GEN Paul M. Nakasone, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), Director of NSA, and Chief of the Central Security Service (CSS), offered insight into what the future of cybersecurity and signals intelligence may look like during a conference in Washington earlier this month.
Looking to the future, GEN Nakasone focused on what he called "the three P's": the imminent period of intense competition with the People's Republic of China (PRC); the need for persistent engagement with public-private partners; and the critical role that the next generation of people will have in providing the United States with a competitive advantage against its adversaries.
"As we think about the future five years hence, I'm very encouraged. I am very, very optimistic," he said during a fireside chat at the annual Billington Cybersecurity Summit. "I look to the future, and I think that our Nation, obviously the folks that work here in the public and the private sector, will all be the beneficiaries."
When GEN Nakasone took the reins in 2018, he said the leading priority for the Command and Agency was securing the 2018 midterm elections. Since then, the continued rise of the PRC and Russia as global threats and the protection of critical systems and infrastructure from cyber threats have grown to become leading priorities.
"Everything that we've done since, we weren't talking about in 2018," said GEN Nakasone, who explained how cybersecurity has become synonymous with national security during his time atop USCYBERCOM and NSA/CSS. "Now, if I would have said that in 2018, that probably would have raised a lot of eyebrows. But what have we seen since 2018? We've seen supply chain, we've seen zero days, we've seen ransomware, we've seen a number of different actors that have changed and really provided an inflection point for all of us to say, 'Hey, this is a national security issue, and we've got to treat it differently.'"
The Challenge of Artificial Intelligence
At the Billington Cybersecurity Summit, GEN Nakasone revealed the blueprint for AI and machine learning that the Command and Agency will lean on moving forward.
"Much in the sense that the private sector has been doing artificial intelligence for quite a while, we've been doing it for a long time, as well. It's something that we're familiar with," GEN Nakasone said. "We use artificial intelligence primarily with our signals intelligence mission. Now, how do we look at it for our cybersecurity mission? How do we look at it differently for our cybersecurity mission?"
"As we look at the future, we do see tremendous changes. We see the speed, coupled with the security, and coupled with the safeguards that we will ensure are put in place," he added, pointing to how Congress has also tasked USCYBERCOM with developing a five-year plan for AI. ". This is something that we will continue to work at very, very hard going into the future."
The Importance of FISA Section 702 Reauthorization
Leaning on quantitative and qualitative metrics and bolstered by declassified examples, GEN Nakasone took advantage of his participation in the fireside chat to highlight one of the Intelligence Community's most critical foreign intelligence authorities: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
According to GEN Nakasone, FISA Section 702 is an authority that ensures national security and the protection of civil liberties and privacy.
"Of the things that we look at today, 702 reauthorization is among the most important national security issues I think our Nation faces," GEN Nakasone said at the conference.
Among the metrics the Director shared was that FISA Section 702 contributes to 100% of NSA's reporting on the President's intelligence requirements. He noted that in 2022, 59% of the President's Daily Brief articles contained 702 information reported by NSA, and 20% of all NSA's reporting includes 702 acquired information.
GEN Nakasone also highlighted how FISA Section 702 provided insights into the Chinese origins of precursor chemicals key to the production of fentanyl — a drug responsible for more than 100,000 deaths in the U.S. last year. The authority also enabled the U.S. to recover the majority of the ransom from the Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021, and played a key role in the 2022 takedown of al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to GEN Nakasone.
"It's an authority that has saved lives and assured the protection of our homeland," he said.