Science Fiction Mavens Offer Far Out Homeland Security Advice
By Stew Magnuson
Now a fixture at Department of Homeland Security science and technology conferences, SIGMA is a loosely affiliated group of science fiction writers who are offering pro bono advice to anyone in government who want their thoughts on how to protect the nation.
The group has the ear of Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Jay Cohen, head of the science and technology directorate, who has said he likes their unconventional thinking. Members of the group recently offered a rambling, sometimes strident string of ideas at a panel discussion promoting the group at the DHS science and technology conference.
Among the group’s approximately 24 members is Larry Niven, the bestselling and award-winning author of such books as “Ringworld” and “Lucifer’s Hammer,” which he co-wrote with SIGMA member Jerry Pournelle.
Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.
“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.
“Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Pournelle asked.
“I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work,” Niven replied.
“I cannot guarantee I’m going to be a great help to Homeland Security,” Niven said earlier.
Pournelle said that once mobile phone technology and the devices tacked on them to take pictures and record video become more ubiquitous, then ordinary citizens will be empowered to take security into their own hands — a prediction some have said already has come to pass.
“My guess is we won’t need quite so many paid agents of the state to do that for us, which means maybe we can try being a republic instead of an incompetent empire,” he said, then railed against the Transportation Security Administration for treating passengers like “subjects” rather than “citizens.”
The 45-minute panel discussion quickly deteriorated as federal, local and state homeland security officials, and at least one congressional aid, attempted to ask questions, which were largely ignored.
Instead the writers used their time to pontificate on a variety of tangentially related topics, including their past roles advising the government, predictions in their stories that have come to pass, the demise of the paperback book market, and low-cost launch into space.
David Brin, keeping on the topic of empowering citizens with mobile phone technology, delivered a self-described “rant” on the lack of funds being spent to support citizen reservists to back up the military, homeland security officials and first responders in times of crisis.
“It is impossible for you to succeed without us!” he shouted at the assembled officials, while banging his fist on the table and at one point jumping off his chair to wave a mobile phone in their faces.
SIGMA is the brainchild of Arlan Andrews Sr., who noted that many of the writers have advanced degrees, have jobs with the government or have been hired to advise the government in the past.
“If you like the ideas these people have, and you’re from the government, feel free to come talk to them,” Andrews said.