NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — TIA 2013: The Future of the Network — Two Washington dignitaries took the stage for TIA keynote addresses, and proved to be a total contrast in styles. One of them was a politician, but the other proved more politically savvy.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) had a message of support for many of the telecom industry's goals but got around to it only after more than five minutes of an anti-Obama commercial during which she laid full responsibility for the government shutdown at the feet of the Democrats.
Her diatribe seemed to stun the room, which had to include many Republicans, and created a tension that wasn't broken until Blackburn made it clear she was actually there to talk about forcing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to focus more on additional spectrum for the wireless market and less on silly pursuits such as Net Neutrality.
She was followed to the stage by Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Administration, and a man obviously embattled in a very different struggle from Blackburn's. Unlike the congresswoman, Alexander appeared to be on something of a charm initiative, delivering a message of cooperation and common cyber security goals for the NSA and the telecom industry, while avoiding ever mentioning the name "Snowden" and working in many personal touches, often delivered with self-deprecating humor.
The core of Alexander's message was this: New laws are needed that will allow the federal government to work more cooperatively with this industry in fighting cyberattacks, and that includes a more open sharing of information on both sides. Yes, he said this with a straight face, and in the context of his presentation, was quite believable.
"If someone is going to attack Wall Street, and the NSA or the government can't see that, our ability to stop it is zero," Alexander said. "Defending our national cyberspace is a team sport and industry is a key player on that team."
Alexander was quick to admit that in the current environment of mistrust, created by "media leaks," legislation to enable that cooperation is not likely to happen, but he very earnestly asked those assembled to consider the facts of the NSA's mass surveillance programs such as Prism and not the hyperbole that has surrounded the revelations that they exist.
The facts according to the General are that NSA officials cannot dip into the massive database of phone and data records that is compiled and stored in the highly controversial mass surveillance programs known as Prism and Boundless Informant without substantial proof of a credible threat and several layers of oversight at the judicial, administration, and Congressional layers.
A significant piece of Alexander's message was that the NSA and Cyber Command are made up of people -- good people; hard-working people whose goal is to keep us all safe, not to spy on our personal lives. And since he was standing there, being a humble guy himself, it wasn't that hard to believe.
I have to wonder if Rep. Blackburn could have made a similar sale, and gotten the audience to sympathize for our poor elected representatives in Washington. Nah, probably not.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading