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CNO Gilday Speaks at Reagan National Defense Forum: Defense in the Digital Age, U.S. Cyber Capabilities and the Future of Warfare Panel

by Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs
07 December 2021

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday spoke during a panel while at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California on Dec. 4, 2021. The panel was on Defense in the Digital Age, U.S. Cyber Capabilities and the Future of Warfare. Speakers included: Representative Mike Gallagher, U.S. House of Representatives, Wisconsin, 8th District, Alex Karp, Co-Founder and CEO of Palantir Technologies, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command; Director, National Security Agency; Chief, Central Security Service, and the moderator, Julian Barnes from The New York Times.

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Panel 4, “Defense in the Digital Age: U.S. Cyber Capabilities and the Future of Warfare.”  Please welcome Representative Mike Gallagher, Admiral Michael Gilday, General Paul Nakasone, Dr. Alex Karp, and moderator Julian Barnes of The New York Times.


JULIAN BARNES:  Welcome, everyone.  I’m Julian Barnes from The New York Times.  I am going to introduce our speakers here as I ask them questions.  But I want to remind you all that I can get questions from you right here on this lovely little iPad if you would submit them via the app or put them on Twitter with the hashtag #RNDF.  So thank you for coming.

I’m going to jump right into this and I’m going to start with General Paul Nakasone, the director of the National Security Agency, the head of U.S. Cyber Command.

General Nakasone, you’ve spoken a lot about the changing strategic environment that we face here, and at this conference we’ve already been talking a lot about China, and China has been a cyber challenge, cyber threat, for a long time.  I want you to talk a little bit about how that strategic environment has changed in your time as – in command and talk to us a little bit about the challenge of China.

GENERAL PAUL M. NAKASONE:  Yeah.  I mean, so I think we’d all agree it’s nice to be back at Reagan and in person.  2019 was the last time, I think, all of us were there.  In fact, many of us were on a panel.  And so to come back here, I think, not only is it striking to be back in the presence of all of you but the other piece of it is is think about how much the world has changed in two years and nowhere has that world changed more than in cyberspace.

Think about what we’ve seen as a nation over the past 11 months.  We’ve seen SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, Microsoft Exchange, KBS – I mean, JBS, Kaseya.  We’ve seen ransomware.  We’ve seen implants.  We have seen proxy forces.  This is in 11 months.

But to your question, Julian, what I would say is that what I have seen over three years is, really, three things.  First of all is the realization that we have to compete in cyberspace, that we can’t stay and be passive.  We have to compete because our adversaries are competing. 

Secondly is the role of influence.  You know, we began the influence piece in 2018 with Russia Small Group and a focus on a safe and secure election.  Our adversaries have moved on from elections to other topics upon which they’re trying to create influence operations. 

And, truly, the last piece is, I think, that what we’ve learned is that it’s all about partnerships.  We succeed through partnerships.  Our partnerships internal to us begin with the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command.  Tight partnership. 

But it’s broader than that.  It’s working with private industry like Alex in terms of what we can be able to do.  It’s working with, obviously, the services, the interagency.  This is the piece that makes us successful.  It’s also the same piece that’s going to make us successful against China. 

MR. BARNES:  I’m now going to turn to Admiral Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations.  Earlier in your career, you were the head of the Navy’s cyber operations, the 10th Fleet.  As you prepare the Navy for the future, linking all your vessels together, how are you thinking about the cyber domain and both for defending those ships and those networks and fighting in the cyber domain in the future?

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  So cyber is inextricably linked to everything.  So it might be a bit heretical to say this but, you know, is it its own domain when it is so interconnected with everything and everybody. 

And so with respect to the Navy, we have to be able to connect things at long distances and we have to be able to be connected to a joint force to maintain that synergy that we’re known for and that we succeed because of. 

And so one of the biggest efforts that we have undergoing right now and my number-two priority is a task force called Overmatch and it’s the – the focus of Overmatch is to provide a software-defined systems of systems, networks of networks, that allows us to transmit any data over any path and to get it to micro processing applications at the far end for one big reason, decision advantage – the ability to decide and act faster than the other guy.

And so whether it’s the Chinese, the Russians, or anybody else, that capability, that effort, is making great strides, number one, mostly due to the capabilities that exist right now in the private sector and leveraging the good work that’s going on in industry, particularly small companies, that have allowed us to harness that technology and to turn it quickly to experiment, fail fast, regroup, and to double down. 

And so I do think, to your point with your question, that that has to be a central concern of not just the Navy but the Joint Force, going forward, that we’re able to use each other’s data in a way to put us in a position of advantage against any adversary. 

MR. BARNES:  Dr. Alex Karp is the co-founder of Palantir, now the – and the chief executive. 

Dr. Karp, how can the private sector better help to counter the cyber threat, better work with NSA, better work with the military?  What do we need to do to make these sort of partnerships more robust?

ALEX KARP:  Well, thank you.  I’m hugely honored to be here on the stage in front of people who serve our nation.  And, you know, Palantir, most of our customers are commercial and most of our revenue doesn’t come from the intel and defense and we’re pretty global.  I think, first, part of our history was both being born in Silicon Valley and then leaving Silicon Valley. 

I think the first thing industry needs to do is affirm that if it’s going to work with adversaries it should always supply at least as good a technology to our services and the people who are defending our nation, which, you know, in the past has not been the case, always. 

America – one of the things that is – we forget because it’s so obvious to us – to the rest of the world, but often not to us, is in software America is the number-one nation in the world, bar none.  There is really no number – number two is Israel because there has to be number two.  But we are number one.

And there – which – you know, I spend a lot of my life abroad.  I wrote my dissertation in German and I get people baffled all over the world asking me how can it be that America is so much better at this than we are?  Take Germany.  It has a lot of smart people.  But the delta between what America delivers in software from what everyone else delivers is very wide. 

And so the key question for me is how do we make sure that people doing the most important work in the world, like people on this stage, have access to the resources we already have.  Some of that is educational.  People who are in industry and leadership positions must tell their employees, if you are developing software in this country you are going to give it to the people on this stage and people in this room and explain why.  That, I think, is actually the most important thing. 

There’s a lot of interest, as you see from the opening remarks, of leveraging industry and hardware and software.  The U.S. government has moved from a government that bought software in a way that was hard for people who build software to supply, namely, off PowerPoints, to being the leader in the world and buying software that actually works. 

This is an enormous shift, and no other government in the world that I work with, and we work – we don’t work, obviously, in certain countries, but in the Western world where almost every country has made the shift. 

So that if you want to supply software to the U.S. government you will show it working in the real world, which means that we’re in an iterative cycle in a way that no other country is. 

And then there’s the cultural.  I mean, why is America so good at software?  Well, we actually play fair in teams.  We have highly technical people.  We’re goal oriented and we are willing to admit we’re wrong and not be stained by failure when we screw up. 

So I think what we need to do is continue on this trend.  I think U.S. government officials should really say loudly to people they want to work with who are developing software that they must supply the best software in the world to them. 

I think we, in industry – by the way, it’s often framed as how – as you framed it.  But I would say, from my vantage point there are certain technical issues like how do you do AI at the edge, how do you actually create an all-encompassing environment, which is what we’re doing with a lot of industry in the Western world, but where the data is segmented. 

So if you have a global industry, you’re not going to be able to hit the data store in France, Korea, America, because of regulatory issues.  These are challenges that the U.S. government understands very well and has made great efforts to solve that industry doesn’t understand yet, that industries is not yet even actually aware of its existence of them.  A lot of our reason we’ve done well is we’ve understood these things early. 

So I think there’s – the kind of interaction is working.  It could work a lot better.  But there is also a lot of responsibility on U.S. industry to step up and do more. 

MR. BARNES:  We’ll get into some of those issues a little – in more depth in a little bit.  I want to turn the floor to Mike Gallagher, who is the U.S. Representative – a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin.  Don’t want to shrink the state.  Is the –

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE GALLAGHER (R-WI):  Really, THE U.S. representative.  (Laughter.)

MR. BARNES:  And the co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. 

Mike, you’ve been talking about the cyber threat from China, specifically, some alarms about Taiwan, and I’m wondering, could a conflict over Taiwan begin with a cyber operation?  Talk about what you’re thinking there.

REP. GALLAGHER:  The short answer is yes.  But I’d like to start with something that Dr. Karp said a few weeks ago, which is – that I found very refreshing, which is that American companies that seek to do business with China should be forced to disclose and defend their position.  Forgive me if I paraphrased that inelegantly. 

I think that’s absolutely correct, particularly in light of the recent changes that the CCP has made to exert near total control over the data that foreign firms have if they’re operating in China and in light of the fact that the risk of a confrontation over Taiwan is increasing, or at least the Navy continues to tell us that it is likely. 

Admiral Davidson, before he left, said within the next six years it could happen.  At one point in a hearing the CNO agreed as well as the commandant of the Marine Corps agreed, and I think the private sector is underestimating the extent of pain that would be involved for all Americans in general but them in particular if that really comes to a head within the decade. 

And, increasingly, I’m convinced that corporate America is going to be forced to choose.  At a time when too many American tech companies are, like, resurrecting IBM’s 1930s justification for doing business with Nazi Germany under the banner of world peace through trade, that has to stop, and until that stops I think we’re going to be behind the curve because in such a confrontation – and I’ll get to your point – Las Vegas rules would not apply, right.  What happens in the Taiwan Straits would not be confined there, not just because of the financial and economic escalation but because I do believe that there would be an attempt to target our critical infrastructure here domestically in the United States. 

And I think we – and I include Congress in this – have done a poor job messaging to the American people how much at risk we are to a devastating cyberattack if we confront the PLA over Taiwan, both in an effort to impose economic pain on us – they could target, you know, our electricity grid, water systems, et cetera, et cetera – but also our entire ability to surge humans and weapons and other materiel to a fight, which we would have to do because we don’t have the necessary forward forces right now, depends upon key logistics and transportation nodes that are owned, in large part, by the private sector. 

So our aerial ports of debarkation, our sea ports of debarkation, would be a target, right.  Look how much chaos was caused by the Ever Given blocking Suez.  Imagine something like that in the Panama Canal. 

So I just fear we’re not attacking this with a sense of urgency.  I fear we’re sleepwalking into a disaster that could define the course of the 21st century and I feel like unless we change course that we’re going to lose.  We’re going to lose World War III before it begins either through preemptive surrender or battlefield defeat. 

And so I think we have to ask some hard questions.  You know, are we wargaming the financial and economic escalation?  Are we wargaming the risk posed to the homeland from a cyberattack?  For JADC2 – and I salute the way in which the CNO has prioritized Overmatch – but when is that going to be operationally capable?  If it’s not before 2025, that may be too late. 

And for other things.  I just think the ultimate choice that a lot of American companies are going to have to make is between whether they want to do business with the U.S. government and the defense industry, in particular, or whether they want to do business with a genocidal communist regime that, as a mere matter of fiduciary responsibility, is a massive, massive risk for them.  Other than that, I’m an optimist. 

MR. BARNES:  (Laughter.)  OK.  So I actually want all three of our other panelists to react to Representative Gallagher here. 

General Nakasone, talk a little bit about some of these issues here.  Is American critical infrastructure sort of at risk in an initial conflict over Taiwan?  Should we have – you’ve had hunt forward, defend forward, teams in a variety of allied countries.  Is this something that we should have in Taiwan now?

GEN. NAKASONE:  So I agree with Representative Gallagher’s point about warfare in the 21st century.  I think that borders mean less as we look at our adversaries, and whatever adversary that is I think we should begin with the idea that our critical infrastructure will be targeted and I think that’s why it’s so important, the work that he led in the Solarium Commission, to start looking at that very seriously. 

One of the things I would say a bit differently, though, is the fact that I think we have made a very, very strong shift to starting to address this.  I see the changes that are taking place and I’ve watched this now for over a decade, the fact that we have an executive order, the fact that all the services are now starting to talk about, how do I secure my weapons platform, the fact that we’re taking very, very seriously the partnership opportunities with the private sector in not only things like election security but how do we look at the future.

There’s more to be done.  I agree.  But it’s different – again, coming back to my point – than it was in 2019.  There was no one that was really kind of talking about the seriousness of what I hear talked about today, and more importantly, starting to address some of those issues.

MR. BARNES:  Admiral Gilday?

ADM. GILDAY:  In the opening forum this morning there was a slide that was up – I thought it was quite illuminating – that 70 percent of Americans now view China with strategic concern, and I think we need to leverage that.  Certainly, the discussions on Capitol Hill reflect that concern. 

I think that we’re seeing that in the National Security Strategy.  We have an interim strategy now that’s being developed, or a more finalized strategy that’s being developed.  The next National Defense Strategy, I think, will double down on that, and I think we need to leverage that. 

The successes that General Nakasone talked about would also include the interagency work that went on in support of our 2018 elections, in support of our 2020 elections, not only as a joint force, our ability to intertwine cyber – his work into our conventional warfare areas, but also, perhaps even more importantly with respect to defending the country, is that cooperation within the interagency.

Some of that you saw – the grease of those wheels, I think, were some of the authorities that we saw that were given to General Nakasone and his teams in 2019.  I would be more of an optimist than a pessimist about the direction that we’re heading in.  I do think, to Representative Gallagher’s points, we do need to be concerned and take it seriously.  I don’t talk to anybody that’s not concerned about China and the posture that we have to take.

I think, for us coming out – you know, rolling into the new year and a new Defense Strategy, a budget that we presented, another one that’s close to being delivered to this administration – I really do think that that forces us to focus on what we invest in both in the here and now and for the future so that, if anything, this bipartisan agreement about China being a concern helps us laser focus on what’s prioritized in terms of what we invest in to defend the country. 

MR. BARNES:  Dr. Karp, after your CNBC interview a couple weeks ago where you said American high-tech companies shouldn’t do work with China, what was the reaction?  And, you know, are you moderating that a little bit by saying, like, at least do the work with the United States?  Or do you feel like a Google, a Microsoft, shouldn’t be working with the Chinese government?

MR. KARP:  Well, you know, first of all, we’re in our little myopic perch in the Valley.  So I’ll just – the background in the Valley is we’ve been fighting the Valley aggressively pretty much since we started our company in 2004 and we’ve been battling the Valley on two issues.  One, it is my deep belief and the belief of my company that, you know, it’s pretty odd to be able to sell your product abroad under very fair terms, essentially, because our allies are willing to go along with your pricing because they’re being protected by people here and then not ship your software to them, A.

B, I’m very in favor of free speech.  If people disagree with working with the U.S. military, great.  They should be able to voice that.  But you, as a leader, should explain to them, I would hope, what the history is of especially the U.S. military.  And, you know, not that I have to lecture anyone here but it’s surprising how many people I have to lecture in the Valley about, you know, the positive effects and what the world would look like without the efforts of people in the U.S. military. 

But be that as it may, while they protested my house every day and put barbed wire around our cafeteria, we, at Palantir – not just me, but engineers who are 22 – fought through that to be able to do something that is more important than just working with the many companies we work with. 

And so we’re already on the unpopular side.  And by the way, we say in public what we say in private in this context, which we’re also not supposed to do, according to Valley rules.  And so – (applause) – and so we’re a little used to being unpopular. 

What I – I actually had a very minimal standard, which is lower – in the interview, I tell people in the Valley, if you want to do something that’s your right.  This is America – by the way, fought for by people on this stage. 

But be that as it may, but you do have – you do have a responsibility to articulate what it is that you’re doing and why are you doing something with an adversary you’re not doing with the U.S. government.  That is your responsibility to this country and to everybody in the Valley for which where I’m a pariah.  Whatever.  And that’s what I believe. 

I think there should be a most favored nation status, i.e., America, and you should have to – and I also believe there’s something wrong with, you know, not explaining to people what the backdrop is of the way in which the world works.

But in any case, but the key point for me is why does it matter so much.  It matters so much because the core differentiator in technology now for America is software.  It’s not just that we’re not delivering candy toys.  We are delivering the thing that we are the best at in the world and the difference is not linear. 

So it’s not like we have a slightly better can opener than other countries.  No, we have THE can opener, and for whatever reason it’s very hard for other countries to do what we do and that is our central advantage. 

And I know from the way we built Palantir that we are constantly – like, in the commercial context we constantly try to get the most complex IT projects in the world and put them in our platform.  Why?  Because that’s our central advantage.  We’re bad at sales but we’re great at product.  (Laughter.)

So we want everyone – so if your central advantage is X you cannot give that up and we should not let people give it up.  And if they want to give it up, they don’t want to deliver, great.  Stand on stage.  Go on TV.  They all like being on TV more than I do.  Explain why you’re not going to give this to the Army, the Navy, the NSA.  Great.  Explain it.  But you can’t then not explain it. 

MR. BARNES:  I want to call up a slide.  This is another question from the Reagan Institute panel – sorry, Reagan Institute poll that came up – and it talks a little bit about military capabilities.  This is from the Reagan Institute’s annual poll of Americans, and it’s the perception of military capabilities.  And it’s not up here yet, but there are – I’m going to talk about it a little bit while we wait for it to appear.  Excellent.  OK.  Good.  I just needed to filibuster a little longer. 

So I want to – as you’re looking at this, I want to draw your attention to a couple of the columns here.  We have – when it comes to conventional weaponry, 45 percent of Americans saying the United States is the best in the world, dropping to 39 percent when we’re talking about high-tech weaponry, and then 27 percent for cyber capabilities. 

And so I want the panel to react to a couple things here.  One, is the public perception accurate?  Are we really just one of the best in the world?  And if that is true, does that matter?  Is it good enough to be one of the best or do you need to be THE best?

And I’m going to start with General Nakasone.

GEN. NAKASONE:  We have to be THE best.  There is no doubt.  I mean, it’s – you know, when I look at this my first thought is that I’ve got to do a better job of, obviously, communicating to the American public.  I don’t agree with that. 

I mean, I look at it right now, and both as the director of the National Security Agency and the commander of U.S. Cyber Command there’s no doubt in my mind.  No doubt in mind.  To Dr. Karp’s point, I mean, one, and then, you know, two is a long ways off.  That’s not to say that our adversaries have, you know, shrunk some of that military offset. 

But when you take a look at our capabilities across the world, whether or not it’s in foreign intelligence or whether or not it’s effects, that’s not what I would report it as.

MR. BARNES:  Admiral Gilday?

ADM. GILDAY:  The first thing that I’d say as I take a look at this slide is don’t bet against America.  This is about capabilities.  This is about the science of war, and somebody’s missiles that are longer range than our missiles so it’s game over, end of war game, pencils down, that is not the case. 

It’s as much about what we fight with as how we fight, how devilishly fiendish we can be in areas like cyber that give us an asymmetric advantage.  Our people are the best in the world, and our job is to make sure that we not only, you know, harvest or attract and recruit the absolute best that our nation has to offer but that we also retain them. 

I spoke earlier about the work that General Nakasone led in 2018 and he led in 2020.  It was phenomenal work, not just done with exquisite capabilities but by incredibly well-trained people.

MR. BARNES:  Representative Gallagher, what do you think?

REP. GALLAGHER:  Well, I think this is – the poll – well, the poll accurately reflects the perception of the American people but I think an accurate statement would be that we are the best in the world in terms of our offensive capabilities but we have unique defensive problems, given the nature of our open society and the prominent role that the private sector plays in controlling 80 percent of the critical infrastructure in cyber.  So the reality is a bit more nuanced than that. 

However, this makes sense, right.  We’ve had a string of high-profile cyberattacks from SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange, Colonial Pipeline, an explosion of ransomware, and I think just given the nature of cyber, your average American interacts with it in a way they may not interact with conventional weaponry and high-tech weaponry.  It’s more pervasive in Americans’ daily life.

So I understand it.  But if you compare this poll, I think, to the 2018 data, what you actually see is it’s gone in the right direction.  It’s gone from 15 percent who thought we were the best in the world to 27 percent.  So if I – I’ll abandon my pessimism, and my optimistic story would be that because of the work that General Nakasone and his team have done – learning lessons from the 2016 election, applying that to 2018 and 2020, everything the CNO talked about – we’re headed in the right direction.  We have a long way to go but we’re headed in the right direction. 

What concerns me, however, both Admiral Gilday and General Nakasone referenced the fact that I think the single best thing we’ve done in cyber in the last five years has been to loosen the rules of engagement in order to speed up the decision-making process for cyber, and that was a joint collaboration between the legislative branch and the executive branch.  That has been a great thing.  We’ve, basically, unshackled General Nakasone and his team to do what they need to do to defend us. 

I know there are discussions underway right now to revise that process and make it more onerous and inject more people into the decision-making process for offensive cyber.  I hope I’m wrong about that.  But that would be a massive, massive mistake, because, if anything, we need to be looking at how we can build upon that success and further unshackle General Nakasone and his team to do things.

For example, I mean, you’ve talked publicly about how we need to get into the ransomware game.  We’ve successfully recovered ransomware payments.  We should be publicizing that.  Why not?  It’s not a covert operation.  It’s not escalatory. 

Why are we not publicizing that work to bolster our deterrent posture in cyberspace?  We should be doing that as frequently as humanly possible and, above all, we should do nothing to slow down the decision-making process.

We don’t want to go back to a world in which it’s more difficult to get approval for an offensive cyber operation than it is to get approval for a lethal drone strike somewhere, and that was the case in many cases a few years ago. 

MR. BARNES:  (Coughs.)  Excuse me.  Inopportune cough. 

General Nakasone, will you react to that?  Do you feel that you are – two things.  One, the 2018 shift to push down more authority, did that make you more nimble and do you – is there any fear that that will be adjusted, ratcheted back?

GEN. NAKASONE:  So I think Admiral Gilday hit on a really important point as he talked about the evolution of the policy process here and, really, it’s the idea that it’s more than just what the Department of Defense is going to do.  We’re one aspect of it.  It was how do you bring along the interagency, and now, I think, to the point of when I think about going forward in the future is how do you make sure the private sector is tightly woven into this?  Because, to Representative Gallagher’s point, our challenge:  With a broad attack surface on the defenses, how do we ensure all those 16 sectors of critical infrastructure the bar is as high as it can be against our adversaries?

MR. BARNES:  Dr. Karp, I want your thoughts but there’s a question from the audience for you that I’m going to read off here.  You mentioned that we are – the United States is number one in the world in software.  How do you assess China’s capability and rate of progress in that area?

MR. KARP:  Well, they’re – this is in some ways linked.  You know, we have worthy adversaries.  You know, there’s – one of the – I have this long Ph.D. in a totally arcane topic that should have left me without a job and – but one of the most useful things about the training was to not turn your – the person you’re critical of or author you’re critical of into a caricature and then render the caricature irrelevant.

It’s, like, this is – our adversaries, really, all of them are super intricate, deep cultures with enormous technical and intellectual capabilities.  However, it happens in this one area that, you know, and it’s a long – you know, there’s a debate about who developed the computer and some people – but I think the real answer is it was – even the early developments of the computer with Feynman and the Manhattan Project, a lot of our capabilities go back to our ability to both work – bring highly intricate – some people would say bat shit crazy – people together under a roof to deliver excellence for not primarily monetary return in the near term.  Of course, later you could turn to business and do well.

But and that capability in this one area that looked like it would be one of many technical areas is the dominant area, and our issue as America is to simultaneously be aware of the adversaries but also realize that to make this work you have to focus on how do we raise our game to the best game we are. 

So, like, when I look at that I’m, like, yeah, I know there are things that – a project we worked on, Project Maven as an example – I don’t know how much – I never know how much one’s allowed to say – but, like, that is a – there are insights in that project that are very unique and very much done in a way that is not understood and not done as well by others, including adversaries. 

But we should be so dominant that nobody can even imagine we’re not number one, as with the Manhattan Project, which I think should be our standard.  Like, you know, we took a small group of people – interestingly, actually, very few from Ivy Leagues.  Almost everyone who worked on the project went to, like, a school in the Midwest.  And a bunch of people who were highly eccentric, and developed something that was transformational, and de facto what we’re doing in AI is equally as transformational.  And you need this combination between people that know the material – that’s the people on stage – and people who can extend what they’re doing, and also people – in my case, I’m really good at managing really complicated difficult people and so that’s what I do for a living – and, like, and that – then you get – you get this thing where nobody can, you know – and, of course, there are these enormous – where no one can imagine they’re not number one, and that should be our standard.

And if that’s the standard – and then most of the issues we have in America are not actually because of adversaries.  It’s because of internal divisions and not being able to agree on certain things.  This is why the shift here, the agreement, America having consensus on anything is very powerful.  And we haven’t had that, for lots of reasons you can debate, but we do have it now.

MR. BARNES:  Admiral Gilday, when we last gathered here at the Reagan Library you talked about this kind of constant cyber activity, this – in the gray zone.  The example you gave at the time was Russia, and I’m wondering are we in a constant gray-zone cyber battle with China at this time and what’s the nature of that?

ADM. GILDAY:  I think the gray space, really, are the global commons and I think on a day-to-day basis they’re mostly involved in maritime.  But I see the Chinese in the physical looking towards the sea.  Belt and Road would be an example, what they’ve done to reefs.  They’ve militarized reefs in the South China Sea.  And so that happens and takes advantage of gaps in seams, perhaps, in international law or places where law doesn’t exist and they made gains slowly but surely, going forward. 

I see cyberspace as another global common that they also are involved in this same type of activity, below the – you know, below the level of armed conflict but, certainly, flagrantly disregarding international norms, which really have been in place since Bretton Woods in 1944 and have really raised the tide of billions with respect to prosperity, with respect to literacy rates, with respect to immigration.  Not just the transfer of commerce, which, I would argue, floats on seawater, but also ideas. 

And so that’s the contest in gray space.  It’s the global commons, and what we try to do in the Navy is operate for not just to be there with the Chinese but to be in the way, and I think you need to be in the way.  And I don’t say that provocatively.  I say that just as a matter of fact because the coin of the realm in gray space operations is attribution. 

We have to be able to attribute those actions and disregard those international norms to them and we have to do the same thing, obviously, in cyberspace that General Nakasone can speak to much more eloquently than I. 

But I think it’s reality.  We have to be out there.  We have to be taking advantage of allies and partners that are like minded for all the reasons that I spoke to earlier about international norms, and I think that the Chinese are isolating themselves through their behavior.  People are not running towards them to be their friends.  We are gaining – we are gaining trust with allies and partners.  They’re buying it.  There’s a big difference. 

MR. BARNES:  General Nakasone, I wonder if you could react to that a little bit, and maybe as you talk about it a little bit about what this sort of cyberspace gray-zone competition with China looks like now how are you at Cyber Command working with the Indo-Pacific Command to make sure that the real-world operations and the cyberspace operations are meshed?

GEN. NAKASONE:  So coming back to this idea of, you know, what’s changed over the past three years, 2018 was a pivotal year for us in the sense that our department published a concept called “defend forward,” the same idea that Admiral Gilday expressed, but the idea that we would operate in cyberspace outside the United States against our adversaries before they could do harm to us. 

At U.S. Cyber Command, we call that persistent engagement, the idea of both informing our partners and acting, and it’s to Admiral Gilday’s point.  I like this idea of getting in the way.  It’s exactly about that, that we operate in a domain where deterrence is about imposing costs, and imposing cost means that every single day you’re operating as an adversary, identifying what they’re doing, attributing it, being able to, you know, send, as Representative Gallagher talked about, hunt forward teams to different countries to be able to expose operations. 

This is all part of it, and I think, you know, what we have seen is things like, hey, let’s publish the top 25 different pieces of malware that the Chinese have produced at an unclassified level.  Let’s share it with the broad public just so they understand that, hey, we know all about this and, oh, by the way, we’ll sign our name to it as the National Security Agency, the U.S. Cyber Command.  CISA will sign up and the FBI will sign up to it, and then we have a series of partners that do that as well.  And this brings the idea of you getting in the way.  To quote the admiral’s point, this is what it looks like today in terms of being able to ensure that our adversaries have a very, very difficult time to operate.

MR. BARNES:  Representative Gallagher?

REP. GALLAGHER:  I quite like this idea of getting in the way.  But it sounds very similar to the concept of deterrence by denial, which was the intellectual cornerstone of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which I thought was a great piece of work. 

But now what concerns me is that we are moving away from that intellectual framework towards what I presumed the secretary of defense will talk about in a few minutes, which is this new concept of integrated deterrence, which I fear is a buzzword that will justify cutting conventional hard power, and what you need in the way primarily in INDOPACOM is conventional hard power in order for that denial to work.  So that’s one concern. 

I agree with what the CNO said about China not making friends.  I think, in many ways, the wolf warrior diplomacy has backfired, although they are playing primarily to a domestic audience or an audience of one, Xi Jinping. 

However, I don’t think we’ve made any friends with our recent moves in Afghanistan.  I think a lot of our friends are questioning our resolve.  And what’s interesting is they may not need friends to be successful in a Taiwan scenario, right, particularly if they creatively leverage disinformation, right. 

You can imagine a disinformation campaign aimed primarily at Taiwan itself, the Taiwan – the military.  You know, you could imagine a flood of fake or synthetic reports designed to confuse and disorient, fake chatter over military communications. 

Think of the ways in which they can leverage new technology, deep fake technology.  You could imagine a video of President Tsai surrendering before it even happened, and for the international community or the nonaligned fence sitters in the region, if that was amplified by a disinformation campaign online or in American social media companies pushing the narratives that this was all because of a provocation by Taiwan or PLA forces are being hailed as liberators, well, they could confuse us long enough to be successful in a fait accompli.  All they need is a little bit of a fig leaf to justify not getting involved, and in that way the CCP could drive various wedges through our united front in a Taiwan scenario. 

So I just – there are ways that they could be successful even if they don’t have many friends in the region. 

MR. BARNES:  Admiral Gilday, are we moving away from deterrence?  Are we weakening?

ADM. GILDAY:  No, not at all.  So I think that that – the use of that word deterrence and I think the fact that it’s going to be the cornerstone for the next Defense Strategy is really important.  There are two aspects that I’ll just talk about very briefly.  Representative Gallagher mentioned one, which is denying somebody the ability to achieve their objectives.  And so in the cyber world we rely on things like resiliency in order to do that. 

I also think that there’s a second – there’s a second pillar and it’s the punishment pillar, the ability to impose costs, and that’s where I think – if I could, I suspect that’s where you were going, Representative Gallagher. 

I think the discussion about deterrence and those two pillars – both the ability to deny, the ability to impose punishment – you leverage those to sharpen our focus at the Department of Defense and perhaps across the interagency on what you actually invest in, right, so it is lethal, so it does deter, because to deter it has to be – you have to be able to fight and win with it. 

And so I see it as a potential positive here, depending on how we want to implement it.  But those are, certainly, my candid thoughts about, as the Chief of Naval Operations,  how I intend to make the arguments for stuff that the Navy invests in that adds to both the imposed cost and the denied benefit sides of it.

MR. BARNES:  Dr. Karp, is the U.S. government sharing enough information with private industry for private industry to be as effective as it can to defend critical infrastructure?  I know that’s not exactly your business you’re in but you, obviously, watch the wider technology companies. 

Could the U.S. government share more?  Share more classified information or information short of classified that would make – that would better utilize the private sector?

MR. KARP:  Well, you know, I think that, in general, there’s a technical aspect.  The key thing is not sharing the information.  It’s sharing the capabilities that need to be built and then having a mechanism in the software context where it’s not about the PowerPoint.  It’s about showing the software working, and this is just – that’s the most important thing. 

So a lot of times in these discussions there will be, like, 50 things that could happen.  But in my business, there’s one thing that has to happen and that’s the most important thing. 

Now, you want to talk about luxury products?  Sure.  But I think the most important thing is not sharing extra data with us.  So, like, you know, as we go into space, a lot of things are classified.  Maybe they should be classified. 

But as the information maybe gets less important, because you can also pull it from a commercial satellite, maybe it would be good to have more of that data.  And those are real policy discussions and you can tell by the people on the stage they’re open to being rational.  So that, I think, will happen. 

I think the bigger issue is sharing results with the U.S. people and our allies because the U.S. military is the most legitimate institution in America, maybe second to small businesses, and it’s important to reiterate, like, you know, Congress is at 13 percent popularity – (inaudible) – and then the U.S. military is at 76 percent popularity.

If we’re going to have – every single vaccine in this country is distributed in our software but the real heavy work happened from engineers from the U.S. military, and no one knows that.  I can’t tell you the number of people I run into who do not know that the engineering work, certainly, done in our platform was done by people who are in the U.S. military.

And there’s a legitimacy crisis in this country.  We have one institution that people believe in, and the most important thing is to show people what’s – just exactly like I was articulating:  We did this, this is how we did it, and this is how we’re protecting you.  And we, in industry, have more than enough opportunity to succeed.  We need to take that opportunity and do more. 

But, sure, luxury product we’ll take more.  The most important thing is that the capabilities actually get built and we get to – it’s not a competition on PowerPoints otherwise.  Most people who build products don’t do sales.  So you need to have – make sure it’s about the product. 

The second thing, which has, you know, nothing – it’s not my interest – is just – you know, and this is – by the way, plagues the Western world.  Like, so, you know, we – the Communist Party of France has it in their manifesto if they win that they’ll ban Palantir, which I’m proud of, and I’m a progressive.  (Laughter.)  But in any case – it is one of my great pieces of pride, OK?  (Laughter.)  We play a big role in Europe in anti-terror, and I tell my progressive friends, most of my friends, you know, if these terror attacks had not been stopped all those people you would see you goose stepping down the street would be bootstrapping you on the street. 

So you know what?  The Western world must show the public more of the results that are happening.  And, again, in America, there’s one institution people believe in and there’s a lot of reasons to believe in this institution, the first institution to build the bomb, integrated America. 

You know, we have legitimate debates about integration.  There’s only one institution that actually did it.  So 1.4 (million), 2 million people in America, if you include people in our armed service, are representatives of an organization that delivers.  And the most important thing we can do is help Americans, for example, on Project Warp Speed. 

I don’t know what I’m allowed to tell Americans but I do know people I interact with who are fairly well informed have no earthly clue what you guys are delivering and what other people are delivering, and that is a real problem for our society. 

MR. BARNES:  General Nakasone, there’s a question from the audience which touches on some of Dr. Karp’s points, which are how can the United States effectively deter in cyberspace given that we’re generally secretive about our country’s offensive and defensive cyber capabilities?

GEN. NAKASONE:  Well, I think the first point is, is that we have to look at it differently than we looked at nuclear deterrence.  This isn’t a binary, you know, yes or no.  This is a domain that our adversaries, given the ability to move into this domain so quickly, are going to operate every single day. 

So we have to operate every single day.  We have to have a spectrum of capabilities, everything from the defense to the offense, as you said, and, certainly, we have to be engaged with that, and I think that, at the end of the day, this is how we have success, that we are going to impose costs in a number of different ways and with the interagency and with the private sector. 

ADM. GILDAY:  If I could just make one comment about that, just to perhaps reinforce General Nakasone’s points, I don’t think you have to take credit for everything and I think that there’s a certain advantage, whether, you know, if the U.S. team creates a certain effect against a certain adversary to leave that adversary guessing on who actually did that effect and let them burn the resources to try and figure it out, and perhaps in the back of their mind they’re thinking, yeah, it could have been the Americans.  It also could have been some rogue who thinks – who agrees with America, or it could be another nation state, another like-minded nation state that took the action. 

So I think, as General Nakasone – the point I’m trying to reinforce is the fact that it’s not exactly like thinking about deterrences years ago, and I think that there are ways that you can leverage information in powerful ways that we haven’t fully explored yet.

MR. BARNES:  Representative Gallagher, do we talk enough or too much about our cyber military capabilities?

REP. GALLAGHER:  Well, earlier, I made the case that we don’t talk enough.  I guess I would respond by saying I don’t think, you know, the criminal groups are guessing after we launch an attack against them who carried it out, in certain cases.  It’s, obviously, a mix.  It, obviously, depends on the operation. 

But I think the big mistake we make – and I agree, cyber deterrence is not perfectly analogous to, you know, strategic nuclear deterrence during the Cold War.  In fact, we sort of tease that out in the final report of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. 

But at the end of the day, we’re trying to deter certain people and states from doing things, right.  It’s not like cyber deterrence exists in its own little world.  We’re trying to deter China, we’re trying to deter Russia, we’re trying to deter North Korea, and we’re trying to deter Iran, largely, from doing bad things, right. 

It’s a bit harder when you talk about criminal groups with opaque connections to state entities.  But we are trying to deter decision-makers in those countries from doing stupid things that jeopardize our interests.  And so we can’t sort of talk about cyber deterrence as unconnected from other forms of deterrence or operating under its own unique rule set. 

I think the tenets of basic deterrence still apply.  As for an earlier strand of conversation, I was primarily talking about deterrence by denial.  It’s my observation that since we made a commitment to that in 2018 we have not implemented that commitment in any meaningful way, at least in our primary, most important theater, INDOPACOM, where I think we have a long way to go in terms of reestablishing deterrence before it’s too late. 

MR. BARNES:  The topic of the panel is also the future of warfare, and, you know, as I was thinking about this I was wondering, in the future does the special operations team that gets deployed to overseas, is it going to have a software engineer as a part of it?  Is it going to have a couple people from Cyber Command with it?  Or is it simply that those will be separate but they will be as important to be equally nimble and forward deployed in the future?

And I’m wondering, General Nakasone – I’m going to ask all the panel this question as we wrap up.  General Nakasone, what are your thoughts?

GEN. NAKASONE:  Presence matters, and we will be there.  We’re already there.  What have we learned over the past 20 years?  That we have our developers with our operators.  We have them understanding what the issues are.  We have our best operators with our lead forces and they have a number of different capabilities.  This is not the future.  This is now and we’re practicing it today. 

MR. BARNES:  Dr. Karp, do you – what do you think?

MR. KARP:  Wholeheartedly.  It’s, like, if you’re talking about the symbiotic relationship between industry and government, then that has to have a micro component and the micro component will be that you will have operators that are both technical and operators that are more kinetic and a spectrum, and I think the units will be small and very effective and I agree – (inaudible).

MR. BARNES:  Admiral Gilday, any final thoughts from you?

ADM. GILDAY:  It’s going to be a Swiss army knife.  So to reinforce the points that have already been made, it’s got to be interoperable, it’s got to be integrated, and it has to be – generate effects that are technically feasible and operationally relevant, and you’re not going to be able to do that quickly against a high-end adversary like China unless you’re better integrated. 

So I think small teams going forward in the future are going to be tailored to different types of operations with exquisite capabilities in ways that we – I think we’re completely open to and have – and are doing it now experimenting with how we get the biggest bang for the buck. 

REP. GALLAGHER:  I agree with what General Nakasone said about presence matters.  I would argue that is a(n) enduring lesson from the old school of Cold War deterrence that we can apply to the present day.  And I think, you know, having spent a couple years on this commission attempting to sort of think about cyber issues, ultimately, I think it’s still – you know, it’s fundamentally a human problem, right.  Both our biggest failures are human failures and our success will, ultimately, be a function of whether we can convince the best and the brightest to work with our defense leaders to solve some very difficult, difficult issues.  And as Brad Smith alluded to in the first panel today, we’re not where we need to be.  But, ultimately, I still believe that we have a lot of very talented smart patriots in this country that want us to win, that believe deep down that we’re still the good guys, and that’s absolutely true. 

MR. BARNES:  I hope you’ll join me in thanking our panelists.  (Applause.) 


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