National Security

America’s Values

July 24, 2018  • Daniel R. Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered remarks at the 2018 Aspen Security Forum closing session in the Greenwald Pavilion on the campus of the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO. Follow him on twitter @DanPorterfield.

Thank you for that gracious introduction. It’s a pleasure to be with you. Please join me in thanking all who have made this remarkable forum possible: My Aspen Institute colleagues Rob Walker, Clark Ervin, Elliot Gerson and their teams—along with dozens of colleagues who put up tents and made meals and cleaned buildings and transported travelers. Thank you.

It is wonderful to have General Paul Nakasone, Commander of US Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency, and BBC News’ Gordon Corera here today for a discussion on countering old threats and new. Needless to say, it has been quite a convening.

After our opening session with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday night, I needed to travel to Washington, DC for some meetings, and I just got back late last night. While I was there, Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates made honest, unvarnished comments about the destructive behaviors of Russia in relation to our national security, elections, internal unity, and our standing in the world.

It was like parallel universes, there and here. Washington, DC, to me, stands paralyzed like we’ve never seen it before as Vladimir Putin and his people make pronouncements about a new bilateral agenda developed behind closed doors. Much of DC seems to have laryngitis, and perhaps amnesia, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

And then—conversely—there’s Aspen, Colorado—admittedly, not normally thought of as the epicenter of hard-nosed, fact-based realism. However, it’s clear that, over the past four days, there has been no more concentrated, candid, principled, non-partisan, and patriotic commentary on the nature of the US/Russia relationship—and, more broadly, all of our national security threats—than the Aspen Institute’s on-the-record convening.

I say “on-the-record” with intentional emphasis and real pride. I would like to express our collective gratitude to the government officials who joined us at the Aspen Security Forum to talk and think together, and answer the uncensored questions of skilled reporters and moderators who prepared diligently for the interviews. Government accountability and freedom of the press are the American way, in good times and bad.

It’s quite the opposite in Putin’s Russia. There, power doesn’t open itself up to media inquiries. Power avoids questions, or smears reporters, or locks them up, or worse, as we know from the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya and dozens since then, documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists and others.

Our tradition is different and our systems are not equivalent. They weren’t equivalent when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel were working as dissidents under death threats; they weren’t equivalent when President Reagan called on Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall; and they aren’t equivalent today in an era when cybertechnologies allow the Russians—and others—to steal, stalk, and spy, attack our electoral processes, and incite civil discord within our population. And this forum has laid this out again and again over the past four days.

We can’t turn a blind eye to the real and complex dangers of the modern world. September 11th taught us that. This forum has reminded of that.

And that’s why all of this is so valuable—for three reasons.

First, this forum helps us confront the fact that we must see and stop the risks that threaten our nation’s security and our way of life.

Second, this forum allows us to practice and model the democratic virtues that bind us to one another as Americans and to the great democratic nations who are our longstanding allies.

And, third, this forum, working at the highest level of security expertise and commitment to our Constitution, allows us join hands and minds not as Democrats or Republicans or Independents, but as Americans.

Thank you for being here. It’s been a great four days.