“Our soft power was on decline before the coronavirus happened but then some of the steps that the Trump administration took amid the crisis I think served to further harm the American image”
- David Sanger
National Security Correspondent, The New York Times
Hari Sreenivasan of PBS NewsHour Interviews David Sanger
WHY HIM, WHY NOW?
As someone who talks to national security leaders on a daily basis, he can speak to how the coronavirus crisis might reconfigure the world order and what new cybersecurity threats the U.S. might be facing in the coming months.
Cyber security, warfare, politics, 5G
In Sanger’s 36 years at The Times, he’s served as Tokyo bureau chief, Washington economic correspondent, White House correspondent during the Clinton and Bush administrations, and chief Washington correspondent. In Tokyo, he wrote about Japan’s emergence as a major American competitor and then its devastating recession. He also wrote many of the first articles about North Korea’s emerging nuclear weapons program. In his Washington reporter roles, he focused on issues of nuclear proliferation and the rise of cyberconflict. He also revealed the American-Israeli effort to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program with the Stuxnet worm (the documentary “Zero Days” chronicled his pursuit of the story in 2016). He was part of the team that investigated the causes of the Challenger disaster in 1986, an effort which won a Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. In 1999, he was part of a second Pulitzer-winning team that investigated the struggles within the Clinton administration over controlling technology exports to China. He also reported a documentary, “Nuclear Jihad,” that explained the workings of the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network (which was also a finalist for a Pulitzer). He’s also won the Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting for his coverage of the Iraq and Korea crises, the Aldo Beckman prize for coverage of the presidency, and the Merriman Smith Memorial Award for coverage of national security issues (twice). In addition to his Times reporting, he appears regularly on Washington Week and the Charlie Rose Show on PBS, as well as the Sunday news shows Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and This Week. He also delivers the weekly Washington Report on WQXR, which is part of New York Public Radio. He graduated from Harvard in 1982 and was the first Senior Fellow in The Press and National Security at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. He currently teaches a course about challenges in American national security and the press at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
DEGREE Bachelor’s (B.A.) from Harvard
MAJOR PUBLICATIONS “Does the Coronavirus Task Force Even Matter for Trump?,” The New York Times, May 2020 Sanger asks whether the advisory group even matters if the president ignores the information and guidance it offers. He unpacks Trump’s statement that he decided to keep the task force because it was “popular,” not because he needed its policy advice. “Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded,” The New York Times, March 2020 Sanger reveals that although government exercises made it clear that the U.S. was ill-prepared to weather a pandemic, little was done to correct the failings. The offending draft report was marked “not to be disclosed” and the U.S. suffered the consequences when the coronavirus arrived in March. Books
Sanger’s latest book is The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age (2018), which examines the emergence of cyberconflict in both large and small states and how this trend is changing the nature of global power. It’s currently being developed into an HBO documentary. He’s also the author of two books on national security and foreign policy: The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power (2009) and Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (2012).
“David E. Sanger on What Makes Cyber the Perfect Weapon,” International Peace Institute, October 2018 Sanger outlines the advantages of cyber weapons: They’re cheap, reliable, portable, easily hidden, and hard to detect. Most importantly, he notes, they can be dialed up and down, unlike a nuclear weapon. “The Perfect Weapon' Tells The Story Of Growing Cyber War That The U.S. Is Fighting,” NPR, June 2018 Ari Shapiro interviews Sanger about the cyber war the U.S. is fighting in secret. Sanger ponders whether we can consider cyberattacks short of war based on muted reactions from victimized nations and how countries have engaged in plenty of mischief in America while avoiding triggering a cyber Pearl Harbor.
RECENT VIDEO INTERVIEWS
“Navigating Cyber Conflict: A Conversation With David Sanger,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 2018 Sanger explains that states have come to rely on cyberattacks to influence opponents because such strategies are stealthy, cheap, and easy to deny, yet allow states to accomplish goals that could previously only be achieved by bombing. “A Conversation with New York Times Correspondent David Sanger,” VTDigger, September 2019 Sanger discusses how he envisions the U.S. or Saudi Arabia using cyberattacks against Iran. He emphasizes that unlike a nuclear weapon, cyber warfare is easily calibrated to attack very specific targets. He points out that the U.S. has a massive cyber arsenal but has yet to have a conversation about how or even whether to use it.