Defense Secretary Carter Seeks Relationship With Tech Industry

Defense Department spending $35 billion to modernize and secure department’s networks

Ash Carter
Defense Secretary Ash Carter / AP

The Department of Defense is investing $35 billion in innovative companies, universities, and manufacturing centers in an effort to modernize the department and is taking cues from the nation's leading centers of innovation, including Silicon Valley, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday.

"Today's security environment is dramatically different from the last 25 years, requiring new ways of investing and operating in its own right," Carter said during a defense technology conference in Washington, D.C.

Carter, who earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford in 1979 and taught at Harvard University before he was tapped to serve at the Pentagon under President Clinton, said the Department of Defense is funding innovative companies, universities, and advanced manufacturing centers, and investing in cyber security technologies.

"In our latest defense budget, we’re investing more in all three of these missions, a total of $35 billion over the next five years—with a great deal of that to help modernize and secure DoD’s hundreds of networks," Carter said.

"And all the while, we’re continuing to push forward new breakthroughs in cyber technology, like creating network defenses that can swiftly adapt to threats and self-patch practically in real time," said Carter.

The Defense Department, Carter said, recently hired 1,400 vetted, or "white hat," hackers to probe the Pentagon's networks, similar to the "bug bounties" offered by major corporations. The initiative discovered at least 100 vulnerabilities, or "bugs."

The defense secretary has been on a mission to re-establish ties between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley at a time when the big Internet technology companies have, at least publicly, put themselves at odds against the U.S. government over global fights centered around privacy rights and encryption technologies.

Carter made a two-day trip to Silicon Valley in April 2015 to meet with Facebook executives and employees who are also veterans, as well as the leaders of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and to deliver a lecture at Stanford University to unveil the Defense Department's new cybersecurity strategy.

Carter announced in March the formation of a Defense Innovation Advisory Board, which would be chaired by Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google's parent company, Alphabet.

The board also includes LinkedIn executive chairman and co-founder Reid Hoffman, retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Aspen Institute and Steve Jobs' biographer.

The Defense Department opened its Defense Innovation Unit Experimental offices in Silicon Valley and Boston over the past year as a way to promote innovation within the agency.

Carter's speech was an effort to gather support for the initiative. Some observers say that a startup-like division within the DoD could overcome the Pentagon's bureaucratic hurdles to woo the talent and the trust of the nation's brightest minds.

Carter wants the Pentagon to reaffirm its relationship with the U.S. technology industry to help it adapt to a world where digital technology increasingly permeates the fabric of society.

"We've had a long history of partnership, working together to develop and advance technologies like the Internet, GPS and years before that, communication satellites, the jet engine, all of the benefit of both our society and our security," Carter said in May during remarks he delivered in Mountain View, California.

"But when I came here for the first time in my current job a little over a year ago, I discovered that I was the first Secretary of Defense to visit Silicon Valley in almost 20 years," Carter said.