Jim Sciutto, CNN’s Chief National Security Correspondent, gave a talk on national security Jan. 29 in Olin Auditorium. Sciutto spoke about his work as a journalist and gave a current threat assessment of national security.
Sciutto’s talk was sponsored by the Arts and Lecture series, the Politics and International Relations and Media and Communication Studies departments, as well as The Melrose Center.
According to Sciutto, the major threats that U.S. national security face today include nuclear war, China, cyber-attacks, terrorism, space warfare and artificial intelligence.
He highlighted key “hacking incidences,” some of which were seen during the 2016 election with Wikileaks and U.S. satellites. Russia and China have stolen U.S. information such as business transactions and locations of military troops through these satellites.
“If you target U.S. satellites, you have our entire population under control. Russia uses a ‘kamikaze satellite,’ a device that orbits one of our satellites and makes it disappear from radars. China uses grappling hooks, and now Russia, China, and North Korea use lasers on the satellites to destroy or hack into our systems.”
Citing an interview with Air Force Lieutenant General James Clapper, Sciutto noted that the amount of threats today to U.S. national security is greater than any Clapper has seen throughout his years of working for military intelligence. “It’s never been like this before,” Clapper had pointed out.
Sciutto compared the U.S.’s current relations with Russia, China, and North Korea with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War.
“[The Cuban Missile Crisis] may seem like a million years ago,” he said, “but if you’ve been watching, there are threats of nuclear war from North Korea, a different adversary, and Russia has thousands of nuclear war heads. They are both potentially dangerous threats.”
He added that North Korea has made “enormous progress in the last year” with making ballistic missiles and hiding the locations of those missiles. Russia has also rebuilt itself since the Cold War, and has improved their weaponry and submarine power.
Scuitto said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “the king of the oligarchy [in Russia]. If you cross the king . . . Well, you don’t want to. The truth about Russia is that they don’t want to go to war, but they’re showing that they can take risks.”
“Students report, and I agree, that Sciutto made concrete both national security challenges we had read about and some that we had not considered,” said politics professor Jonathan Marks.
“[Sciutto’s] presentation was sobering because it suggested that, at least as far as some of our rivals are concerned, we are engaged in a permanent state of warfare.”
When asked about “fake news,” Sciutto commented, “[President] Trump uses the words ‘fake news,’ but it’s actually real and it is weaponized. [Fake news] stirs the pot and gets us punching each other.
[Fake news] is a real threat: it’s damaging regardless of what your political party is, and it’s inexcusable. It’s really a self-inflicted wound.”
He added that the stakes have been raised for news sources to deliver correct information to the public and to provide people with the most accurate facts available.
Shanya Kushner, an international relations major who attended Sciutto’s talk, said, “Once Trump tweets something, we, as Americans, could be dragged into a war.”
Living in the technological era gives social media a huge influence over us, and saying that we are watching ‘fake news’ is hurtful and adds doubt to what we read no matter where the news comes from.”
She added that in spite of what Trump says, she stays up to date on current events by reading articles on international relations from different news sources.
Paying attention to current affairs is necessary for being a productive citizen, Sciutto expressed. He advised college students in the “academic and social bubble” of campus to “use social media to [their] advantage. Develop a wide range of [information] sources on Twitter, for example, that way you can see different perspectives on events and get the true facts.”
When asked about which news sources were the most reliable, Sciutto cited Foreign Policy Magazine, The Atlantic, The Council on Foreign Relations, Steve Clemons, Evan Osnos, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, and even himself.
Sciutto refers to himself the “‘bad news’ correspondent” for CNN—explaining that he reports on topics ranging from “terror attacks to war and conflicts, Russia, China, the Ukraine, and Syria.”
He added, “As much as I’m a ‘bad news correspondent,’ I still feel privileged that I can do this with my life. I can travel the world, meet people, and I’m just very lucky to have this as my job. It’s a lot of fun.”