The Digital Threat to Democracy

Eric Rosenbach
Monday, September 11, 2017 - 6:00pm
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Heather Adkins
Manager Information Security, Google
Molly McKew
Foreign Policy and Strategy Consultant, Information Warfare Expert and Writer
Robby Mook
Senior Fellow, Defending Digital Democracy Project
Campaign Manager, Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign
Debbie Plunkett
Principal, Plunkett Associates LLC
Former Director National Security Agency's Information Assurance Directorate
Matt Rhoades
Senior Fellow, Defending Digital Democracy Project
Campaign Manager, Romney-Ryan 2012 presidential campaign
Clint Watts
Senior Fellow, Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, George Washington University
Foreign Policy Research Institute Fellow
Eric Rosenbach (moderator)
Co-Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Co-Director, Defending Digital Democracy Project
Chief of Staff, United States Department of Defense (2015-2017)
Assistant Secretary of Defense, United States Department of Defense (2014-2015)

Heather Adkins, Manager of Information Security at Google, Molly McKew, Information Warfare Expert, Robby Mook, Campaign Manager for Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign, Debbie Plunkett, Former Director of Information Assurance at the National Security Agency, Matt Rhoades, Campaign Manager for Mitt Romney's Presidential Campaign, and Clint Watts, Senior Fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, joined moderator Eric Rosenbach, Director of the Defending Digital Democracy Project, for a panel discussion on dangers to democracy in the digital age ranging from threats to free and fair elections to the psychological influence of personalized internet content. 


Cyber and digital attacks on campaigns and elections are a threat to our democracy and affect people of all political stripes. Over the past two years, nearly every election on both sides of the Atlantic has been affected by cyber-attacks. Foreign actors could target any political party at any time, and deterrence starts with strong cyber defense and public education. This discussion brings together leading voices from politics, national security and technology to examine threats and strategies for safeguarding our democratic institutions.  The bipartisan initiative Defending Digital Democracy is co-sponsored by The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Institute of Politics and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School

Particpant Biographies

Heather Adkins is a 14-year Google veteran and Founding Member of the Google Security Team. As Director of Information Security, she has built a global team responsible for maintaining the safety and security of Google’s networks, systems and applications. The Google Security Team, now numbering in the hundreds, is involved in every facet of the business, including launching new products, mergers and acquisitions, building security infrastructure, responding to security threats and evangelism. She has an extensive background in systems and network administration with an emphasis on practical security, and has worked to build and secure some of the world’s largest infrastructure for web information systems.

Molly K. McKew is a foreign policy and strategy consultant and an information warfare expert. McKew is an analyst and author; her articles have appeared in Politico, the Washington Post, and other publications, and she is a frequent radio/TV commentator on Russian nonlinear warfare. She specializes in developing and deploying concise, effective narratives to counter targeted information attacks.

Debora Plunkett is a cybersecurity leader with more than 30 years of experience. Culminating a career of US federal service in 2016, she currently is Principal of Plunkett Associates LLC, a cybersecurity consulting business. Additionally, she serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland University College Graduate School in the cybersecurity program.  Previously, as a federal senior executive, Plunkett served first as the Deputy Director and thereafter for over four years as the Director of the National Security Agency’s Information Assurance Directorate.the CEO of Fianna Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in advisory services, government/public relations, and strategic messaging campaigns for international clients. Her recent work has focused on the European frontier — including the Baltic states, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine — where she has worked to counter Russian information campaigns and other elements of hybrid warfare. She currently acts as the strategic director of a project to strengthen independent Russian language news and media in the Baltic states. 

Robby Mook, a CNN political commentator, is a nationally recognized campaign manager and strategist who ran the 2015-16 presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mook’s successes include the 2013 election of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe – the first time in 40 years that Virginians elected a governor from the same party as the sitting U.S President – and the 2008 election of Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s first woman Senator. He also was state director for Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary campaign in three states where she defeated Barack Obama in the primaries. In 2012, he served as Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Debora Plunkett is a cybersecurity leader with more than 30 years of experience. Culminating a career of US federal service in 2016, she currently is Principal of Plunkett Associates LLC, a cybersecurity consulting business. Additionally, she serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland University College Graduate School in the cybersecurity program.  Previously, as a federal senior executive, Plunkett served first as the Deputy Director and thereafter for over four years as the Director of the National Security Agency’s Information Assurance Directorate.

Matt Rhoades is one of America’s most accomplished political and public affairs professionals. He served as campaign manager for the Romney-Ryan 2012 presidential campaign, guiding Gov. Romney through a crowded primary to the Republican nomination. Following the campaign, he founded America Rising in order to fill a void in the Republican Party’s communications, opposition research and rapid response capabilities. Under Rhoades leadership, America Rising quickly became an indispensable tool in the Republican toolkit, orchestrating game-changing moments in races around the country and contributing to the party’s historic 2014 victories. Rhoades previously served as Vice President at DCI Group, managing corporate client teams assigned to provide advice on media, public relations, legislative and regulatory strategies. His clients included major players in the private equity, telecommunications and health care industries. He also served as communications director for Gov. Romney’s 2008 campaign and as research director for President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign and for the Republican National Committee.

Clint Watts is a Robert A. Fox Fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East as well as a Senior Fellow at the Center For Cyber and Homeland Security at The George Washington University. Clint is a consultant and researcher modeling and forecasting threat actor behavior and developing countermeasures for disrupting and defeating state and non-state actors. As a consultant, Clint designs and implements customized training and research programs for military, intelligence and law enforcement organizations at the federal, state and local level. In the private sector, he helps financial institutions develop best practices in cybersecurity intelligence operations. His research predominately focuses on terrorism forecasting and trends seeking to anticipate emerging extremist hotspots and anticipate appropriate counterterrorism responses. More recently, Clint used modeling to outline Russian influence operations via social media and the Kremlin’s return to Active Measures.  Before becoming a consultant, Clint served as a U.S. Army infantry officer, a FBI Special Agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), as the Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC) and as a consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division (CTD) and National Security Branch (NSB). Clint earned a B.S. from the United States Military Academy and an M.A. from Middlebury Institute of International Studies. He is the editor of the SelectedWisdom.com blog, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Eric Rosenbach is Co-Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a Kennedy School Public Policy Lecturer. Rosenbach ​previously served as the Pentagon’s ​Chief of Staff from 2015-17 and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security​, responsible for leading all aspects of the Department’s cyber activities and other key areas of defense policy.  On Capitol Hill, Rosenbach ​served as national security advisor for then​-​Senator Chuck Hagel. In the private sector, Rosenbach worked as the Chief Security Officer for a large European telecommunications firm.  He also led the cybersecurity practice of a global management consulting firm, advising the executives of Fortune 500 companies on strategic risk mitigation strategies.

Rosenbach is a former Army intelligence officer and Commander of a telecommunications intelligence unit. He has co-authored several books on national security.  He was a Fulbright Scholar. He has a JD from Georgetown, an MPP from Harvard and is a proud graduate of Davidson College.