A panel of national security experts discussed the policy landscape in the Biden administration and new Congress on February 19th. This conversation, part of Duke in DC’s Beyond Talking Points series, covered issues related to cybersecurity, international and private partnerships, and how our nation can rebuild and strengthen many of these priorities.

The panelists included former U.S. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence and current Rubenstein Fellow Susan “Sue” Gordan; Duke Professor and Director of the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy (AGS), Peter Feaver; and Managing Director of the Cybersecurity Group at the Aspen Institute, David Forscey. The discussion was moderated by Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). 

On cybersecurity:

David Forscey:

“The government and private sector, including our international partners, frequently cooperate, but there is also a lot of tension there. Private industry has always been essential for national security, but increasingly, the private sector is the actual medium in which cybersecurity takes place. Cyber space is not managed by the government at all. Government is operating in private territory.”

“What we need to do is move past the information sharing conversations to actual joint operations. We need people working shoulder-to-shoulder, and we need folks at national security agencies to become friends with their counterparts at leading companies, and that is something Congress should be focusing on.”

Sue Gordon

“Private sector and the private citizens are the decision-makers when it comes to national security. What those companies do affects what we do. We need companies to understand and feel the weight of their responsibilities. The government needs to think of itself as a supporting command.”

On U.S. vulnerabilities and how we can rebuild:

Sue Gordon

“The military needs a foundational, fundamental change in how it does warfighting and the intelligence community needs to get on its horse and collect the information it needs for today’s national security challenges. Secondly, we do not have the international coalitions and partnerships that we are going to need…this cannot be America first led, these problems are global.

“We still have too much U.S. hubris. This is a world of pesky sovereignty where every nation has their own demands, we have got to go after these things by recognizing our values are what unites us, but the implementation needs to be locally trusted.”

David Forscey

“There aren’t enough [champions on Capitol Hill], at least when it comes to cybersecurity. However, there are so many opportunities and issues members can engage on, almost all of which are bipartisan.”

“Known unknowns are our greatest vulnerabilities. It is crazy how little data we have on a lot of our digital vulnerabilities. For instance, we don’t have data to show that election offices are affected hit at a higher rate than hospitals – nobody knows – if we don’t have evidence, we can’t make evidence-based policy.”

On civil-military relations:

Peter Feaver

“All of these problems we’ve been talking about are embedded within a larger civil-military dynamic. We are at a time where a lot of our civ-mil relations are in need of repair. A lot of these problems will be harder to solve because the Biden administration is going to have to  recreate muscle memory for what healthy relationships look like. They inherit some of the challenges from the last administration, and they also are bringing some baggage from the Obama administration. If they don’t repair civ-mil dynamics, then a lot of these problems will become harder to solve.”

On balancing transparency with privacy:

David Forscey

“For public information, one of the best ways to improve security is to create market pressure for security. The best way to do that is to give customers the information they need to make purchasing decisions based on security. Right now, that is extremely difficult. All we need is something really basic that is based on basic security standards that allows customers to know whether they are buying secure or less secure products.”

On recommendations for the Biden administration:

Peter Feaver

“Secretary Austin is going to have to channel his inner civilian and become known as Secretary Austin, not General Austin… he needs to find out what Secretary Mattis did to empower the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and double it.”

You can tune in for the next two events of the series:  Health Inequalities & Racial Injustices During COVID-19 on 2/26 and Energy & Utilities on 3/5, at 10am ET.