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On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, Concordia and Mizuho Securities USA, Inc. hosted a roundtable discussion featuring Frances Fragos Townsend. Townsend, the Former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and current Executive Vice President of Worldwide Government, Legal and Business Affairs at MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, focused on cybersecurity, counter extremism and foreign policy. Townsend and attendees discussed the growing threat posed by an unstable Middle East and the critical importance of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).

Matthew Swift and John Koudounis opened the roundtable discussion by asking for Townsend’s views on the state of the world. Townsend began with a detailed assessment of the nature of post 9/11 security threats and how the tactics of extremist groups have evolved substantially since the attacks on the World Trade Center. She remarked that in contrast to Al-Qaeda’s strategy in 2001, ISIL has no need to cross physical borders. It can utilize social media to recruit and deploy proxies for an attack on U.S. soil. “They’re using our greatest strength against us — the internet,” Townsend stated.

Townsend also asserted the critical need for bipartisan cooperation on the national security front: “We’ve gotten more and more partisan —hyper partisan. We’ve become so distracted with fighting each other that we aren’t working together against the common goal of those trying to harm us,” she said. Emphasizing the importance of more private sector support of cyber-security efforts, Townsend underscored the need for public-private partnerships (P3s) between the tech community and the U.S. government.

When asked what her priorities would be if she were running for office, Townsend stated that she would prioritize cybersecurity and American infrastructure. In light of the recent hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, Townsend stated that comprehensive protective measures must be put in place to secure government systems and other vulnerable targets.

Townsend shared her assessment of the current conflict in Syria. She issued a call for U.S. intervention to protect civilian populations and combat the genocide occurring in Syria. She observed that Syria is currently home to the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Townsend described how generations of young Syrians, from infants to young adults, are witnessing the massacre of family members, friends, and neighbors while the international community stands idly by. By allowing Syrians to reach such a point of desperation, Townsend noted, the world has inadvertently set the stage for future radicalization of Syrians by extremist groups like ISIL. “Loyalty will be bought with bread,” said Townsend. Townsend argued that a long-term strategy for the Middle East that concentrates on economic and social stability, or what military planners traditionally term Phase IV Operations, is essential for sustaining peace.

In their closing remarks, Matthew Swift and Frances Townsend stated that in Concordia’s effort to raise awareness on the importance of CVE strategies in meeting such wide ranging threats, Townsend will participate in several sessions on private and public sector engagement in U.S. national security at this year’s Summit, to be held on October 1-2, 2015.

To learn more about the shifting landscape of counterextremism, watch Concordia Co-Founder Matthew Swift’s interview with Frances Townsend.

For more information about how to become a member of Concordia and receive invitations to this and other events, please visit http://concordia.net/membership/ or contact Program Manager Donniell Silva at dsilva@concordia.net.

Engage with the conversation by tweeting @ConcordiaSummit and @FranTownsend using the hashtag #ConcordiaConvo.