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Peter Robinson: A fellow at the Hoover Institution and a Professor of Political Science at Stanford, Amy Zegart is an expert on intelligence, cybersecurity, and big tech. She served on President Clinton's National Security Council, and she advised the 2000 presidential campaign of then Governor, George W. Bush. Here at the Hoover Institution, Professor Zegart chairs the Working Group on Technology, Economics and Governance. Amy, welcome.
Amy Zegart: Thanks Peter, it's a pleasure to be here with you.
Peter Robinson: As we record this, I just note we have news that former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld just died at the age of 88. Under Gerald Ford, he was the youngest secretary of defense in history and under George W. Bush, he was the oldest secretary of defense in history, and he knew a lot about the subject we're going to discuss, intelligence, security and so forth, because of course the Defense Department has one of the largest, the Defense Intelligence Agency is a major component. And you tweeted about it, you have thoughts on how do you play Donald Rumsfeld?
Amy Zegart: Well, I think there's a lot of discussion now. It's a terrible day with Rumsfeld's passing. He was much maligned for this very famous speech he gave about unknown unknowns in reference to the Iraq war.
Peter Robinson: Well, there are known knowns, there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there's some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.
Amy Zegart: And my forthcoming book, "Spies, Lies And Algorithms", I write about this speech and how it's widely misunderstood. Rumsfeld was popularizing a really important concept in the intelligence community that was first espoused by a man named Sherman Kent, who was a history professor at Yale and founded the CIA's analytic branch. And when Rumsfeld said, "There are known knowns", what he meant was there were certain things that are knowable that US intelligence officials happen to know, like for example, does China have an aircraft carrier? That's a knowable question, we happen to know the answer, but Rumsfeld then said, "Well, there are also known unknowns". Those are things that are knowable, but we might not know the answer to them. So an example of that is how does the aircraft carrier operate at sea, under various conditions? Chinese sailors know the answer to that, but US intelligence officials may not unless they're on board for long or have access to information over long stretches of time. So those are the known unknowns. And then Rumsfeld talked about, "There are unknown unknowns" and people sort of teased him for it, right? Some people set these comments to music. He was exactly right, unknown unknowns or things that are not knowable to anyone at all. So the example there is how long will China's Communist Party stay in power? Even Xi Jinping doesn't know the answer to that question. It's an unknown unknown. And so the intelligence community has to deal with all three types of information, the known knowns and known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, which are usually about intentions. What do leaders intend to do? And they may not even know themselves. So I think Rumsfeld got mocked for something that he actually shouldn't have. And it's a really important lesson in how to think about the different types of intelligence that we have together.
Peter Robinson: I wanna talk about your current work, of course, but by the way, I should also mention that Donald Rumsfeld was a long time friend of the Hoover Institution, where you and I are colleagues. And he was a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution for some years as well. I wanna come to your current work, but you reminded me of a sort of case study in intelligence. And I would like to hear how you handle it. And the case study runs as follows. It's a case study that Donald Rumsfeld himself had to deal with, and that is Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. I once interviewed Judge Silberman, who chaired a commission with Chuck Robb, former Senator Robb, I think it's called the Silberman-Robb Commission, that looked into the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and whether there was an intelligence failure on our part and Larry Silberman, excuse me, I shouldn't, Judge Silberman. I happen to know him, but Judge Silberman concluded that Saddam Hussein's own people were more or less certain that Saddam Hussein himself did have weapons of mass destruction. Nobody knew any specifics, but they all seem to believe that the old man himself knew the specifics and Judge Silberman concluded that that wasn't strictly speaking an intelligence failure, because there was Saddam Hussein was running a scam on his own people. Is that first of all, would that be your conclusion of the episode as well? And is that, how does that fit into that template of known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns? I guess it's as simple as this, was that an intelligence failure or was that one of those things that intelligence just couldn't get at?
Amy Zegart: I think the answer is yes and no, it's a really complicated case. Was it intelligence failure? It was in the sense that we now know from that commission and other investigations that the intelligence community really didn't collect very well after 1998, when weapons inspectors were removed, so it was a collection failure. We also know that there were real analytic failures in the community, right? So, assuming that the previous intelligence assessments and assumptions were correct moving forward, right? So, there was a group thing, right? There's been a lot of dissection about the cognitive biases that lead even the smartest people with the best intentions astray, of relying too much on the source called ironically, "Curveball", right? So yes, at the same time though, Peter, you point out a really important point, which is that Saddam was working very hard to deceive a lot of people, his own people, he was playing a very dangerous game, trying to suggest that he might have these weapons when in fact he didn't. And so, especially when you're talking about an intelligence service to a dictator, you also may not wanna give a bad message to the boss when you know what happens to the messenger. So there's that dynamic at play within Iraq as well. Lots of moving parts to that, but I think it is fair to say yes, indeed, it was an intelligence failure.
Peter Robinson: All right, all right. So we come to the present, let me quote from the White Paper that you have written for the Hoover Working Group that you chair, quote, we're talking now about China. "The United States cannot afford to lose today's global technology competition," close quote. And if I were to be skeptical or a difficult reader, I would say, "Why not? Britain lost, so to speak, the competition, the great power competition, it's ceded great power status to us, in the United States. And it did so gracefully enough. And living standards in Britain continued to rise and peace was kept in the world. Why must we believe that it is ordained for the United States to remain number one power or everything falls apart?
Amy Zegart: Oh, I love those kinds of difficult questions, Peter. So let me just say, so I have the pleasure and honor co-chairing the Working Group, so my partner in crime is John Taylor. And I think that says a lot actually about this Working Group, that we have an economist and a political scientist working together on these questions. So I'm really excited about bringing people together across different fields to look at these questions, but you asked the really important question about why does it even matter whether we win or not? And I think it matters for two main reasons. The first is that American values matter. It matters whether an authoritarian regime that persecutes its people, that stymies democracy, that surveils its own citizens, whether that country sets the standards, the norms and the terms of the international order, or whether the United States with our foundational democracy or concern for human rights, our interest in free trade and free ideas and free peoples, whether we rule that international order, whether we have the main say, so that's reason number one. Values matter and make no mistake. I think there's not a lot of bipartisan consensus in Washington, but there is on this point, which is that America and China are locked in a competition and the stakes are high and the outcome matters. The second reason why I think it matters is that the economics and the national security components of this competition are tightly intertwined. This is not the Cold War where we had a disconnect, right, as a real separation between national security politics on the one hand and economics on the other, right? This is now dual-use technologies are fueling this competition, technologies that have application in the commercial sphere and the military sphere. The estimates are that artificial intelligence, to give you one example, could affect almost every industry in the world and affect 15 to 25% of the jobs worldwide, right? So we're talking about being at the cusp of a new dawn, where technology is driving, not only prosperity, but security. So the stakes are incredibly high for this technological competition.
Peter Robinson: All right, now on China, I'm gonna continue for a moment or two to be difficult, if I may. So, first question is, why does it matter? You had a very good answer. Here's the next question? Why should we worry? Because although the Chinese do a very good job of stealing our intellectual property, you quote in the same Working Paper, you quote FBI Director, Christopher Wray, referring to the Chinese theft of intellectual property as quote, "One of the largest transfers of wealth in history", granted. But as long as they can't innovate themselves, they're all was going to be a step or two behind. We invent it, they steal it, but there's a sequence there. We get to use it first for a little while, before they steal it. Let me quote Peter Thiel in "Zero to One", now this was published in 2013, so we're talking about a book that's eight years old, quote, "The Chinese have been straightforwardly, copying everything that has worked in the developed world: 19th-century railroads, 20th-century air conditioning, even entire cities. They might skip a few steps along the way- going straight to wireless, without installing landline for instance- but they're copying all the same." Still true? Or are we now facing a China that's capable of real innovation.
Amy Zegart: Much less true than it was even a few years ago, so I wish that were the case. I would like to not have to worry so much, right. And we all would, but the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, a bi-partisan commission, released its final report just a few months ago. And they looked exactly at this question, Peter, which is sort of where are we ahead and where are we behind vis-a-vis China, with respect to AI, in particular. And they found that in three areas, China's actually ahead of the United States already. And those three areas are applications of AI, so we may invent more algorithms and better algorithms than the Chinese, but they're using them, right? Because the power of the government over the people, right, with all the facial recognition technology and surveillance. So applications. Data, right? Nothing like an authoritarian power to control data, right? There is no privacy, there is no freedom in China over your data. And the third area and this is perhaps surprising, integration, right? Of commercial technology into the government for civilian, excuse me, for military and national security purposes, China is much better at integrating those technologies than the United States is. So we need to catch up in those areas. Now we're ahead in some other, we're ahead in talent. We're ahead in algorithms, right? So we're ahead, for now, in semiconductors, right? But those advantages are narrowing too. So it's not preordained that the US will continue to win in the technology race. And it's not true that China is just a copier, not an innovator. And I think there's a real sense of urgency behind this report. Again, a bipartisan report, a lot of private sector leaders served as commissioners. Urgency that we need to get our house in order to compete.
Peter Robinson: Right, but China and integration, integrating technological advances into the military, what did we call it, military structure, the military establishment, they're very good at that, you're saying, right? So this is a question I haven't noted down, it's occurring to me for the first time, so I may fumble my way through this one, Amy, be patient with me if you would, for a moment. But the question is this. I am conscious, you'll know about it in detail. I only hear about it over lunch with friends that for some years now, various pieces of the American military establishment had been trying to invest in Silicon Valley, to do just with the, what we're talking about, the Chinese, so that the military can take more rapid advantage of technological innovation. The Chinese already spend about 60% as much as we do on their military budget. They have us beat in numbers and that's permanent. Our only hope for sustaining a military edge is innovation. Okay, I hear from friends who are at ease, that the military, that these various entities set up, the CIA has one, set up to invest out here are really dumb and they're slow and the entrepreneurs take it as easy money. Now, maybe I'm caricaturing this, but we also have, for example, Palantir just went public. I thought people were delusional when they predicted that company would be worth $40 billion. It got to $50 billion for a week and a half, or so. And the bread and butter business is doing stuff, data analytics that the Pentagon isn't very good at, despite the Pentagon having a budget of $750 billion, they have to farm this stuff out. Okay, I don't even know quite how to form the question, but I just have the impression of a military that's behind. That's technically behind, that isn't very good at innovating that that isn't terribly good, well, there was that snafu where Google had trouble with its employees, because they didn't wanna have anything to do with the United States, I mean, I could go on and on and on, I've already made the question too long. You see the problem. Is our military any good at incorporating our own innovation?
Amy Zegart: I think our military has a lot of room to improve. I think it is an urgent crisis, the innovation crisis. And I'll give a little background about this. Why is it a crisis now, as opposed to during the Cold War? Until now innovations largely happens first in the government and then they were commercialized, right? I often joke in my family that NASA actually had the wrong sales pitch, right? We were taught as kids that NASA was responsible for Tang.
Peter Robinson: Yes, exactly.
Amy Zegart: Well, what NASA was responsible for, was computers, right? Because CHIPS were originally bought by the Air Force and NASA when they were priced too high, because they could actually withstand space flight and then return back to earth. So the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, internet came out of the Pentagon. So we're used to a system where the government innovated and then those innovations went commercial. Now we're in a world, where it's exactly the opposite. Most of the innovation is coming from the private sector and now the challenge is how can the government adopt from the private sector? There are real challenges, classification challenges, interoperability challenges. So I don't wanna minimize the problem. A lot of smart people are working very hard to try to solve the problem, but the fact that we have these outposts, so we have, In-Q-Tel, which has invested in Palantir. We have the Defense Innovation Unit. We have a number of different innovation hubs in the Pentagon. And I often say, when you have to have that many hubs for innovation, it tells you the mothership is broken. So I think there's a widespread awareness that the mothership is broken. That acquisition has to get reformed. We have to spend smarter in our defense budget and we have to make the rapidity of development, much more of a focus, right? So the F-35 is older than my oldest child, the F-35, 28 years from the first idea, to the time that it's becoming operational, we don't have that kind of time. We need to be able to develop a blueprint for a plane and manufacturer that next-generation plane, in two and a half or three years, not 25 to 30, the pace of change is completely different and the Pentagon has to adapt to it.
Peter Robinson: Let me quote, one more time from your working paper. Quote, "The Chinese Communist Party has clearly and repeatedly stated its aims to become the dominant technological power in the world, over the next decade." Let me reread that, because that is frightening, it bears pondering. The Chinese want to become quote, "The dominant technological power in the world." How quickly? "Over the next decade." This is a development, I may even live to see. All right, so we're used to the idea, because it became a political issue, in recent years, we're used to the idea that somehow or other, we got trade with China wrong, and it may not even have impoverished the nation as a whole, but it was damaging to certain industries and to certain regions of the country. That I think is understood as something the Chinese did to us. If the Chinese succeed, what are the other ways in which we will be, life in America will be blighted rather than enhanced? If the Chinese get what they want, how will the world, and this country look different?
Amy Zegart: I think if the Chinese get what they want, we're going to see a world of diminished freedom. We're gonna see a world where the internet will be divided. There will be a free internet, where you actually have a free flow of ideas and a closed internet where propaganda is spewed and you don't know what the truth is, within certain parts of the internet. We'll have a world of hyper-protectionism, where China will not need to do much with the rest of the world, because it has such a large domestic market. And we'll have a world of Chinese aggression in every respect of the word, you look at what's happening in Hong Kong, today, I lived in Hong Kong when it was a British territory-
Peter Robinson: Oh, you did, I should have known that.
Amy Zegart: And I lived in Beijing the year after Tiananmen. So I was originally an East Asian Studies person and studied Chinese and went to live in Beijing. And my research at the time was on China's democracy movement in 1989 and what happened in Tiananmen and I remember very vividly my phone was tapped, I was followed wherever I went, I smuggled a computer into the country, back then there weren't laptops. I smuggled in a giant Apple computer. I was searched on my way out of the country and interrogated. And I remember never feeling more thankful for the freedoms that I have. And when I touched ground from that airplane from Beijing to Hong Kong, which was then a British colony. And I knew that no one would be following me, or watching me, or potentially imprisoning me or my friends. It really matters, right. Whether China gets what it wants, not just for the Chinese, but for everybody around the world.
Peter Robinson: Can I, so, you talk about, they wanna do this in the next decade. Do your students understand that it matters? You teach here at Stanford.
Amy Zegart: I do.
Peter Robinson:  Bright kids, really smart kids. Do they understand what's at stake?
Amy Zegart: I think some of them do. I think one of the things that I found, and we did this wonderful experiment this past year at Hoover, where as you know, one of the great pleasures I have is directing the National Security Affairs Fellows program at the Hoover Institution, it brings eight fellows from the military services in the State Department to campus for a year. And so we started an undergraduate mentorship program a few years ago, with Stanford undergraduates. And the idea was you couldn't preach to the converted. You couldn't be in ROTC, students couldn't be members of the military or have military families. I wanted students in the program who had no exposure or experience with US Military before. So we've had this mentorship program for a number of years, but during COVID, we had to all go online. So we decided to turn the mentorship program into a course. We met every week, throughout the entire academic year, the same 24 students with the eight fellows and me and the eight fellows and my team taught this class, Foreign Policy from the Front Lines. So one of the classes, very interesting. We asked what kept you up at night? And we did a survey of the military of our National Security Affairs Fellows, and a survey of the students, the lists were very different, right? So the undergraduates talked a lot about domestic politics. They talked a lot about climate change and the fellows talked a lot about great power competition. And so that was opening for everybody in the class. I think what I found from that experience is that students are actually quite open to thinking about the threat landscape in new ways. We have to figure out how to reach them. And so it's one of the reasons I'm so excited to be teaching a large undergraduate class, this coming year on challenges in the intelligence community.
Peter Robinson: Got it. Well, we can do a separate show on, well, let's see one of these days, let's get your syllabus. I'd love to just hear what you're teaching Stanford undergraduates and devote 45 minutes to that, but that's a separate show. Tempted as I am to launch in that direction. That's a separate program. I'm gonna quote once again, like the students, I'm gonna take this from the foreign challenge to what we face here at home, big tech here at home, quoting once again from your Working group paper, quote, "Without good intelligence," this in the context here is good intelligence by the National Security Agencies "Without good intelligence tech companies will make decisions that make the nation less safe." Okay, there's a premise planted beneath that quotation. And the premise is that tech companies care about the nation or should care about the nation. But again, let me be a difficult reader for a moment. If you're Apple, every one of your supply chains runs through China and you have a large market in China. John Donahoe, CEO of Nike is being excoriated in some quarters of the internet this week, because during an earnings call, he mentioned the importance of China to Nike. Nike is not tech, but that's an example. It's a large American corporation. If you're Facebook, you have three billion users. That's a third of the population of the planet. The United States looks relatively parochial with its 350 million population, if your customers number three billion. So why should big tech companies view it as anything other than mere happenstance, that they were founded and remained headquartered in this country? Why should they feel any loyalty to the United States of America?
Amy Zegart: Oh, that's such a great question. So you're getting at something that is near and dear to my heart, which is I want them to care much more, right? That it isn't just happenstance, that they have enabled to grow so much and prosper in the United States, that we take these things for granted. Things like rule of law, free markets, competition, rights, immigration, being able to attract the best talent, our higher education system. These things don't run themselves. They require nurturing in order to support this ecosystem that has made Silicon Valley sort of the growth engine of the world. I think there's progress being made in Silicon Valley, I don't wanna overstate the distrust problems. So if you would ask me that question, Peter, several years ago, I'd say Edward Snowden is a big problem. And that a lot of the trust deficit, why big tech companies don't feel the same kind of trust with the government really was part of the shadow of Edward Snowden and his revelations. But I think there's been a lot-
Peter Robinson: Fill me in on that, Snowden leaks a huge trove of government data, secret data. I mean really secret stuff, NSA stuff, spooky movie stuff. And why does that upset the big tech companies?
Amy Zegart: Well, I'll tell you their perspective, and we can arm wrestle and various folks in government have different views on this. The tech perspective that I heard was that they did not know that the US government was gathering data from their companies through a back door. They knew they were coming in through the front door and it put these tech companies with, as you said, their global shareholders and their global employees and their global markets in a very difficult and embarrassing position. So they felt burned by the US government, their perspective. And I will tell you, when I brought a group of congressional staffers to a major tech company, soon after Snowden, and they heard a senior executive of the tech company say, I think of you and he pointed at, I think of you, like I do the People's Liberation Army of China. I'm trying to keep you out of my systems, too, right. That was an aha moment for these congressional staffers. So I think that was a big problem. Both sides have been working pretty hard to try to repair that trust, but there is a, "How can they possibly think this way" kind of feeling? I think when folks from Washington come to tech companies and hear, "Well, why wouldn't you wanna bid on a Pentagon contract? Why would you support China's censored search engine, but say you don't wanna make weapons, or you don't wanna do anything with the Pentagon?" So we need to work on bridging that divide much more. And I think it starts to the point you raised earlier, Peter, with education. I think that the talent that we talk about, we need more talent in government. I think success is not just bringing STEM talent into government. It's bringing people like the students in this NSFF, this National Security Ferris Fellows Program, bringing that perspective of patriotism and the importance of America with them, as they become tech leaders, right? This is about your personal belief system, your character and your patriotism and what role it plays. I also think, I've been wondering about this a lot. We have a big movement in corporate America, ESG, right? Environmental, Social, and Governance, and more attention to climate, that's all well and good, but there's almost never any consideration about national security as part of ESG, right? Should companies be transparent about who's investing in them? Should that be part of ESG? Should there be more consideration for how your business model is affecting the freedoms of our nation? Should that be part of ESG? I raised that just as a question as a, how can we incentivize companies to do the right thing, rather than regulate them, right, to forbid them from doing certain things, how can we provide the right incentives for companies to think more about what's in the national interest?
Peter Robinson: Hmm, again, in the Working Paper, you write, "The political left and right are unified by dislike and distrust of big tech." Okay, there, I don't even attempt to be a difficult reader. I grant you that, that's just obvious, ungainsayable. And you hear, if you listen to legal podcasts, you even hear lawyers casting about for the correct legal argument, the aim is to break them up. The question is, what's the correct legal argument? Do we have an analogy to the big trusts, Standard Oil, that was broken up a century ago? Do we have to break them up under other? All right, so there's animus toward big tech. You also write that we need big, big tech that we have to have. We, the United States, has to have companies on a scale that they can withstand, or at least remain competitive with the Alibabas of the world. Okay, so square that circle for me, we all have the feeling that there's too much power. That they know too much about, Google knows every keystroke I've hit all day today. And at the same time in the last, even less than a decade, they've absorbed every fresh advertising dollar and wiped out the entire business model of journalism in this country, for example, which is pretty closely related to democracy, a new model may emerge, it's not the end, but still the disruption is immense and it's not at all clear they feel any loyalty to this country after all, those are really good reasons to want them broken up. And then along comes Amy in a paragraph later and says, wait a minute, we need them to be big. Explain that if you would.
Amy Zegart: So, I don't know what the answer is, let me see if I can refine the question, because it is whenever there are six bills in Congress, right, that passed the judiciary committee and you have people on the right and people on the left agreeing on beating up on something, you got to pay attention. So I think there's a confluence of three different things. The first is, I think there's a concern about freedom of speech, right? These tech companies can decide who gets to say what, who gets amplified, should that really be in the hands of one person, right? With no accountability to voters. So there are arguments on the left about tech's role in freedom of speech and their arguments on the right about tech's role in freedom of speech. So part of the tech lash, in let's break them up is a free speech issue, right? So there's disinformation on the one hand and there's the tamping down of Conservative voices on the other. So that's argument number one. Argument number two is it's just bad for competition, right? So you can make the argument, right? That there are network returns for a company like Facebook, people join Facebook, because people are on Facebook and there are, right, there are some returns to that network. Can you make it-
Peter Robinson: It starts to look almost like a natural monopoly, right?
Amy Zegart: Can you make that argument for Amazon? Should Amazon have the same kind of market control over consumer choices and prices? So there's a domestic competition argument for let's break them up that too often lumps all of these big companies together when we're really talking about some different things. And then there's the third argument, which is the one that we write about in the White Paper, which is what do we need to do to win this race with China? And do we need scale to compete with the Alibabas of the world? These things are all intention, there's no one clear answer, but what I hope the Working Group will come to is a more thoughtful delineation of the trade-offs of the different proposals and how to think about a thoughtful and intentional way forward to increase the benefits and mitigate the risks. Because we could make things worse, if it's just break them up kind of regulation of every big tech firm that we have.
Peter Robinson: Right, you're telling me that my impulse to take a sledgehammer to these firms needs a little refinement? I'm willing to grant that. Amy, we've been talking implicitly so far, about what they can do to us, what China can do to us. Could we talk for a moment about what we could do to them or what we could do to the bad guys, generally, cyber offense, you wrote a book in, or you edited a book in 2018, called "Bytes, Bombs and Spies" quote, "Strategically, greater receptivity to the use of offensive cyber operations," remind me never to cross you, "Greater receptivity to the use of offensive cyber operations may suggest that such operations could be the instrument of first military use. If non-military measures diplomatic, economic, legal, and so forth, fail." close quote. Do you have in mind, by the way, if I'm asking, you know a lot of stuff that you're not allowed to talk about. So if I trip across one of those wires, just back me off, but, I'm not even sure how to pronounce it, the Stuxnet virus, the stooks net, Stuxnet virus that infected the Iranian uranium processors, the centrifuges, and wrecked them somehow or other, and neither government has ever said "boo" about it. But it's widely understood on the internet that the United States and Israel were behind that, that that was an offensive cyber operation. And if you can't confirm or deny it, or even discuss it, I'll shut down that line of questioning altogether. But is that the kind of thing, that we ought to be, is that a model? Should we be doing more of that kind of stuff?
Amy Zegart: So we are, and it's been publicly reported. We are doing more offensive cyber operations. So the Pentagon's cyber command issued as a strategy, a vision, commander's vision, a few years ago called Defend Forward and make no mistake. That means we're going to take the fight abroad to make it harder for our adversaries to come after us. So before then, the strategy was, we don't wanna escalate, you can understand where this came from. We don't wanna escalate, because we don't know how escalation works in cyberspace. So we're going to hunker down and try to defend our networks from attacks coming in. Well, that didn't work very well. So 2018, we start this Defend Forward strategy, very public, right? So there has been public discussion, public reporting. I'd be careful about what I say here. Public reporting about offensive cyber operations against non-state actors as well. So one of the challenges of cyberspace is that we keep talking about acts of war. We are living in war in cyberspace every day, right? Millions of attacks on government, civilian, critical infrastructure targets. And the question is, what do we do about it? And so we're seeing in this administration, a movement toward a more directive from the government for critical infrastructure, you have to report, right, if you've been breached, right? And we're moving from voluntary cyber security, basic hygiene measures and critical infrastructure like colonial pipeline, to mandatory basic hygiene. So we're moving in that direction, but offensive cyber operations is certainly a part of the mix. I will tell you, and I think your question hints at this, part of the challenge is, it's so classified, it's so classified the phrase offensive cyber operations was itself classified until the mid 2000s. So it hampers in some ways our signaling and our understanding of, and for academics, right? How to help the government think through good strategies about cyber operations, because it's so classified, for understandable reasons largely, because once you use a cyber weapon, you lose a cyber weapon, right?
Peter Robinson: So thank you very much because that just leads into the next question, which runs as follows. We operate a democracy here and so offensive, I have two problems in mind. One is offensive cyber operations, in the old days, President of the United States, goes live from the oval office at nine o'clock at night and says, "American troops have just struck such and such a place, for such and such a reason. And the damage is as follows and anyone who does that kind of thing against us, can expect more of the same." Out in public and within minutes, there are people up on Capitol Hill saying, "You did the right thing and others saying he did, and it gets digested in the editorial page papers, all right. Something like Stuxnet takes place, not much debate. Nobody knows for sure what happened. There are people who say, if the United States was behind it, rah, rah, happy to hear it, but were we? It's a problem for democracy, isn't it, item one. Item two, I'll lump these together, because the large question here is how do we operate while retaining a democracy? We've been talking about what the Chinese could do to us. You are acutely aware that there are plenty of Americans who are worried about what our own government can do to us. You don't have to be a defender of Donald Trump to suppose that the FBI was a little less than forthcoming with the Pfizer Court about classified information, where information came from and so forth. So how do we do this? How do we grapple with the need for secrecy, the understandable need for secrecy, while at the same time feeling certain that our civil liberties are being respected by our own government, A. And B, that executive branch decisions about how to use cyber, how to use, how to operate in secret in cyberspace, receive the kind of oversight and debate that they deserve.
Amy Zegart: Well, so you just mentioned the key word oversight, right? So secrecy and democracy always exist in tension. Too much secrecy undermines democracy, too much democracy or transparency undermines the capabilities of government for defense. And so striking the right balance is an age-old endeavor. We know what it looks like when we get the balance wrong. We lived through that chapter in with the intelligence community, with covert action in the sixties and seventies, right? So there were really sort of two periods of oversight of intelligence, before the 1970s and after the 1970s and before the 1970s, we had essentially no congressional oversight. There were no dedicated committees, oversight consisted of a couple of meetings of subcommittees a year for about an hour, where members of Congress would joke that they preferred not to ask questions they didn't wanna know the answers to, right. And so we ended up with all sorts of activities, attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, spying on American citizens, by the FBI, the NSA, et cetera.
Peter Robinson: The Bay of Pigs falls in this period, right.
Amy Zegart: Yup, yup, and real overreach of government. Exactly the kind of civil liberties concerns that you raised in your question. Enter the 1970s, right? So we have big reforms ushered in by a committee called the Church Committee. And as a result of that, we now have intelligence committees in the house and Senate, do they work perfectly, no, they don't. But there is now routinization of oversight, where for a covert action, for example, as you know, Peter, the president can't just order a covert action. The president has to issue a finding. It has to be in writing, that the activity serves the national interest. And that finding has to be given to Congress. Congress doesn't veto it. Congress doesn't have to approve it, but Congress has to know about it. And there have been cases in the past reported where congressional opposition, or concern over a finding, has led to the covert operation not taking place. That's the kind of balance that I think you're talking about where I think there are more oversight mechanisms in the cyber operational field. But the challenge that I worry about most Peter, with oversight, is knowledge, right? Because if oversight works in other areas, because there are homegrown experts and they learn on the job. But when you're talking about things like cyber operations and intelligence, there's no Iowa, right, for intelligence, where everyone who represents Iowa is going to be on the Agriculture Committee. There's no geographic concentration of interest that care first and foremost about intelligence or cyber operations. So members running for Congress are unlikely to be experts. So give you a little fun fact, more powdered milk experts are in Congress, than intelligence experts, right? There are more doctors in Congress, I think, than engineers at my last count. Given how important technology is to every aspect of our nation, the fact that we have so few engineers and few mechanisms to give them the know how they need to do good oversight is concerning.
Peter Robinson: All right. Last couple of questions. If I may ask about Amy Zegart herself, you did your undergraduate work in Asian studies. We just heard that you became so engrossed in this, that you went to Hong Kong and Beijing, you did your graduate work in political science, and here you are scaring us all to death, talking about tech and cybersecurity. How did you choose that field? How did you become involved in this?
Amy Zegart: So I'll give you the bizarre progression of my interests, which started with Deng Xiaoping wearing a cowboy hat when he visited Texas in the United States and I watched him on TV and I thought, "Wow, this is a very interesting man and a very interesting country." And so I started taking Chinese lessons as a kid in Kentucky, fast forward to, I really wanted to understand us foreign policy in graduate school. And so I was fascinated by information and how it got to the president. And so I stumbled into looking at the intelligence community as part of my doctoral dissertation. Cyber is an intelligence adjacent field, right? So cyber weapons really come from an intelligence pedigree, NSA, the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command are joined at the hip, right. A big debate about how long that marriage should continue. But so it really, and cyber activity really looks a lot like covert action. So there are many more similarities between cyber operations and intelligence than there are in other fields. So I spread naturally gravitated to the cyber field, because of its sort of intelligence overlap. And of course it's endlessly fascinating and I catastrophize for living. So I guess that's what sort of pulls everything together.
Peter Robinson: Okay, you probably know the figure to the very digit. I could only get an approximate figures looking around online, but we seem to have about something over 300,000 Chinese students in this country now overwhelmingly incidentally in the hard sciences, Google, Facebook, Apple, all these big tech companies that we have been talking about, employ large numbers of Chinese nationals as a practical matter, we found it very difficult to prevent Soviet espionage and we didn't have, we sold them wheat. That was about the only thing that we had to do with the Soviet Union. As a practical matter, how can we possibly hope to even, to limit, even to quantify and understand the depth of the extent of the problem when it comes to Chinese espionage.
Amy Zegart: Well, in talking-
Peter Robinson: Or theft of it, I'm not even sure I'm using the right noun, whatever it is, theft of intellectual property, any you see the problem I'm getting at.
Amy Zegart: I do and you know, you talk to counter-intelligence officials and they're very concerned about not only Chinese espionage, but espionage by other countries targeting our tech sector and targeting our universities, it's a serious issue. That said the long game really requires that we bring in the best and brightest from all over the world. And we want them to stay here and we want them to found our companies and we want them to leave China and stay in the United States and contribute and become American citizens and work for the United States. So keeping them out entirely may hurt us in the long run. The question is, how do we have, how do we mitigate the risk of Chinese espionage, while we encourage the best talent from around the world to come and stay and be a part of our economy and be what Americans have always been, immigrants who assimilate and become Americans, right? And so that's a government role, right? That's the FBI's job. It's the State Department's job to really much more seriously vet students who wanna come to the United States and educate universities about things that should be of concern, how professors interact with, you've heard about the Thousand Talents Program, where professors are paid money to open up labs in China. So a lot of this is educating faculty and staff and students, so that we're not naive about the threat environment out there, but we can't close our doors and we shouldn't close our doors. It is really the engine of our economy. And we want those best and brightest AI engineers from China to come from China, where they do come and come to the United States and stay where they want to stay, if we allow them to.
Peter Robinson: Last question, and I'm going to repeat that quotation, that very arresting quotation from the Working Group Paper quote, "The Chinese Communist Party has clearly and repeatedly stated its aims to become the dominant technological power in the world over the next decade," close quote, are you optimistic? Do you believe the United States will retain the technological edge by 2030, that you believe it needs to retain?
Amy Zegart: I think we absolutely can. The question is where we do it now. The window of opportunity, Peter, is now. So I always say that we don't have to guess about China's intentions, they told us their intentions. They have a document called Made in China 2025. I mean-
Peter Robinson: They're not kidding, they mean it.
Amy Zegart: They mean it, Xi Jinping has spoken publicly about China's intentions of AI, its intentions to become a technological superpower, so this is not guesswork here. The question is, what do we do about it? We have the capability, we have the innovation, we just have to get the wherewithal to count. And so I think now is such an important moment. We have in six bills that passed the judiciary committee. What are we going to do in the tech sector in the next year or two? How is the Pentagon going to reform his acquisition programs? How are we going to invest as a country in fundamental research, basic research in science, how are we going to reform our K-12 education system, particularly after COVID, all of these threads come together in this moment, we talk about new Sputnik moments. This is a Sputnik moment for the United States with our competition with China. I think if we seize it, if there's a sense of urgency, there's no question in my mind that we can win.
Peter Robinson: Amy Zegart, author of the forthcoming book, "Spies, Lies and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence," thank you. For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation. I'm Peter Robinson.
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