Press Release

Belfer Center Launches “Defending Digital Democracy” Project To Fight Cyber Attacks and Protect Integrity of Elections

| July 18, 2017

Bipartisan Project Co-Led By Managers of Clinton, Romney Campaigns

Cambridge, MA – The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School launched a new, bipartisan initiative today called the “Defending Digital Democracy” (DDD) Project. Co-led by the former campaign managers for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney and experts from the national security and technology communities, including Facebook and Google, the project aims to identify and recommend strategies, tools, and technology to protect democratic processes and systems from cyber and information attacks. By creating a unique and bipartisan team comprised of top-notch political operatives and leaders in the cyber and national security world, DDD intends to offer concrete solutions to an urgent problem.

Co-sponsored by two other Harvard Kennedy School entities – the Institute of Politics and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy directed by Nicco Mele – the project will be run by Eric Rosenbach, Co-Director of the Belfer Center and former Assistant Secretary of Defense. Prior to his July 2015 appointment as Chief of Staff to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Rosenbach served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security.

Rosenbach recruited Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, and Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager, to join DDD as Fellows and co-leaders.

“Americans across the political spectrum agree that political contests should be decided by the power of ideas, not the skill of foreign hackers,” Rosenbach said. “Cyber deterrence starts with strong cyber defense — and this project brings together key partners in politics, national security, and technology to generate innovative ideas to safeguard our key democratic institutions.”

“Over the last two years, nearly every election on both sides of the Atlantic has been affected by foreign cyber attacks, including Hillary Clinton’s in 2016,” said Mook. “Many foreign countries, and even terrorist organizations, exploit digital technology to advance their agendas and influence public narratives abroad. This project will find practical solutions to help both parties and civic institutions that are critical to our elections better secure themselves and become more resilient to attacks.”

“Cyber attacks on campaigns and elections are a threat to our democracy and affect people of all political stripes,” said Rhoades. "Foreign actors could target any political party at any time, and that means we all need to work together to address these vulnerabilities. This project will bring together not just different parties and ideologies, but subject matter experts from cyber security, national security, technology, and election administration to make a difference.”

Foreign nations and non-state actors are not backing down in their efforts to hack, alter the outcome and undermine confidence in our elections. The Defending Digital Democracy Project will help institutions fortify themselves against these attacks by:

  • Developing solutions to share important threat information with technology providers, governments, and political organizations;
  • Providing election administrators, election infrastructure providers, and campaign organizations with practical “playbooks” to improve their cybersecurity;
  • Developing strategies for how the United States and other democracies can credibly deter hostile actors from engaging in cyber and information operations;
  • Assessing emerging technologies, such as blockchain, that may improve the integrity of systems and processes vital to elections and democracy;
  • Convening civic, technology, and media leaders to develop best practices that can shield our public discourse from adversarial information operations.

The Project has enlisted Marc Elias of Perkins Cole and Ben Ginsberg of Jones Day, two of the top respective Democratic and Republican election lawyers in the country, to advise the project, along with a bipartisan senior advisory group made up of leaders in technology, cyber security, and national security, including:

  • Heather Adkins, Director, Information Security and Privacy – Google;
  • Dmitri Alperovich, Co-Founder and CTO – CrowdStrike;
  • Stuart Holliday, President and CEO – Meridian International Center; former United States Ambassador for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations;
  • Nicco Mele, Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy – Harvard Kennedy School;
  • Debora Plunkett, former Director – National Security Agency’s Information Assurance Directorate;
  • Suzanne E. Spaulding, former Under Secretary – National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) at the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Alex Stamos, Chief Security Officer – Facebook.

Eric Rosenbach – Project Director

Eric Rosenbach is Co-Director of the Belfer Center and a Harvard Kennedy School Public Policy Lecturer.

As the Chief of Staff to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter from 2015-2017, Rosenbach was one of the senior-most leaders of an organization with 2.8 million personnel, a $585 billion annual budget and ongoing military operations in multiple locations around the world.

Rosenbach was charged with managing some of the Department’s most sensitive decisions and ensuring implementation of transformative changes in the Department’s technology, budget, and talent management. He served as the Secretary’s closest strategic advisor on the war strategy and global coalition to defeat ISIS, the “rebalance” to Asia, and the effort to check Russian aggression. Rosenbach also led the Department’s efforts to improve innovation by forging and managing key initiatives such as the Defense Digital Service, the Silicon Valley-based Defense Innovation Unit, and the Defense Innovation Board.

Before serving as Chief of Staff, Rosenbach was the Assistant Secretary of Defense, confirmed by the U.S. Senate, responsible for leading all aspects of the Department’s cyber strategy, policy, and operations. His diverse portfolio as Assistant Secretary also included countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, space operations, antiterrorism, continuity of government and defense support to civil authorities. Rosenbach led the Department’s efforts to counter cyberattacks by Iran and North Korea on US critical infrastructure and deter Chinese theft of American firms’ intellectual property.

Earlier, Rosenbach worked at the Harvard Kennedy School as the Executive Director for Research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In addition to running the Center, Rosenbach taught graduate-level classes on cyber and counterterrorism. Prior to his work at Harvard, he served as national security advisor for then Senator Chuck Hagel and as a professional staff member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence where he led oversight of Intelligence Community counterterrorism programs.

Rosenbach also has significant experience in the private sector, where he led the cybersecurity practice of a global management consulting firm, advising the executives of Fortune 500 companies on strategic risk mitigation strategies. Earlier in his career, he worked as the Chief Security Officer for Tiscali, the largest pan-European Internet service provider, where he was responsible for all aspects of the firm’s cybersecurity.

A former Army intelligence officer and Commander of a telecommunications intelligence unit, Rosenbach led a team that worked closely with the NSA to provide strategic intelligence in direct support of commanders in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Director of Central Intelligence named Rosenbach's unit as the top intelligence organization in the U.S. military for two consecutive years.
Rosenbach has authored many books and contributed articles on national security issues to the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe. The Los Angles Times called his book Find, Fix, Finish, co-authored with Aki Peritz, “an important volume in the secret history of a nasty war.” He was a Fulbright Scholar and holds a Juris Doctor from Georgetown, Masters of Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, and Bachelor of Arts from Davidson College.

Robby Mook – Senior Fellow

Robby Mook, a CNN political commentator, is a nationally recognized campaign manager and strategist who ran the 2015-16 presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton.

Mook’s successes include the 2013 election of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe – the first time in 40 years that Virginians elected a governor from the same party as the sitting U.S President – and the 2008 election of Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s first woman Senator. He also was state director for Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary campaign in three states where she defeated Barack Obama in the primaries. In 2012, he served as Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Matt Rhoades – Senior Fellow

Matt Rhoades is the founder of Definers Public Affairs and one of America’s most accomplished political and public affairs professionals. He served as campaign manager for the Romney-Ryan 2012 presidential campaign, guiding Gov. Romney through a crowded primary to the Republican nomination.

Following the campaign, he founded America Rising in order to fill a void in the Republican Party’s communications, opposition research, and rapid response capabilities. Under Rhoades’ leadership, America Rising quickly became an indispensable tool in the Republican toolkit, orchestrating game-changing moments in races around the country and contributing to the party’s historic 2014 victories.

After working as a research analyst during the 2000 Florida recount, Rhoades joined the White House as an associate director for presidential personnel. He also served as research director for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign and for the Republican National Committee, as well as communications director for Gov. Romney’s 2008 campaign.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Belfer Center Launches “Defending Digital Democracy” Project To Fight Cyber Attacks and Protect Integrity of Elections.” Press Release, July 18, 2017.

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