A Recap of the World Affairs Council of America’s National Conference

clip_image002Former Council Intern, Nina, attended the 2013 World Affairs Councils of America’s National Conference

In November, I had the opportunity to attend the World Affairs Councils of America’s (WACA) 2013 National Conference. Each year the national body hosts this conference in order to discuss the critical national security issues facing the country during the coming year. There were nearly 40 engaging speakers, and even visits to the embassies of Canada, Portugal, and the United Arab Emirates.

WACA offered 25 scholarships for college students from within the national World Affairs Council network to attend the conference. I was lucky enough to receive one of them. In addition to assigning the group a liaison for the week, WACA prepared a few events exclusively for us. These included a “meet and greet” reception where we had a chance to get to know one another, and an evening with Josh Rogin, senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. Rogin shared some of his experiences and fielded our questions about journalism and the current political environment at the White House.  He spoke quite frankly and openly, something that I appreciated greatly.

Each year, the National Conference sparks a conversation on six critical issue areas selected by network leadership to help set the programming agenda for WACA in the coming year. The Six Top Issues for 2014 discussed at this year’s conference included: Cybersecurity, Global Economic Realignment, the Middle East, Global Environmental Issues, K-12 Education, and U.S. Energy Independence.

I was really interested in the topic of Cybersecurity. It was the first to be discussed at the conference, and was introduced with a keynote by the Hon. Michael Chertoff.  He mentioned that the Internet requires active protection, and outlined the four basic types of cyber crime: ordinary criminality, corporate espionage, hacktivism, and physical attacks.  He was most concerned about the latter, noting that we now have a number of physical systems and critical infrastructure that depend on a network, making them incredibly vulnerable to attack.

Following Chertoff’s remarks, a panel of mostly military officers continued the discussion on protecting our national cyber interests. They maintained that because the initiative remains with the attacker, “cyber-active-defense” maintains a top priority. In order to achieve this, they engage in red-teaming, which means sending “good” hackers (called White Hats) to assail their systems in the ways that a malicious attacker would, thus testing the military’s defenses.

This topic interested me because it represents a paradigm shift in the way we as citizens and military think about security, as there are vulnerabilities on both the national and personal level. It’s a complex issue that affects foreign policy and the dialogues between nations, and most likely will require the construction of an international framework or set of guidelines for conduct in cyberspace.

Taking into account all of the exciting things happening at the conference, overall the ability to talk with students from other Councils (many of whom were also interns) about their experiences in a similar situation was my favorite part. Geographically, we came from very different places – including Maine, Florida, Texas, Oregon, and Alaska – but we had the Councils as a bridge.

By: Nina, former World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern, and student at the University of Pittsburgh