- - Tuesday, October 20, 2015

No matter who is elected president in 2016, if we hope to get though the next decade in one piece we must make fundamental changes in our national security programs, policies and practices.

This is because we have developed some very bad habits over the last 75 years: We typically don’t react until after we are struck — whether it be by act of war, terrorists or even hurricanes — and our open society and permeable borders literally invite attacks against us.

An exception to this was the Cold War. However, and sadly, we have forgotten much of what we learned then and have allowed other essential capabilities to go fallow.

This has not gone unnoticed by Vladimir Putin, the former KGB thug who wants a return to Russia’s worst days of international intimidation. In case there remains any mystery about his motives, his goal is to reclaim as much of Eastern Europe as he can by using the “persecution of ethnic Russians” ruse that he got away with in Ukraine. Mr. Putin has also determined that amateurs and lightweights lead the West — and that NATO has become a hollow shell of its former self.

He may be right.

With that in mind, here are a few very important things we need to do:

• Cybersecurity: We need to start with “dot-gov,” then expand to our entire critical cyber-infrastructure — both public and private — with a program of “carefully managed stress” to find our cyberweaknesses so we can fix them before they are exploited by the Chinese or the Russians.

This kind of program will require well-thought-out enabling legislation, skillful privacy implementation and careful congressional oversight. All the reason we need to establish such a program is the shear size and scope of the recent Chinese cyberpenetrations of OPM and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield health insurance networks. Bottom line: We need ways to discover and fix our own cybervulnerabilities!

• Public diplomacy: Starting in the George W. Bush administration and continuing throughout the Obama administration, our government has kept its head in the sand and allowed dangerous social media to run rampant throughout the digital world. The Islamic State recruits thousands using these techniques.

You may wonder why we are not doing effective public diplomacy or information operations to counter these efforts around the world — and in open social media and Internet space? As I observed in a 2008 Washington Times op-ed, “Information operations have not been allowed to develop and mature because they were perceived as bureaucratic threats to the traditional public affairs function of our government.”

In addition, this activity is often caught up in the literal application of regulations intended for covert intelligence operations. While both activities can and should be complementary, their objectives are different — and that reality should be basic to our legislative and regulatory approach to each.

If you want to see how a very effective information program works, tune in Mr. Putin’s RT cable channel or Al Jazeera. We should be doing our own sophisticated programming worldwide with massive application, especially in the Middle East — there is simply no excuse not to.

There is an inherent difference between public affairs, and public diplomacy. To not do the latter in today’s instantaneous Internet world — because it may compete with or differ from the “official” political spin by public affairs — is just plain dumb.

Rebuild strategic forces: In Mr. Putin’s KGB-trained mind, the Cold War has never ended. He plans strategic and tactical confrontation with the United States and NATO at every opportunity. He has also set about to cheat on every arms control agreement the Russians have with us. This is nothing new because the Soviets did it with impunity and the Russians negotiate arms control with built-in cheating scenarios — much as the Iranians have done with the naive agreement they recently pulled over the head of President Obama.

We must rebuild and modernize every aspect of our strategic force structure. This because most of it is 1970s technology and needs a dedicated 10-year plan to bring it into the latest digital age. This means new ICBMs and shorter-range missile systems, new bombers, submarines, stealth and drone systems — and, perhaps most important, new generations of space-centered weapons, both offense and defensive.

Expensive? Sure, but there is really no acceptable alternative that assures our safety and security. Mr. Putin will be around for at least the next decade.

New policies. Even during the Carter administration — a group not known for its assertiveness — we had policies that acted to deter the Soviet Union. One of them, a nuclear targeting doctrine called PD-59, targeted the most senior Soviet and Communist Party leadership in the event of an attack — several thousand specific targets would have effectively removed the Soviet “nomenklatura.”

It made the idea of war with us personal for the few thousand Communist Party members who actually ran the country, and it worked.

We need new targeting policies that personalize the responsibility of senior leaderships for state sponsors of terror — and that also address the issue of attribution, in that state sponsorship is often murky and intended to inhibit the armed responses to terror attacks. In short, the top echelons of political leaders of, for example, Iran and Syria need to know that they will be targeted based on our assessment of their responsibility or support for a particular terror attack against us.

The world has changed dramatically since the Cold War and so must our strategic policies, programs and practices. However, the big question remains: Can we actually do it — or will it take another attack, the next one by nuclear, chemical or biological means, to motivate us?

Daniel Gallington served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

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