- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2014

The Department of Defense has disbursed some funds to universities so that scientists might study the dynamics of civil unrest — and how the U.S. military might best respond.

It’s called the “Minerva Research Initiative,” and it’s a program that was kicked off in 2008 to “improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.,” The Guardian reported.


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More to point: the multi-million dollar research program seeks to uncover “warfighter-relevant insights” to help senior ranking officials in the “defense policy community” come up with “combatant commands” that work in civil unrest situations, The Guardian reported.

One area of study that’s planned for the 2014-2017 time frame partners Cornell University researchers with the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research to come up with a model for the “dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions,” the text of the program stated. That particular research area will ultimately determine the “critical mass (tipping point),” of civil uprisings, where protests turn violent, the program text states, The Guardian reported.


The research will also analyze social media users’ accounts, and look at Twitter posts and conversations “to identify individuals mobilized in a social contagion and when they become mobilized.”

Another aspect of the project partners the University of Washington with the U.S. Army Research Office to “uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,” as well as their “characteristics and consequences,” through study of 58 difference countries, The Guardian reported.


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Those individuals targeted for questioning include political activists and members of non-governmental organizations — something that The Guardian pointed to as potential for concern.

In a question to a key project researcher that went largely unaddressed, The Guardian raised some troubling issues: “Does the U.S. Department of Defense see protest movements and social activism in different parts of the world as a threat to U.S. national security? If so, why? Does the U.S. Department of Defense consider political movements aiming for large scale political and economic change as a national security matter? If so, why? Activism, protest, ‘political movements’ and of course NGOs are a vital element of a healthy civil society and democracy — why is it that the DoD is funding research to investigate such issues?”

In response, Erin Fitzgerald, a key program manager and an official with the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, said simply — and in part — that “by better understanding these conflicts and their causes beforehand, the Department of Defense can better prepare for the dynamic future security environment,” The Guardian reported.