Nakasone: Why DOD needs to engage industry despite controversy

Paul Nakasone confirmation hearing for NSA 

Gen. Paul Nakasone at his March 2018 confirmation hearing to lead the National Security Agency.

Trepidation at some Silicon Valley tech companies over working with the Defense Department shouldn’t be the death knell of innovation, according to Gen. Paul Nakasone, National Security Agency director and commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

Nakasone addressed reservations tech companies have in working with DOD, namely Google’s decision to pull out of its partnership for Project Maven -- an artificial intelligence project -- over ethics concerns.

"I don’t think that should mean that we should stop engaging. I think that the most important thing we need to do is engage," said Nakasone at a panel discussion at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., July 21.

Nakasone also addressed workforce concerns and gave his perspective on the controversial dual-hat role he occupies overseeing Cyber Command and NSA during the nearly hour-long discussion.

Retention remains government's biggest challenge, he said. Nakasone hopes to adopt a Silicon Valley-like ecosystem that encourages cyber workers to bounce from DOD to the intelligence community, to the private sector and back again.

Nakasone noted that Silicon Valley’s culture encourages people to rotate between organizations, but stay within the community.

"Why not have that same ecosystem within our government? If they’re not going to work within our military, maybe it's within the intelligence community, maybe it's within other parts of the interagency, maybe it's within private sector,” he said.

He later added, “I don’t think you should ever be afraid to pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, how about coming back to the agency?' It’s interesting how much power that has some days.”

On his dual-hat role, Nakasone kept in line with the collaborative theme, stressing that NSA and Cyber Command’s partnership were what mattered most, not whether they shared a leader.

"Whatever decision is made, the partnership between the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command is one that is critically important to our nation. So whether or not it's one person or two people, that partnership, I would offer, is the most important thing we should think about," he said.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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