Silicon Valley may be ready to increase cooperation with government officials working on cybersecurity, despite deep-seated privacy concerns, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.
"There is a willingness to have that conversation that was not there even a few months ago, because this Russian effort has really gotten people's attention in a way that nothing else did," Rice said Thursday during a panel hosted by the George W. Bush Institute.
Rice was referring to the Russian cyberattacks against the Democratic Party in 2016, a so-called influence operation that has dominated the political debate since last year.
President Trump has derided the issue as a "hoax" designed to undermine his presidency, but U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley — who joined Rice on the panel — described it as "warfare" against the United States and the West in general.
"This is their new weapon of choice," Haley said.
Rice observed the Russian interference is not unique in American history, but she emphasized that it remains a novel threat.
"This isn't clumsy; this is highly sophisticated," she said. "I hope we are on top of what really happened to us, that we're really investigating it in ways that bring all of our tools including what people in places like Google and Facebook will know about how this is done. And then we've got to fix it, because my own view is that if they do this to us once, it's their fault, if they do this to us twice, it's ours."
Cooperation between the government and major tech companies has been hard to foster in recent years, ranging from issues of counter-terrorism to cybersecurity. Former FBI Director Jim Comey complained Silicon Valley had adopted a high-encryption "business model" that allowed terrorists such as the Garland, Texas shooter to communicate without fear of government discovery.
"That morning, before one of those terrorists left and tried to commit mass murder, he exchanged 109 messages with an overseas terrorist," Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016. "We have no idea what he said, because those messages were encrypted."
Rice acknowledged distrust between D.C. and the tech industry remains an impediment to the kind of cooperation she seeks.
"Sometimes, out where I live in the Silicon Valley, people talk about privacy," she said. "We all want to protect privacy, but we also want to protect the country and that conversation is not going on in a very effective way. There is too much suspicion between government and the private sector."
She suggested that "a quiet national conversation" might lead to important breakthroughs in those efforts.
"I think that these companies are recognizing [they have] this responsibility," Rice said. "I don't want to see it on the front pages of the New York Times, but I hope that people are reaching across these boundaries."