The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
The digital age has ushered in a new era of threats to democratic societies. We are more vulnerable to manipulation through the classic tools of subversion – intimidation, propaganda, and dirty tricks – than ever before. From the use of social media to deliberately disseminate disinformation meant to confuse and divide the public to the increasing prevalence of cyber-attacks, foreign actors are able to engage in subversive and seditious activities with unprecedented scale and ease.
Sir David will draw on his experiences as the first UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator and as the Director of GCHQ to examine how we can best prepare to defend ourselves against the new and evolving threats of the digital era.
Sir David Omand GCB was the first UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator, responsible to the Prime Minister for the professional health of the intelligence community, national counter-terrorism strategy and “homeland security”. He served for seven years on the Joint Intelligence Committee. He was Permanent Secretary of the Home Office from 1997 to 2000, and before that Director of GCHQ (the UK Sigint Agency). Previously, in the Ministry of Defence as Deputy Under Secretary of State for Policy, he was particularly concerned with long term strategy, with the British military contribution in restoring peace in the former Yugoslavia and the recasting of British nuclear deterrence policy at the end of the Cold War. He was Principal Private Secretary to the Defence Secretary during the Falklands conflict, and served for three years in NATO Brussels as the UK Defence Counsellor.
Sir David is currently a Visiting Professor in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London and at PSIA Sciences Po in Paris. He is the Senior Independent Director of Babcock International Group plc and a senior adviser to Paladin Capital Group, investing in the cybersecurity sector. He is the author of Securing the State (CUP and Hurst) 2010 and (with Professor Mark Phythian) Principled Spying: the Ethics of Secret Intelligence (Georgetown University Press and OUP, 2018).