Four weeks ago I recommended that the big national newsrooms create threat modeling teams to help organize coverage of the Trump government and the 2020 elections. My concern was that American democracy was being put at risk, and traditional campaign coverage was not capable of addressing that kind of threat.
Today I am back to develop this suggestion a little further, in hopes that some of our major news providers will take an interest. I consulted two people who have worked with threat modeling in other danger zones, and I asked them to help me imagine its possible uses in a newsroom setting.
One is Joshua Geltzer, currently a Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University. From 2015 to 2017 he was Senior Director for Counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff, where he particpated in what are called “table top” exercises that try to imagine how threats would play out. (This is often called “threat ideation.”) As a “customer” working on counter-terrorism for the executive branch, he used the products of threat modeling teams based in the intelligence agencies and law enforcement. He has also written about Donald Trump’s attacks on the 2020 election.
My other informant is Alex Stamos, former Chief Security Office at Facebook, and Chief Information Security Officer at Yahoo, which he described as “the most senior person at a company who is solely tasked with defending the company’s systems, software and other technical assets from attack.” At Facebook his duties were two-fold. One involved defending the company’s IT systems against hacking: “supervising the central security team that tries to understand risk across the company and work with many other teams to mitigate that risk.” His other duty was to help prevent misuse of Facebook products to cause harm. “Exploiting a software flaw to steal data is hacking. Using a product to harass people, or plan a terrorist attack, is abuse,” he explained.
Incorporating what I learned from Josh Geltzer and Alex Stamos — and from an off-the-record briefing about election threats put on by the Aspen Institute, which I attended last week — here is how I see it working.