Women in National Security Panel Featuring Air Force Secretary Deborah James and NGA Deputy Director Sue Gordon

By Katherine Berko and Rachel Sereix | Friday, February 19


Two Duke alumnae discussed the importance of data and intelligence in national security matters during a panel Thursday.

In the annual Women in National Security panel hosted by Duke’s American Grand Strategy Program, panelists Deborah Lee James, Trinity ’79 and Secretary of the Air Force, and Sue Gordon, Trinity ’80 and deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, discussed the relationship between private sector technology and technology developed for the government. Maureen Hartney, a master’s student in the Sanford School of Public Policy and a captain in the U.S. Air Force, moderated the question and answer session with the two panelists.

“In 2016 and beyond, you cannot be uncomfortable with technology,” Gordon said. “You have to be a comfortable data swimmer. It is not going to be a world of causality like intelligence was when I started. It is a world of correlation.”

Gordon and James shared their perspectives on how the technology industry and federal agencies should have a more collaborative relationship when it comes to national security.

“When you take the purpose and resources of the government and the energy and industry and innovation of the private sector, amazing things happen,” Gordon explained.

One example she provided was the creation of Google Earth, a commercial software made possible by satellite mapping from the Central Intelligence Agency.

Both speakers noted that the military’s technology often develops at a slower pace than the private sector’s technology. Gordon pointed out that this lag is due to fundamental differences in the purposes to which technology is being used.

“When you buy a tank, you need to have it for 20 years. When you’re buying software at a private company, it’s going to be around for 2 years,” she said.

The panelists also touched on various national security issues that have attracted widespread attention. When asked by a Duke Reserve Officers’ Training Corps student about drones, James replied that drones are “not furthering the military-civilian divide but helping the United States conduct missions.”

“Shame on us if we fail to leverage whatever technology we have to save lives,” James said. “Drones are a great technology and an advance in warfare which we’ve never seen. We don’t put manned pilots at risk in the air. If we have the right intelligence to go with the cyber intelligence that avoids putting a kinetic weapon on a target, then why not? That’s leveraging technology.”

Another student asked about the balance between personal privacy and national security, especially in light of controversies surrounding Apple’s access to private information. The issue of privacy is intertwined with the nation’s fundamental values, Gordon said.

“We have to be careful because we are a revolutionary people. This nation was formed on a premise that power rests in the people’s hands,” she said.

The two speakers also discussed their career trajectories amid the difficulties facing women in national security. Prior to her current appointment, James served as president of Science Applications International Corporation’s Technical and Engineering Sector. Gordon spent more than 25 years working for the CIA and served as the director of the CIA’s Information Operations Center.

Alhough both women have had distinguished careers, neither Gordon, who majored in zoology, nor James, who majored in comparative area studies, originally intended to work in intelligence or the military. James noted that she had been left without a defined career path after being rejected from working in foreign service.

James noted that the Air Force is currently recruiting young people into uniformed service as well as actively increasing the number of people who work on the civilian side. And although both speakers acknowledged that the private sector remains a strong competitor for students exiting college, they agreed that bringing together the private sector and the military will emerge as a great challenge for college students.

“There is a great opportunity for new age private-public partnership. What is being produced by the private sector is extraordinarily relevant. What we are finding is that industries are coming to the government and the government is approaching them, but we need a partnership,” James said.

View the original Chronicle article here.