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Carter: DoD, Private-Sector Tech Innovation Keep U.S. Ahead

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The Defense Department’s mission to provide U.S. security and being up-to-date with technology-industry innovation enables the “great innovative engine of America,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday at the RSA Conference in San Francisco.

As part of the secretary’s West Coast trip to discuss technology and cybersecurity with the nation's top innovative industries, Carter engaged in a “fireside chat” at the RSA Conference with moderator Ted Schlein, a partner at Silicon Valley’s venture-capital company Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.

Carter discussed innovation programs between DoD and the private sector, the department’s innovation initiatives, data security, cyber security and the accelerated campaign to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Taking risks and being willing to fail to progress is imbued in the innovative community, he said.

“And we have to try to imbue our [DoD] folks with the same kind of spirit – [to] go out there and try something new,” the secretary said.

DoD can't keep doing what it’s doing “because the world changes too fast,” Carter said. “Our competitors change too fast. So it's a serious matter for us to remain open.”

While the government tends to be “closed,” Carter said he believes “the more open we are, the more connected we are to the innovative community [and] the better we'll be at … our mission.”

Reach Out to DoD

The secretary said he senses that people in private-sector innovative work are in it because they like to do something that matters and has consequences.

“I'm determined that we meet you halfway -- that this be a real dialogue and a real connection. I know we need to look ourselves in the mirror and become more innovative ourselves,” he said.

“Reach out to us,” Carter said, “whether you're looking at problems and offering us a solution, whether you're offering your own commitment for a year, six months -- [there are] lots of avenues for you to connect with us that you probably haven't thought of, and we're trying to think more about every day.”

Innovation Partnerships

Bridging ties between DoD and Silicon Valley has resulted in several initiatives, such as the Defense Digital Service, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, and the secretary’s announcement yesterday of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board.

One example of “a people bridge” between the innovation sector and the government is in the Defense Digital Service, where innovators temporarily come to DoD and work on important projects, Carter explained, adding that participants take a DoD awareness with them as they return to the private sector.

Likening DIUx to a switchboard where DoD and Silicon Valley interface on innovation, “It's a place where our people can come and be and connect with all of you,” he said of the recently stood-up initiative at Moffett Field in northern California.

“I tell my [Pentagon] people, ‘think outside the five-sided box,’” Carter said, noting that the Defense Innovation Board will be comprised of “the best technical minds who come in… [and] spend a little time giving me sound advice on how we can be more innovative.”

Board participants will also travel around the globe to visit installations to become familiar with DoD issues to advise the secretary making more agile improvements, he added.

 “You can't have freedom, you can't have innovation, you can't take care of your family, you can't have a career if there is insecurity,” the secretary said. “So somebody's got to provide security. It's a serious business; it's not a game,”

‘Hack The Pentagon’

On the inside of the five-sided DoD headquarters is another newly announced initiative, “Hack the Pentagon,” in which vetted information technology specialists find weaknesses in the department’s networks.

“[People come in] and attack you to find your vulnerabilities,” the secretary explained. “It's really crowdsourcing the expertise … you'd much rather find the vulnerabilities in your networks in that way than by the other way, which is pilferage of information.”

While he said lots of companies have similar security programs, Hack the Pentagon is a first for DoD.

“I think we’ll learn something,” Carter noted.

Data Security Vital to DoD

Data security and encryption is absolutely necessary to DoD, he said.

“None of our stuff works unless it's connected. There's no point in my buying all these planes and ships and tanks and having soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines if I can't connect them,” Carter said.

The secretary encouraged joint private sector and DoD data security innovation.

“Let's be collaborative. Let's be technical. Let's recognize that this is not one case and one problem. It's many, and [let’s] innovate our way together to the answer,” Carter said.

Speeding Up ISIL’s Defeat

Carter said ISIL will be defeated in Iraq and Syria and around the globe. The counter-ISIL campaign to defeat the terror group, he said, employs many tools from coalition airstrikes to local ground forces. Cyber security is another tool used to defeat ISIL, he added.

Cyber interrupts ISIL’s “ability to command and control their forces; makes them doubt the reliability of their communications; takes away their ability to control the local populace,” Carter said, without going into specifics, but added U.S. Cyber Command is prepared to carry out offensive cyber force.

“I don’t care if you do it with a keyboard or a bomb,” Carter said of cyberattacks. “An attack on the country is an attack on the country … it’s a serious business.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)

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