In a move that underscored the centrality of cyberwarfare to the Defense Department’s national security mission, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit has named former Symantec chief executive Michael A. Brown managing director.
"Mike’s notable academic contributions in both assessment of Chinese technological advances and [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] reform round out his unique background, and I am pleased that he chose to serve our nation as DIU director,” Defense Department Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael D. Griffin said in a news release.
The Defense Innovation Unit was created in 2015 with a mandate to forge closer ties between Silicon Valley and the U.S. military. It was given “rapid prototyping” authorities that have enabled it to award contracts more quickly than the norm. It has used such arrangements to attract commercial tech companies unaccustomed to doing business with the military, funding autonomous drones, artificial intelligence applied to vehicle repair and much more.
Its use of those authorities has also led to criticism that it is little more than a loophole for defense contractors to avoid regulation. In February, it abruptly slashed an important cloud migration contract from $950 million to $65 million after competitors characterized the award as a handout to Amazon. The Government Accountability Office later ruled that the Pentagon “did not properly exercise the authority granted to it.” (Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Brown’s appointment puts an end to speculation about whether the fledgling agency would survive its first presidential transition. The agency was championed by Obama administration Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter as part of a broader set of technology initiatives termed “the Third Offset.” It has been without a permanent managing director after Raj Shah left in February.
Initially named the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, the agency dropped the “Experimental” from its name to symbolize that it is here to stay.
“The organization is no longer a start-up and is already speeding the adoption of leading commercial technology across the military,” Brown said in a news release. “Given that the nation is in a technology race, growing and accessing the National Security Innovation Base is more important than ever before.”