OCTOBER 11, 2021
- Nicolas Chaillan served as the US Air Force’s software chief and worked on Pentagon security.
- He quit in September and told the FT last week that the US is far behind China on AI.
- “We have no competing fighting chance against China in fifteen to twenty years,” he said.
A senior cybersecurity official at the Pentagon said he quit because he thinks it’s impossible for the US to compete with China on AI.
Nicolas Chaillan joined the US Air Force as its first chief software officer in August 2018, and worked to equip it and the Pentagon with the most secure and advanced software available.
However, Chaillan quit on September 2, citing the Pentagon’s reluctance to make cybersecurity and AI a priority in his departing LinkedIn Post.
Speaking to the Financial Times in his first interview since leaving, Chaillan said China is streets ahead of the US.
“We have no competing fighting chance against China in fifteen to twenty years. Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion,” he said.
Chaillan went on to say that the AI capabilities and cyber defenses of some government departments were at “kindergarten level,” the FT said.
A number of US departments have been subject to hacking attempts and ransomware attacks in recent years.
In April 2020, the US Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and Department of Defence were compromised in the SolarWinds hack. Hackers were able to spy on the digital activities of staff and access some of their emails.
Chaillan also told the FT that US national security is being compromised by Google’s refusal to work with the Pentagon on AI.
Google stopped working with the Pentagon in 2018 after 12 employees quit over a project where Googled helped the Pentagon make software that could improve the accuracy of drone strikes.
In China, Chaillan said, private cyber and AI companies are at Beijing’s beck and call.
China is aiming to becoming the leading AI superpower by 2030, and a March report from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence warned that the US “is not prepared to defend the United States in the coming artificial intelligence (AI) era.”
Chaillan said that it doesn’t matter if the US spends three times as much as China on defense, because it is being allocated to the wrong areas, the FT said.
In the LinkedIn post announcing his departure, Chaillan said he was frustrated about the Pentagon’s reluctance to commit to cybersecurity.
“I am just tired of continuously chasing support and money to do my job. My office still has no billet [physical location] and no funding, this year and the next,” he wrote.
Chaillan told the FT he plans to testify to Congress about the threat posed by China.
Insider contacted the Pentagon for comment.