DNA’s Role in Political Espionage and Beyond

One of the more fascinating stories to come out of the recent US and North Korean summit was the fact that N. Korean leader Kim Jong Un carried his toilet with him to the Singapore meeting with President Trump.

According to multiple accounts, Mr. Kim did this so that no person could get access to his stools to be able to test them for DNA and learn anything about his health. This may sound crazy but given modern DNA testing technology and the fact that we can learn a great deal about a person’s history as well as future health issues from these tests, this move by Mr. Kim does make some sense. He has to be very paranoid based on the damage he has done to N. Korean people and their economy. Keep in mind, he is a dictator and has to be in total control of everything, and this appears to trickle down to his toilet habits as well.

Interestingly, this issue of political leaders protecting their DNA from falling into nefarious hands has merit. Most of us, especially fans of TV shows like NCIS, Bones, etc., are familiar with how DNA is used to solve crimes. Imagine if it could be used to predict the health of a political leader and that info be used to oust them from office or give opponents ammunition they need to attack them in some way to achieve their political goals.

In Kim Jong Un’s case, were his eating utensils, glasses he drank from and anything he touched destroyed too, so he did not leave any DNA traces of himself?

When researchers were deconstructing our DNA, the goal was to understand our human make up as well as being able to use it to detect and treat disease. It was also designed to help create specific drugs to attack some medical issues. In that sense unlocking our DNA is and has been a massive benefit for humanity. But as we have learned the hard way, sometimes technology intended for good is often used for evil too.

Using DNA for political espionage is frightening. In the wrong hands, it could cause severe problems for any political figure if it can be used in ways to impact their ability to lead or perform their duties. This concept could also be damaging to political leaders psyche. Given the fact that all leaders make contact with all types of objects that DNA can be extracted from, any politician could end up being very paranoid and intimidated, which could impact their leadership decisions.

I have no crystal ball to understand the total ramifications of this type of use of DNA, but just the fact that DNA could be used in this manner, as Mr. Kim has shown by bringing is own toilet with him, should cause any leader to at least be aware of the potential use of DNA for some political espionage.

We also know from the arrest of a suspect in the Golden State Killer case that DNA can be traced back decades and in this case, was used to solve a series of murders dating back to the 1980’s. Bloomberg did an excellent piece on consumer genetic testing services and the potential of invading personal privacy based on some set of goals. As in the case of Golden State murders, the police requests for this type of DNA data has opened a new privacy battle that has severe ramifications for society.

In this Bloomberg article they interviewed a UK Genealogist who said “There is no control over genealogists who are doing this type of search,” said Debbie Kennett, the U.K. genealogist. “CeCe Moore [a genetic genealogist] is good, but once the floodgates are open, there’s a potential for genealogists who are not ethical to cause a lot of harm.”

This is an area that needs to be overseen. I suspect what Kim Jong Un is doing with his toilet habits may soon be copied by despots and dictators like him, and could even cause a pause in traditional leaders who have massive opposition to their leadership.

Genetic testing sites have very little oversight beyond the FDA, and given the fact that this data is very personal, I would not be surprised if they end up under some other governmental regulation in the future.

We are in the early days of understanding how DNA can be used beyond its original goal, but it is clear now that we need to realize that while its potential for doing good is significant, we can’t ignore that it can also be used for nefarious purposes.

We are entering a brave new world that will demand a lot of new oversite and potential government and legal ways of protecting our privacy, and without the proper checks and balances in place, I fear that the use of DNA could get out of control and unleash levels of havoc we haven’t even thought of today.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

4 thoughts on “DNA’s Role in Political Espionage and Beyond”

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