up. For those of you who aren’t scientists, you won’t notice.

If you enjoy the show and would like to support my time and costs of producing in show for only a few dollars a month, please go to– p a t r e o n / natashabajema

Last week, we left Lara as she’s trapped in the safe room and sees five FBI agents outside Sully’s townhouse. You may recall that she had her first encounter with a bionic bug in the safe room bathroom. She also discovered some helpful clues to solving the mystery of Sully’s murder. Let’s find out what happens next.

Let’s go behind the scenes.

As many of you know, Bionic Bug began as a crowdsourcing experience. Each week, I would write a scene and offer my readers three options for the next scene. I wrote the scene that got the most votes. This scene is a special one for me because I would have never written it if it weren’t for the fans who voted for it. And it turned out to be a fantastic scene, providing for all sorts of tension. I wrote the series from a single point-of-view. That means you only get to see things that Lara sees. This is the one scene where you get to see another character, in this case, Lara’s ex-boyfriend, behaving as he would in his own environment.

In this scene, Lara finds two newspaper clippings about the U.S. military conducting biological weapons tests. This is based on a true story and does not represent the finest hour of the U.S. government.

The U.S. military engaged in extensive testing of dispersal clouds in U.S. cities in the 1950s. They used simulant, but as my book suggests, the simulant was not always harmless. The first test took place at the Pentagon where an aerosol was pumped into the HVAC system to test the potential implications of such an attack. Yes, people were working in the building at the time.

Next, the U.S. military wanted to test what would happen if they covered large areas with wind-borne disease organisms. By this time, they assumed that civilians would be the target of biowarfare so they decided to run the tests in American cities. It was called Operation Sea Spray. In 1950, a Navy ship released a plume of bacteria over San Francisco and found that most citizens would have been exposed and infected if it had been an attack. They also ran secret exercises in Minneapolis and St. Louis from moving cars.

The lawsuit against the government for a wrongful death is also based on a true story. The court decided that the government could not be sued since the test was part of national defense planning.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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