Roger Hagan: Technological innovation is essential to national security | Columnists

ROGER HAGAN

The war in Ukraine has shown how quickly peace can crumble. Europe has had seventy years without conflict between states, leading many to believe that permanent peace was the new norm. With these illusions shattered, we are now witnessing massive rearmament and investment in cybersecurity infrastructure by European countries to reduce their vulnerability to Vladimir Putin’s predators.

The United States can learn many lessons from the Ukraine conflict. It seems that many Americans are eager to deny the threats posed to us by our foreign adversaries. It has been 20 years since we were attacked on our own soil. I fear we are now like the Europeans until just a few weeks ago – lulled into a false sense of security and in denial of those who wish to harm us.

Cyberwarfare threats are of growing concern. Do you remember last year’s attack on the Colonial Pipeline? This caused a fuel shortage on the East Coast and led President Biden to declare a state of emergency. Colonial Pipeline is just one of dozens of ransomware attacks on Americans in the past year – most of which failed to make national headlines.

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Given the pervasiveness of technology in our critical infrastructure, the targets for cyberattacks abound. The Federal Agency for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security tracks sixteen critical infrastructure sectors that are vulnerable to attack – from our food supply to healthcare, communications and transportation.

As we saw with Colonial Pipeline, disrupting even a single cog in a complex system has far-reaching effects. In this example, the hackers saw an opportunity to get a ransom. But imagine the havoc we would see with a coordinated attack on multiple critical infrastructure sectors at the same time by a state-backed actor. Without launching a single ship or aircraft, a foreign adversary could cause serious damage.

We are already preparing to defend against these attacks in Montana. Our Montana National Guard Adjutant General has the authority to call in active duty guardsmen to defend against cyberattacks.

These threats are real and rapidly changing. Most alarmingly, we know that our worst enemies are investing heavily in the development of cyber capabilities. Hackers backed by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and others are now capable of hitting US targets.

What can we do about it? On the one hand, our military and national security infrastructure is considered the most advanced in the world. It brings some comfort, but being the best doesn’t mean we’re invulnerable to attack.

This is why we must maintain our position as the world’s technological leader. We must increase investment in technology and continue to foster an environment of technological innovation.

China in particular is investing billions to beat the United States in technology and cybersecurity. In fact, becoming the world leader in technology is a stated goal of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s not just for economic reasons – Chinese leaders see technological innovation as a national security imperative.

For the United States to remain the leader in technological innovation, we must keep the government out. A responsible, pragmatic, and thoughtful approach to regulation has obviously served us well, but today we see growing calls for Washington to clamp down on our tech companies. It makes us more vulnerable.

It is heartening to see some leaders, like Senator Daines, acknowledging the threats posed by China. Senator Daines is leading the fight to strengthen our tech sector, for example by sponsoring the Endless Frontiers Act, which invests in innovation and holds China accountable for cyberattacks and intellectual property violations.

China sees us as its adversary. We must do the same and make the appropriate preparations to defend ourselves. As the Ukrainian experience has shown, we may be more vulnerable than we realize.

Roger Hagan is a former member of the Montana House of Representatives and a retired member of the United States Air Force and Air National Guard.

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