NSI Experts Weigh In: Hanoi Summit

Today, President Trump finished his second meeting with Kim Jong-Un.  NSI’s experts analyzed the impact the Hanoi Summit will have on the effort to denuclearize North Korea.

February 28, 2019

Dmitri AlperovitchDmitri Alperovitch – NSI Visiting Fellow; Co-Founder, CrowdStrike

“It was never likely that North Korea would ever voluntarily give up nuclear weapons, their ultimate guarantor of regime security. Having learned from the lessons of what can happen to dictators once they give up on nuclear weapons from the experiences of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it would be suicidal for Kim Jong Un to ever give up his deterrent.

The unfortunate reality is that we now have to admit to ourselves that a nuclear-armed North Korea is here to stay and focus our efforts on deterring and containing them and, most importantly, preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons.”


Matthew R. A. HeimanMatthew R. A. Heiman – NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Global Security; Chairman, Cyber & Privacy Working Group, Regulatory Transparency Project

“The summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un ended earlier than expected and without an agreement or tangible progress.  President Trump’s experience negotiating with the North Korean regime is consistent with the difficulty experienced by past administrations.  The North Koreans have two approaches to negotiations – make promises that aren’t kept and refuse to negotiate in good faith.  Today’s breakdown is one more link in that chain.  The prospects for this summit were not good given the pre-meeting chatter.  North Korea was offering to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility, a horse it has sold in previous negotiations.  The Trump team hinted that it would not demand a full accounting of North Korean nuclear facilities, which would prevent assurance of total denuclearization.  Under these circumstances, no deal was the best deal, and President Trump was right to walk.  It’s time to return to the maximum pressure campaign and make life as uncomfortable as possible for the Kim regime.”


Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder and Executive Director; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“While the typical reaction to the outcome of the Hanoi summit has been to call it a failure, that is exactly the wrong analysis.  To the contrary, by walking away from a weak offer by the North Koreans, the President has maximized his leverage and has reasserted control over a set of negotiations that ended poorly for the United States after the last round.  In my book, the Hanoi summit was a win for U.S. national security.”


Andy KeiserAndy Keiser – NSI Fellow; Former Senior Advisor, House Intelligence Committee

“President Trump returns from Vietnam in the same position as when he arrived: still talking to the North Koreans about denuclearization and confidence-building measures but not agreeing on the details.

Though surely a disappointment but likely not a surprise to the U.S. side, it is important to remember that North Korea is currently not testing nuclear weapons or the missiles that could potentially deliver them and biting sanctions remain in place while talks continue.

Give the President credit for showing a willingness to walk away from a deal when he feels the United States is giving up too much. Where we go from here and if the North Koreans are actually committed to an agreement remains an open question.”


Rizwan LadhaRizwan Ladha – NSI Visiting Fellow; Strategy Lead, Defense, Space & Security, The Boeing Company

“The second summit between Trump and Kim should be cautiously welcomed. Whenever diplomatic progress is made between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, it should be celebrated and encouraged. The fact that no agreement was reached at this meeting is also par for the course — many administrations have expended significant time and political capital to negotiate a verifiable solution to the North Korean nuclear question, and it appears there was no illusion within the Trump administration that they could successfully negotiate an agreement in just a couple of meetings.

It appears the sticking point remains how to balance sanctions relief with denuclearization, which both parties appear to want in principle. But aside from figuring out the optimal sequencing of moves that would allow both sides to get what they want, the real challenge for Secretary of State Pompeo, his negotiating team, and President Trump will be to internalize what the term “denuclearization” means to North Korea, and how it is fundamentally at odds with how the United States has defined that term for decades. Until that circle is squared, real progress will be difficult to achieve.


The one weak point for the United States coming out of this summit is President Trump’s apparent eagerness to take authoritarian despots at their word: In the press conference following the summit, President Trump said, ‘One of the things importantly that chairman Kim promised me last night is … he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear — not going to do testing. So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.’ It is not prudent for the U.S. negotiating team to put blind trust in an autocrat’s verbal statements — Mr. Kim can renege on his assurance at any time, which can put the U.S. in a weaker negotiating position.


Overall, this summit moves the United States and North Korea in a positive direction, even if by a marginal amount. Moving the needle is better than no progress at all. But going forward, the U.S. negotiating team should be cautioned on two things: First, they need to clearly understand why North Korea will never fully denuclearize, and second, they need to get big promises in writing. Putting our blind trust in authoritarian rulers is not a recipe for long-term success.”

Lester MunsonLester Munson – NSI Senior Fellow; Former Staff Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

“Expectations for this summit were fairly low, but evidently not low enough.  The good news is that the administration demonstrated that it is willing to walk away from the negotiating table when the deal doesn’t materialize. On the other hand, we must now weigh the costs of high-level engagement with a North Korean regime that appears to not be interested in real steps toward denuclearization.  It does real harm to America’s global position to continue to promote the character of Kim Jong-Un and his regime while he continues to process uranium and add to his missile forces. The president has a strong team working on these negotiations.  He should let them take over the discussions and save himself for when and if there is real progress.”

Bryan SmithBryan Smith – NSI Senior Fellow; former Budget Director, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

“Despite criticism from the national security community, the Singapore summit was generally successful.  It defused tensions that had arguably brought the two countries to the brink of war, and established a basic framework committing Kim to denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees, the end of sanctions, and economic development.  None of this was described in any concrete way, however. Nor did it hint at how to sequence North Korean denuclearization actions, its verification, and commensurate U.S. rewards.

The Vietnam Summit needed to make the basic framework concrete.  Specifically, three things were needed to make this summit a success.  First, the parties needed to agree on what exactly was meant by “denuclearization”.  Second, they then needed to lay out a pathway of future verifiable steps that would lead to that agreed commitment.  Third, the two countries needed to take initial immediate steps, such as a formal freeze in testing and production, met with some concrete and meaningful response from the U.S., well short of lifting core sanctions.

Instead of this business-like approach, Kim Jong-Un pulled a number straight from the North Korean negotiating playbook. Take a Ford Pinto, slap on bondo and a MAACO paint job, and offer to sell it to the U.S. at new model prices.  That in essence, was Kim’s offer to dismantle Yongbyon in exchange for full lifting of sanctions.  Thank God President Trump wasn’t buying it.  Not unlike Reagan at Rekjavik, the President wisely walked away from a bad deal.  In a way, it is hard to blame Kim for his gambit, since the decades long history with the U.S., coupled with the President’s highly-personal and transactional diplomatic style, likely convinced him that the U.S. might bite on such a bad deal.

Provided Kim now makes good on his reported intention to President Trump not to resume missile and weapons testing, negotiations can still be put back on a productive track. “

Todd Womack – NSI Visiting Fellow; former Staff Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

“What was said during negotiations around the flawed Iran deal is still true: no deal is better than a bad deal. Despite the desire by the Administration to move the process forward, I am glad the President walked away rather than showing progress for progress sake. Sanctions should not be lifted and pressure must be ratcheted up even more as we work to ensure North Korea’s denuclearization.”



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.


NSI Experts Weigh In: National Emergency Declaration

Today, the President announced that he would be declaring a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border.  Our experts weighed in on the wisdom of that decision. 

February 15, 2019

Matthew R. A. HeimanMatthew R. A. Heiman – NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Global Security; Chairman, Cyber & Privacy Working Group, Regulatory Transparency Project

The President’s decision to declare a national emergency in order to redirect funds to build a wall along the U.S. southern border is a mistake for legal, political, and institutional reasons.  Like eating junk food, the satisfaction could well be temporary. First, this decision will be the subject of court challenges, and the President may lose.  Questions such as whether this is an emergency and why is this an emergency now will feature prominently.  Second, the decision is a political mistake.  At some point, there will be a Democratic President and a Republican controlled Senate or House, and the Democratic President may decide that climate change or private ownership of firearms is a national emergency that needs to be addressed without congressional authorization.  Third, the lack of an obvious national emergency, such as a war or a natural disaster, feeds the notion that the President is exceeding his Article II and statutory authorities.  When a branch pushes its powers near or past institutional limits, the reaction of the other branches can leave that branch weaker than before it acted (e.g. the Presidency after Watergate).  If President Trump wants more money for border walls, he should use the bully pulpit afforded by his office.  This requires marshaling the facts, using compelling imagery and stories, and rallying Americans to pressure Congress for more funding or vote out those legislators that object.  That’s the best and most effective way to accomplish lasting change.

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder and Executive Director; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“While there is no question that we need to do a better job in addressing illegal immigration as a nation, the fact is that there isn’t a national security emergency on our southern border today.  And even if there were such an emergency, a huge new border wall is not the solution.  Better, smart enforcement of existing laws is the right approach, as is strengthening our laws and capabilities.  The bipartisan legislation passed by Congress is a good step in the right direction of these changes.  Going forward, we also need immigration laws that account for the critically important contribution that legal immigrants make to our nation and our economy, including significantly and smartly expanding the scope and nature of legal immigration as well as putting in place additional provisions to limit illegal immigration and enforce existing laws.”

Harold Moss – NSI Visiting Fellow; Senior Director Strategy & Business Development, Web Products, Akamai Technologies

The utilization of the national emergency power by the President would move us further away from the democratic values America is built upon, and further deepen the partisan divide facing our nation today.

By taken this unprecedented action, the President is effectively rejecting the notion of free government for what our founding fathers found abhorrent which is an absolute monarchy.  The powers offered to the executive branch to declare a National emergency, were intended to address the need for timely response to “events” or “emergencies” not to further political commitments. The Presidents own comments, clarify that this is in fact not an emergency but a desire to accelerate his political objectives.

What is  particularly concerning was the Presidents assertions about the security of the ports of entry, to which he promptly undermined his own claims by introducing his own request of the Chinese prime minister with respect to Fentanyl as well as referencing the 2017 New York attacker who did not enter the country through our southern border. All of these arguments and many more will certainly be introduced in inevitable legal challenges and further server to divide the nation.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.


NSI Experts Weigh In: 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy

Yesterday, the Department of Defense (DoD) released a summary of its 2018 Artificial Intelligence Strategy.  Our experts weighed in about the strengths and weaknesses of this strategy. 

February 13, 2019

Bryson Bort – NSI Fellow; Founder & CEO, SCYTHE

“The DoD strategy cements the role of the Joint AI Center (JAIC) as the driver for AI development and adoption across all services.  Echoing the Administration’s AI directive, the strategy is framed in terms of the Chinese and Russian threats increasing through this technology.  In execution, there is a diametric tension between iterating slowly through ethical implications as evidenced by Google employees refusing to support Project Maven (a DoD AI project of imagery analysis) last year and the exhortation for ‘transformative AI technologies’ developed ‘from experiments at the edge.’  DoD has historically struggled with agile development that would support these ‘experiments’ from a contracting, cultural, and technical perspective.  The immediate wins look like the use of AI on the mountains of DoD data in various areas such as logistics and maintenance.”

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder and Executive Director; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“The new Artificial Intelligence Strategy released by the Department of Defense provides some unique insight into DoD’s well thought out plan on AI that it’s already been executing.  The specific outlining of the role of the Joint AI Center (JAIC) and the description of the key pilot projects that are ongoing, as well as the commitment to partnerships with leading private companies are key elements of a strategy that is likely to bear fruit in the short-term.  While much will be in the implementation, the early steps DoD has already taken are moving them in the right direction.

Harold Moss – NSI Visiting Fellow; Senior Director Strategy & Business Development, Web Products, Akamai Technologies

The Department of Defense’s recent strategy is a thoughtful approach to embracing an emerging technology.  By introducing Artificial Intelligence as an augmentation technology and building upon the proven techniques and skills used by the DoD, they can rapidly introduce the technology without introducing disruptions to our current national security strategy.  Furthermore, by leveraging a number of diverse sectors to usher in the new technology, they reduce the integration challenges found in emerging technologies while enabling the latest information to drive implementation.

I am especially encouraged by the strategies identification of focal areas that not only introduce meaningful impact, but rely on cultivating supporting internal/external resources and infrastructure. By implementing an approach which evolves with the pace of technology, the strategy will be far more sustainable, and at the same time introduce ongoing benefits to national security.

That said, while the strategy has expertly focused on how to introduce AI into the working models of the agency, they will need to establish relationships with foreign and domestic partners to establish the corpus of knowledge essential to AI.  As a result, the DoD will need to clearly articulate and enforce privacy and security protocols, which will establish confidence in partners and the program.”

Adam Pearlman – NSI Visiting Fellow; former Associate Deputy General Counsel, U.S. Department of Defense 

“Beyond the substance of the DoD’s AI strategy, the timing of this document is not to be overlooked.  For all the ways in which the White House has been criticized for going off-the-cuff, the issuance of Executive Order 13859 and the release of this document all within a week of the State of the Union, shows not only the importance the President places on this issue, but that efforts are being properly coordinated throughout the government.  This shows a maturity in managing the bureaucracy, and vastly increases the likelihood of building an effective capability.

It is also notable that a relatively sizable portion of the strategy emphasizes private-sector partnerships, which will be critical to the success of building the government’s AI capabilities.  We are long past the era when DoD had both more money and more information than everyone else.  The five most valuable tech companies have a market capitalization of more than three times the defense budget and are sitting on close to $600 billion in cash.  They also have incredibly large and diverse data sets that will prove critical to a cutting-edge AI system.  Recruiting all the engineering talent in the world is meaningless without having useful data to train an AI system.

Developing this technology while protecting civil liberties is no easy task, but having articulated guiding principles will help the Department and the government navigate these issues in a responsible way.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.


NSI Experts Weigh In: “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence” Executive Order

Today, President Trump signed an Executive Order on “Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence”.  Our experts weighed in about what this means about America’s future stance towards Artificial Intelligence. 

February 11, 2019

Dmitri AlperovitchDmitri Alperovitch – NSI Visiting Fellow; Co-Founder/CTO, CrowdStrike

Today, AI is at the center of most major technological advances in areas as varied as cybersecurity, self-driving cars or development of cancer treatments. In cybersecurity, for example, these technological advances include enabling the defenders to recognize and stop never-before-seen attacks and being faster in detecting and responding to attacks.

It is vital for prosperity and security that the US keeps its leadership position in development and implementation of AI technologies. Government leadership and funding on this topic is crucial.


Lauren BedulaLauren Bedula – NSI Visiting Fellow; Vice President, Beacon Global Strategies

The Executive Order signals that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a White House priority with the full backing of the President.  This has a galvanizing effect and elevates AI as a critical national priority.  The Department of Defense and Intelligence Community have recognized the significance of AI through initiatives such as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Augmenting Intelligence Using Machines program, and DoD’s Joint AI Center.  The White House’s push to accelerate national leadership on AI will further stimulate the federal government’s civilian agencies’ efforts, and enhance the U.S. government’s posture on coordinated research and development.  The timing of the EO also aligns well with the launch of the National Security Commission on AI, created by the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019.

Access to and management of data will continue to slow adoption of AI technologies, and migration to the cloud will be key to these efforts.  As the U.S. government organizes around the future of AI, the private sector should be consulted as an expert and partner in both technology and workforce development.

Bryson Bort – NSI Fellow; Founder & CEO, SCYTHE

The Administration actually does agree with their Intelligence Chiefs on something: Artificial Intelligence. In January, ODNI published the National Intelligence Strategy highlighting both the threat, promise, and need for investment in AI. The primary threat is China who through a combination of outright theft/espionage and state-directed investment to lure foreign scholars has positioned itself to strategically challenge US innovation dominance by 2025. The Administration builds upon these concerns by laying out a (high-level) plan of R&D investment and engagement that vaguely directs agencies to prioritize AI now and in 2020 funding. Contrast that lack of clear funding with just a few examples:


China – $5B fund to grow a $150B industry
France – €1.5B investment
Canada – the first government release a formal AI strategy with C$125M

Priorities mean resources. Or, are we waiting for the computers to tell us how much to invest?

Zach Graves

Zach Graves – NSI Visiting Fellow; Head of Policy, Lincoln Network

“The President’s Executive Order on ‘Accelerating America’s Leadership in AI’ is a monumental action that ties together both public and private sector efforts around artificial intelligence.  This includes calling for the development of several strategic plans around standard setting, research spending, and AI governance issues which will help improve coordination and strategic planning in the federal government.  Of potential concern is Sec. 8’s call for the creation of an action plan to ‘protect the US advantage in AI… against strategic competitors and adversarial nations.’  While there are legitimate national security concerns around AI, these must not be used as an excuse for premature heavy-handed regulation.  For example, the Commerce Department has already been exploring export controls on AI technology – a failed policy approach that was used in the 90s on encryption, and which could put the brakes on AI rather than accelerate its development. “

Kristen HajdukKristen Hajduk – NSI Visiting Fellow; Regional Director for the National Capital Region, MD5 – The National Security Technology Accelerator

“The Executive Order on ‘Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence’ takes one step forward in guiding our country towards a vibrant, innovative, and ethical support in the development of AI.  The EO rightly acknowledges that effective utilization of AI requires a community of innovators who are given the tools to support the future public and private sector needs of this growing industry.  In order for the USG to effectively foster and tap into private sector innovation, it will be necessary and important for all USG organizations to rethink and retool acquisitions processes that may be burdensome or prohibitive for burgeoning startup and venture hubs across the country.  The Defense innovation ecosystem has led to several important efforts to support the EO, including the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.  By working together, the USG and US private industry will continue to push the leading edge of technological advancement.”

E. Grant Haver – NSI Policy Program Coordinator

President Trump’s ‘Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence’ Executive Order is far from the ‘[w]e choose to go to the Moon’ approach which is necessary in this area.  He had the prime opportunity to roll out the American Artificial Intelligence Initiative during his State of the Union address, but he chose not to.  America needs a whole of government and potentially a whole of society approach to dealing with the ethical, legal, and military questions surrounding AI and the president does not seem to be going all in.

One area that this Executive Order addresses is the need for the government to attract and train personnel on the latest advances in AI.  However, it fails to address the issue of retention which is difficult in the best of times because skills in this area are so valuable in the private sector.  These issues are made worse when those who choose to take a pay cut to serve their country are not sure whether they will be getting their next paycheck.

Although this Executive Order is far from sufficient to actually maintain American leadership in Artificial Intelligence, it makes nods in the right direction especially around data transparency.  AI is powered by large sets of training data and the government is sitting on a wealth of it.  If the government can learn how to effectively partner with the private sector to give access to this data while protecting citizens privacy and civil liberties, then the government, industry, and ultimately the American people will benefit.

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“The artificial intelligence Executive Order signed today by the President provides a strong starting point for expanding our government’s commitment to our nation investing and leading in AI.  The problem is that we are already behind in this race, with China having committed to creating a $1 trillion AI economy in the next decade.  We cannot afford more government examinations of its authorities and priorities; rather, we need specific, detailed plans for providing significant, sustained government funding for basic research and advanced national security applications, as well as the creation of incentives for further private sector investment and leverage.  So, while the new EO is certainly a step in the right direction, it is not nearly enough.  The President and his team need to stop focusing on small ball issues that keep taking us to the brink of a government shutdown and instead partner with Congress to get something definitive done on AI in the near future.

Geof Kahn  – NSI Visiting Fellow; former Senior Advisor to the Chief Operating Officer at the Central Intelligence Agency

The Executive Order is an encouraging signal that the White House is using its budget, policy, and convening authority to implement a national AI strategy to empower American competitiveness and innovation.  That strategy smartly identifies much needed funding for R&D that will benefit mainstream American industries, while highlighting the jobs, ethics, and privacy implications that come with our rapidly increasing adoption of AI tools.  It will be important to see how this EO is reflected in the President’s FY20 Budget Request in March and how the Administration pursues these initiatives in partnership with the private sector.

Andy KeiserAndy Keiser – NSI Fellow; former Senior Advisor, House Intelligence Committee

In launching the American Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative, President Trump signals the right executive emphasis on the type of next-generation technologies that will propel the U.S. economy into the future like AI.

The Order also touches on the critical components of success in AI, including: focus of effort across government, industry and academia; development of standards; promoting technical and math and science education; protecting civil liberties and promoting AI in the right places internationally.

As with any policy, the devil will be in the details as the Order is implemented and federal dollars are appropriated in Fiscal Year 2020 and beyond.

Andrea LimbagoDr. Andrea Little Limbago – NSI Senior Fellow; Chief Social Scientist, Virtru

The U.S. has some catching up to do to simultaneously shape the ethical parameters of AI, including privacy and security implications, while promoting innovation. Today’s Executive Order on AI is a welcome first step at prioritizing AI  but is long overdue and lacks any reference to countering advances in adversarial AI. While policy generally does lag behind technology, over the past two years well over a dozen countries introduced national initiatives to promote AI. The U.S. has been noticeably absent from this global discussion. The Executive Order appropriately describes AI as a national security imperative that requires strong U.S. leadership to ensure AI benefits society without compromising American values or privacy. In contrast, authoritarian regimes are quickly progressing AI frameworks that build upon machine learning for offensive attacks such as compromising data, diffusing disinformation, or other interference operations. Given this contrast, the Executive Order should have more specifically addressed the ethical issues, biases, and attacks that can emerge through adversarial AI or abuse. While the Executive Order highlights the potential for benefits, any national strategy would be myopic and detrimental to national security if the the potential for AI misuse and abuse is omitted. Nevertheless, the Executive Order is an encouraging sign that the U.S. government will increasingly prioritize AI and take the steps to incentivize AI investments, grow the workforce to support U.S. dominance in AI, and assert U.S. leadership through international engagement. 

Harold Moss – NSI Visiting Fellow; Senior Director Strategy & Business Development, Web Products, Akamai Technologies

Artificial Intelligence has penetrated the lives of millions of Americans through connected home devices that influence as well as provide access to personal information. It is essential that America establishes the skills necessary to compete in this space as well as define the working parameters for which this technology is applied.

According to research by IoT News, as may as 90% of the US population have made purchases of a home connected device, and nearly 70% already have a voice controlled system such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home. As artificial intelligence becomes an embedded technology in our personal lives, it offers not only new methods of connecting but also new means of gather information or influencing our population. The recent Executive Order highlights the importance of American leadership in the space, and touches on the role of privacy, as well as the highlighting the need for addressing adoption barriers.

The Executive Order, while light on details is never the less laudable in that it addresses emerging technologies proactively. It will be essential that the security implications are the initial focus, as the path to failure will most certainly fall in the areas of confidence and privacy. It will be imperative that legislators with their private sectors counterparts  take up the mantle of defining meaningful guidelines quickly and comprehensively in Order to decrease threats to our population, business innovation, and our future democracy.

Bryan Smith – NSI Senior Fellow; former Budget Director, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

The President’s Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence is an impressive ‘plan for the plan’ (or to be precise, a plan for several related plans).  This is a thoughtful and well-constructed architecture for all the work the federal government needs to accomplish, in close collaboration with its many partners, domestically and world-wide.  The E.O. underscores the critical importance and wide-sweeping nature of artificial intelligence, which is already permeating every business vertical and horizontal, and even our every-day lives.  A.I. promises to be just as transformational for national security.

Even so, the seminal developments in A.I. will continue to come from gifted mathematicians and scientists in universities and technology companies in every corner of the globe, supported by investors with foresight, patience, and high tolerance for risk.  There is a parallel here with the recent transformation of oil and gas production through hydro-fracture and horizontal drilling.  American politicians routinely called for American energy independence, but this dream could only become reality through the genius of a modest number of technical innovators, backed by private investors willing to bet the house on them.

Glenn Sulmasy – NSI Visiting Fellow; Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Bryant University

President Trump’s Executive Order today – the American AI Initiative (AAII) – is welcome news to many within national security circles, as well as academics and administrators in higher education.  We need bold policy statements, such as this, to be the catalyst for Americans to recognize the importance AI will play in ALL of our lives within the next two-to-three years, and beyond.  This ‘call to action’ should be viewed as analogous to Kennedy’s charge for Americans to be the first to put a ‘man on the moon.’

Artificial intelligence is coming at us quicker than workplace revolutions of the past.  This so called 4th Industrial Revolution is one that will continue to evolve and will be incredibly disruptive to our workplace.  Beyond the call to research and development, there needs to be a consciousness of what AI will do the workplace within American society.  While essential for the AAII to emphasize R&D, the document goes further to prioritize fellowship and training programs to help American workers gain AI-relevant skills.   The beauty of the document is that it demonstrates the will of the government, and the American need, to place appropriate emphasis on AI, it goes further to recognize and prepare for the disruptive nature of the technology that will accompany the new armies of robots.

Within higher education, it is critical to get ahead of the coming robot revolution.  The AAII must continue to support, not just graduate programs, but undergraduate programs that are dedicated to Artificial Intelligence.  Universities must adapt quickly to the changing environment to ensure the students matriculating have at least some basic competencies within the AI domain.   This baseline knowledge will be required by all students graduating by 2022.  As such, my hope is the administration will partner with universities to ensure learning outcomes within all disciplines soon require some form of ‘data literacy.’  To do otherwise, at this juncture in history, would be for academicians to commit malpractice.

While we appropriately race to compete with the EU and China (who are clearly dedicated to making major advances in AI before the US to gain myriad advantages), it remains important to reflect upon the words of the internationally known late genius Stephen Hawking’s warning, ‘The genie is out of the bottle. We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans.’

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.

The World That Awaits: Foreign Policy Issues Confronting the 116th Congress



This NSI Law and Policy Paper:

  • Introduces the immediate challenges found in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East that are making headlines today and considers how these issues contribute to the larger picture of global affairs in 2019.
  • Addresses recent developments that are driving policy decisions confronting the 116thCongress.
  • Anticipates the key questions that Congress will need to consider for these regions in the coming year.

The authors highlight the top considerations for the 116th Congress:

  • Africa: How will Congress weigh-in on the administration’s efforts to balance between ongoing counterterrorism efforts, new development priorities, and the need to counter China’s growing economic advantage across the continent?
  • Americas: Will Congress approve NAFTA’s replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and how will it respond to the dramatic geopolitical shifts at play in Brazil and Venezuela?
  • Asia: Can Congress work with the administration to create a bipartisan grand strategy to address the rapidly expanding geopolitical rivalry with China, and will it support the administration’s negotiations with North Korea?
  • Europe: How should Congress respond to the administration’s NATO policy, the grinding gears of Brexit, and the continued threats posed by Russia?
  • The Middle East: How will Congress respond to the administration’s decision to reduce U.S. military presence in Syria and Afghanistan?  Will it reconsider the U.S.-Saudi relationship?  How far will the U.S. take its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, and how should it respond if Iran ends its adherence to the nuclear deal?

Please see NSI’s full policy paper HERE.

About the authors:

Loren Dealy Maher is a Visiting Fellow at NSI and is the President at Dealy Mahler Strategies.  She is a strategic leader with high-level government and private sector experience across national security, strategic communications and crisis management.

Matthew F. Ferraro is a Visiting Fellow at NSI and is a Senior Associate at WilmerHale.  He is a former intelligence officer who writes widely on national security and legal issues.  

NSI Experts Weigh In: State of the Union 2019

Yesterday, President Trump delivered his second State of the Union address.  Read our expert analysis of his remarks. 

February  6, 2019

Megan L. Brown – NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Cybersecurity; Partner, Wiley Rein LLP

“The State of the Union recognized some of the most serious national security issues facing the county but was much heavier on domestic policy. In many areas the president really did speak in a bipartisan way, particularly on national security, which came across as one of the least controversial area of his agenda.

He spoke directly about nation state adversaries, who we all know are using cyber attacks to disrupt and do harm. Disappointingly, he only indirectly alluded to cyber, citing theft of intellectual property and worries about China.  He said we are ‘making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.’  You’d have to look to the cyber strategy and intelligence strategy to understand how that’ll happen outside of the trade context.
Overall the SOTU was heavy on domestic policy but hit some key national security highlights. I wish it had more on cyber and his goals for our leadership in the digital future. “

Zach GravesZach Graves – NSI Visiting Fellow; Head of Policy, Lincoln Network

“President Trump calls on Congress to think of our past achievements as a nation — major scientific breakthroughs, defeating fascism, building highway infrastructure. While the theme of ‘choosing greatness’ may sound cheesy, he’s making an important point. Congress has lost its capacity to think big, and tackle the tough problems. But for Congress to function better it needs more than just to be inspired, it needs to build more institutional capacity and policy expertise.”



Matthew R. A. HeimanMatthew R. A. Heiman – NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Global Security; Chairman, Cyber & Privacy Working Group, Regulatory Transparency Project

“National security and international trade made up approximately 20% of President Trump’s State of the Union address.  The small amount of content covered the expected laundry list of topics: the U.S. was being ripped off in trade deals; withdrawing from the INF Treaty was good; the U.S. was right to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear weapons agreement and enact tough sanctions; another meeting is scheduled with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un; the U.S. stands firm with Juan Guaido of Venezuela; and defending the movement of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  It was disappointing that President Trump did not provide a more detailed rationale for his decisions to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan and was almost silent on the geopolitical competition with China and Russia for global influence.  Today, these are the most pressing issues on the national security agenda.  Regarding the drawdowns in Afghanistan and Syria, Trump said great nations do not fight ‘endless wars.’  Great nations should avoid fighting pointless wars.  In Syria, our troops are acting as an important brake against Russian and Iranian machinations.  In Afghanistan, while it remains far from a perfect democracy, our military presence has prevented Afghanistan-based terrorism from again wreaking havoc around the world while Afghani women and girls are able receive an education after the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime.  Regarding China and Russia, it would have been good to hear what the U.S. will do to support our allies and dissuade nations from throwing their lot in with two authoritarian, paranoid, anti-democratic, revisionist regimes.”

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“In his 2019 State of the Union speech, the President rightly called for bipartisanship and unity in working towards the common good; he also appropriately recognized the historic importance of American leadership in the world, honoring the sacrifices made by our men and women in arms in support of that mission, including those currently serving, as well as those soldiers of the Greatest Generation who defended our nation in what began as an ‘endless war’ and culminated in the liberation of Nazi death camps in Europe.  Likewise, the President correctly castigated the Iranian regime for its support of terrorism, the North Korean regime for its pursuit of nuclear weapons capable of reaching our shores, Russia for its blatant violations of the INF Treaty, and China for its continuing efforts to pillage the American economy of the very innovation that is our lifeblood.  He also appropriately attacked the socialist regime in Venezuela for destroying its economy, harming its people, and ruling from a position of lawlessness and her also correctly noted our success in getting our allies to meet their existing commitments to share the burden of defending their nations.

And while the President’s actions have supported many of his statements—like his decision to pull out of the catastrophically bad Iran nuclear deal, his staunch position on the INF Treaty, his support of historic change in Venezuela, and his efforts to push back on unfair and illegal Chinese trade practices—on balance, the President’s national security policies have not yet matched his rhetoric about the history and importance of American leadership in the world.  Indeed, a number of the President’s actions in the national security arena, like short-sighted and abrupt decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, his approach to negotiating from a posture of weakness with the Taliban—the very group that housed and protected Osama bin Laden both before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—his squandering of a strong negotiating position with North Korea (to be fair, a negotiating position he was able to obtain), and his attacks on some of our strongest allies across the globe, all the while coddling the leadership of hostile states like Russia, all work to undermine his own words about the historic importance to our nation—and the world—of American leadership.

Nonetheless, the President now has a unique opportunity to make good on his words.   If the President is prepared to truly defend the role of America in the world, he will leverage his call for change in Venezuela to make it a reality, he will protect our allies in Europe from Russian predation by helping them achieve energy independence through the direct supply of American natural gas, and he will ensure that American troops see the conflicts in the Middle East—whether in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan—through to the complete defeat of the terrorist groups that seek to kill Americans and our allies.  Likewise, if the President truly believes we are strongest when we resolutely support our friends and oppose our enemies, he will back those who seek freedom from regimes—like Iran—that support terrorism and oppress their people, he will negotiate a significantly better agreement with North Korea than the one reached a year ago, he will reject Russian claims in Europe and will penalize Vladimir Putin and his cronies further for their anti-American and anti-Western covert and overt influence activities around the world, he will push for stronger cybersecurity efforts here at home and with our allies in Europe, the Middle East, and in Asia.

Perhaps most importantly, if the President is truly going to be successful in an effort to lead both domestically and abroad, he will seek to change the tone in Washington, and he will strongly and squarely reject anti-immigrant voices, and those who support racism and anti-Semitism at home and abroad.

If the President is able to execute on these efforts, he stands to achieve historic successes in global and domestic security.  And while his record on that front is admittedly checkered to date, we should all fervently wants him—and our nation—to succeed in this regard.“

Omario KanjiOmario Kanji – NSI Visiting Fellow; Assistant Academic Director, Temple University

“The SOTU comes momentously during Chinese New Year, when China’s President Xi is no doubt taking stock of both nations and their current relationship. President Trump was correct in saying that our leaders and representatives may be to blame for our current trade predicament. Since its founding, China has been, and will be for quite some time, a most pragmatic power. Such pragmatism lends itself to calculated moves on economic and political fronts. Well-intended gestures since and including China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) have not proven terribly fruitful.

It would seem that the United States and other countries are arriving at a point of reckoning with China on trade practices, cybersecurity, intellectual property, and hostile geographical moves in the South China Sea. President Trump has stood up to a rising power where other countries had failed to; the tide may very well turn from here onward. Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou more than proves this.

Despite all his promises, what the President may not win back from China is American jobs. It is certainly true that the American worker lost her job due to China’s entry and integration into the globalized economy. Wages in China are rising, on par with those of Mexico. However, multinationals still have a few choices for outsourcing, such as India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and others. The jobs might not come back. In addition, since the time that China absorbed those jobs, economic fundamentals and the job market itself have change drastically. The United States’ best hope is to, as the President said, outspend and out-innovate China, as well as the rest of the world.“

Andy KeiserAndy Keiser – NSI Fellow; Former Senior Advisor, House Intelligence Committee

“National security watchers found some pretty thin gruel when it came to the national security policy laid out in President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address.

While he touched on his tried and true policies of pushing back on Chinese aggression, rebuilding the military and pursuing burden sharing among NATO allies, he did announce a new date for a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un, and passingly referred to a plan to seek to wind down the war in Afghanistan, withdraw from the INF treaty with Russia and support new leadership in Venezuela.

In the four newer references to Trump Administration policy, I think the President hit three on the head. With North Korea, even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi credits the President with deescalating the conflict, the Russians had long been violating the INF treaty and Maduro in Venezuela years ago relinquished any modicum of legitimacy. However, on Afghanistan, the United States of America abandoned Afghanistan once before and it led to the Taliban taking power and granting Osama bin Laden the safe-haven he needed to carry out the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Maintaining an effective counter-terrorism capacity in Afghanistan is vital to U.S. national security interests.“

Harold Moss – NSI Visiting Fellow; Senior Director Strategy & Business Development, Web Products, Akamai Technologies

“Yesterday’s state of the union highlighted a naïve if not negligent perspective on national security. The president in his address categorized beyond border engagement as foolish wars, highlighting a fundamental lack of understanding with respect to buffering adversaries and pro-active engagement.  By implying our influence begins and ends at our borders, we lose the ability to pre-empt and diminish foreign threats.

In addition the  President further diminished the impact of foreign attempts to influence or interfere with our electoral process by diminishing the investigation of such actions to that of simple partisan politics. While highlighting the political impacts, the President missed an opportunity to leverage these actions to unify our divided political nation against a common enemy in service of protecting our systems of governance.“

Lester Munson– NSI Senior Fellow; former Staff Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

“The State of the Union speech was a civilized version of President Trump’s vision to call America home from its role in the world and focus inward.  No matter how kindly delivered or tilted toward bipartisanship, the president’s vision remains an isolationist and narrow-minded view. It is not in America’s interest to retreat from a leadership role in the world. Rather, our prosperity depends explicitly on the United States playing a vigorous and unapologetic role in promoting democracy, stability and free markets around the world.

Instead of focusing most of his speech on the southern border – where there is not in fact a crisis – the president should have made a case for a bipartisan approach to China’s authoritarian expansionism in the Indo-Pacific. This is where the real long-term threat to our interests and values resides.

While the speech was very well delivered by this president’s standards, the actual content of the speech was wrong-headed and bad for America.“

Dr. David Priess – NSI Visiting Fellow; Chief Operating Officer, Lawfare

“During his State of the Union address, the president hit some pleasant chords about the history of US national security, broadly conceived. He praised America’s scientific advances during the past 100-plus years. He also paid homage to veterans of D-Day as we approach its 75 year anniversary. And he acknowledged the heroic national efforts that led to the first manned moon landing just over a half century ago.

The speech, however, failed to resonate as well when it turned from the past to assessments of current and future national security threats — as three disconnects reveal. First, the Director of National Intelligence’s annual threat testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence just last week highlighted top-priority concerns of election security, China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. The president’s address, however, skipped over election security and breezed through the others. Second, the president’s remarks focused more heavily on what he alternatively called the ‘crisis’ and the ‘lawless state’ of the ‘very dangerous’ southern border. Yet migration from Central America seemed to barely make it into the DNI’s threat presentation, and that lacked mention of a crisis along the border itself. Third, the president opined that without his election in 2016, the United States would currently be in a ‘major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed.’ He offered no evidence or logic to substantiate the claim.

Additionally, the president missed a bridge-building opportunity by asserting there will be no peace while investigators continue. Cooperating fully with ongoing examinations of foreign interference in the 2016 election, in fact, would do more to bolster national security than just about anything else he could do.”

Bryan SmithBryan Smith – NSI Senior Fellow; Vice President & Technical Advisor, Beacon Global Strategies

“It was heartening to hear a speech by President Trump framed in the history of American exceptionalism, and celebrating freedom, liberty, unity, and rights for all.  These themes appeal to an audience well beyond his base and explain the reported 75 percent approval rating for the speech.

The national security portions of the speech contained some strengths but featured a few off-key notes and troubling omissions.  The President is right that ‘great nations do not fight twenty-year wars’, and he is also right to re-focus our involvement in Afghanistan on our original purpose of counter-terrorism.  But why confuse this sound strategic rationale with rhetorical echoes of the Vietnam peace movement?  He hit wave tops of some current national security issues – North Korea, Iran, INF, ISIS, and Venezuela.  His strong support for the revolt against Maduro was no doubt heard loudly in Caracas.  The President was also well-justified for taking credit for removing ISIS as territory-holding power.  The Administration has gotten far too little credit for its major role in this accomplishment, which pundits seem now to think was pre-ordained.   Missing-in-action was explicit treatment of China and Russia as the resurgent great power competitors that now drive our national strategy.

The President did, however, issue a warning to all competitors, in response to Russia’s material violation of the INF Treaty, that ‘we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far’ – a warning that we all would hope the U.S. could deliver on.  The realities of our fiscal situation put this in doubt.  Saddled with a structural $1 billion deficit, driven by mindless entitlement expansions, and a resulting national debt over $20 billion, there are serious constraints to our ability to ‘outspend…all others by far’.  Granted, this gross fiscal imbalance can persist for some time to come, but it is ultimately unsustainable.  At some point, it will spark an economic crisis that could catastrophically undermine our security.

Why do virtually no politicians address this issue?  And why would Democratic challengers to the President on the left seek to make this fiscal situation worse, still?  It could be, that like the over-plump farm turkey in mid-November, our moment of greatest peril comes when we feel most secure.“

Megan Stifel – NSI Visiting Fellow; Former Director for International Cyber Policy, National Security Council 

“Portions of the State of the Union speech related to foreign policy recognized heroes of past conflicts, reaffirmed Russia, Iran, and China as threats to national security, but should have gone further to identify policies that will challenge these nations’ malign activities.

Cyber has lead the Worldwide Threat Assessment for the past five or more years. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the President made only passing reference to the matter in last night’s State of the Union address. In referring to the theft of intellectual property by China, without specifically talking about cyber-enabled theft, the President did not send a strong enough signal – to China and other nations – that this type of behavior has been, is, and will remain not an acceptable use of information and communications technologies.
Furthermore, the speech also left out references to technological innovation, which can facilitate economic growth and national security, but will also require thoughtful policy development both in ensuring privacy and civil liberties protections, as well as in securing such technologies and the data upon which they rely.”

Dan Wagner – NSI Visiting Fellow; Legislative Liaison for Policy and Budget

“Trump needs to give his speech writer a raise after tonight.  A good portion of President Trump’s speeches are typically self-centered, and this one was no different, except that he did start and end on a promising note offering points of commonality between the parties.  This State of the Union seemed to have a significant focus on domestic issues with a smattering of national security and foreign policy.

He referred to World War II several times within his speech seemingly drawing a parallel between the greatest generation and greatest time in recent American history to his presidency.  His use of the WWII veterans was symbolic as a living example that no challenge is too great for America.  He went on to stressed that America is once again winning every day.

The President did seem to reach across the aisle and had a few unifying moments when it came to increasing jobs for women and minorities (particularly in Congress), as well as prison reform.  The big moment of the night was when he discussed lowing prescription drug costs and including pre-existing conditions.  These are what the president likely sees as offerings to the Democrats for some of the things that he is asking for in return – like the wall.

On foreign policy and national security specifically, the President briefly touched on most of the major issues, with the noticeable exceptions of Russia and cyber.  He even stated that if he had not been elected President, the US would ‘be in a major war with North Korea’.  It was also interesting when he mentioned China that he stated not to blame China but to blame our leadership.  This is a very slippery slope as if to say not to blame the dog for eating the hamburger that dropped on the ground.  We should most definitely hold China accountable for their actions as well as our leadership for not holding China accountable over the years.

On Syria, the President reinforced his decision stating that ‘Great nations do not fight endless wars.’  These remarks come after the Senate voted today not to allow Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria – a war that the Congress never exercised its Constitutional powers to begin.  There seems to be some confusion within Congress as to what to do about Iran while still in Iraq and Syria.  However, the President seems clear on stopping Iranian nuclear and terrorist efforts around the world.

As much as we would all like to only focus on domestic issues, we are one tragic terrorist or cyber event away from losing focus on all discussed in this speech if we don’t get national security and intelligence right.  The speech, though good, needed more emphasis on the legitimate national security threats that his intelligence professionals are telling him.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.


NSI Experts Weigh In: INF Treaty Withdrawal

Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US would withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.  Our experts weighed in on this historic change in policy.

February 2, 2019


Christopher Bright – NSI Visiting Fellow; Diplomatic Historian

“It might be tempting to suggest today’s announcement about the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty is simply another expression of an unorthodox and inchoate presidential worldview.  But, the declaration should more appropriately be seen as the latest development in a debate which has preoccupied American leaders and the public for decades.

Since 1945, questions have surrounded the role that nuclear weapons should play in U.S. national security policy, the utility of attempting to actively defend the country from these arms, and the extent to which related international treaties could enhance U.S. security.  All these issues are rooted in divergent subjective assessments of the geopolitical motives and trustworthiness of the United States and its rivals, the reasons for deciding to deploy nuclear arms or contemplating their use, as well as the technological feasibility of various weapon types and possible protection from them.

The ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment’ presented to the Senate this week by U.S. intelligence leaders noted that Russia has fielded a nuclear missile which violates the INF, and it did so because the weapon offers such a significant ‘military advantage’ that a violation was worthwhile.  Other sections of the report describe nuclear arms activities underway in North Korean and China.  The intelligence report was widely accepted.  (The document was newsworthy, not because of its underlying conclusions, but because of the president’s apparent disagreement with some findings.)  This sobering assessment should compel a reinvigorated consideration of the nuclear threat to the United States.

The Trump Administration’s announcement will certainly spark considerable public discussion, Congressional debate, and academic analysis.  But, rather than generate new insights or form the basis for a rekindled bipartisan consensus, forthcoming conversations about the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty will likely only reflect existing ideological cleavages.  Unfortunately, these divisions will also probably be exacerbated by the topic’s association with the current presidential administration.”

Loren Dealy Mahler– NSI Visiting Fellow; Founder, Dealy Mahler Strategies, LLC and former Director, Legislative Affairs, National Security Council 

“Everyone agrees Russia has been in violation of the INF treaty for years, but the appropriate response isn’t to blame the treaty for failing. The appropriate response is to raise the price of cheating to force compliance. Walking away from the table isn’t a habit that makes us safer.

We should be working with our NATO allies to punish the violations and get the treaty back on track, instead of so freely abandoning yet another international obligation.“

Matthew R. A. Heiman– NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Global Security; Chairman of the Cyber & Privacy Working Group, Regulatory Transparency Project

“Both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized that the Russian 9M729 missile systems violate the INF Treaty, and recent reports indicate that Russia has increased its deployment of these systems.  Yesterday’s decision by President Trump to begin U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is a long overdue acknowledgement that the INF Treaty is no longer effective.  Continued U.S. adherence to the INF Treaty in the hopes of shaming Russia into compliance is a fool’s errand as Russia’s expanded deployment of these missiles demonstrates its defiance of the treaty terms.  Moreover, these 9M729 systems, which pose a direct threat to our allies in Europe and the Middle East, are a stark reminder of  Russia’s hostile intent.  The U.S. must now consider this strategic development in terms of both its own weapons systems and whether there is any merit to further arms reduction efforts with Russia.  Presently, the Kremlin is not a trustworthy treaty partner.”

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“It is unfortunate that the United States had to pull out of the INF Treaty, but Russia left us with no choice after its repeated blatant violations of the treaty; there still remains hope for maintaining this important nonproliferation regime, however if Russia returns to compliance in the next six months, the U.S. is still prepared to do the same, which is the right call.“



Dr. Rizwan Ladha – NSI Visiting Fellow; Former Research Associate, MIT Security Studies Program and Harvard Kennedy School’s Project on Managing the Atom

“There were certainly a number of challenges with the INF Treaty – it was outdated, obsolete, and didn’t include China. Russia has been in breach of its treaty obligations for years. And many of the verification mechanisms have expired. These and other criticisms of the agreement are all legitimate.

However, that doesn’t mean the Trump administration should have unilaterally withdrawn from INF – and it did so without any interagency decision making process, without notifying Russia, and without even notifying our European allies. This is like a kid kicking your soccer ball into the bushes and you stomping your feet and going home sulking, instead of teaching the kid a lesson. We just let Russia off the hook, and now the future of current and future arms control and non-proliferation efforts between the United States and Russia is in jeopardy.
There are three big challenges I see going forward. First: On China, it’s still an open question whether withdrawing from a flawed agreement will set a positive or negative precedent in China’s eyes when it comes to U.S. seriousness on arms control, but my sense is that it will be hard to negotiate from a position of strength when we are not showing strong leadership ourselves. An alternate path, whereby demonstrating our commitment to treaty obligations makes clear to the Chinese that the U.S. does not take an a la carte approach to arms control, would certainly have been slower and less dramatic, but would have yielded an eventual arms control agreement with China that would have been strong, verifiable, and enforceable.
Second: On Europe, it will now be incumbent on the United States to reassure its allies – not in rhetoric, but through action – that it will not allow NATO’s security to be jeopardized, now that Russia has free legal and political space to develop and deploy intermediate-range missiles that directly threaten the European continent and U.S. bases there. The official NATO statement at the end of last year, reaffirming that the United States and NATO stand together against Russian aggression, is an important and positive rhetorical step, but the hard work begins now for the Trump administration. A failure to maintain NATO’s bonds carries a significant risk of pushing Europe to further nuclearize, which will badly damage decades of non-proliferation efforts and destabilize the world order, making us all unsafe.
Third: On the future of arms control, the U.S. withdrawal from the INF does not bode well for reducing risk between the two largest nuclear-weapons states. At the moment, the future of bilateral arms control looks extremely dim, and there is a real risk that New START will be next on the chopping block. Beyond that, it’s important to keep in mind that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime, is buoyed by mutual U.S. and Russian commitment to its principles, including to Article VI of the treaty, which obligates nuclear-weapons states to negotiate towards disarmament. With this latest development, the U.S. has put the entire global non-proliferation order at risk.
In sum, while the reasons for wanting to terminate the INF may have seemed prudent in the short term, the Trump administration’s decision to follow through on this threat will, in the long term, negatively impact U.S. national security and will make the world less, not more, safe.“

Lester Munson – NSI Senior Fellow; former Staff Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

“President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty is a sensible step that immediately improves American national security.  Russia’s extensive violations of the treaty and evolving U.S. security requirements more than justify the president’s actions. The administration appears to have done a good job of consulting both Congress and our NATO allies on this matter.  This significant step, which is surely not welcomed in Moscow, should throw cold water on any notion that the current administration is somehow in thrall to Vladimir Putin.“


Bryan Smith – NSI Senior Fellow; former Advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the INF Treaty

“The U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is a necessary, but far from sufficient, response to Russia’s flagrant and material violation of the treaty.  What remains is for the U.S. to assemble a suite of capabilities that together, will deprive Russia of the advantage sought by its violation.

The Trump Administration has moved to answer the 60-year old, million-dollar question posed by Fred Ikle in his landmark 1961 Foreign Affairs article: ‘After detection, what?’  At the dawn of the modern era of nuclear arms control, Dr. Ikle wrote: ‘Yet detecting violations is not enough.  What counts are the political and military consequence of a violation once it has been detected, since these alone will determine whether or not the violator stands to gain in the end.’

The U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty is a necessary, but far from sufficient, response to Russia’s flagrant and material violation of the treaty.  (And having carefully examined the intelligence evidence when in government, I am confidence that this serious step is completely justified.)  What remains to be done is to assemble a suite of counterforce and defensive capabilities that together, will deprive Russia of the advantage it seeks from its illegal deployment of intermediate range ground-based cruise missiles.  Many ideas have been offered, to include nuclear sea-launched Tomahawks, stealthy stand-off long range air-launched cruise missiles from dual-capable F-35s, and various forms of advanced cruise missile defenses for Europe.

Whatever form this U.S. response takes, it must impose costs to Putin so great that they negate his illegal gains.  In addition, U.S. diplomacy must succeed in convincing our European allies of the necessity of this response.  Achieving both these ends will be very difficult, but not nearly as difficult as the dual-track NATO diplomacy that succeeded in placing U.S. intermediate nuclear forces in Europe, then convincing the Soviet Union to sign the INF treaty that banned such weapons.“

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.

NSI Policy Paper – Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE: Countering a Hostile Foreign Threat

This NSI Law and Policy Paper:

  • Describes the foundations of Huawei and ZTE, the concerning actions taken by these companies, and the actions taken by the United States and allied governments in response.
  • Evaluates the key issues at stake for U.S. national security and competitiveness.
  • Argues that the U.S. should seek additional restrictions on Huawei and ZTE products and services in the U.S., while working with allies and partners to limit Chinese telecommunications expansion.
  • Provides actionable recommendations to counter the serious cybersecurity threat from Huawei and ZTE.

Read the complete paper here.

About the authors:

Andy Keiser is an NSI Fellow and is currently a Principal at Navigators Global, where he focuses on cybersecurity and other national security priorities.  He served 14 years on Capitol Hill for former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers – as Senior Advisor to the Committee, Chief of Staff, and Legislative Director handling all national security policy issues. 

Bryan Smith is an NSI Senior Fellow and is the Vice President & Technical Advisor Beacon Global Strategies. He provides strategic advisory services to defense and intelligence companies. He has held senior resource management positions in the House and Senate intelligence committees, the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).


NSI Experts Weigh In: 2019 National Intelligence Strategy

Yesterday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats unveiled the 2019 National Intelligence Strategy.  Our experts weighed in about the strengths and weaknesses of this new strategy. 

January 23, 2018

Bryson Bort – NSI Fellow; Founder & CEO, SCYTHE

“For the first time since the Cold War, Western liberal democracy is seriously at risk, and the ODNI is finally catching on. The quadrennial refresh of the national intelligence strategy is updated to reflect the 21st century where intelligence and our adversaries are increasingly at the cutting edge of technology. ‘Other emerging, disruptive technologies’ enable access and influence in a truly asymmetric way and we are, and have been, the most vulnerable.”



Megan Brown – NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Cybersecurity; Partner, Wiley Rein LLP

“The NIS is constrained in what it can really tell the world about the United States’ strategy, but it offers an important sense of what worries our government. In that respect we see themes that are similar to what DHS and others are saying, with continued blurring of public and private fields of engagement.  Such consistency is good.  For example the NIS rightly addresses cyber as a major challenge for the foreseeable future. Lurking under the surface are unaddressed issues of international cyber norms, defenses, and how the IC can help protect and defend US companies from a daily onslaught of attacks and threats.

Interestingly it calls for better insight—’anticipatory intelligence’ —into evolving technologies like AI and connected devices, but doesn’t grapple with emerging threats to its abilities. The government’s national security interest in new tech is not new. The Commerce Department is right now considering export controls on a variety of emerging technology categories, to try to keep our adversaries from getting them. But regulating US companies and emerging tech may drive some innovation offshore, further straining the IC’s ability to understand and anticipate issues.

The NIS also lauds partnerships with private organizations, but I see obstacles to partnership and other IC goals.  First, we have an undercurrent of global mistrust and misunderstanding of US law and regulatory philosophy.  Other regions sit in judgment of the adequacy of US privacy law, or seek to impose their own regulatory regimes on data use, IoT devices and more. States in the US are also setting up a regulatory and punitive approach. Varied regulatory efforts may have unintended consequences, make it more difficult for innovators, and chill cooperation with the government.  The IC and others in government must champion the US positions and interests, including against regulatory threats that undermine partnerships.


The IC cannot stop these trends. The IC should work with agencies and global partners that can reiterate the importance of voluntary partnerships and information sharing to cyber and tech policy here and abroad.”

Cam Burks – NSI Visiting Fellow; Deputy Chief Security Officer, Chevron Corporation

The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy of the United States is a superbly organized roadmap that will favorably position our country for much longer than the stated four year target.  Reading more like a business plan than bureaucratic doctrine, this strategy identifies foundational imperatives that will enable our country to assume a sustainable competitive advantage on a global level. Of particular importance is the timing of its release.  Our country needed to see this plan now, during a period of national political turmoil, to publicly reaffirm the strength of how their government will provide bonafide national security.  I commend Director Coats for not only his exceptional strategic vision and leadership of the community, but for his adroitness in providing Americans with an injection of confidence at just the right time.

The identified mission objectives are correctly prioritized, calibrated to the current day landscape with a deeper emphasis in the geopolitical space, intuitively designed, steeped in many of the basic, traditional elements that have made our national intelligence function comparatively superior for years.  What differentiates this strategy, however, is its clear recognition of the role of the enterprise.

Enterprise’s focus on people talent and organizational capability, as well as scalable integration, innovation, accountability, business and performance management, and the leverage power of partnerships, are measurable priorities found in most successful corporate environments.  We do this well in America, and its application, to an appropriate degree, within our intelligence apparatus, will give us that competitive advantage we need to persevere in any circumstance.

I believe strongly that our people – our intelligence professionals who dedicate their lives to protect our nation – are the most important component of this entire Strategy.  The current uncertainty in the federal employee community vis-a-vis the ‘shutdown’ and recent, uneven political commentary of the intelligence community, presents a tangible risk to its sustainability.  Attraction, retention, diversity, and professional development of this specific government workforce is profoundly important and my hope is that our national leaders realize the associated criticality and commit to it in any political environment.  The stakes are much too high for any alternative.

Dr. Nicholas Dujmovic – NSI Visiting Fellow; former Staff Historian, Central Intelligence Agency

Intelligence is primarily an executive function, and this National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) succeeds as a succinct yet comprehensive statement of this administration’s concerns and priorities regarding intelligence missions and activities.  Yet, you wouldn’t know from this document that by law, Congress plays an important role in setting intelligence priorities.  The NIS mentions Congress in an almost pro forma manner and exclusively on the receiving end of intelligence products and oversight reporting requirements.  This new and feisty Congress, with its renewed emphasis on legislative oversight of executive functions, may have something to say about the new National Intelligence Strategy.   I see the potential for Congress asserting itself in two areas:  counterintelligence, and the structure of the Intelligence Community itself.

Congress has a history of telling the IC that it’s not doing a good job on counterintelligence, and with all the information breaches, blown spies, and brazen influence operations the U.S. has suffered at the hands of especially Russian and Chinese intelligence, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Congress took the initiative to radically reform US counterintelligence.  The NIS identifies CI as a priority, but Congress might ask, ‘Why is it in seventh and last place, when these foreign actors are eating our lunch?’  And Congress might not stop at CI:  DNI Coats should prepare for questions from the new oversight committees like, ‘Explain to me why we need 17 intelligence agencies.’

Amyn Gilani – NSI Visiting Fellow; Vice President of Product, 4iQ

The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy is exactly what the Intelligence Community needs right now. Since 9/11, the threat landscape has completely evolved and previously dated strategies have been predominantly focused on adversaries similar to al-Qaeda to a point where we were operating too tactically and not prioritizing long-term mission objectives. This strategy focuses on the ’21st century challenges’ which include improvements in intelligence collection, cybersecurity, emerging technologies, and workforce growth and retention.

The DNI has given a larger platform to Cyber Threat Intelligence (formerly Cyber Intelligence). The fifth domain is getting the attention it deserves; previously writing on cyber focused on understanding adversaries, vulnerabilities, and threat detection/prevention. Now, DNI is stating how economies, health, safety, and prosperity could be at risk through cyberspace. Americans’ private data is constantly targeted by nation-sate and cybercriminal adversaries through retailers, healthcare, and various industries and the DNI is finally addressing this.

We also see some remnants of Edward Snowden and Vault 7 as there’s an introduction to new terms, like Insider Threat. Understanding the risks at the enterprise level is also key to understanding the full threat picture. We know that Russia and China play long-term games and we must be proactive on identifying insider threats, who could possibly be the person working right next to you.

Finally, the most impactful part of the strategy is people. In the ‘People’ section, we really see a reflection of the Intelligence Community workforce and how much it has struggled with retention. In the last five years, we’ve seen so much turnover within the private sector that the IC has been depleted of talent. However, this new strategy is breaking boundaries and creating a progressive work-culture. The message is bold on ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ specifically stating that the IC welcomes all types of ‘national origin, language, race, color, mental or physical disability, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structure.’ This is a large step forward for the DNI to address how important the people are to the mission, no matter where you come from.

In a time where defense policy seems to be struggling, it’s great to see a strategy that is tailored for staying ahead of our opponents and supporting the modern-day intelligence analysts and operators.

Kristen Hajduk – NSI Visiting Fellow; Regional Director for the National Capital Region, MD5 – The National Security Technology Accelerator

“The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy acknowledges the challenge of our generation: while our ability to gather, access, and utilize data is exponentially increasing, our biological ability to process, understand, and assess the consequences of the increasing amounts of information has not changed nearly as fast. Ultimately, this makes it more difficult for analysts, decision makers and average citizens to distinguish the irrelevant from the important. This ‘noise’ can and, often does, lead to either decision-making paralysis and/or missed opportunities.

We must adapt our structures and processes to operate effectively in this information-saturated, hyper-connected, hyper-distributed global environment.  We need to change the way we do business and learn how to leverage emerging technologies to sort through the noise and buy back the time we need to govern events and not be governed by them.  We need to bridle and saddle the technological horses of the information age, not be trampled by them.

The first step is to acknowledge and understand these factors that are driving our current security environment.  The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy effectively brings this priority to the fore.

Matthew R. A. Heiman– NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Global Security; Chairman of the Cyber & Privacy Working Group, Regulatory Transparency Project

“The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) is more a circumspect document than the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, and it reads more like a catalogue of activities than a detailed strategy document.  The lack of greater specificity is to be expected when dealing with the Intelligence Community (IC).  That being said, there are two items of note.  The NIS cites Russia, China, and Iran as U.S. adversaries, but it refers to North Korea as a ‘mutual concern’ for China and the U.S.   The softer treatment of North Korea is likely a nod toward the ongoing diplomatic discussions about denuclearization.  The NIS makes cyber and cybersecurity a priority, which is appropriate, but insider threats, which are responsible for the intelligence community’s  biggest black eyes in the last decade (e.g. Snowden and the loss of NSA cyberweapons likely caused by NSA employees) are addressed with standard boilerplate.  Let’s hope efforts to address this real risk go beyond the routine.”

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“The National Intelligence Strategy released yesterday starts out strong with a solid assessment of the current challenges facing the U.S. government, noting the weakening of the post-WWII international order, our own increasingly isolationist tendencies, and the broad range of threats posed by our enemies.  It rightly highlights ongoing Russian influence efforts—part of what is likely to be judged the most successful covert and overt influence operation in history—and also correctly calls out the fact that both Russian and Chinese global efforts often directly conflict with our national security objectives.  The strategy also rightly highlights the threats posed by Iran and North Korea in a range of areas, including pursuit of WMD, support for terrorist groups, and aggressive cyber activities, and is likewise accurate in forecasting that outer space and cyberspace are likely to be key domains of future conflict as they are leveraged by our adversaries, as well as the potential effects of the spread and adoption of disruptive technologies, not to mention the continuing threat of international terrorism.

But there the strength of the document unfortunately ends.  The NIS overall lacks a clear, driving vision that is new, daring, and different and that is able to squarely grapple with the changing threat landscape it identifies.  Much of what is in this strategy in terms of implementing policies and procedures feels like it could have been written in the Cold War.  Luckily, though, the IC has strong leaders that can still drive change, even if the strategy itself could have been more visionary.

When Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, was in the Senate, he was a leader on a wide range of issues, in particular, on confronting Russian aggression head-on.  One hopes he might return to that role having correctly identified the threat facing our nation and the West more generally.  DNI Coats is precisely the kind of leader we need at this challenging time; likewise, leaders like Gina Haspel at CIA, Chris Wray at the FBI, Ellen McCarthy at State INR, Betty Sapp at NRO, and Gen. Paul Nakasone at NSA, and many others like them also deserve our support.”


Andy Keiser – NSI Fellow; former Senior Advisor House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Give credit to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats for laying out a four-year strategy for the intelligence community (IC) that provides strategic direction and a general framework of the threat environment to which the IC is to respond.

While the document itself is a bit preoccupied with buzzwords and generalities, the framework is the right one to direct the IC to combat the threats from hostile nation state and transnational terror organizations in domains from traditional espionage, to cyber to space.”


Dr. Andrea Little Limbago – NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Emerging Technologies; Chief Social Scientist, Virtru

The dual-use nature of emerging technologies appropriately resonates throughout the NIS; we are just on the cusp of how disruptive these technologies will be. Within the strategic environment, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and nano- and bio-tech are among the many emerging technologies highlighted as potential threats. As the NIS notes, these technologies dramatically shift power relations and create new asymmetries that have the potential to cause greater instability. At the same time, many of these emerging technologies are essential to strengthen intelligence and national security. The core enterprise objectives include a significant focus on new technologies to help secure and safeguard data, while allowing for innovation and data sharing to meet mission objectives. Importantly, the NIS reasserts America’s commitment to privacy and civil liberties at a time when digital authoritarianism puts them at great risk across the globe.

Harold Moss – NSI Visiting Fellow; Senior Director Strategy & Business Development, Web Products, Akamai Technologies

Director Coats offers a clear and logical approach for addressing the evolving threat landscape. By highlighting emerging technologies and focusing on non-traditional threat vectors he is laying the foundation for a more flexible and relevant approach to modern threats. The emphasis on expanding the national security corpus of intelligence beyond traditional boundaries, to encompass academia and industry will enable a far more resilient approach to proactively managing the threat landscape facing our nation.

I am especially enthused as Director Coats intelligently calls out two core challenges often overlooked or ignored with respect to talent acquisition and innovation. While he does not highlight how he will address these problems directly, the acknowledgement that a broader issue exists with respect to future endeavors beyond the present day concerns is encouraging. Far too often strategy is mired in the weeds of today.  Director Coats has put forth a reasonable plan that looks at addressing the problems of the forest as opposed to a handful of trees.

Elliott Phaup – NSI Visiting Fellow; Policy Advisor, Representative Dutch C. A. Ruppersberger

The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy builds on its predecessors in charting a path forward for the U.S. Intelligence Community in the years to come. The DNI rightfully characterizes the world we live in as ‘turbulent’ and ‘complex,’ and renews a focus on the emerging threats being leveraged by our adversaries – including those in space and cyberspace. Among others, I’m encouraged to see a focus in areas like cyber threat intelligence, leveraging partnerships to tackle tough challenges, and finding ways to harness the data rich environment of the future by empowering the IC’s unique and innovative workforce.

The NIS sets objectives which will help the IC evaluate its performance and while many areas of the NIS are encouraging, some aspects and characterizations of the volatility we are seeing at home and abroad are all too real. Whether it is isolationism, climate change affecting migration or the threats posed by the ‘weakening of the dominance of Western democratic ideals’, these are all concerning threats that the IC can’t tackle alone and will require leadership across government.

Bryan Smith – NSI Senior Fellow; former Budget Director, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

As a former intelligence operations officer and senior resource manager, I cannot imagine what practical use any intelligence officer could make of this so-called ‘National Intelligence Strategy’.  A strategy should clearly articulate an organization’s objectives by priority, when they will be achieved, where, and by whom.  Most importantly a strategy maps out how these objectives will be achieved.

A true strategy will have almost as much to say about what an organization won’t do, as about what it will.  One tried and true approach to strategic formulation is to undertake a brutally honest examination of an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (‘SWAT’).  The ODNI attempts nothing of the sort here.

Instead of a strategy, we are presented with a generalized description of what the Intelligence Community does or is supposed to do (organized into seven piles).  There is no hint, for example, as to whether cyber threat intelligence should lay claim to greater resources than counterterrorism or counterproliferation, or whether the IC should prioritize Russia and China over Iran, North Korea, and terrorists.  Neither does there appear to be any intellectual link between this document and the National Defense Strategy, which actually does set some priorities.  Perhaps the document’s biggest failing, however, is that it is all ‘what’ and no ‘how’.  Exhortations, such as ‘strengthening efforts’, ‘bolstering’, ‘enhancing’, ‘expanding’ or ‘leveraging’ this thing or that do not constitute a strategy of ‘how’ to get things done.

Dan Wagner – NSI Visiting Fellow; Legislative Liaison for Policy and Budget

The problem with this National Intelligence Strategy (NIS), as with previous ones, is that it speaks more to how we have been conducting intelligence functions and not enough on the future.

A strategy is supposed to lay the groundwork for the future and a way forward.  The 2019 NIS does to a point, but misses the mark on the ‘how’ of fully incorporating the influences that affect intelligence assessments (technology, geopolitics, finance, trade, etc).  It also misses the ‘how’ to remain relevant to an administration that has been accused of undervaluing intelligence.

Given the shift in priorities in the National Defense Strategy (NDS), dialing the thermostat down on terrorism and increasing the emphasis on great power competition, it was expected to see the National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) make some adjustments.  The difference between the 2019 NIS and the 2014 NIS though was negligible.  Definitely not enough to illustrate the shift in strategy necessary to refocus intelligence assets and energy to align with the National priorities.  Additionally, it is not enough to likely win over one of the biggest customers, the US President.

That said, the NIS has historically done a reasonably good job broadly covering all the threats to the US, and the 2019 version is no different.  There is, after all, only so much that can be covered in an unclassified document on intelligence.  The NIS is meant to be an overall wire structure to focus the intel enterprise.

There is not enough of a change in this year’s NIS to cause any major changes in the Intelligence Community.  With a new strategy developed and released every four years, the larger concern is if this strategy has focused enough on the future rather than relaying how the enterprise has been doing business.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.


NSI Experts Weigh In: Chinese Hacking Indictments

Earlier today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that the Department of Justice indicted two computer hackers associated with the Chinese government.  Our experts weighed in about the implications of these charges 

December 20, 2018

Megan Brown – NSI Associate Director of Cybersecurity and Senior Fellow; Partner, Wiley Rein

Kudos to DOJ for its collaboration with other countries and its work to call out cybercrime and advance norms. While some may think these indictments are theatre without real consequences, they are a key part of US leadership that can shape expectations for international behavior.

The tactics of these and other cyber criminals hurt companies and citizens in the US and around the world.  Actions like today’s serve as a reminder that companies suffering breaches are themselves victims of criminal activity. Sophisticated companies with robust defenses are being attacked and compromised by persistent and savvy criminals who are well resourced and protected.  Like minded governments must work with the private sector to respond to these threats and build resilience across the global economy. 

Dr. Nicholas Dujmovic – NSI Visiting Fellow; Former Staff Historian, Central Intelligence Agency

With all the recent news about Russian intelligence activities, this Justice Department announcement is welcome as it brings forward the even greater Chinese threat.  But even here, we’re looking at just the tip of the iceberg.  Chinese intelligence activities against the United States and the West run the gamut from collection (technical and human) to ruthless counterintelligence to covert influence operations that are breathtaking in scope.

As Michael Hayden noted in his memoir, ‘I stand in awe (as a professional) at the depth, breadth, and persistence of [Chinese intelligence] efforts against the United States.’  These efforts involve technical access programs through IT, relentless hacking linked to the People’s Liberation Army, stealing US Navy contractor data on weapons systems, trying to recruit American and French government officials and industry leaders involved in national security through LinkedIn, subtle and not so subtle attempts to mold Western thinking about China through mechanisms like the Confucius Institutes on college campuses.  The list is seemingly endless.  Make no mistake, China is using its considerable human and technical resources to achieve intelligence dominance over the West.

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder; former Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush

“Today’s indictment of two Chinese nationals that worked with the Chinese Ministry of State Security is another strong step by the Justice Department to pursue those who would target our economic and national security through cyber theft of core American technology.  That being said, significantly more needs to be done to staunch the bleeding and to prevent American intellectual property being repurposed abroad.  It is simply not enough just to indict individuals, we must also track them down and bring them to justice.

More importantly, we must also punish such activity directly when it happens in order to deter further activity going forward.  We can best do so by taking strong military, intelligence, and foreign policy actions, where appropriate.  Such actions will work better to deter foreign cyber activities than indictments standing alone.

Moreover, the government must take action now to work directly with the private sector to empower it with the type of information it needs to defend itself against such threats going forward.  Sharing threat information after an indictment is announced is helpful, but needs to happen sooner when a threat is detected, not after hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development dollars have already walked out the backdoor.

Indeed, if there ever was a case where something more than an indictment was necessary, this is it.  Here, 45 technology companies and government agencies in over a dozen states had hundreds of gigabytes of data stolen including technologies related to computers, satellites, oil drilling, and other highly sensitive and national security matters.  The victims included the Navy, where sensitive data on over 100,000 Navy personnel was stolen, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the NASA Goddard Space Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Given all this, it is critical that the U.S. government not only continue to take the kind of strong actions it has today, but that it should also do more now to address the very real threat posed to our economic and national security by aggressive Chinese cyber activity.  First, it should share information about such threats in real time, as they are detected, rather than weeks and months later when an indictment is announced.  Second, it should open the door wider to take significantly stronger action against foreign nation-states, including keeping all military, intelligence, and foreign policy options on the table.  Finally, if we are ever to truly deter such activities going forward, the government must, when appropriate, actually take such actions in response to such foreign cyber threat activities and not simply rely on an indictment in federal court.”


Dr. Andrea Little Limbago –NSI Associate Director of Emerging Technologies and Senior Fellow; Chief Social Scientist, Virtru

“Since 2014 the Department of Justice has issued a series of indictments that link Chinese government-backed personnel to economic espionage. However, this year has seen an uptick in indictments and public naming of China as a core violator of the rule of law.  In the past few months alone, China has been linked to the Marriott mega-breach, ten Chinese intelligence agents were indicted for compromising aviation technology, two other officers were indicted for conspiring to steal rice production technology, and a Chinese spy was extradited from Belgium for commercial theft. 

However, today’s indictment is unique for several reasons. First, the degree of international coordination, including reinforcing statements from allied governments, supports a global norm against cyber-enabled commercial theft.  Second, the Department of Justice publicly rebuked China for violating the 2015 agreement against cyber-enabled commercial theft. The rebuttal joins this year’s report from United States Trade Representative on China’s corporate espionage, and reaffirms China’s non-compliance to an agreement that was similarly made with other countries, including Australia and Canada.  Finally, while much of the focus is on the vast range of commercial espionage, it is important to also remember China’s role in the major theft of the personal data of US citizens, including the OPM and Anthem breaches. Today’s indictment notes the theft of 100,000 Navy personnel, including salary information and personal phone numbers. The indictment is yet another reminder that China’s theft is not only detrimental to U.S. commercial innovation, but it also infringes upon the privacy of U.S. citizens through a broad range of personal data theft, including health, travel, and financial data, and personally identifiable information such as social security numbers and birth dates.”

Bob Stasio – NSI Visiting Fellow; Former Cyber Operations Lead, National Security Agency

“Today’s announcement regarding the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment of two Chinese hackers appears to be a continuation fo the ‘name and shame’ strategy which began under President Obama. I am of two minds when it comes to this approach.  I applaud the DOJ for taking an aggressive stance against the Chinese strategy to exploit the U.S private sector with state-backed resources – most commercial entities are struggling to deal with advanced persistent threats, and this indictment gives a real signal that these type of actions will not be tolerated.

Alternatively, charging Chinese espionage actors that will likely never be extradited does nothing to practically stop hacking against the U.S. The ‘name and shame’ strategy against state actors may actually endanger current and former U.S. intelligence officials traveling overseas, as belligerent nations may seek retribution.  In my view, a more effective alternative would be using our offensive cyber capabilities under the Department of Defense to send a message versus the continual reliance on law enforcement. “

Dan Wagner – NSI Visiting Fellow; Legislative Liaison, U.S. Special Operations Command

China is the greatest threat to US National Security, period.  The next likely catastrophic event on the US will come from the Chinese in the cyber realm.  The DOJ charging two Chinese hackers for attacking multiple companies is one of many tools the US should be employing on a regular basis to stress to the Chinese this is not acceptable and there are now consequences.

For too long the Chinese and Russians have gone unchallenged, experiencing few repercussions for their constant cyber hacks and attacking.  Perhaps it was out of fear of starting WWIII.  Primarily because many senior US officials did not understand cyber or were focused exclusively on the counterterrorist fight as the greatest threat.

Countries like China and Russia continue to hack US companies and information, with the latest target being Marriott, and have openly pledged to not only not stop, but to increase.  China and Russia are starting with a leg up on the US, no thanks to Snowden.  The amount of data that countries like China, Russia, and Iran are compiling on US policy makers, as well as corporate and government leadership and technology, is scary.  What they can or intend to do with that data may be even more scary.  The US must respond by bolstering their Cybersecurity capability and prosecuting those countries and people who conduct operations against the US and our allies.

The Administration has recently released new cyber guidance in the form of a Presidential Directive granting more power to conduct cyber operations.  Recently though, the top commander in the Middle East and Central Asia authored a paper stating that the new authority is not enough.

The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, wrote in his paper that the Pentagon must ‘normalize’ electronic warfare and cyberattacks and incorporate them into daily operations.  He went on to state, ‘We need to proactively execute cyberspace and information operations early in ‘Phase 0 / steady state’ of the planning process — well before operation execution. Only then can we shape the [information environment], hold our adversaries’ capabilities at risk and execute at the speed of war.’  I have to agree.

Russia China Iran and North Korea have all conducted offense of cyber operations around the world and it has not resulted in World War III yet.  It is not a secret that the United States has offensive cyber capabilities and such capabilities will likely also not result in World War III if executed with precision and diligence when provoked.

Taking the restraints off of US offensive cyber capabilities through the administration’s new cyber policy may be the next right step in proving our cyber superiority in the newest domain.  This is not a capability to be taken lightly.   Restraint and target vetting, as well as high level approval should be maintained.  As the article points out, there is great Intel value in cyber ISR versus cyber attack.  However, just as we flex our muscles through ‘shows of force’ to Russia, China, Iran and North Korea by conducting flyovers and moving aircraft carriers into areas in the ocean, the US must also conduct the equivalent of a ‘show of force’ in the cyber domain. The trick is we must now figure out what that looks like.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.


NSI Experts Weigh In: Syria Troop Withdrawl

Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing troops from Syria.  Below, NSI experts weigh in on the potential outcomes of this move and the future of the region. 

December 20, 2018

Matthew R. A. Heiman – NSI Associate Director of Global Security and Senior Fellow; Former Lawyer, National Security Division, U.S. Department of Justice and the Coalition Provisional Authority, Baghdad, Iraq

“President Trump threatened to withdraw forces from Syria before, and his advisors appeared to have talked him out of it.  This time, they weren’t as persuasive.  This is a bad result for the U.S. and the Middle East for the following reasons: Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime will fill the void created by the U.S. departure; the job of destroying ISIS was not yet complete; and the U.S. pushback against Iran looks fairly toothless.  The Middle East is not a safer place and U.S. interests are not served by this move.  Let’s hope the President changes his mind.

Jamil N. Jaffer – NSI Founder

“The President’s decision to precipitously withdraw U.S. troops from Syria is a catastrophic mistake of historic proportions.  In addition to handing Russia and Iran a major victory in a region critical to our national security, the President’s decision actually snatches defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing ISIS the chance to rapidly reestablish the very bases and infrastructure that we spent years working to destroy and sacrificing American lives in the process.  In many ways, this decision puts the President squarely in line with decisions of the prior Administration that he has, in the past, mocked as being weak and irresolute.

Even worse, yesterday’s decision—announced on Twitter with apparently little serious discussions at senior levels within the Administration—suggests to our allies that the United States is not prepared to see its military efforts through to completion.

The President’s announcement of victory against ISIS notwithstanding, the reality is that America and our allies continue to face serious threats coming from the Middle East, including from ISIS, which, while it is certainly back on its heels, is far from defeated.  Indeed, the rapid removal of American troops from Syria means that the immediate threat of terrorist attacks against Americans around the world, including here at home, will increase overnight, with groups like ISIS and al Qaeda becoming emboldened by America’s abandonment of our serious campaign against them in the region.

Other threats from the region are also likely to get worse as a result of President Trump’s policy shift.  These threats include the Iranian regime’s support of terrorism around the world through proxy groups like Hezbollah, which is also directly responsible for keeping the Assad regime in power in Syria, the rise of Russian military activity across the region and its undermining of American influence with key actors, the targeting of key American allies in the conflict against ISIS and al Qaeda, and the potential economic chaos that could result from increased instability in the region.

In sum, leaving this fight behind and abandoning our allies in the region is a step in exactly the wrong direction.”

Lester Munson – NSI Senior Fellow; Former Staff Director, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

“In Jim Mattis, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the President has an excellent national security team.  He should listen to them and reverse his decision to abandon Syria to Iran, Russia and Bashar Assad. Removing American forces now will dramatically increase the likelihood that Syria will descend further into chaos and negatively impact American allies in the Middle East and Europe.”



David Priess – NSI Visiting Fellow; Chief Operating Officer, Lawfare

“Whatever one thinks of the merits of abruptly pulling US forces out of the continued fight against ISIS in Syria, it’s hard to deny that the way in which this appears to have been decided and announced surprised national security officials at all levels — and left them ill-prepared to execute or even explain the sudden change in policy. Generally, the interagency process allows all of the pros and cons of policy options — ranging from their tactical implications to their impact on America’s alliance relationships — to be hashed out. Even officials who had argued against the ultimate decision thus understand, and are prepared to help implement, policy change.

Having participated in many interagency meetings at various levels while at CIA and at the State Department, I recall all too clearly how laborious and frustrating the interagency process can be. But there’s a reason for that process: to avoid an unforced error like this one.”

and frustrating the interagency process can be. But there’s a reason for that process: to avoid an unforced error like this one.”

Alicia Sloan – NSI Visiting Fellow; Co-Founder, Duco Experts
“Bringing our servicemen and women home from conflict should always be our North Star. However, this announcement of victory over ISIS underscores how naive the President is as it relates to how non-state actors work, and yes, make come backs. What’s more, the message to our allies is: if you want an ally in the long term, it doesn’t pay to link up with the United States. Try Russia and Iran instead (although this blame doesn’t lie solely on President Trump).”



Glenn Sulmasy – NSI Visiting Fellow; Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Bryant University

“This is a bold and courageous decision by President Trump.  The Syrian issue remains chaotic – a mess.  The decision to get our troops out of that very chaos will preserve American lives and prevent us becoming further  entrenched within this growing debacle.  Keeping our troops in Afghanistan has done little to achieve any final victory over the Taliban or al-Qaeda.  There is little sense in putting American troops in a region that is increasingly becoming lawless without any clear cut path to a traditional ‘victory.’

There is no question that the troops who have been stationed there are relieved, and their families are delighted to get this welcome Christmas gift. This is a true victory for  the traditional, realpolitik, conservative national security policy.”

Dan Wagner – NSI Visiting Fellow; Legislative Liaison, U.S. Special Operations Command

“If there is any U.S. leader that can create a ‘winning’ narrative from getting out of Syria, it is President Donald Trump.  Right, wrong or indifferent, he has unabashedly made the decision from his gut, against the sage advice of his senior cabinet officials.  The decision was likely based on money and weighing the immediate benefit to the American voter.  This is how he will be able to turn this situation into a winning narrative with the voters, regardless of the long-term impacts amongst the coalition partners and in the Middle East.

That said the U.S. strategy has been one of an endless combination of counterterrorism as well as nation building.  It has been a losing strategy over the last 18 years of entering a country to eradicate the threat to the homeland and then become entangled in the quagmire of regional politics, while building the government back up again. Trump would argue that it is time to make others take ownership of the issues within their region. Others will argue that the U.S. broke it [Syria] and now they need to fix it.  However, others still will argue that it has been proven that no amount of money will fix the problem and the U.S. has a terrible track record for fixing nations.

There are real concerns about Russia and Iran gaining a strong foothold in Syria and thereby increasing their influence in the region.  It may also force them to take ownership of this problem, as ongoing issues in Syria will ultimately affect anything they want to accomplish in the long run.  There is a chance that it will force both countries to pour money and resources into Syria to fill the gap left by the U.S. and experience similar frustrating challenges.  If this were to happen, it would focus energy on a new problem for each of them, rather than on the U.S. directly.

The conflict in Syria is unsustainable indefinitely, and it is clear that there is no real strategy other than what we have been doing in Afghanistan and Iraq – which is to continue to throw money and U.S. blood at the problem.  Is ISIS truly defeated?  That remains to be seen.  Part of this Syrian retrograde cannot be to allow ISIS to regenerate.  The U.S. will likely need to force Syria (and Russia by proxy) to take ownership of their country.  It is only a matter of time until Afghanistan will follow suit as well.

President Trump does not have a great track record for truly caring about U.S. Soldiers.  However he does care about votes and money, and declaring victory against ISIS fits his narrative of both “winning” and “putting America first”.  Whatever the reasoning for the President to order pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, it is going to cause uncertain outcomes in that region (Syria, Turkey, Iran, Israel) and with coalition partners (including the Kurds).  However, that should only be slightly less comforting than a strategy of sustaining the same levels of funding and cost of U.S. lives indefinitely.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Security Institute or any agency of the U.S. government. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the National Security Institute or any U.S. government entity.


NSI Podcast: Cyber Deterrence

The National Security Institute published its first podcast which analyzed cyber deterrence.  This podcast featured NSI Fellow Bryson Bort, NSI Senior Fellow and Assistant Director of Cybersecurity Megan Brown, Jason Healey of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, and NSI Senior Fellow and Assistant Director of Emerging Technologies Dr. Andrea Little Limbago.  Moderated by NSI Senior Fellow Lester Munson, the wide-ranging conversation addressed topics such as the National Cyber Strategy, the role of the private sector in cyber deterrence, and the evolution of norms in cyberspace.

To hear more conversations like this, follow us on SoundCloud and to stay up to date with the latest news and insights from NSI follow us on Twitter.

NSI Policy Paper – Cyber Imperative: Preserve and Strengthen Public-Private Partnerships

This White Paper:

  • Examines the importance of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to United States cybersecurity policy and law
  • Explains the benefits of collaboration and partnership – domestically and abroad – over regulation and mandates
  • Describes challenges to cooperation, such as limitations in current law, the overlap in government cyber activities, and fear of post-hoc recrimination
  • Urges policymakers to strengthen partnership and collaboration through creative solutions that change the culture around private cyber risk and incidents

Click here to read the complete paper.

About the author:

Megan Brown is an NSI Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Cybersecurity Programs.  She is also a Partner at Wiley Rein LLP.  Prior to joining Wiley, Ms. Brown served in the Department of Justice as Counsel to two U.S. Attorneys General.