Now Hear This - It's Time for a Cyber Moon Shot

By Vice Admiral Doug Crowder, U.S. Navy (Retired) and Commander David A. Radi, U.S. Navy (Retired)

After the Ukraine incident, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began a far-reaching effort to inform U.S. electric utilities of similar threats. The Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Navy Admiral Michael S. Rogers, referencing the cyberattack on Ukraine, said, “It is only a matter of the ‘when,’ not the ‘if’—we’re going to see a nation-state, group or actor engage in destructive behavior against critical infrastructure in the United States.”

Banks and stock exchanges also have been the targets of cyber attack. Criminal hackers recently penetrated Bangladesh’s central bank and fooled the Federal Reserve Bank of New York into sending $81 million to fraudulent accounts. Chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White, has stated cybersecurity is the biggest risk facing the financial system.

The U.S. technological edge is a constant target for cyber espionage. Adversary nations are stealing our intellectual capital to cut their own research-and-development costs and time. In March 2016, a Chinese businessman, Su Bin, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hack U.S. defense contractors and pass sensitive military aircraft data to China. Intelligence officials described this incident as “a drop in a bucket that keeps getting bigger every year.”

There is a widespread belief that NSA’s cyber lead is so great that potential adversaries are at a long-term disadvantage. Yet NSA hacking tools recently have been reported mysteriously appearing on-line, potentially providing a quantum capability leap for other nation-states, cyber criminals, and even terrorists.

In response to growing cyber threats, the Obama administration has developed a series of piecemeal policy prescriptions. The President’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan, released earlier this year, continues to focus on directives to federal agencies, while touting the plan as the “capstone of seven years of determined effort by the Administration.” In April 2016, the White House announced its Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, which seems a prudent, though tardy, step. Its charter is passive, calling only for “recommendations on actions.” The plan is late, bureaucratic, and no clarion call for action.

The time for small steps is past. To address the cyber threats to our nation, we must take a lesson from President Kennedy’s galvanizing challenge to put an American on the moon. The U.S. space program was led, not by the White House staff or existing federal agencies, but rather by a well-funded, extragovernmental organization that was able to move quickly. In a similar vein, today’s national cyber effort must be led by a strong, widely recognized leader, not a White House “special assistant.”

A “cyber moon shot” should be a true bipartisan initiative. If properly funded, it will draw the best leaders and ideas from academia and industry. The Apollo space program cost approximately $200 billion in fiscal year 2014 dollars. The Obama administration’s current $19 billion cybersecurity proposal, spread across multiple departments and agencies, pales by comparison.

It is time to plant another stake in the ground. Our next President should emulate Kennedy’s vision and lead the nation to solve our cybersecurity challenges by the end of this decade.

Vice Admiral Crowder is Chairman of the Olmsted Foundation (Olmsted Scholar Program). He commanded the U.S. Seventh Fleet from 2006-08. His final assignment was Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations, Plans and Strategy).


Commander Radi, a retired naval intelligence officer, currently is a consultant to various businesses.  Previously, he was President of Kestrel Enterprises and then an executive at Boeing, which acquired Kestrel in 2008.


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