Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Problem Involving Globalization

While perusing one of my daily reads, I came across this post by Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) discussing the troublesome acquisition of a large portion of 3M by China. He writes, in part:
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) must review and block Bain Capital and communist China’s Huawei Technologies’ acquisition of a significant stake in the 3Com Corporation. If approved, Bain Capital and communist China’s Huawei Technologies’ stake in the 3Com Corporation will gravely compromise our free republic’s national security. The 3Com Corporation is a world leader in intrusion prevention technologies designed to protect secure computer networks from hacker infiltration. To date, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) extensively utilizes 3Com Corporation’s intrusion prevention technologies. Thus, in the wake of this year’s successful cyber warfare by the communist Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in which they hacked into one of our DOD’s and one of the German Foreign Ministry’s computer networks, approving this sale would be an abject abnegation of CFIUS’ duty to protect America’s vital defense technologies from enemy acquisition.

What? Forgotten (or unaware) that DOD systems had been hacked by the PLA? Not surprised, Anna Nicole was likely more important to "The Deciders" (see example of The Deciders here) at the time. Anyway, this is one example of an unintended consequence of globalization. As mentioned in the Red State comments, this is a serious problem that the DOD is aware of, but unable to wrap its arms around. Why? Some argue because it is too late.

Allow me to provide another example where globalization and lackluster public education in the United States is coalescing in an increasingly dangerous environment. While American students graduate with liberal arts degrees in Lesbian studies, the Chinese and Indians are graduating engineers... a lot of them. While there are some who are trying to put lipstick on a pig, the truth is that those who are graduating from PhD programs in Engineering in the U.S. are largely foreigners. Some would argue that these individuals end up working in the U.S. and so we benefit from a "brain drain" of other countries. Sure, it may be good for Silicon Valley, but what is happening in DOD and the larger defense industry?

Following Secretary Rumsfeld's ridiculously massive Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) in 2001, he took an interest in the effects of generational change in the Strategic Strike skill arena. In short, we were (and are) faced with a shortage of people who have the appropriate education and the ability to hold top U.S. security clearances. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) revealed that our nuclear weapons program is aging quickly and that we had nothing meaningful on the drawing board for a next-generation platform.

So, the problem was identified and led to the question... why? Well, money is the overriding factor in any acquisition question, but a subset to the problem is that, unlike the 1940's and 50's, nuclear simply isn't "sexy" anymore. Why join the graybeards and work on nuclear stuff when you could be working on nanotechnology? (Damn you DARPA!)

If you have ever walked the halls at Lincoln Labs or Sandia, you will find that people simply aren't retiring. In some cases, scientists love their work... in other cases there isn't anyone to take their place. As an illustration, I am aware of one particular gentleman who has been making a specific vacuum tube for a particular platform (yes... vacuum tube). He has tried to retire on multiple occasions, only to be called back (as a contractor) to build more tubes. Why? Apparently, building this particular component requires a certain sort of magic or intuitiveness. He has passed this information on to others, but the new hires quickly grow bored and move on. If he were ever to have a stroke, we would have to seriously consider retiring that platform. A perfectly natural option to consider... except that we don't have a platform on the drawing board to replace it. True story.

So why don't we get something on the drawing board? Again, money is a prime suspect and we have a recent abysmal track record of delivery. Take the F-22 Raptor for example. Does anyone know when that particular platform hit the drawing board? I'll give you a hint, President Reagan was new to his office. Have we finished it yet? We wish. Though, to be fair, the delay has more to do with the velocity of technological advances in the past 15 years.

Back to the money (and I promise to tie this together), the cost of creating these new technologies and platforms is astronomical because of the lack of U.S. citizens with professional degrees and the ability to gain Top Secret access. We simply are not encouraging our children to pursue these sorts of degrees. In some cases grade inflation in high school is placing young people in degree programs that they simply aren't ready to conquer. "Heck, I got straight A's in high school, but I'm failing Calc 3!" No kidding. In many areas, the globalization of jobs has filled the gap left by our education system, but it doesn't apply to classified projects.

Still with me? Good, cause there is another serious problem that DOD is wrestling with in regards to globalization. That problem is software and hardware assurance. Unbeknownst to many, DOD is one of the largest purchasers of software applications in the WORLD. The problem is even a program created and sold by Microsoft has had portions of it outsourced to other countries. In millions of lines of code, how does DOD ensure that malicious or bad code hasn't been inserted into pre-packaged software? They try, but can't handle amount of sleuthing required to find such issues. All it takes is for one system to be compromised to make portions of the DOD come to a crashing halt. This isn't a classified discussion, large corporations share these fears. But, what can we do to stop it... mitigate it... Etc.? We begin with acquisitions of companies by 3M.

While some can't see the sovereignty issues involved in a sale of a large portion of 3M to China, others lose sleep about the prospect every single night. I certainly don't have the answers, but we can't pretend that the free market works in all circumstances.