Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 16, 2008

Obama Sets Top National Security Priorities

Filed under: Biosecurity,Cybersecurity,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on July 16, 2008

Barack Obama today delivered remarks at Purdue University in which he laid out a set of national security priorities. He specifically identified “nuclear, biological, and cyber threats – three 21st century threats that have been neglected for the last eight years.”

He explains in the speech — in so many words — that by “neglected” he means underinvested in and deserving of greater priority. It can be said that when everything’s a priority, nothing is. But if you read the whole speech Senator Obama makes the case that its wiser to focus on the ways in which we are vulnerable as opposed to focusing on the specific enemies. Sounds weird, but it makes sense to suggest that, while national security is broadly defined, we must focus on the threats that can be presented, regardless of the adversary.

For example, while it may be al Qaeda that seeks to use bio-terrorism, we need to focus on defeating that threat if it is employed by any enemy. Same goes for nucs and cyber. And since I’m still here at Maxwell AFB for the Air Force Cybersecurity Symposium, following are Obama’s proposals on addressing cyber threats:

Every American depends – directly or indirectly – on our system of information networks. They are increasingly the backbone of our economy and our infrastructure; our national security and our personal well-being. But it’s no secret that terrorists could use our computer networks to deal us a crippling blow. We know that cyber-espionage and common crime is already on the rise. And yet while countries like China have been quick to recognize this change, for the last eight years we have been dragging our feet.

As President, I’ll make cyber security the top priority that it should be in the 21st century. I’ll declare our cyber-infrastructure a strategic asset, and appoint a National Cyber Advisor who will report directly to me. We’ll coordinate efforts across the federal government, implement a truly national cyber-security policy, and tighten standards to secure information – from the networks that power the federal government, to the networks that you use in your personal lives.

To protect our national security, I’ll bring together government, industry, and academia to determine the best ways to guard the infrastructure that supports our power. Fortunately, right here at Purdue we have one of the country’s leading cyber programs. We need to prevent terrorists or spies from hacking into our national security networks. We need to build the capacity to identify, isolate, and respond to any cyber-attack. And we need to develop new standards for the cyber security that protects our most important infrastructure – from electrical grids to sewage systems; from air traffic control to our markets.

For a brief speech, this was about as much detail as we can expect from a candidate. However, the next president is going to have to delve into such challenges as how effectively to draw the line between monitoring, detecting, dissuading, deterring, and defeating cyber threats. And should we actually endure an attack, we’ve yet to carve out our conops for response, recovery, and retaliation. What does it mean to retaliate for a cyber attack that steals secrets? Or one that shuts down an electrical grid, leading to actual casualties? Or one that isolates our armed services from its chain of command?

Cyber security ought to be a presidential priority and it is positive to see Senator Obama call it out as a strategic concern. We’ll see if John McCain is focused on cyber should his campaign offer a counter-speech.

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Comment by Arnold

July 16, 2008 @ 9:03 pm

What is especially interesting, however, is that nuclear threats opened up the panel discussion portion of his event as well as being the subject of a campaign ad now being broadcast in a number of states. While I don’t believe one can simply put national security threats in a particular order, it does seem to make sense to put cyber behind nuclear and bio issues in sheer terms of threat.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

July 17, 2008 @ 7:23 am

Given the plentiful investment technology fiat dollars available and the pace of progress seen troughout the pan-Asian thrust to excel led by China’s ever growing Chinese military force, this is one proud American citizen who truly entrusts the esteemed military leadership rather than mundane politicians and those on both sides of the aisle to be placing “cyber concerns” in front of all else.

In a recent commercial business meeting with Chinese colleagues, when discussing my recent global consultant assignments helping US coporate entities win over investors by saving big bucks in my successful “outsourcing” of IT/software development work to India where the value and cost-savings could be realized while to my dismay no one cared that American jobs were being sent overseas as long as the stockholders gained, a discussion ensued about China and India as well as the US and it was interesting to hear from the esteemed Chinese at the table that their leadership is comprised of those having pursued educational and professional training in the science and mathematical disciplines, while those in leadership roles in the west and especially in the US were lawyers.

Therefore, given the fact that on both the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle, our esteemd beltway-boys who may point the finger at George Bush and his administration as the fall guy, but as a global business consultant who interacts with Euroepans and Asians daily, while these Sentators and Congressmen cannot see past themselves their blatent incompetencies portrayed on their watch where we have entrusted them, these “lawyers” and businessmen will never look to the skies, however I trust our astute and highly regarded military leaders who are quite aware of the scientific and mathematical disciplines and are quite cognizant that while nuclear and bio threats are surely a very significant concern, looking to the skies and beyond in the cyber and technological tools becoming available in sophisticated technology in weaponry is hopefully apparent to the Generals we respect so much and appreciate very dearly in our security today and tomorrow when nations will challenge each other in what I refer to as, Above the Clouds Advanced Technology (ACAT), thus cyber threats for me are first on the list paralleling a world which finds no peace under the tree of Life!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA USA

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 17, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

Actually nuclear and cyber are often linked through SCADA and control systems. And remember that the cyber issue has been dodged in my opinion starting with the strictly counter-propaganda effort of PD-63 designed to postpone dealing with the full consequences of the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection report issued in fall 1997 ( a report mandated by Congress, principally Senators by the way. Republican Senators at that.)

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 19, 2008 @ 9:17 am

I probably should have mentioned that the GREAT national security issue ducked by all President’s since IKE is proliferation. If that one is dropped all the others will be moot.

Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

July 19, 2008 @ 9:36 am


Obama’s speech at Purdue actually addressed nuclear, bio, and cyber threats. The portion addressing proliferation is as follows:

Today, we will focus on nuclear, biological, and cyber threats – three 21st century threats that have been neglected for the last eight years. It’s time to break out of Washington’s conventional thinking that has failed to keep pace with unconventional threats. In doing so, we’ll better ensure the safety of the American people, while building our capacity to deal with other challenges – from public health to privacy.

It starts with the gravest danger we face – nuclear terrorism. One of the terrible ironies of the Iraq War is that President Bush used concern over this threat to invade a country that had no nuclear weapons program. In the meantime, Pakistani scientist AQ Khan was spreading to hostile nations the technology to produce nuclear weapons and the warheads to deliver them. But the fact that the President misled us into a misguided war doesn’t diminish the threat of a terrorist with a weapon of mass destruction – in fact, it has only increased it.

We used to worry about our nuclear stalemate with the Soviet Union. Now, we worry about 50 tons of highly enriched uranium – some of it poorly secured – at civilian nuclear facilities in over forty countries around the world. Now, we worry about the breakdown of a non-proliferation framework that was designed for the bipolar world of the Cold War. Now, we worry – most of all – about a rogue state or nuclear scientist transferring the world’s deadliest weapons to the world’s most dangerous people: terrorists who won’t think twice about killing themselves and hundreds of thousands in Tel Aviv or Moscow, in London or New York. And yet, despite initiatives that cost billions of taxpayer dollars, we still don’t have an adequate strategy for detecting nuclear and biological materials, a problem that’s being discussed at hearings in Congress today.

We cannot wait any longer to protect the American people. I’ve made this a priority in the Senate, where I’ve worked with Indiana’s own Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law accelerating our pursuit of loose nuclear materials. And I’ll lead a global effort to secure all loose nuclear materials around the world during my first term as President.

But we need to do much more. It’s time to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we’ll retain a strong deterrent. But we’ll make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy. We’ll negotiate with Russia to achieve deep reductions in both our nuclear arsenals and we’ll work with other nuclear powers to reduce global stockpiles dramatically. We’ll seek a verifiable global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons. And we’ll work with the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and then seek its earliest possible entry into force.

By keeping our commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we’ll be in a better position to rally international support to bring pressure to bear on nations like North Korea and Iran that violate it. Both of these nations have a history of support for terror. Both should face strong and increasing sanctions if they refuse to verifiably abandon their illicit nuclear programs. And both demand sustained, aggressive, and direct diplomatic attention from the United States, and that’s what I’ll provide as President.”

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