Interview with David S. JACKSON1
David Jackson is a veteran journalist and former U.S. government official with extensive multimedia communications experience in domestic and international markets.
An honors graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Jackson is a member of the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs and the Public Diplomacy Council.
Monica MUŢU: Current international evolutions ask for special efforts from Western stakeholders. There are extensive discussions about hybrid actions. How would you define these and what are their major characteristics?
David JACKSON: The emergence of the so-called “hybrid” strategy reflects a growing recognition that military force alone is not enough to express national power, or to defend it. Nations must be prepared to defend themselves on both literal and virtual battlefields, with the latter referring to cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure such as financial, electrical, and communications networks. Therefore, a hybrid strategy would include not only conventional military force, but also the ability to protect and retaliate against cyber-attacks.
A successful cyber strategy should include these elements: the ability to recognize an attack; the ability to identify the attacker; the ability to isolate the damage; and the ability to strike back. Although I believe it’s essential to have practical safeguards against cyber-attacks, we are learning the hard way that 100 per cent protection against cyber-attacks will probably be either impossible or financially unsustainable. Attackers always find new vulnerabilities. So that means that rather than spend increasing amounts of resources to create new defences against to a constantly-changing threat, the best investment will be to master the ability to detect, identify, isolate – and attack back. A quick, strong, and effective counter-attack may be the best deterrent to a cyber-attack, especially if the attacker is a nation-state or backed by a nation-state.
M.M.: Regional and/or global tensions and trends have a notable impact on global security. One of the biggest challenges is related to cybersecurity. What are NATO’s strategies in this area and what is Romania’s role in South Eastern Europe?
David JACKSON: I’m not an expert on NATO’s strategies in this or any area, but I do know that NATO has been re-examining in recent years how it can best serve its members in today’s world. Obviously strategies have changed since the end of the Cold War, when NATO rightly focused on conventional military threats from the Soviet Union. But Russia’s actions in recent years have shown that those kinds of threats still exist, and NATO still has an important role to play in Europe. In the past, NATO helped member nations upgrade and coordinate their equipment and training to enable them to work together in their common defence. Those needs will be just as important in cyber-warfare, for the same reasons, and I would like to see NATO expand its capabilities in these areas for everyone’s benefit. For its part, Romania has been a leader in the region on important issues related to NATO, most notably the recent plans to enhance air and missile defence, and that has helped send a firm message to potential adversaries that NATO’s strength derives not from just one or two members, but from all of them.
M.M.: There are a lot of talks about cyber-attacks from Russia, China, Iran, ISIS and other non-state stakeholders. What strategies should NATO, EU and Intelligence services adopt to counteract these attacks?
David JACKSON: I would reiterate what I said in answer to the first question. Since complete protection against a cyber-attack may never be possible, a nation must make it known that it will retaliate if attacked. Even non-state actors have associations with – and get funding and resources from – nation-states. When those connections can be conclusively identified and publicized, they can be used to justify counter-attacks on hidden-host nations.
M.M.: Can the Internet and social media be the ”base” for a cyber-terrorist offensive? What can be done? What would be the normality? Is global legislation in the field required?
David JACKSON: Since the Internet has become so essential for people around the world to communicate and conduct business, I believe it is inevitable that it will be both a target of cyber-attacks as well as a facilitator of them. Social media, as we have seen, has already become a tool for Russia to use for everything from distributing propaganda (mostly in Europe) to attempts to stir up civil unrest (as in the hoax incidents last year in the southern U.S.).
Social media is impossible to control, so I believe the best protection against being victimized is for people who use social media to be more sceptical of everything they read or see or hear online. Even authoritative sources of news and information can be hacked, unfortunately, so that means we are all vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation in this new world of communication.
Finally, I don’t believe global legislation is needed or will work. Lawless cyber-attackers will not be deterred by a law, global or otherwise.
M.M.: There are talks about HAARP. There are talks about the missile defense system. Who is affected by these technologies?
David JACKSON: Everybody is potentially affected by missile defence when missiles and nuclear weapons are in the hands of people who cannot be trusted. Since it’s too late to stop countries like Russia and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, the best we can do is protect against them the best we can, such as through missile defence, and also try to deter their use by threatening swift and sure retaliation (as I suggested for cyber-defence).
(I had to look up HAARP because I had never heard about it, and I suspect few Americans have. It looks like one of those wild conspiracy theories stemming from a scientific study project. There are a lot of these wild theories out there, about a lot of otherwise innocent things, and they are more prevalent and easier to spread because of the Internet. But I will say that I don’t think there are many wild conspiracy-theory Americans worried about HAARP.)
M.M.: In Romania, we developed the concept of GeoIntelligence as the geopolitics of information. Will it become a challenge of our society? Can we speak about the geopolitics of information and specific geopolitical strategies?
David JACKSON: No matter what name it is given, good reliable information is necessary to make good decisions. In today’s information age, there is more information available than ever before in history, so the challenge is not finding information, it is finding accurate information. People, countries, and regions are all different, so whether you’re in advertising, marketing, commerce, diplomacy, or war, the better your information is about your target audience, the more successful you will be.
Interview by Monica MUŢU
1 During his early career as a journalist, he worked at The Chicago Daily News, then spent 23 years as a correspondent and bureau chief for Time Magazine covering a wide range of stories in the U.S. and abroad. While at Time, Jackson served as Midwest Correspondent in Chicago, Justice Department and Supreme Court Correspondent in Washington, Houston Bureau Chief, Middle East Correspondent (Cairo), Seoul Bureau Chief, Hong Kong Correspondent, San Francisco Bureau Chief, and Senior Correspondent (Los Angeles). Since his first assignment as a foreign correspondent covering the 1978-1979 revolution in Iran (including an interview in France with Ayatollah Khomeini), he has reported from dozens of countries around the world. Later, as Time’s chief technology correspondent, he led the magazine’s coverage of the Internet and the development of digital communications and commerce.
In September, 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the U.S., Jackson began a career in public service, working out of the Pentagon to create and run a new website for the Defense Department to provide the public with news and information about the war against terrorism.
In 2002, Jackson was appointed as the 26th Director of the Voice of America, which provides objective news and information on television, radio, and the Internet in 44 languages to audiences around the world. Under his leadership, VOA’s global audience grew by one-third, to nearly 120 million people, as Jackson significantly expanded VOA’s television programming and enhanced its online outreach. He also introduced VOA’s first new brand logo in two decades, launched a popular studio tour for visitors, and supervised a redesign of VOA’s website that doubled its traffic and made it one of Google’s top 10 Internet destinations for international news.
In 2008, Jackson went to the State Department as a Senior Advisor for Communications / Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of European & Eurasian Affairs. In 2009, he was selected as the Director of Defense Media Activity, the Defense Department agency responsible for providing news, information, and entertainment on radio, television, and the Internet to a worldwide audience that includes Active, Guard, and Reserve service members, civilian DoD employees, contractors, retirees, and their families. DMA’s products include such well-known brands as The Pentagon Channel, American Forces Network (AFN), The Stars & Stripes newspaper, and Defense.gov, the Pentagon’s main Web portal.
In 2012-2013 he was Executive Editor of The Washington Times.