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News | Feb. 24, 2021

Innovating for National Security

By Michael Brown INSS/PRISM Speaker Series

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) program hosted a speaker session on February 24, 2021, presented by Mr. Michael Brown (Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)), as a part of its SMA NDU/PRISM Innovation Series


Mr. Michael Brown began his presentation by stating that technology has been a leading driver in modern geopolitical competitions. The US has traditionally dominated these competitions because it has led the world in both technological capability and spending on research and development (R&D). Mr. Brown further argued that the US still maintains an overall lead in technological capability over its adversaries. However, as China’s economy continues to grow at a faster rate than the US’s, China is closing this competitive gap. He then added that there are four primary dimensions in which countries can compete: 1) economically, 2) geopolitically, 3) ideologically, and 4) militarily. China currently competes with the US in all four dimensions, except militarily.

Mr. Brown added that China has even surpassed the US in several key technological capabilities, including, most importantly, 5G technology, semiconductors, and facial recognition. He argued that China has gained a competitive advantage in some technologies, partially because the CCP controls its economy, commercial sector, and military, making cross-sector cooperation automatic. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used its control of these sectors to advance its brand of “economic colonialism” as well, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI allows China to increase its control other countries’ economies by making investments that those countries may not be able to reciprocate.

Next, Mr. Brown claimed that China is looking to use its influence to stifle Western ideology in other regions because the CCP views freedom of expression and a free and open market as existential threats to its existence. The appeal of US western values—like freedom of expression—is considered an ideological advantage for the US. However, because private companies in the US have the freedom to decline to work with the USG, the US cannot generate as much cross-sector cooperation as China. Adding to this disadvantage for the US, federally funded R&D is at an all-time low. This worsens the US’s predicament because historically, federally funded R&D has been responsible for society’s biggest technological breakthroughs.

Mr. Brown concluded his presentation by explaining how DIU is the USG’s solution to finding technological needs across the DoD. He stated that DIU has the ability to pair the combatant commands with private vendors who can fill that command’s needs. He also asserted that if the USG was to give tax breaks for private companies who work with the DoD and the companies that create dual-use technology, the USG would become increasingly responsible for more innovation.

Speaker Bio

Michael Brown, Defense Innovation Unit
Michael Brown, Defense Innovation Unit
Michael Brown, Defense Innovation Unit
Michael Brown, Defense Innovation Unit
Michael Brown, Defense Innovation Unit
VIRIN: 210408-D-BD104-002

Mr. Michael Brown is the Director of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) at the U.S. Department of Defense. DIU, established in 2015, fields leading-edge commercial capabilities to the military faster and more cost-effectively than traditional defense acquisition methods. With offices in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and at the Pentagon, DIU is embedded in key innovation ecosystems across the country and builds direct relationships with organizations that strengthen our national security innovation base.

Previously, Michael served two years (2016-2018) as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow at DoD. He is the co-author of a Pentagon study on China’s participation in the U.S. venture ecosystem, a catalyst for the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA). FIRRMA was signed into law in August 2018 and provided expanded jurisdiction to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Additionally, he led the initiative for a new Defense Department-sponsored investment vehicle, National Security Innovation Capital (NSIC) to fund dual-use hardware technology companies.

Through August of 2016, Michael was the CEO of Symantec Corporation, the global leader in cybersecurity and the world’s 10th largest software company with revenues of $4 billion and more than 10,000 employees worldwide. Michael served as a member of Symantec’s Board since its merger with Veritas in 2005. During his tenure as CEO (2014-2016), Michael led a turnaround developing a strategy focusing on its security business, sold its Veritas storage software business, hired a new executive leadership team and improved operating margins 300 basis points. Additionally, he led the articulation of a new company culture fostering innovation.

Michael is the former Chairman & CEO of Quantum Corporation (1995-2003), a leader in the computer storage industry. As CEO of Quantum, the company achieved record revenues of $6 billion as the world’s leader in disk drives for personal computers and the world’s largest tape drive business. He joined Quantum in 1984 and served on its Board from 1995 until 2014.

After leaving Quantum, Michael served as Chairman of EqualLogic, a storage array company. Dell acquired EqualLogic in 2008 for $1.4 billion, the largest all-cash deal for a venture-backed company up to that time.

He has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Berklee College of Music in Boston since 2013 and previously served on the President’s Advisory Council.

Michael received his BA degree in economics from Harvard University in 1980 and his MBA degree from Stanford University in 1984.