NSA official: 'Open society' keeps US ahead on cybersecurity, technology

The National Security Agency’s No. 2 official said Wednesday that the U.S. still outpaces foreign adversaries when it comes to cybersecurity and technology thanks to the country’s “open society.” 

The U.S. and its democratic allies “enjoy things that cannot be replicated easily in autocratic societies,” George Barnes, NSA's deputy director, said during the Billington Cybersecurity Summit in Washington, D.C. 

“The grist of that is innovation. Innovation sparks creativity and solutions. That puts us ahead and it's not just in our technology, but it's in our processes, the way we attack problems,” he added. “People in the U.S. and within many of our nations that we partner with, they go with the art of the possible. They don't look at it through the lens of autocratic control and so that generates different outcomes that are much more relevant and they're speedy.”

Barnes specifically called out China, which has invested significantly in cutting-edge technologies like supercomputing and advanced analytics.

“The scale of their pursuits are daunting, are scary,” he told the audience. “But I still don't think they can replicate the way we bring magic together between people with technology and the things that have always generated the bleeding edge technologies. I'll just say, here in the U.S., that continues, and that's the thing we have to pursue, because that's what differentiates us.”

Barnes, who has held his current role at NSA since 2017, said that the country has not approached developing technology from the standpoint of “being paranoid about its misuse and misapplication.”

“Our society doesn't operate that way and for good reason. We have an open society, which is our strength, but that makes us more vulnerable to those who would want to penetrate us and subvert our interests,” according to Barnes. “And so the thing that keeps me up at night is the lack of preparedness that we have to have as a society to keep bad things at bay.”

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Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak

is the senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. Prior to joining Recorded Future News in 2021, he spent more than five years at Politico, where he covered digital and national security developments across Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. He previously was a reporter at The Hill, National Journal Group and Inside Washington Publishers.