On this episode of Intelligence Matters, guest host Sandy Winnefeld interviews Frances Townsend, Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, and Admiral James Stavridis (ret.), Former Allied Commander in Chief at NATO, about their work for the American Edge Project, a political advocacy group that promotes investment in US innovation and technology. Townsend and Stavridis explain the links between technological advancement and national security and explain why China’s autocratic approach to technology in particular is an increasingly serious threat. They outline several suggestions for addressing known challenges, including setting cyber standards to support certain critical industries. They also identify priority areas that the Biden administration needs to address.
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To maintain superiority in the development of Artificial Intelligence (Stavridis): “China is accelerating in this area. It’s critical. And it goes back to the point where Fran started the conversation with the idea that China is collecting all of this personal information. There are many reasons why they would want to do this, including the obvious. One of them allows you to want to extend authoritarian control over your population. Another big reason you want this is because you want the data. Data is oil, as the saying goes, and it powers machine learning what ultimately drives artificial intelligence. “
Security gaps in the US infrastructure (Townsend): “”[W]We have a very exposed and fragile infrastructure, whether it’s the FAA air traffic control system, our power grid or the water infrastructure. We just saw this hack in the Oldsmar Florida water system in February and a hacker was able to increase the levels of toxins in the water. Well that was intercepted because there was redundancy in the system that picked it up. But not every water system could have taken this up. And imagine if it were a state actor shutting down the air traffic control system in the northeast and we either go blind in the air or turn off the lights in the northeast corridor. … I’m worried that a state actor in New York will turn off the lights. And that should be what drives Congress, the US government, and our allies because we are not alone in this vulnerability to genuinely commit to making progress in this area. ”
INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – FRANCES TOWNSEND AND ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS
PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS
SANDY WINNEFELD: Hi, you’re listening to Michael Morrell Intelligence Matters. I’m Sandy Winnefeld and I’m sitting for Michael today. We are pleased to have two very distinguished guests with us today.
Frances Townsend was a former White House Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security Advisor and is known for her insightful comments on homeland security issues. Retired US Navy Admiral Jim Stavridis is the former Allied Commander in Chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and also the former Commander in Chief of the US Southern Command. He is a popular writer and a good friend. We both spent a lot of time together in uniform, and our two guests are co-chairs of the National Security Advisory Board for the American Edge Project. Fran and Jim, thank you for joining us today and welcome to Intelligence Matters.
And I want to first ask Fran, what exactly is the American Edge Project? Is it an advocacy group, a think tank? And what is it supposed to achieve?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: You know Sandy, I think I would describe it as all of these things, right. It was really a pleasure. Jim and I, like you and Jim, worked together in the US government. And this was really an opportunity for us to talk about the national security threat that China poses mainly to our innovation and technology. You know we see China talking about centralizing the collection and storage of personal information collected by Tencent and Alibaba. It is this type of national security threat that poses a real challenge to the United States. We actually believe in personal freedom and individual privacy, but not everyone in the world. We are a technological democracy, but there are technological autocracies that pose a real challenge to us.
SANDY WINNEFELD: So Jim, what made you two get together with your co-authors as part of this project to do this and write a paper on the digital power of the US?
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: First and foremost, our friendship. We’ve known each other, my goodness, well over a decade, probably closer to 20 years, since Fran was in government and I in uniform. But then we continued to work together in the business world. For example, I am now with the Carlyle Group. She is also involved in many private equity projects. So we only know each other very well.
Second, to use the term “Jerry Maguire”, our résumés are complementary, if you will. She is deeply rooted in internal security, of course, but knows the international world very well. I’m deep in the international world, but I think I know quite a bit about national security. And we both have a common interest in cyber. So the organizers turned to us independently. And when at least I spoke for myself, when I discovered Fran would be the co-chair, it was easy.
SANDY WINNEFELD: So I want to ask you two this question – Fran, maybe you can go first. You talk in the paper about the exploitation of two distinctly American assets: technological supremacy and a network of allies, partners and friends around the world who all advocate democratic principles. Can you talk a little with our audience about how these two benefits that we have or have had go hand in hand?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: Let me start with technological superiority, right. We have long been known for technological innovation and superiority, but China is close behind us, especially in facial recognition. Part of this is due to US intellectual property theft. But part of it is that they are just building their own skills. The threat to our ability to innovate tells me and the American Edge project that we really need to partner with our allies who share our values, who share our democratic values, and who believe in the same individual freedom and privacy rights as we do, so we can. Because with the increasing use of the internet, especially at this time of the pandemic, it has never been more important that we work with our allies to set the norms of the internet at a time when we see the Chinese insert themselves around to set the norms as they prefer. It is important that we work with our allies because this is the only way to maintain our technological superiority.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: Sandy, if I could just add one thought, our current network of allies, partners and friends that you know very well from your time as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs would be perhaps America’s crown jewel in international security. But it’s not particularly good for this area of thinking about cyber, thinking about privacy concerns, and thinking about social networks and how they can be armed. In other words, NATO has no depth in this area. Our relationships with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as our Pacific allies, are not structured in this way.
One aspect of the American Edge project that excites and attracts me is the type of thinking Fran just articulated: Maybe we need new structures. I’m not sure if we need a new NATO per se, but the idea of bringing the so-called techno-democracies together is growing in importance. And I encourage listeners to check out the article in Foreign Affairs by Jared Cohen and Richard Fontaine, which posits the idea of bringing 12 of these techno-democracies together. Some of our NATO allies, but also India, Sweden and Israel, for example. I think we need to approach this with a view to this: “Hey, our wonderful network of allies, partners and friends is very important. But how do we find new friends? “If you will? And I will conclude by saying that India has enormous potential in this regard.
FRANCES TOWNSEND: I’m glad you mentioned that. You know, in India they talk about how they are much more like the techno-autocratic rules, right, that they don’t respect democracy, democratic values, privacy and a lot more and prefer a surveillance state. That is why it has never been more important for us to get to India and try to pull them. India is the largest democracy in the world. We should try to pull them into our sphere instead of letting China pull them into their sphere.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Well, it seems like there’s one more aspect of what you’re talking about in the Alliance, because we know China prefers to cut people out of the herd, right, and work on them one. And they really don’t like it when a consortium of nations, however you want to describe it, somehow complies with them; You tend to step back in this situation.
I think it is a very important point in your paper how China reacts to it.
Let me ask you, your newspaper is divided into three main pillars and I would like to give you the opportunity to walk us through them in turn. So let’s start with the first one, which protects the ability to innovate. How is this at risk and how do we go about protecting it?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: So I mentioned facial recognition. This is an area where China is currently ahead of the game. But look, there are more and more areas, right. For example, where we should be able to maintain our technological advantage. But first, we need to understand that to do this, we need to curb intellectual property theft. And that has to be a real priority. It was for the last two administrations. And there is no reason to believe that this will not continue to be a focus of the Biden administration.
President Biden himself took the opportunity at the Munich Security Conference to talk about this and the importance of our cyber advantage, if you will. And so I really think that our superiority here, our ability to innovate – you see what American companies are investing in research and development. The theft of this intellectual property is devastating and discouraging the kind of innovation that, frankly, has been our cornerstone. So I think part of maintaining our technological edge has to do with curbing intellectual property theft.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: And one more thought, Sandy. Another part of that is, I believe, specific to 5G. It ensures that we, the United States, along with our allies, remain in the lead in this role. And that will again be something that the Biden administration will pick up from the Trump administration. And then there is another type of subtext here, and it’s a subtle one, but it brings the US and the partner nations to these very influential international standards and sets bodies. And that’s not sexy stuff, is it? This is a group of organizations loosely anchored in the structure of non-governmental organizations internationally, but set many guidelines – data protection, surveillance, patent reform, boredom. But let’s include US leadership on some of these bodies. I think that’s part of protecting the ability to innovate.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Well, and some of the things these standards bodies are doing have a disproportionate impact, right. I wanted to ask you specifically, and I’m going to address Jim here on 5G. You do a really good job describing the problem, and you close with the idea that the Biden administration needs to strengthen US leadership. But that’s a tough question. Everyone wants 5G. The Chinese are likely able to provide it cheaper than anyone else. Do you have any specific ideas here as to what the Biden administration could do?
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: Yes. First and foremost, I think we are advising our allies that life is full of choices and this is a choice that we will be relying on quite heavily and that is why we will work closely with our allies – would be polite way to to express it. But I think we’re going to put real pressure on them to join us. Number two, we need to encourage our private sector to deliver high quality 5G. And I think we can do that with government access to research and development, possibly by incentivizing certain projects. And sometimes people say, “Oh, now I have to let the free market do this.” You know, there are things that free markets are wonderful for. But I would say 5G, if we get it right, could be an area where you would want government support and engagement.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Yes. In some cases, the government, including the Department of Defense, may need to give a little ground under its feet. Correct. For example about frequency rights and the like.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: Absolutely.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Your second pillar is entitled “Securing US technology networks and data through improved cybersecurity”. And I think most Americans would violently agree to you by now, especially given the recent SolarWinds attack and the hafnium attack on Microsoft Exchange servers and the rise in ransomware attacks. Fran, can you give us a feel for what is at the heart of your approach? And is there anything new you would suggest to improve cybersecurity in the US?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: So when we look at these, you and Admiral Stavridis know very well that the risk is really the target. And when you think about how we grew from about seven billion connected devices in 2011 to twenty-five billion today, you know, the attack surfaces have doubled here in the US.
The Solarium Commission has made a number of recommendations. I think the congress is basically the solarium commission as the time before 9/11 on the internet. What do we have to do and how do we have to plan? They came up with lots of great ideas including the ability, if you will like FEMA, the ability to increase resources and assets in an attack. Many of the commission’s recommendations were incorporated into the National Defense Approval Act of 2021 and Triggering New Resources. It really requires a very close partnership between the public and private sectors. It brings up the old debate between security and encryption and then government and law enforcement access. This has been true throughout all of my years in government: where do you prioritize? Is it about data security or legal government access when appropriate?
I firmly believed it didn’t have to be an either / or, but it is a debate that we need to wrestle to the ground so that we can move forward and know this notion of data security. Back to Jim’s point again: we need a set of standards that we can all agree on at the national level, and then with our allies rules that protect both data in motion and data at rest. We know that using end-to-end encryption is incredibly important.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Fran, I remember the industry resisting government involvement a few years ago and for the longest time, not only for the reasons you mentioned, but also out of concern that it would add additional costs and increase their legal liability. Do you see this have changed at all in recent years, given the increased threat level? And what incentives would you encourage industry more into this world of government collaboration?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: Well, you know, there have been a number of hearings on Capitol Hill on the matter. And interestingly, even though they defied government regulation, big tech companies now want leadership tracks. I have never been an advocate of many regulations, especially in highly technical areas where members of Congress may not have sufficient knowledge to understand the consequences of those regulations. But there is now a move and a train of tech companies to put guard rails in place so that they understand what the expectations are. And Mark Zuckerberg himself said it is very important that companies are held accountable for strong systems that monitor and prevent the spread of disinformation. And so I think what you will find is an openness from the technology community to a conversation that says they feel very strong and understandable about their current liability protection and will not lose it in the process.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: Can I just add a few thoughts on cybersecurity? So I’m going to give you three very practical ideas, not without some controversy. And these are my ideas. These are not from the American Edge project per se. For one thing, I think it’s time to create a cyber force. I recommend the Trump administration to create a space force. For the same reasons, I would argue even more necessary and a lot. We need a cyber force. Just like 70 years ago we needed an air force, today we need a cyber force. Not huge. Maybe fifteen thousand people from a division of nearly two million. But we need committed, uniform, culturally sound and oriented military personnel. I think that has to be part of it, all the way to the point that this is going to be very civil in the end, but you still need a cyber force.
Second, I think you need a significant cabinet-level official in charge of cybersecurity. We have an agriculture minister, we have an interior minister, we have a number of important cabinet departments, and I find it difficult to imagine a broad area that is so important and yet so underrepresented in the cabinet. The Biden administration took a step in that direction and brought someone in. It is unclear whether he will get actual cabinet status or not. But I think it’s time to really think about it.
And third, and that’s kind of a military weed, I think, but I would argue that we should separate the National Security Agency from the US Cyber Command. The US Cyber Command is a military command. It is currently held by a single officer, General Paul Nakasone. These two have different roles, and I think the National Security Agency is very different from Cyber Command. So these are all big problems. We don’t have time to unpack, but I’m sending them out as practical ideas that we hope we can talk about in general.
FRANCES TOWNSEND: Jim, I would add one more, and I advocated it during the Obama and Trump administrations. And I think the Biden administration is open to the idea of building on what Jim said. I think you need, just like we built the National Counter Terrorism Center after 9/11, a national cyber center where you bring together both military and civilian capabilities. And it’s an integral part of what Jim is proposing. This should be part of the mandate of a Cabinet Secretary responsible in this area.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Interesting ideas, and as you all know as well as I do, there is an opportunity for many to be jealous of the Internecine government from these ideas, but they are very clear and straightforward and very interesting. Jim, I wanted to ask – I think our listeners might be interested to hear your thoughts on where cybercrime fits into the US government’s responses.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: You know, there are a few types. There is some kind of immediate preventive defense where you try to take someone down before they attack you. And after someone attacks you, maybe you can jerk off what they just did so they can’t do it again. Then there are other types of cyber crime. Where do you see this to complement a government response?
I think this will be vital for all of us in the future. I’ve just published a novel: “2034: A Novel of the Next World War”. It takes place in the year 2034. And one of the first set pieces is a massive cyber attack. So the question for us is how do these offensive cyber tools approach nuclear-level capabilities and that they can turn off power grids and turn off transportation systems. The question is, how do you stop it?
I think there are three parts. You mentioned two of them. One of them is improving our defense capabilities. Number two has a capable retaliatory policy that is measured that is not perfectly symmetrical but that gives our allies at least one break before they would use a tool. And that leads to the third, Sandy, which all three of us know well. It is the concept of strategic nuclear deterrence, creating international agreements, regimes in which we all agree not to use the massive end of these offensive cyber tools as we have agreed, given that nuclear weapons only exist once, God thankfully, no one used another in Japan, mainly because of the deterrent, because of the mutually assured destruction and several sub-levels in this again long technical conversation.
Regarding your two excellent points, however, I would like to say that the third thing we need to do is develop an international deterrent regime, a deterrent at a strategic level that includes these cyber weapons.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Good. The last pillar of your paper is entitled “Promoting a Democratic and Open Internet”. And we’ve already touched on that a bit. But Fran, can you tell our audience something about how the internet is threatened and how you want to protect it?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: As I mentioned earlier, I divide this topic into techno-democracies and techno-autocracies. One of the things China is doing is these very harmful data localization laws. I mentioned earlier that China is now talking about the government centralizing personal data held by Tencent and Alibaba. These are things we wouldn’t even consider. Can you imagine a proposal for the US government to decide that, for example, all personal data should be used by Amazon – because that would do just that. And then it underscores the importance of bringing together and pushing back our allies who share our values. The problem with these restrictive data localization laws is that just like this Belt and Road initiative, China has a Cyber Belt and Road initiative. You – back to the 5G discussion – while getting it on the streets for the Chinese government. And they were a lot cheaper. And the Trump administration had to push our allies back to keep Huawei from breaking into the 5G infrastructure. I think this is kind of a trailblazer for where this fight is going to be fought.
And it underscores Jim’s point of view. Like-minded nations need to band together to ensure that our values are what we promote. Our values, us and our allies in Europe to ensure that China has no head start in emerging markets in Africa and Asia where price really matters. Whether or not they share China or our values, they may choose the cheapest option that is not in our best interests in the US.
SANDY WINNEFELD: So Fran, to investigate, the Chinese would probably say that we are using safety concerns about 5G as a fig leaf because they got the plunge on us and are ahead of us in building and marketing this thing. Do you think there is really a security issue associated with 5G?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: Well I think there is a security problem with 5G, but not what the Chinese are suggesting, right? Look, I think the real concern here is with the Chinese bias – in terms of monitoring their own people, to the extent that they embed the skills and technology they sell around the world, we have to ourselves ask Do they have the same ability to retrieve personal data from around the world because their technologies are embedded in the infrastructure? That is the national security concern. I think it’s valid. I think based on everything we know about the nature of Chinese people, both Chinese technology and Chinese policy on surveillance, it’s a real concern.
And you think, “Let’s use NATO” – and I’m going to submit to Jim here. Imagine you are only as strong as your weakest link. So when you sit at NATO and the people present there fall back on the capabilities of their home country, imagine the vulnerability in a military network when that network and the foreign allied country rely on Huawei technology. That is the concern. That is why I think the Trump administration has taken such a strong position. And I don’t expect the Biden government to see it differently.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: I’ll add that, Sandy, to reflect Fran’s position on NATO. This is in some ways similar to why NATO objects to Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia. And then they would have the ability to fly our high-end Joint Strike Fighter against this system. And you just have to worry about what data is being collected and whether that is on a pipeline back to Russia. It’s a very practical concern here. And I think Fran just put it on perfectly.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Jim, you make a really good point. Therefore, as the commander of NORAD, I would never send F-22s to intercept bear bombers approaching Alaska. I would only send F-15s because I didn’t want them to have not only the signature but also the electronic signature of this aircraft. Same thing.
Jim, let me ask you that. The section of paper we are currently on briefly mentions semiconductors or microchips, which are known to be at the heart of everything digital. We recently received a wake-up call regarding the microchip supply chain and the Chips Act is out now. Do you think protecting this change should only be about ensuring adequate manufacturing facilities in the US, regardless of who owns them? Or should it be aimed at the US which controls the entire process including ownership and design as well as the entire supply chain.
ADM. JAME STAVRIDIS: I think there are a handful of supply chains that are so important to our national security that we should seriously talk about securing them. Chips are certainly one of them. And as you both know, Taiwan is the largest chip maker in the world. And boy, if that’s not a juicy little destination, just off the coast of China. We should recognize where these supply chains have significant weaknesses. Ich denke, Chips sind ein sehr gutes Beispiel dafür, wo wir zumindest eine signifikante Rolle bei der Stützung in Betracht ziehen möchten.
Ich gebe dir noch einen, und das ist viel prosaischer. aber wir haben es einfach durchlebt. Es ist medizinische Versorgung. Denken Sie an den Beginn der Pandemie zurück, als wir die Menschen ermutigten, nach Hause zu gehen und eine Maske zu nähen. Warum? Weil diese Lieferkette aus Übersee kommt. Es gibt eine Reihe solcher Probleme, die wir uns sehr genau ansehen sollten. Ich würde Chips ganz oben auf die Liste setzen. Ja.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Für einen von Ihnen ist eines der Themen, die in diesem Artikel kurz erwähnt werden, künstliche Intelligenz, die natürlich sehr digital und natürlich sehr datenhungrig ist. Die hohen Geschwindigkeiten von 5G helfen beim Service. Die Nationale Sicherheitskommission, die Sie, wie ich glaube, unter der Leitung von Eric Schmidt und Bob Work bereits erwähnt haben, hat gerade darüber berichtet. Kai-Fu Lee hat ein sehr interessantes Buch mit dem Titel “A. I. Superpowers” geschrieben, in dem vier Gründe genannt werden, warum er glaubt, dass China zumindest auf kommerzieller Seite eine Überlegenheit gegenüber den USA erlangen wird. Hat einer von Ihnen irgendwelche Gedanken für unsere Zuhörer, den US-Vorteil aufrechtzuerhalten oder den US-Vorteil zu diesem Thema wiederzugewinnen?
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: Nun, Sie haben Eric Schmidt erwähnt, der ein gemeinsamer Freund von Fran und mir ist, und vor drei Jahren sagte Eric auf einer Konferenz, zu der wir jeden Sommer gehen: „Weißt du, wir haben immer noch einen Vorsprung vor China, und es geht darum Zwei Jahre oder so «, sagte er,» aber innerhalb von drei Jahren werden wir fast ausgeglichen sein. « Und ich denke, Eric würde Ihnen sagen, dass China in diesem Bereich beschleunigt. Es ist entscheidend. Und es geht zurück zu dem Punkt, an dem Fran das Gespräch mit der Idee begonnen hat, dass China all diese persönlichen Daten sammelt. Es gibt viele Gründe, warum sie das tun wollen, einschließlich der offensichtlichen. Eine davon ermöglicht es ihnen, die autoritäre Kontrolle über ihre Bevölkerung auszuweiten. Ein weiterer entscheidender Grund, warum sie es wollen, ist, dass sie die Daten wollen. Daten sind Öl, wie das Sprichwort sagt, und sie treiben das maschinelle Lernen an, was letztendlich die künstliche Intelligenz antreibt.
Und wir müssen erneut Anreize für die Arbeit mit unseren großen Technologieunternehmen schaffen, die den amerikanischen Datenschutzstandards entsprechen, uns aber auch die Möglichkeit geben, in diesem Bereich kohärent zu arbeiten. Nochmals mit einem Warnhinweis aus nächster Nähe, Eric Schmidt, Google. Was ist passiert, als Google am Mavin-Projekt beteiligt war? Die Leute werden davon gehört haben. Viele der Mitarbeiter lehnten es ab, sich darauf einzulassen. Genau dort wollen wir nicht hin. Wir brauchen hier eine private öffentliche Zusammenarbeit.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Nun, und viele dieser Mitarbeiter wurden von Leuten beeinflusst, die bei Google arbeiteten und möglicherweise unter dem Einfluss der Chinesen standen, was noch schlimmer ist. Richtig. Also lass mich Devil’s Advocate spielen –
FRANCES TOWNSEND: Kann ich hier einen Punkt hinzufügen? Weil ich denke, dass die Leute die Idee nicht verpassen sollten, dass die Beziehung zwischen Regierung und Privatsektor richtig ist, kooperiert unser Privatsektor freiwillig mit der US-Regierung. Und die US-Regierung kann nur mit rechtlichen Verfahren auf ihre Systeme und Daten zugreifen. Richtig. Dies wird der Regierung von einem unabhängigen Gericht gewährt. Das stimmt nicht in China. Und da Jim darauf hinweist, dass Daten das Öl sind, das die KI und das maschinelle Lernsystem antreibt, hat unsere US-Regierung keine Beziehung zu unserem privaten Sektor, in dem wir das bereitstellen. Unsere Regierung bietet keine kommerzielle Unterstützung an. Das ist in China nicht wahr. Und so ermöglicht es die Beschleunigung durch den Zugriff auf die Daten, dass die Beziehung zwischen der chinesischen Regierung und ihren großen Unternehmen wie Tencent und Alibaba ihre Fähigkeit, in diesem Bereich Gewinne zu erzielen, wirklich beschleunigt.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Nun, das unterstreicht wirklich den wirklichen Wettbewerb zwischen einer autokratischen Demokratie, einer theoretischen Demokratie und einer Demokratie des freien Marktes. Es wird interessant sein zu sehen, wie sich das auswirkt. Let me let me play devil’s advocate just for a second to challenge you realistically what’s possible in terms of changing the trajectory of this technology race. Huawei spends more on 5G, R&D and all the other telecoms combined. The Chinese market is massive. And you know that that makes a huge difference. And I could go on and on. So sort of the bottom line question is, are the kinds of things that you and others have suggested, even if fully embraced and implemented, are they going to move the needle? Is the ultimate outcome going to be different?
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: I’ll take a swing at that ball. I think the short answer is yes, but not immediately. In other words, this is going to take time: the US relationship between the government and the private sector. It’s like a big, massive supertanker – and we have got to get going on this. The Russians have a saying – I don’t quote Russian proverbs a lot, but they say, “It is better to light a single candle than to howl like a dog at the darkness.” What we’re trying to do is raise the visibility, get the conversations moving, and I’ll close with a force multiplier we haven’t touched on in. That is the cadre of leaders, civilian leaders of these big tech industries. I was at a dinner party associated with the Munich Security Council two years ago, before Pandemic Times, a party of 12, a group of high end European businesspeople, me and more importantly to my point, Elon Musk. And boy, when he opens his mouth, people turn and listen. We’ve mentioned Eric Schmidt a few minutes ago, Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Brillant. One of the leaders of Google. When he says something, people listen globally. So I think they can be helpful in this. This is not going to be a quick process, but it is something that we have the resources. We’ve got to get some way on the ship and move it in the right direction.
FRANCES TOWNSEND: So, Sandy, what I would add to that is, look, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about regaining our edge, right. And maintaining our innovation superiority. One of the imperatives for that is our ability to play defense. The United States has got a horribly aging infrastructure. The president is talking about shoring that up and presenting a very big bill and to put behind it. But in the meantime, we have a very exposed and vulnerable infrastructure, whether it’s the FAA air traffic control system, our electricity grid or water infrastructure. We just saw in February this hack into the Oldsmar Florida water system and a hacker was able to increase the level of the toxins in the water. Now, that was caught because there was a redundancy in the system that picked it up. But not every water system could have picked that up. And imagine if it was a state actor taking down the air traffic control system in the Northeast and us going blind in the air or turning out the lights in the northeast corridor. When that happened, when I was in the White House, that was just the aging infrastructure went out. It was not by virtue of the bad actor, but it could have been. And our first impulse was that is what had happened. And I worry about that. I worry about turning the lights off in New York by a state actor. And so that’s that ought to be the thing that spurs Congress, the US government and our allies, because we’re not alone in that vulnerability to really commit themselves to make progress in this area.
ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS: Yeah. Let me add to that excellent point. We’ve got to imagine our way into the future here. And wouldn’t it be nice if instead of after Pearl Harbor, we have a national commission after the disaster, after 9/11, we have a national commission after the disaster. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could or or we’re going to I would say after the disaster, the pandemic, we’re going to have a national commission to understand what just happened and how we avoid it in the future. Maybe for once, we can imagine, as Fran just said, what happens if an opponent truly decided to go after our infrastructure? What would it look like? How bad would it be? I think the Solarium Commission is an effort along those lines, but it really is the table stakes in the conversation we’ve got to have going forward.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Well, as a journalist would say, it’s man bites dog to get people thinking that far in advance. And, you know, the classic grey rhino, you know, the hybrid between the elephant in the room that everybody knows is there and the black swan, that is the catastrophe awaiting. I absolutely share your views on getting ahead of these kinds of things. Let me ask you the paper, this excellent paper, American Edge National Security Policy Paper has been out for only about a month as of this recording. But I’m interested in the kind of reaction you’ve received. Have you gotten any pushback or on the other hand, have you seen any policy movements and the directions you’re advocating?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: So I’ll start. I can’t think of, at least speaking for myself, I’ve not heard any pushback and sort of standing, as you said, man bites dog, everybody agrees. The question is, can the paper help to spur action? I think it’s, frankly, in fairness, too soon to tell in terms of the Biden administration. But every indication is they are taking this seriously. They do want to make progress and that they are open to these ideas. But to your point, Jim’s last point, right, you hope that they get to this on their agenda before something happens. President Bush, who I worked for, came in with a domestic policy agenda. And as you both know, he never got to immigration reform. He never got to education reform because 9/11 happened. And what I hope is — the president has a lot on his plate. We’ve got a crisis at the southern border. We’ve had two mass shootings. And there’s a lot that the White House has to deal with. There are always, for every president, many distractions. And what you’ve got to hope is that there are dedicated senior policy resources devoted to making progress in this area so that they’re not distracted.
SANDY WINNEFELD: So, Fran, you have advised or served in administrations on both sides of the political spectrum. And so you’ve really gotten a great perspective on on all of the issues facing us in homeland security. And in fact, you could argue that that department probably has the most diverse and knotty set of issues of any department in the Cabinet. And I wanted to ask you, you know, we’re coming in the wake of these two shootings that you just alluded to and, you know, the latest in a string. What are your thoughts as sort of a bipartisan observer of this? Are we just sort of admiring this problem or where should we be heading in this area?
FRANCES TOWNSEND: Sandy, this is one of my enormous frustrations. I feel like every time there’s a mass shooting, I get called on to television to talk about what I think is the way forward to reduce the likelihood of such an event. And I say the same thing and we then wait and nothing happens in Washington and there’s another one. And we all say the same things and we make no progress again. So it’s enormously frustrating to me. I have to say, I do think President Biden is right in terms of the assault weapons ban. I’m saying it to the two of you, but this is a weapon of war. No, there’s no reason for anyone not who’s not in uniform to have this sort of a weapon here in the United States. And there is absolute data that proves the point that if you take that weapon away, you will reduce the lethality. You may not reduce the number of these incidents, right, because they’re driven by mental illness and a whole bunch of other things. But if if you don’t have the capability to use a weapon of mass destruction, you just don’t have the capability to kill that many people in a single incident. So if we want to just do something to reduce the lethality in this country, we ought to reinstate the assault weapons ban.
SANDY WINNEFELD: Well, Fran and Jim, I think we’re just about out of time. And I wanted to thank you both for spending time with us today. And I also wanted to thank both of you for your continued service and your your sort of post government life to our great nation. You know, you don’t have to do these kinds of things. And it’s terribly important to have people with the kind of wisdom you can bring to bear on these problems speaking out like you have in this paper. So thank you once again for that. And thank you for joining us today on Intelligence Matters.