Ridge criticizes sluggish implementation of security technologies

Tom Ridge joins the American Security Challenge in a call for more investments in cyber, C4ISR and other security technologies.

The gap in time and space between the emergence of an innovative technology and the appearance of that technology on government’s front lines is more a yawning chasm than a gap, investors, entrepreneurs, companies and agency staff said.

“The United States is still the world leader in technology,” said former Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge, “but there is very very very stiff competition.” The slowness of government to adopt these new technologies, he said, “is a drag on innovation.”

The non-profit American Security Challenge, aiming to change all that, unveiled the cream of its latest crop of innovative companies in cyber-, C4ISR, physical and energy security today at its Arlington, Va., conference.

“There’s a disconnect between the people who consume the technology and those who make it,” said Roger London, ASC advisory board chairman. He goes to the customers, he said, and asks them what their technology needs and what their problems are.

He takes that wish list to the investment community and asks for companies that produce technology to match. He skims off the best and compiles a list of candidate companies.

The stakes for the companies are high; last year’s winners took home more than $10 million in investment money. The results were good for customers in the defense and intelligence communities as well, London said, although specifics were not available.

After making it through two rounds of grilling by more than 100 experts in the field, including investors, government and defense officials and technology experts, a dozen (from an initial slate of about 150 candidates) made it to this year’s “finals.” Eight won the big prize: the chance to run a pilot of their application.

The agencies or large companies underwriting the pilots assured ASC that if the pilots succeed, they have the money, the need or the contract vehicle available to buy the product or service, London said. “It’s like going to Radio Shack to buy a TV and getting to take it home over the weekend and see if you like it.”

The program is not unlike the National Security Agency’s InnoVisions program, which lost funding in April, London said. “NetCentric [Technology Inc.] was one of the first companies we worked with there,” he said. Investment consultant “John McBeth told me last night they just signed a $32 million deal.”

But such success stories are too rare, especially in this era of cybervulnerability, Ridge said in an interview with Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge. In 2008, cybercrime cost the United States more than $1 billion, he said, “and I’m sure that’s gone up since.”

Efforts at securing networks aren’t enough, said Ridge, now head of Washington consultancy Ridge Global LLC. “You cannot be secure unless your economy is strong,” he said, and terrorists are increasingly adept at using technology and the Internet to attack the U.S. economy.

The battle will go on into the foreseeable future, he said. “We’re going to be at this for several generations. We have watches, but they have time,” he said of cyberterrorists.

He called for a “new mindset in government, i.e., Congress” to speed adoption of new technology. “Just a couple of words in an appropriations bill” is what it would take, he said.

The government’s procurement model also is faulty, he said. The Defense Department’s new guidelines are refined and sophisticated, but “DHS is still trying to figure out how they want to do it,” he said.

But other questions also will affect cybersecurity. It’s difficult even to define it, because it’s different things to different organizations, Ridge said. “The real challenge is: If you can attribute an attack to a country, what do we do? What does the world community do?”

Education, including holding onto foreign students after they graduate, must be part of a future in which the United States holds onto its technological edge, he said. “Until we can encourage young people to get into some of the really tough disciplines, and change our visa policy — a lot of what happened back in Silicon Valley, a lot of that brainpower was foreign.”

ASC also honored Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. CyberCommand, with its 2010 Patriot Award.