Tower Scholars address Russian cyber activities in simulation

The junior class of Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars participated in a simulations for their policy seminar course and presented their policy proposal to the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council May 1. The scholars acted as members of the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense and Joint Staff. This semester students were asked to imagine they were tasked with coming up with a response to cyberattacks from Russia.

This year the seminar was co-taught by Professors Josh Rovner, political science, and Frederick Chang, engineering.

“The policy seminar allows the Tower Scholars to explore a current policy issue in depth, using the analytical tools they learned in earlier courses,” Rovner said.

In October last year Chang was trying to decide what would be best for students to study and he thought to himself, “let’s have them study Russian hacking.” The topic is as timely as ever with ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collaboration with the Trump campaign.

The Scholars presented their policy proposals to their client Michael Elliott, who recently served as Deputy Director for Strategic Stability in the Joint Staff before his retirement. Elliott visited the class a few times throughout the semester to provide guidance and to layout his expectations for the simulation. Elliot, Rovner and Chang all three took turns asking questions during the students’ presentations.

“He’s a tremendous asset to the Tower Scholars Program,” HCM Scholar Thomas Schmedding ’17 said of Elliot. “It was an honor and privilege to talk with him about real challenges facing the country.”

The Department of State, represented by Schmedding, MacKenzie Jenkins ’18 and Brian O’Donnell ’18, presented first and suggested that the U.S. impose economic sanctions in order to pressure the Russian government to act in accordance to international norms. They noted that the challenge is norms have not actually been agreed upon since NATO has not accepted the Tallinn Manual.

Homeland Security, played by Isabelle Gwozdz ’18, David Shirzad ’18 and Fairooz Adams ’18, presented next. They identified the three critical infrastructure sectors as communications, energy, and the government facilities sector.  Their recommendations included increased funding, having authority over private energy sector companies in order to oversee information sharing, and to return to paper ballots in elections to prevent vote manipulation.

The Department of Defense and Joint Staff, represented by Grace Caputo ’18, Drew Wicker ’18, and Diana Cates ’18, concluded the brief advocating for thought-out plans and routines to address cyber threats, such as an added “Cyber Amendment” to the New START Treaty.

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Karly Hanson

Karly Hanson is the Communications Coordinator for the SMU Tower Center. She graduated from SMU in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies.