The Ebola Vaccine and the Ethics of Drug Trials

By Greg Mercer

The World Health Organization recently announced that a trial of the VSV-EBOV Ebola virus vaccine in Guinea has been “highly effective,” and that randomization in the trial would be stopped to allow for expansion of the range of subjects and protection of more people against the virus.  The trial began in March, and until recently, randomized subjects so that some received the vaccine immediately, while others received it later, after the virus’ gestation period.

A paper published in The Lancet details the study, and finds that the vaccine is highly effective and likely safe to use in the affected population.  The “recombinant, replication-competent vesicular stomatitis virus-based” vaccine is administered in a single dose via the deltoid muscle.  4,123 people received the vaccination immediately, while 3,528 people received the delayed vaccination (more on the study methodology in a moment). The researchers found that no subjects developed a case of Ebola after receiving the immediate or delayed vaccination, meaning that the vaccine proved 100% effective (with p=0.0036 at 95% CI).  These findings are excellent news for researchers, government officials, and those in the affected counties, and are fascinating from a scientific standpoint.

At The New Republic, Timothy Lahey, of Dartmouth, argues that these results, while promising, aren’t necessarily confirmed.  He notes that the lack of a placebo (because of the study’s particular methodology) makes it difficult to determine effectiveness, the vaccine could have failed to protect subjects from infection in a way that the study didn’t detect, and that a statistical aberration could mean that while the vaccine is not actually 100 % effective.  Regardless of whether these potential pitfalls affected the study or not, Lahey raises an important issue in drug testing for a disease like Ebola.  He is concerned that a lower standard for vaccines could mean that lower-income countries might not receive drugs of the same quality as rich countries, and points to past failed vaccines to illustrate the fallacy of believing that all vaccines work as intended.

The ethical dilemmas of drug testing have been front and center in the Ebola crisis.  Back in November, 2014, Nature reported on public health officials weighing the question of whether to use control groups when testing treatments for a disease with 70% mortality.  At the time, some advocated for applying experimental treatments (like the ZMapp antiviral cocktail, which had been used in patients but whose effectiveness was not entirely determined) to all patients, while others argued that these treatments might not be more effective than standard care, and that randomized trials guard against harmful side effects and provide a clearer picture of a drug’s effectiveness.

The VSV-EBOV vaccine was tested in the “ring” method that was previously used in the eradication of Smallpox.  This method eschews the double-blind placebo treatments commonly associated with drug trials.  Instead, this method creates a “ring” around new cases.  Contacts and contacts of contacts were identified by Guinea’s tracking system, and eligible adults were entered into randomization blocks, and received either the immediate or delayed vaccination.  This way, all of the subjects received the treatment, but in varying circumstances to establish effectiveness.  The full study is available via The Lancet.

Ethical drug testing is a crucial consideration, and has an imperfect past.  The National Institutes of Health’s own ethics guide cites a study that led to the United States’ ethics rules: a study that withheld syphilis treatment from 400 African-American men.  And for many, there’s good reason to be concerned about the actions of international organizations and multinational corporations.  In 1996, Pfizer conducted a study of an experimental drug on children with meningitis in Nigeria. While Pfizer maintained that the study was philanthropic, allegations arose from Nigerians and international organizations that children and parents were not informed that they were part of a study, and that Pfizer withheld treatment without consent or administered dangerous drugs.  The incident spawned a series of lawsuits and a panel of Nigerian medial experts condemned Pfizer’s actions in 2006, as reported by The Washington Post.

Epidemics and drug testing present a multitude of practical and ethical concerns, but careful consideration of the issues and sound methodology can, as they did in Guinea, produce exciting scientific and humanitarian results.

Image Credit: Psychonaught

NASA’s Unique Place in American Science and Security

By Greg Mercer

We talk a lot here about the intersection of science, technology, and security studies, and NASA has sat squarely in the center of that relationship since it was called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The Hill reports that GOP legislation is threatening NASA’s plan to develop its own launch vehicles to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. Currently, the US relies on Russia for this capability. Defunding domestic launch capabilities would result in continued reliance on Russian launch capacity, which has cost $1.2 billion since late 2011. The House and Senate spending measures undercut the $1.24 billion needed for the Commercial Crew Program—which would pay for Boeing and SpaceX to develop manned spacecraft by 2017—by up to $300 million.

Relying on Russia for launch capacity creates an interesting contradiction. First, NASA is not a military organization, and its activities are largely in the spirit of international cooperation, especially when it comes to Russia. However, defense hawks tend to oppose Russia’s ongoing incursions into Ukraine, sometimes loudly. This generally means supporting increased sanctions and avoiding cooperation, so it wouldn’t seem to follow that while scolding Russia for their military actions towards their neighbor, the US should also continue to rely on them for launch capacity. This isn’t the first time this sort of relationship has been framed this way. Foreign oil dependence has been a buzzword for decades, and it’s an issue that combines two different issues- energy and defense- into one. The argument goes that relying on potentially unstable partners for oil is a threat to national security, since the collapse of an oil-exporting partner could require military action to protect American energy interests. Regardless of this argument’s veracity, it has persuaded lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to pursue energy production means other than oil imports. A similar argument follows for Russia: if the US wants to economically punish Russia’s aggression and remain the forefront player in the space industry, why would it pay Russia to transport its astronauts?

I support NASA’s budget pretty vehemently, but for somewhat more optimistic reasons. I’m a strong proponent of space exploration of a national goal and a human endeavor, but I’m not adverse to a simple economic argument. Take a look at the list of NASA spin-off technologies. NASA has developed a huge range of technologies that undeniably benefit technology investors, the US, and the world at large.

For the first time since the shuttle program, NASA’s Orion program is providing the agency with long-term goals for manned spaceflight. And if you want to talk about a real security threat, no organization is better suited to detect and potentially avert objects that pose a threat to Earth. NASA pays science and security dividends in spades. Hopefully the hawks and the doves can come together to support it.

Image Credit: MrMiscellanious

NDAA Update: The House Says Keep the A-10

By Greg Mercer

There are many fights and quirks intertwined with the National Defense Authorization Act.  One of them is the A-10 Thunderbolt II (sometimes called the “Warthog”) close support aircraft.  A lot has been made of this particular aircraft, given the Air Force’s desire to phase it out of combat and eventually replace it.  Congress, however, appears to have different plans.

An amendment to the NDAA introduced by Martha McSally (R-AZ-2) in the House Armed Services Committee prohibits the Air Force from using appropriated funds to retire, store, or replace any A-10 aircraft—effectively mandating that the Air Force maintain at least its current stock of 171 A-10s.  Planes, of course, need pilots (well, most of them do), so the amendment also requires that the Air Force not “make significant reductions to manning levels with respect to any A-10 aircraft squadrons or divisions.”  This means that not only does the Air Force have to keep the planes, it has to keep flying them too.  The Air Force has warned that maintaining the A-10 will mean cuts to other programs.

This isn’t an indefinite measure, though.  The amendment calls for an outside study commissioned by the Department of Defense to explore options for retiring and replacing the aircraft.  The Air Force can continue to explore retirement of the A-10—a clearly articulated goal—but it must do so on Congress’s terms.

What, then, motivates Congress?  While mandating the continued operation of the A-10, seemingly against the wishes of the Air Force, might paint Congress as a backwards facing, wasteful organization in contrast to the Air Force’s progressive, cost-saving efforts, this definitely isn’t a fair take on the relationship.  After all, the Air Force also recently asked for 1000 more Air-Launched Cruise Missiles at a cost of $9 billion.  So, it’s not as if the Air Force is desperate to save money at every turn.

Two possible Congressional motivations stand out: First, the A-10 is currently operated by 16 Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Command squadrons throughout the United States—those are plenty of constituent jobs.  Second, members of Congress were likely impressed by the A-10’s record in Iraq and Afghanistan, where its close support role was used to support troops in combat.  While this might not represent a statistical study of its effectiveness, the A-10 has an obvious reputation of saving lives.  Thus, Congress likely views A-10 retirement as something that isn’t yet broken, and doesn’t need fixing.  The Air Force disagrees.

It’s a frustrating situation, but it also calls out the need for checks and balances in military priority setting.  We’ll find out more about the fate of the A-10 when the House NDAA is voted on and reconciled with the Senate version.

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

2016 NDAA: Helicopters, Counters for Unconventional Warfare, and a Bunch of Ships

By Greg Mercer

Every fiscal year, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a piece of comprehensive legislation that funds the Department of Defense and the national security programs operated by the Department of Energy. Since the military is extraordinarily expensive to maintain, and Congress famously “holds the purse strings”, the NDAA is a catalyst for major changes and reforms, and the process of authoring and passing it can tell us a lot about the gap between Congressional and military priorities. The NDAA is going through the House markup process (House first, then Senate, because it’s a financial bill), with subcommittee markups taking place this week and the Full Committee Markup taking place Wednesday, April 29 (Rayburn House Office Building Room 2118 at 10 AM if you’re really interested). The process has already highlighted some trends that will have a major impact in FY16.

Defense News reports that the Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee has requested that the Pentagon replace some helicopters. The subcommittee requested that the Pentagon create a plan to replace existing AH-6 and MH-6 “Little Bird” helicopters within 90 days of the NDAA’s passage and to indicate how they plan to do so with “anticipated funding requirements… for development and procurement of an A/MH-6 replacement platform.” A/MH-6s are commonly used by special operations forces, so it’s no surprise that the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee would be concerned about the future of Special Forces aviation.

The subcommittee also notes that they are concerned about the “unconventional warfare capabilities and threats” posed by Russia and Iran. The proposed legislation defines this as: “…activities conducted to enable a resistance movement of insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.” Clearly, this refers to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russian aggression, as well as the involvement of Iran in combatting ISIL forces in Iraq, which has seen Iran training and equipping as many as 30,000 troops and deploying missiles.

Finally, the subcommittee touches upon a trendy, favorite topic, expressing concern about DOD’s cyber capabilities. It requests a briefing on the process of identifying and remedying current vulnerabilities by February 1, 2016, and a briefing on the DOD’s cyber mission force and whether it can meet its intelligence collection and analysis needs but November 1, 2016.

Elsewhere, Defense News also reports that the Navy’s FY16 budget requests have generally enjoyed support from the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. The subcommittee approved requests for building three new Littoral Combat Ships (a program which has seen controversy in the past), two destroyers, two attack submarines, the completion of a new amphibious ship, continued construction on two new aircraft carriers, procurement of new Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the development of an unmanned, carrier-based jet.

The NDAA will remain dynamic and likely controversial as it works its way through the legislative process. Its position at the center of DOD’s operations for the upcoming year makes the NDAA perennially attractive to those in Congress and the Administration who seek reform or procurement changes. I’ll try to offer more as the process continues.

Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Bourbon, Heartland, and Ticks

By Greg Mercer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that it has identified the mysterious virus that killed a man in Kansas last spring.  Dubbed the Bourbon virus—after its location in Bourbon County, Kansas—it is an RNA virus in the genus Thogotovirus, according to the researchers who identified the virus.  Thogotovirus includes at least 6 distinct viruses, although only one, the Aransus Bay virus, occurs in the U.S. (but does not infect humans).  Of the genus, only two other viruses are known to infect humans, and the only fatality was the one caused by Bourbon.  Both are spread to humans through ticks.  Ticks are also the vector for the Heartland virus and Lyme disease.

The patient in Kansas experienced nausea, weakness, and diarrhea, followed by fever, anorexia, headache, and other symptoms after being bitten by ticks while working outside.  He was initially treated for tick borne illness with doxycycline, which proved ineffective.  Upon being admitted to the hospital, he was tested for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and ehrlichiosis, and treated with broad-spectrum antimicrobial drugs.  Despite treatment, the patient experienced widespread organ failure and died 11 days after becoming ill.  The researchers identified the Bourbon virus in samples through plaque reduction neutralization, originally used to test for Heartland virus antibodies.  Sequencing and analysis then identified the Bourbon virus as a member of Thogotovirus.

The paper from the researchers who identified the virus, linked above, is well worth reading for a look at how emerging viruses are studied and identified, and the challenges of dealing with the first case of a new virus.

The Heartland virus was first detected in 2012, causing fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and stomach sickness.  Most patients required hospitalization, with most fully recovering.  The CDC has since identified eight cases in Missouri and Tennessee.  Due to the low number of cases, the virus is still not well understood, but all of the patients became sick between May and September, and likely became infected while outdoors.

While researchers assert that the current methods of transmission for both Bourbon and Heartland are unknown, they note that exposure to ticks may be a potential method.  The researchers advise avoiding tick bites as a potential method of preventing infection. The CDC page for avoiding ticks lists guidelines, including using insect repellant recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and wearing long sleeves and pants outside.

The CDC lists 14 other diseases spread by ticks.  Most recognizable among them is Lyme disease, a common disease to hear about during warm weather.  Interestingly, the CDC tick page also notes the discontinuation of the Lyme disease vaccine in 2002 by its producer, due to lack of demand.  Since the vaccine’s effect diminishes over time, those vaccinated before 2002 are likely no longer protected against Lyme.

It’ll be tick season soon enough so, be generous with that insect repellant!

Image Credit: André Karwath

The CIA’s New Hats: Some Thoughts on John Brennan’s Reorganization Plan

By Greg Mercer

In March, CIA Director John Brennan announced his plan for restructuring the Central Intelligence Agency in his “Blueprint for the Future”—the unclassified version of which is available on the CIA’s website.  The plan, structured as a memo to CIA personnel, provides a broad overview of the coming administrative changes proposed by Brennan’s Study Group.  Brennan identifies two key areas of national security that prompted the changes: “The first,” Brennan says, “is the marked increase in the range, diversity, complexity, and immediacy of issues confronting policymakers; and the second is the unprecedented pace and impact of technological advancements.”  New issues and new technology seem like pretty common themes in Washington these days.  Let’s look at what Brennan plans to do about them.

To respond to these policy areas, the memo outlines four themes: enhancing talent and human capital, addressing the digital revolution, modernizing the business process, and integrating capabilities to address mission areas.  I’ll talk mostly about the digital and integration themes here.

Probably the most radical change is the addition of a new directorate to address the rapidly expanding need for cyber offense and defense capabilities.  This is where the new Directorate of Digital Innovation comes in.  This is the largest change to the CIA’s structure since the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.  Brennan doesn’t go into detail about the specific operations of the new directorate beyond “overseeing… standards of our digital tradecraft.”  “Digital tradecraft” is a vague, amorphous term that can broadly refer to any number of activities within the cyber domain, all of which would likely be highly classified.  Generally, though, “tradecraft” means “spycraft.”

U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM)—a joint military command co-located at Fort Meade, Maryland, with the National Security Agency (NSA), the primary signals intelligence agency—represents the bulk of U.S. cyber presence right now.  The CIA’s history of covert actions and the existence of a military cyber command raise concern over whether the U.S. is developing simply cyber defenses or cyberwarfare capabilities.  The best evidence for the latter is the Stuxnet computer worm, discovered in 2010, which targeted Iranian nuclear equipment and is largely attributed—at least partially—to the U.S.  The creation of a new CIA directorate devoted entirely to cyber activities is a response to the overwhelming academic and industry consensus that the cyber domain poses imminent threats to the U.S. However, the new directorate isn’t unique, given the existence of USCYBERCOM and the NSA, and might represent the condensing of existing CIA cyber activities into a single structure.  It is hard to glean any details about the CIA’s cyber intentions moving forward, but the new directorate is a major organizational change and a huge signal that the government is continuing to respond to the rise of the cyber domain.

Speaking of consolidating activities, Brennan also announced the creation of new Missions Centers and changes to existing directorates.  Citing the need to address varying threats and U.S. national security interests, Brennan explained that Mission Centers, each led by an Assistant Director, will incorporate activities from across the agency to address a specific topic.  Functionally, this seems to mean that Brennan intends to close the long-standing divide between analysis and covert action that has defined the CIA since its inception, and he has announced administrative changes to support this.  The National Clandestine Service, which runs all of the CIA’s undercover activities, will be renamed the Directorate of Operations, and the Directorate of Intelligence will become the Directorate of Analysis.  While these seem like minor name changes, they reflect the greater forces at play—Brennan intends for the directorates to train quality operatives and analysts to contribute to the Mission Centers.  The Assistant Directors will have “accountability and responsibility for the delivery of excellence in their respective occupations across all of the Centers.” This setup seems to be modeled on the National Counterterrorism Center or the Bin Laden unit, crosscutting organizations within the intelligence community that combined strengths from many disciplines.  This will, however, take a great deal of proactive administrative attention to ensure that cooperation and coordination are paramount.  Shared missions are powerful motivator, but they are often not enough to convince large organizations to coordinate successfully.  This will take time and a great deal of work at every level.

A focus on personnel runs throughout the memo.  While it might not seem this way to current graduate students and job seekers, the CIA has historically had major problems attracting qualified, competent employees, especially following the fall of the Soviet Union, when the agency found itself flooded with Soviet experts and woefully unprepared to address the host of new threats and interests around the world.  The CIA has had a long and often sordid history (I highly recommend Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes for a comprehensive look), and often found itself the target of harsh criticism by Congress and the presidency, but Brennan seems to be targeting major, long-standing flaws with his reform plan.  This is a laudable, noble pursuit, and I hope it has a positive impact.  The intelligence community usually sees its soul searching come after major failures or during times of national crisis.  Coming on the tail of revelations about U.S. interrogation programs, these changes seem to aim to fix the system before disaster strikes again (though it is certainly accurate to call the decade-plus of detention and interrogation abuses a disaster).  Let’s hope Brennan’s plan is sound.

Image Credit: CIA

CIA Purchase of Iraqi CW: Background and Context

By Greg Mercer

Recently, a CIA program to buy and destroy chemical weapons in Iraq has come to light.   The New York Times reports that from 2005 to 2006, Operation Avarice saw the purchase and destruction of 400 chemical weapon rockets originally developed by the Hussein regime in the 1980s.  Reports vary on the contents of the rockets, which may have contained either degraded chemical components or still-active sarin.  The Times article states that, in cooperation with the Army 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion, the CIA station in Baghdad made the purchase from a single Iraqi seller and destroyed the weapons.

These events notably fall outside of the findings of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the 2003 Department of Defense-led fact finding mission.  The ISG released a final report in 2004 detailing Iraqi WMD-related activities from 1991 to 2003. However, ongoing conflict in Iraq has led to further encounters with remnants of Hussein’s WMD programs.

An October 2014 article detailed claims made by veterans that military personnel had been exposed to sulfur mustard during the destruction of seized Iraqi chemical weapons near Taji.  The Times’ CJ Chivers places the number of service members exposed to chemical weapons at no fewer than 17, and asserts that they received inadequate healthcare.  His investigation led to the Pentagon acknowledging that hundreds of service members had been exposed to chemical weapons and had received insufficient treatment.

A May 2004 Fox News article reported that a 155mm artillery shell used as part of a roadside bomb in Iraq was found to have contained sarin, and two service members were treated for mild symptoms of exposure.  While the shell contained three liters of sarin, it was a binary system, where separate chemical compounds are mixed to form the weapon agent.  Due to its use as an improvised explosive and failure to combine, the agent was not potent enough to be lethal.  The article notes that a different shell containing mustard gas was found in a similar setup.  However, this shell also did not detonate, and the chemical agent was found by the ISG to be inactive due to improper storage.

In July 2004 the Washington Post reported that warheads found in Iraq by Polish forces, originally believed to be chemical weapons dating back to the Iran-Iraq war (which saw the use of chemical weapons by both sides), did not, in fact, contain chemical agents.  The warheads were reportedly purchased, not confiscated, rockets, though this point was disputed by an unnamed senior intelligence official, who said that the U.S. had been told that the rockets were found alongside other conventional weapons.  Chemical weapons or not, the episode demonstrates the severity with which international forces in Iraq treated claims of insurgents and terrorists possessing or seeking unsecured Hussein-era weapons.

It’s important to note that these brushes with chemical weapons involved agents dating to before 1991.

Chemical weapons were not the only illicit goods seized in Iraq.  In 2005, the Associated Press reported that 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium had been sold to Canadian uranium producer Cameco Corp. for use as nuclear fuel.  The U.S. conducted a top-secret airlift operation of 37 flights to move the uranium from Baghdad to Montreal.  The uranium was a remnant of Hussein’s nascent nuclear weapons program.  Yellowcake uranium is an intermediate product of uranium processing, not weapons-grade material.  It can either be smelted into fuel rods for use in nuclear reactors for power production, or enriched into U-235 via gas centrifuge.  Low-enriched uranium (up to 20% U-235) is also used in nuclear reactors, but highly-enriched uranium (90%) is used in nuclear weapons.


Image Credit: The New York Times

The So-Called Islamic State

By Greg Mercer

Ever since al Qaeda in Iraq rebranded itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in 2013 and split from al Qaeda at large, there has been some confusion as to how exactly to refer to the entity. The extremist group’s growing paramilitary force is attempting to create an independent state governed by a Wahhabist ideology. It has been referred to as the Islamic State, IS, ISIS, and ISIL, with no convention appearing to have emerged, and there has been just as much coverage about the debate surrounding this nomenclature vacuum.

The Associated Press, writing in June of 2014, notes that the Arabic name Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham translates to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and that al-Sham, which encompasses the Middle East from southern Turkey to Egypt, and is also referred to as “the Levant.” Based on this interpretation, the AP argues that “ISIL” is both the most accurate translation and a clear indication of the group’s aims, as “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” implies that the group is interested in only two countries. Finally, they note that ISIL is the abbreviation used by the United Nations.

Ishaan Tharoor, writing for the Washington Post in June of 2014, notes that ISIL is used by the State Department and President Obama. However, he points out that the translation leading to ISIL might not be infallible. Citing Hassan Hassan, he notes that “the Levant” might be considered an outdated term, and that “Greater Syria” can be used to refer to the area in question, in which case the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, and thus ISIS, could be appropriate. He also notes that ISIS is attractive for the way it rolls off the tongue. Tharoor says that the difference between ISIS and ISIL is not as politically charged as, for example, the difference between “Burma” and “Myanmar.”

In September of 2014, Ian Black, writing for The Guardian (which uses ISIS as its in-house standard), noted the sordid history of Islamic State names, and explained that the French government had offered up the term “Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham, and which is disliked by Islamic State supporters for notably leaving out the “Islamic” signifier. CNN covered this policy as well.

”You have to name things correctly,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Christiane Amanpour. “They are not a state… they are not representative of Muslims.”

Fabius noted that using the term, which is disliked by extremists for its pronunciation similar to Arabic words for “trample,” or “crush,” is an appropriate response to the group’s brutality. Daesh, then, is a much more politically charged name than IS, ISIS, or ISIL, chosen not just for accuracy, but also for the connotation that it carries for the enemy. It also, notably, leaves out “Islamic,” an attractive option for those who desire to make it clear that these extremists are not representative of Islam or Muslims.

Among this debate though, there is an underlying solidarity. The news of France’s refusal to use Islam-based names came alongside their addition to the forces conducting strikes against targets in Iraq. President Obama might have used a different term than France, but he did so in praising France’s military actions.

Referring to the term Daesh, Army Lt. Gen. James Terry said, “Our partners, at least the ones that I work with, ask us to use that, because they feel that if you use ISIL, that you legitimize a self-declared caliphate. … They feel pretty strongly that we should not be doing that.”

A Google Trends search for ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh reveals the overwhelming popularity for ISIS among Google searches:

ISIS GoogleGoogle

While some of the searches for ISIS can be attributed to it being a word with other connotations (an Egyptian goddess, for instance), the search volumes for all of the terms appear to spike at the same times, indicating major news events, with a much higher volume of searches containing ISIS than the other names. While this might not indicate which is the most popular among governments or news outlets, it shows that ISIS seems to be the name of choice for Google users, and the general public.

Regardless of the naming conventions that they adopt, many countries see a common threat in Iraq and Syria.


(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)