April 22, 2015

CNAS Press Note: Secretary Carter Charts the Pentagon’s Cybersecurity and Innovation Agenda

By Ben FitzGerald

Washington, April 22 – Ben FitzGerald, director of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Technology and National Security Program, has written a new Press Note in advance of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s speech tomorrow on “Rewiring the Pentagon: Charting a New Path on Innovation and Cybersecurity.”

The full Press Note is available below:

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, will deliver a major speech tomorrow at Stanford University entitled “Rewiring the Pentagon: Charting a New Path on Innovation and Cybersecurity.” Carter appears set to build on his prior work in the Pentagon, and that of his deputy secretary and undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, in calling for commercial collaboration, particularly in Silicon Valley, to help maintain the Department of Defense’s technical edge.

The need for change in the Pentagon is well understood, particularly in terms of technology development, and Silicon Valley serves as a powerful example of what innovation can make possible. This is especially true for cybersecurity with the majority of vulnerable infrastructure owned and operated by private enterprise. But while the Pentagon has much to gain from commercial outreach, the benefits for Silicon Valley are less clear.

The Pentagon was an early investor in Silicon Valley in the 1960s and 1970s, supporting advances in microprocessors, GPS, computer networking, data compression, and other core technologies that underpin the U.S. military’s technical advantage and have created world leading companies and entire industries.

But times have changed.

Silicon Valley and technology companies around the world now address global markets that dwarf the Pentagon’s previously compelling budget. Complex and lengthy government acquisition practices and oversight requirements create an opportunity cost that many businesses can’t ignore. And culturally, military technical problems are no longer as cool or compelling as they once were to innovative technologists – especially given the lingering effects of the Snowden disclosures. This combination of macroeconomic, market, and cultural misalignment has proven difficult to for the Pentagon to overcome. 

Despite these challenges, the DOD can and should be a relevant market for Silicon Valley. It deals with some of the hardest technical challenges on the planet, particularly in a cyber context, has unique legal authority to address certain cyber issues, and can serve as a platform for compelling technology solutions. But unlocking this potential will require changes in mindset and process by both parties.

If any Pentagon leadership team can bridge the divide, it will be the one that is currently in place. Carter possesses a detailed understanding of how Silicon Valley, the defense industry, and the Pentagon work, as well as a credible technical voice. He also knows that success will depend on more than speeches, requiring meaningful strategy and reforms that create the right incentives to motivate all parties.

Mr. FitzGerald is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or call 202-457-9409.

  • Ben FitzGerald

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security Program

    Ben FitzGerald was a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS. In this capacity, Mr. FitzGerald led CNAS efforts to explore...