NSA Deputy Director George Barnes addressed about key changes and goals with moderator Tom Richey, vice president of business development at Raytheon Intelligence & Space at the 13th Annual Billington Cybersecurity Summit.

Barnes noted that the NSA has spent the last 20 years focusing on counterterrorism, and it’s time to make adjustments to reflect other challenges.

War on Talent

The conversation quickly shifted to attracting and retaining talent. Barnes acknowledged that recruiting is challenging – especially given the competition. According to Barnes, NSA has always faced challenged in gaining talent. And the challenge is in retaining as well. An NSA clearance and experience makes talent highly marketable.

However, that doesn’t mean that the NSA has a lack of applicants. Barnes noted that they get almost 100,000 applicants each year, so it’s important to find the right people for the job. To get the best of the best, Barnes said it’s important to make real connections with applicants. He also noted that the NSA is searching for candidates who want to serve and are driven for a purpose.

It’s not hard for most cybersecurity professionals to make a lot of money at many companies, but the key for NSA is finding candidates who are driven to serve. And while the talent need is great, Barnes said they can’t ignore the security element.

But he’s also looking at teaching the next generation to get interested in cybersecurity – whether or not they join the NSA. His goal is to make the future nation more secure. Barnes noted that it’s important to get cybersecurity education down to the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

How do we compare with adversaries?

“Last time I checked, no one wanted to go buy tech from China or Russia. But they [Russia and China] want to buy ours, so we have to make that impossible for them.”

Barnes noted that innovation in tech and our processes is what has put us ahead and will continue to generate different outcomes. He said that while China is investing and advancing, they can’t replicate the way we bring magic together between people and technology. Barnes challenged the audience to preserve this X factor in the U.S. because it’s what differentiates us as a nation.

Be Paranoid

Barnes ended with a push for people to get a little more paranoid. He said that many haven’t approached technology with paranoia about its misuse. He said that we need to see both the benefits and misuses in order to keep the U.S. safe. We have an open society, but that makes us more vulnerable. Barnes shared, “The thing that keeps me up at night, is that there’s a lack of preparedness as a society that we need to keep bad things at bay.”

Barnes sees the aspirations of adversaries, and he wants us to be more prepared. He said, a little more paranoia keeps us in check and making better products.


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.