The job of protecting the United States’ national security assets largely resides with the private sector, said Dana Boente, acting assistant attorney general for the National Security Division in the Department of Justice. “When it comes to threats to our national security, you are on the front line.”
Dana Boente, acting assistant attorney general for the National Security Division in the Department of Justice
Boente spoke to an audience of mostly lawyers and law students at an ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security Law luncheon on Thursday, Sept. 14, in Washington, D.C. He said that the nation’s “crown jewels” — our telecommunication, financial, public utilities, mass transit systems and technological innovations — are what secure our global leadership. But these assets face threats from nation-states aiming to plan attacks, steal personal information or intellectual property, threaten violence or extort money.
“9/11 was a watershed moment in our approach to counterterrorism,” Boente said. “It both highlighted our weaknesses and also taught us to address the terrorists’ threat and forced us to analyze how significant that threat had become.”
The National Security Division unites prosecutors and law enforcement officials with the attorneys in the intelligence community to ensure that every tool is used to protect the country from increasing threats from foreign nation-states.
“Cyber intrusion might be the newest form of espionage, but it’s not the only way to steal valuable and important business secrets,” Boente said, adding that insider threats also are common.
He mentioned a 2016 case where proprietary rice seeds were stolen by a Chinese national, who is now in prison. Neighboring farmers in Iowa saw the man on his hands and knees digging up the seeds that had just been planted.
Boente said state-sponsored actors exploit vulnerabilities in cyber systems for malicious purposes, and that the government has realized the importance of naming those responsible. Public attribution, he said, can chill the marketplace for their services, and raises awareness of threats.
Boente said a recent executive order allows the Treasury Department to impose sanctions for tampering with or misappropriating information in order to interfere with or undermine the election process. Boente then outlined several successful prosecutions of hackers, many tied to China, Iran and Russia.
“These examples show that we will find those hackers and expose those who threaten our national security through cyberattacks or theft,” Boente said. “But those who would do harm to us are able to reach further than ever before.”