In a candid interview with Sky News Australia, former-President Trump’s Secretary for Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen reveals that “the US Government did not have the resources to quickly reunite children with their parents”.
Who better to discuss subjects as diverse as cybersecurity, state misinformation, the Mexico-United States border and the Trump White House than President Trump’s Secretary for Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen?
In the world in which live today, threats to states and societies come in many guises. The traditional military, economic and health threats are well known and understood. We are experiencing such a health threat right now in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that still claims the lives of tens of thousands of people a day. It’s easy to touch and feel such threats. They affect our livelihoods and our lives.
Not so easy to understand or combat is the insidious threat of what has become known as grey warfare. This is warfare conducted in the shadows, over the internet, on social media and by attacking and hacking businesses, government agencies and even critical infrastructure.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, Kirstjen Nielsen started working for the Department of Homeland Security in the US as one of its first employees. Little did she know then, that a few years later she would be appointed to head the Department as its Secretary under President Donald Trump. She had previously worked in the White House as the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Trump Administration and a special adviser to the President in the George W Bush Administration.
In this week’s edition of Global Focus on Sky News, we address the thorny issue of the separation of children from their parents by the US Government in the people smuggling trade over the Mexico- United States border. Nielsen’s explanation is both intriguing and informative.
Essentially, she argues that in the same way that if anyone in the US commits a crime, they are incarcerated but their children are not incarcerated with them. As illegal immigration is a crime, an offender placed in gaol without accompanying children was not forcibly separated from their family. They were treated the same way as any other family under US law. Nielsen makes it clear that it was not US policy to separate children from their parents, stating, “there was no such policy”. But she does criticise the fact that “the US Government did not have the resources to quickly reunite children with their parents”.
We also address the subject of the preparedness of business, particularly in the defence industry, for grey warfare through cyber security breaches.
This is particularly apposite as Karen Andrews, Minister for Home Affairs, Neilsen’s equivalent in Australia, recently released a Ransomware Action Plan to combat this crime.
It establishes new stand alone offences and penalties for ransomware type attacks. Importantly, it criminalises acts previously not covered by the law and gives agencies new powers to track and freeze the ill gotten gains of cyber criminals. Controversially, for businesses with a turnover of more than $10 million a year, it requires the reporting of a ransomware attack. Not every business will be comfortable with their clients or customers knowing they were the victim of a cyber security breach.
Nielsen has an interesting take and makes a telling point: “The patchwork of security solutions as we chase the latest threat can actually make us more vulnerable…it’s not a question of if, when or how often you’re attacked, you will be attacked, you are being attacked.”
She argues that business, government and managers of infrastructure instead need to adopt a strategy of “relentless resilience” in order to innovate while under attack and defeat and then quickly recover from a cyber offensive.
During her time as Homeland Security Secretary, Nielsen was faced with the unpalatable truth that nation states and non state actors are using “state misinformation” to damage other governments and create chaos where it suits them.
On Global Focus she uses the example of false alerts allegedly published by governments in order to clear an area, so that pre warned criminals can have access to shops and businesses where the owners have fled in response to these false messages.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, misinformation was used to panic people with the notion that aircraft from highly infected areas were landing in a particular area that caused riots and required the National Guard to be activated!
Nielsen argues that in the state misinformation war between citizen and offender:
“it’s not a fair fight for a company or citizen to fight a nation state, so we do need to see government come up with new tools.”
She is firmly on the side of the state stepping in to provide the tools that are necessary to protect a citizen or business otherwise vulnerable to something far beyond their capacity to defeat.
Grey warfare is an uncomfortable subject for many. While propaganda wars invoking falsehoods are as old as time, the technological capability that now exists allows grey warfare to have a fierce impact on critical infrastructure, morale, industry and can represent an existential threat to a hitherto unthreatened government.
It’s a fascinating area of public policy and I unpack it on Sunday night at 5:30 AEDT on Global Focus with Christopher Pyne on Sky News.
Hon Christopher Pyne is a former Minister for Defence and long serving Member of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament.
Watch Global Focus with Christopher Pyne each Sunday at 5:30pm AEDT on Sky News Australia.