Pentagon chief: Silicon Valley outreach a ‘critical’ experiment

Senators on Wednesday pressed Defense Secretary Ash Carter for more details about the value of the Pentagon’s nascent Silicon Valley outreach efforts.

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The Pentagon and Air Force are opening offices in the Bay Area in an attempt to draw top tech talent to military work.

It’s part of the Defense Department’s (DOD) new cyber strategy, which Carter unveiled two weeks ago in the heart of Silicon Valley. The location was meant to send a message to Bay Area innovators: we want you.

Carter was the first sitting Pentagon head to visit the so-called “Cradle of Innovation” in almost two decades. And he’s made it clear it won’t be a one-time thing.

The DOD's cyber strategy calls for a Silicon Valley-based, civilian-led unit that will work on tech sector outreach. The staff will also include active duty military and Army Reserve members.

Carter calls it “Defense Innovation Unit X.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Chairman Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranEspy wins Mississippi Senate Democratic primary Bottom Line Mike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid MORE (R-Miss.) and others seemed receptive to the idea. But Cochran wanted more specifics.

“I wonder if you could let us know how much do you think this is going to cost and how long will it take to be up and running?” he asked.

Carter said he would work on getting budget specifics — previous reports have put in in the range of several million — but clarified that the project was still in its formative stages.

“It’s an experiment,” Carter said. “It’s not a costly experiment, but it’s critical, I think, for us to have an open avenue between us and Silicon Valley.”

Bay Area companies can provide the military with access to leading cybersecurity products, Carter said.

The DOD, Carter said, has a “need to continue to be on the cutting edge, especially the cyber edge represented by the Silicon Valley tech industry.”

As he has previously, Carter alluded to tensions between technologists and the government.

In addition to lacking a “coolness factor,” the military and intelligence agencies have clashed with the digital community over encryption standards and government surveillance programs.

“We want to have an open door so that we are an exciting and attractive place for the country’s smartest young people to come and work even if they can only work for a period of time,” Carter said. “We need to be an innovative department so we stay fresh and attractive.”