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NSA general counsel urges action against cyber threats

The biggest challenges facing the United States in the next decade – coping with China, cyber crimes, balancing public and private sectors in the national security area and maintaining public confidence in our intelligence agencies – will require substantial changes in the way we think, according to Glenn Gerstell, general counsel for the National Security Agency.

National Security Agency General Counsel Glenn Gerstell speaks at an ABA Law and National Security luncheon on Jan. 15.

National Security Agency General Counsel Glenn Gerstell speaks at an ABA Law and National Security luncheon on Jan. 15.

American Bar Association photo

“It is almost impossible to overstate the gap between the rate at which the cybersecurity threat is getting worse relative to our ability to effectively address it,” Gerstell said at a Jan. 15 lunch hosted by the Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

“As lawyers, we must have a deeper understanding of these problems, so we can guide policymakers,” said Gerstell, who will retire later this year.

Gerstell said dealing with China is complicated because they are both an adversary and partner rolled into one. “For the first time since the United States became a global power, we must now confront another country that represents not merely a political or military threat, but also an existential economic one,” he said.

Another challenge is the fast-moving and global nature of technological development and cyber crimes. “We will continue to be confronted by this challenge in 2020 as we seek to make sure our national elections are free from foreign cyber interference and influence,” Gerstell said.

Government also will need to rely more on the private sector to achieve national security goals. “Consider, for example, the extent of satellite imagery now in private hands and how just a decade or so ago that had been something only governments were capable of,” Gerstell said.

Protecting the legacy and legitimacy of our national security and intelligence agencies is also more difficult in this age of deep fake videos, spoofing voices and malicious foreign trolls on the internet, which only add fuel to the fire of today’s polarized political discourse.

“The time to act is now, before these powerful trends make it even more difficult to address the challenges,” Gerstell said, adding that lawyers in the national security sector “should be in the vanguard in addressing these challenges.”

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