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Jane’s Brain: Neuroethics and the Intelligence Community

By Jonathan D. Moreno, PhD

Dr. Jonathan D. Moreno is one of 14 Penn Integrates Knowledge university professors at the University of Pennsylvania, holding the David and Lyn Silfen chair. He is also Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, of History and Sociology of Science, and of Philosophy. Moreno is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. In 2008-09 he served as a member of President Barack Obama’s transition team. He is also a member of the AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board.

In September I arrived in Geneva to keynote a conference at the Brocher Foundation on the banks of Lake Geneva, where the ghost of John Calvin still casts a long shadow over the stern ethos of the Swiss. It was a glorious day in that oasis of calm and cleanliness, where the sheer power of holding much of the world’s money in its vaults justifies a muffled smugness. Compulsively, I checked my email as my taxi glided past the Hotel President Wilson, the monument of grateful bankers to the American president whose ill-fated League of Nations nearly made Geneva the official as well as de facto capital of the world. (Its $81,000 a night penthouse suite is said to be the most expensive in the world; I didn’t stay there.)

 The habit of holding meetings of the great and powerful in Geneva is hard to break. The UN has an important complex there, along with WHO of course, and many other global organizations. I was told that the city’s main business, besides banking, is international conferences. That week a few dozen bioethicists were to meet on one end of the lake, recognizing the impending 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Helsinki, while at the other end of town (only announced after we arrived), Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to pencil a deal on Syria’s chemical weapons. I feel sure this was a coincidence, though there were some people at the bioethics meetings who could have told them a thing or two about chemical weapons. No word if the Secretary took time out for wind surfing on the Geneva, but it was reported that he did take a nice walk in the hills overlooking the lake after his meetings when he had a cell phone call with the President.

But about that email.

By far the most interesting item was an invitation from the deputy editor of a publication called Jane’s Intelligence Review (JIR), which specializes in news intelligence analysts can use. For their November issue they wanted to know if I would write an article about neuroscience and national security. I knew enough about the Jane’s journals to appreciate that they are the “go to” source for up to date information on developments in the field of defense and security. The company is a descendent of a late 19th century Brit named Fred Jane, who combined his knack for sketch artistry with an obsession about the naval vessels docking in Portsmouth. The result was the famous illustrated compendium Jane’s Fighting Ships, still updated annually, along with a number of other publications under the imprimatur of the eccentric Jane.

Having been around the block called bioethics and national security a few times (my book Mind Wars appeared in an updated paperback edition in 2012), I saw the invitation as a modest milestone for neuroethics. So far as I knew this was the first time that JIR expressed a specific interest in the field, so I needed little persuasion. The intelligence world has shown other signs of tracking neuroscience, including relevant reports by the national research council in 2008 and 2009 and one forthcoming in the next few months, but Jane’s gives the subject a greater currency. So did the negotiations over Syria’s chemical weapons. The editors clearly appreciated the connection of developments in neuroscience to the control over the development, manufacture and use of toxin weapons. They were also aware of the brain-to-brain interface experiment reported by the team at the University of Washington, Seattle, which helped stimulate their curiosity about the links to more traditional chemical weapons with neurologic effects.

If you happen to have a subscription to Jane’s online you can read the piece here, otherwise you’ll have to wait for the print version in a few weeks.

Editor’s note:

Want to read more about ethical issues related to brain-to-brain interfacing? Emory graduate student, John Trimper, in collaboration with Drs. Rommelfanger, Director of Emory’s Neuroethics Program and Wolpe, Director of Emory’s Center for Ethics also recently published an article on ethical issues related to brain-to-brain interfacing in Frontiers in Neuroengineering. The open access article can be viewed here.

Want to cite this post?

Moreno, J. (2014). Jane’s Brain: Neuroethics and the Intelligence Community. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from


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