U.S. Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry (R-Clarendon) assured the audience gathered at Pearl Stable Tuesday morning that there will not be a round of U.S. Military base closures in 2017, though he couldn’t say the same for years beyond that.
San Antonio has intimate knowledge of the military’s Base Realignment and Closure procedures: Kelly Air Force Base, now Port San Antonio, closed in 2001 and Brooks Air Force Base, now Brooks City Base, closed in 2002.
Thornberry is waiting for data requested from the Pentagon that may prove base closures and realignment save the federal government money at a time when the U.S. defense budget could use more support.
“If you look at the military budget from 2010 to 2014, it went down 21%. The one area where it went up, even during the overall decline, was cybersecurity because it is this new domain of war-fighting,” Thornberry said. “We are playing catch up to the threat.”
Thornberry spoke during a San Antonio Chamber of Commerce panel discussion with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) on Tuesday that addressed the growing importance of San Antonio’s military and cybersecurity professionals to enhancing America’s security. Rivard Report Director Robert Rivard served as moderator.
Thornberry, who represents the Texas Panhandle and parts of north Texas, spent Monday and Tuesday meeting with local city and military leaders. He briefly talked with Mayor Ivy Taylor in private before the chamber breakfast as Taylor had to leave to attend a San Antonio Water System board meeting.
During this meeting, the board unanimously approved a $150,000 administration fee to the Alamo Area Council of Governments for managing the $5 million Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant that will reimburse SAWS and the City for less than half of the $11 million infrastructure costs of connecting area military bases to SAWS’ system. City and base leadership have said that water security is one of many issues that the military looks for when deciding which bases to close.
Nearly four miles of pipeline will be installed to provide Camp Bullis, Ft. Sam Houston, and Lackland Air Force Base with a backup water supply of less than 4,600 acre feet per year. Because the Trinity Aquifer wells that CampBullis relies on are failing, it will be SAWS’ first priority to complete the pipeline project this year, SAWS officials said, and all others will be completed by November 2017. “Security Hill,” which houses cybersecurity, intelligence, and space command efforts for the 25th Air Force on Lackland AFB, requires the largest piece of the funding: $7.5 million. But becuase of security concerns, it’s unknown how many acre feet will be used by these facilities.
City Council approved a $5.6 million impact fee waiver earlier this year.
San Antonio’s reputation of “Military City USA” and the rising profile of the city’s high technology sector, both have a vital role to play in the national cyber conversation, the panelists agreed.
Hurd and Thornberry have plenty of experience between them to discuss cybersecurity and how it affects the nation’s defense. Thornberry is the first Texan member of Congress to chair the influential U.S. House Armed Services Committee and Hurd is a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative and brings with him the experience of nearly one decade of undercover work.
Hurd is in a highly competitive re-election campaign to continue representing a district that covers 800 miles between San Antonio and El Paso, including much of the U.S.-Mexican border.
The more established hubs of technology the better, Thornberry said, becuase hubs like Silicon Valley encourage the development of innovative solutions in national security.
“San Antonio has a case to make for itself because of the civilian cyber work that goes on here and the military work,” he said. “Not only are the people going back and forth, the innovation is going back and forth. The cooperation is what you have to have in cyber as much as any other part of warfare.”
San Antonio’s reputation as a cyber hub is becoming more renown around the country, Hurd said, as the locally based 24th Air Force and 25th Air Force provides “significant” help in the defense of the national digital infrastructure.
“Cyber is a domain like air, land or sea, and (the Air Force is) leading in that area,” Hurd said, adding that local military agencies can reach out to the private sector for cooperation. “What they’re doing now in collaboration with the chamber and groups like Geekdom is creating this platform, a sandbox, a proving ground for new technology.”
Hurd said as America’s digital infrastructure increases and ages, so do the threats to its security. Local universities such as the University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas A&M University-San Antonio and Trinity University have a role to play in preparing a tech-minded workforce.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has expanded its footprint in San Antonio with the creation of regional task forces, such as Joint Task Force-West located at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
“It’s tasked with looking at the (U.S.-Mexican) border in a fashion it hasn’t done before,” Hurd said. “People know the importance of San Antonio.”
Hurd and Thornberry said that enhancing the nation’s offensive cybersecurity capabilities is critical especially with the growing cyber threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), other terrorist groups, and rouge nations.
“People understand we’re being attacked everyday by a variety of actors, by sophisticated state actors, criminals and lots of things in between,” Thornberry said. “The challenge is that the threat has been growing over time and faster than our policies have been able to keep up. We have the best people, best technology, but our laws and technologies have not kept up.”
Hurd added that in preparing for actual warfare, a nation can spend millions of dollars and several years in researching and developing a weapon, whereas in cyberwarfare, an attack can be carried out in a matter of hours or days. In other words, the rules of warfare are changing fast.
“What we’re trying to do is encourage the military to more expeditiously take advantage of innovation in the private sector – to buy stuff faster – because if you go through the whole military procurement process, by the time you get a piece of software, it’s out of date,” Thornberry said. “We have to figure out how to operate at the speed of light because that’s the speed at which cyber is conducted.”
“The way we buy IT goods and services, the speed at which we do it, impacts our national security,” Hurd said.
Hurd and Thornberry also said the United States can impose a form of deterrence in two ways: Publicly holding accountable those responsible for launching cyber attacks against America and its allies, and by openly noting its cybersecurity capabilities.
However, Thornberry acknowledged bureaucracy and politics tend to bog down the allocation of resources and cutting-edge technology that the military needs for proper cybersecurity.
The two congressmen also agreed basic communication among relevant agencies – quick sharing of intelligence – is vital to everyone’s cybersecurity efforts, given the storied lack of communication pre-9/11, and among European officials prior to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Thornberry said the United States must continue to lead by example in this area.
“There is no substitute for U.S. leadership. If we don’t lead, Europe is not able to replace us. The world’s a more dangerous place,” he said.
“Information sharing in Europe needs to improve,” Hurd added. He noted how the U.S. House passed legislation last month to speed up the nation’s ability to share proven technologies with its allies.
The Enhancing Overseas Traveler Vetting Act will let the United States develop and share open-source software to help European allies vet travelers and identify known or suspected jihadists. Hurd said U.S. agencies have greatly improved their communication and information sharing abilities since 2000 when he arrived at the CIA.
“If we can get our European allies to that level, we’ll be much stronger,” he added.
Managing Editor Iris Dimmick attended the SAWS board meeting on Tuesday morning and contributed to this report.
Top image: Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mac Thornberry, speaks about actions to advance the security of our nation. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.