Please join us tomorrow for a fascinating discussion on the relationship between intelligence and public health with Dr. Tara O’Toole, Senior Fellow and Executive Director of In-Q-Tel, and Dr.Margaret Bourdeaux, Research Director of the Belfer Center’s Security and Global Health Project. Belfer Center Intelligence Project Director Paul Kolbe will moderate. 

From deploying nationwide digital surveillance programs to confronting pandemic-related disinformation and scams online, intelligence services around the world are being utilized to combat COVID-19. But for many Americans, the idea of spy agencies having a role in public health security is unnerving.

Just as politics makes for strange bedfellows, so does a pandemic. Given the increasing importance of public health to national security, a strong connection between public health and intelligence is vital, but overlooked. In this session, we will discuss how this division between the intelligence and public health communities left us vulnerable to a pandemic, and ask which intelligence approaches are relevant to the enterprise of health security. Questions to consider include:

  • What role can/should intelligence play in bio-surveillance?
  • What capabilities does the Intel Community possess that public health agencies could use? How could they be integrated?
  • Is there a role for clandestine reporting on public health issues?
  • How can the very different cultures of the intelligence community and public health communities be bridged?
  • How can intelligence be utilized in public health without undermining privacy? Without undermining international scientific cooperation?
  • What should the public health community learn about intel, and what should the intel community learn about public health?
  • What vulnerabilities exist in the public health system which might pose a national security threat. Pathogen data? Patient data? Vulnerability to cyber espionage? Destructive cyber attack?

Tara O’Toole, MD, MPH is Senior Fellow and Executive Vice President at In-Q-Tel (IQT), a private, non-profit strategic investment firm that links the US Intelligence Community and venture-backed start-up firms on the leading edge of technological innovation. IQT invests in start-up companies that have developed commercially viable products that will deliver novel and disruptive, ready-soon technologies (within 36 months) that could effectively address some of the nation’s most significant problems. Dr. O’Toole is leading a strategic IQT initiative to explore opportunities and risks likely to arise in the next decade as a result of advances in the biological sciences and biotechnologies, with a particular focus on detection of and defense against biological attacks.

From 2009-2013, Dr. O’Toole served as Under Secretary of Science and Technology (S&T) at the Department of Homeland Security, the principal advisor to the Secretary on matters related to science and technology. Before becoming Undersecretary, Dr. O’Toole founded and directed two university-based think tanks devoted to civilian biodefense. She was a professor of Public Health and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which was the first academic center devoted to biosecurity policy and practices and played a major role in defining the nature and consequences of major biological threats, both natural and deliberate.

From 1994-98, Dr. O’Toole served in President Clinton’s administration as Assistant Secretary for Environment Safety and Health in the Department of Energy after serving for four years s a senior analyst at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.  

She received her BA from Vassar College, her MD from the George Washington University School of Medicine and an MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is board certified in internal medicine and occupational and environmental medicine.

Dr. O’Toole is a past Chair of the Board of the Federation of American Scientists, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Margaret Bourdeaux, MD, MPH, is the Research Director for the Belfer Center's Security and Global Health Proect. Dr. Bourdeaux conducts research and field work focused on health systems and institutions in conflict affected states. She works closely with Harvard Medical School’s Global Public Policy and Social Change program and spearheads the Fragile Setting Health System working group. She has worked with the Office of the Secretary of Defense Policy to analyze the US Department of Defense’s global health projects and programs.  She led a joint Harvard-NATO team of analysts to evaluate the impacts, challenges and opportunities international security forces have in protecting and rebuilding health systems in conflict affected states. She earned her B.A. at Harvard University, her M.D. from Yale Medical School, completed her combined residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA and completed her MPH at Harvard School of Public Health.   She was one of the first graduates of the Global Women’s Fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.