Spy vs. spy: For­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers face off in House race

Hurd, Jones tout na­tional se­cu­rity cre­den­tials in bat­tle for San An­to­nio con­gres­sional dis­trict

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Bill Lam­brecht

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. Rep. Will Hurd keeps a radar plot on his of­fice wall from Pearl Har­bor on Dec. 7, 1941, chart­ing the mo­ments when op­er­a­tors misiden­ti­fied the Ja­panese planes be­fore they at­tacked, killing more than 2,300 Amer­i­can mil­i­tary per­son­nel and de­stroy­ing more than a dozen ships.

For Hurd, R-San An­to­nio, a for­mer CIA of­fi­cer, the print is a re­minder of the con­se­quences of in­tel­li­gence fail­ings and a his­tor­i­cal marker close at hand as he pur­sues na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues in Congress.

“It’s my back­ground, it’s my pas­sion,” he said. “Be­ing able to work on the most im­por­tant na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges of the day is what I love do­ing and why I ran for Congress.”

Gina Or­tiz Jones, Hurd’s Demo­cratic op­po­nent, also knows some­thing about na­tional se­cu­rity. Af­ter a ca­reer as an Air Force in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer that landed her in the Iraq War, Jones worked in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion along­side the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency and the CIA to spot se­cu­rity risks in for­eign in­vest­ments and fer­ret out theft of Amer­i­can trade se­crets.

“My back­ground from the very tac­ti­cal in Iraq to the very strate­gic, work­ing on eco­nomic and se­cu­rity poli­cies in the ex­ec­u­tive of­fice of the pres­i­dent, is an un­matched na­tional se­cu­rity back­ground in this race,” she said.

In Novem­ber, vot­ers in the San An­to­nio-area 23rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict will choose be­tween two can­di­dates with ex­ten­sive se­cu­rity ex­pe­ri­ence. The dis­trict stretches from San An­to­nio to the out­skirts of El Paso, tak­ing in all or part of 29 coun­ties and in­clud­ing more than 800 miles of bor­der.

The cre­den­tials of Hurd and Jones fit the ter­ri­tory: San An­to­nio is home to a main Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency hub, the Air Force Cy­ber Com­mand and a bur­geon­ing cy­ber­se­cu­rity in­dus­try. And there’s that ex­panse of bor­der, a front-burner mat­ter of se­cu­rity in Congress.

Af­ter nearly two terms, Hurd, 41, al­ready is a leader on cy­berse-

cu­rity, chair­ing a panel that ex­plores hack­ing threats and fo­cuses heav­ily on ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, es­pe­cially ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Jones, 37, brings com­bat ex­pe­ri­ence along with her in­tel­li­gence back­ground and what she de­scribes as her un­der­stand­ing of vet­er­ans’ needs.

There are, of course, dif­fer­ences in their paths to pol­i­tics.

Hurd: “She was an an­a­lyst and I was an op­er­a­tor.”

Jones: “As an op­er­a­tor, he would know that it was ac­tu­ally the an­a­lysts’ work that drove the things that he went out to col­lect. The ques­tions that peo­ple like him go and an­swer, I wrote those.”

Hurd: “I took many an­a­lysts with me to give them real-world ex­pe­ri­ence on the ground. The dif­fer­ence is, col­lec­tors are the ones out on the streets, in the back al­leys, liv­ing in these en­vi­ron­ments.”

In the end, both agreed, an­a­lysts and op­er­a­tors work to­gether.

Ca­reer against al-Qaida

At Texas A&M Univer­sity, Hurd, a sopho­more com­puter science ma­jor, de­cided to ex­pand his hori­zons. He in­vested $425 of the $450 in his check­ing ac­count to take jour­nal­ism classes in Mex­ico City.

Later, he came un­der the sway of for­mer Di­rec­tor of Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Robert Gates, who would be­come Texas A&M pres­i­dent be­fore re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton to head the Pen­tagon un­der two ad­min­is­tra­tions.

But Hurd’s de­ci­sion to ap­ply to the CIA wouldn’t be­come a sure thing un­til he heard a lec­ture from for­mer CIA coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence chief James Olson, who had joined the fac­ulty at Col­lege Sta­tion, in which he talked about life as a spy.

“The next day, I went to his of­fice and said tell me more,” Hurd re­called.

In Oc­to­ber 2000, driv­ing his Toy­ota 4Run­ner from Texas to Wash­ing­ton to re­port to work at the CIA, Hurd learned that 17 sailors had died when an ex­plo­sives-laden boat rammed the USS Cole, a guided-mis­sile de­stroyer, off the south­ern coast of Ye­men. The at­tack was at­trib­uted to al-Qaida.

Hurd was still in train­ing when he was sent to Ye­men as the CIA ac­cel­er­ated ef­forts to pin­point other ter­ror­ism threats on the Arab Penin­sula.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Hurd was back at CIA head­quar­ters at Lan­g­ley, Va. He had to walk part way back to Wash­ing­ton be­cause of traf­fic and chaos in the city. At 2:30 a.m., he was or­dered to re­turn to the base­ment at Lan­g­ley. He wasn’t told why.

Four hours later, Hurd learned the rea­son: He was be­ing as­signed to a spe­cial op­er­a­tions unit headed by Henry Crump­ton, who be­came known as a key ar­chi­tect of the war in Afghanistan.

“My CIA ca­reer lit­er­ally started by deal­ing with alQaida and was in­flu­enced by them,” he said.

Hurd man­aged CIA un­der­cover op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan. On Capi­tol Hill, he likes to say, “I was the dude in the back al­leys at 4 in the morn­ing.”

In an in­ter­view, Hurd added a few de­tails about his work Afghanistan. “We helped re­move bombs off the street that were be­ing used to tar­get the U.S. and in­ter­na­tional part­ners. We dis­man­tled sui­cide vests; peo­ple were man­u­fac­tur­ing them there. We helped out with (CIA) sta­tion op­er­a­tions.”

Hurd also briefed mem­bers of Congress who trav­eled to South Asia. He found the task dis­con­cert­ing when some of the vis­i­tors didn’t know the dif­fer­ences be­tween the branches of the Mus­lim faith. In 2009, he left the CIA af­ter nine and a half years and joined a cy­ber­se­cu­rity com­pany, in­tent on be­com­ing a mem­ber of Congress.

From ter­ror­ism to AI

In Au­gust, at a cam­paign kick­off in San An­to­nio in Au­gust, Hurd warned fam­ily and close sup­port­ers about China.

“These are se­ri­ous times and we need se­ri­ous peo­ple. China is a true ex­is­ten­tial threat. By 2049, China is try­ing to be­come the lone world su­per­power,” he said. “They don’t care about things like break­ing into our sys­tems and steal­ing our in­for­ma­tion and our in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.”

It took un­til 2014 for Hurd to win his con­gres­sional seat af­ter los­ing a pri­mary bid in 2010 and then join­ing the se­cu­rity firm headed by Crump­ton, a men­tor of his.

Fo­cus­ing heav­ily on cy­ber­se­cu­rity in Congress, Hurd has a list of ac­com­plish­ments in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tion that pre­scribes a new sys­tem for fed­eral govern­ment pur­chase of some $80 bil­lion an­nu­ally of IT equip­ment. His bill aims to save money and move away from up­keep of older com­puter gear vul­ner­a­ble to in­tru­sions.

From his post as chair­man of a House Over­sight sub­com­mit­tee on IT, Hurd has stepped up his pace of an­a­lyz­ing — and of­ten pro­mot­ing — ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies. He has con­ducted as many hear­ings on ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, or AI, as the rest of Congress com­bined.

For three days run­ning last week, Hurd de­voted time to China and AI, in­clud­ing re­lease of a re­port urg­ing “con­scious, di­rect, and spir­ited lead­er­ship from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion” to con­front the China threat.

“They have stolen our tech­nol­ogy. They are send­ing their kids to our schools and get­ting them to come back and start­ing to build their own sys­tems,” he said in an in­ter­view.

“If they get there first and they are the ones who are able to set the de facto in­ter­na­tional stan­dard, it will mean that the civil lib­er­ties we have en­shrined in our Bill of Rights will not be im­por­tant in the fu­ture in in­ter­na­tional sys­tems.”

Ex­pe­ri­ence in Iraq

Jones’ route to na­tional se­cu­rity ex­per­tise be­gan even ear­lier than Hurd’s. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing near the top of her class at John Jay High School in San An­to­nio, she won a four-year Air Force ROTC schol­ar­ship to Bos­ton Univer­sity.

Af­ter earn­ing a grad­u­ate de­gree in eco­nomics, she joined the Air Force and trained as an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer.

Jones de­ployed to Iraq in 2005 as part of the 682nd Ex­pe­di­tionary Air Sup­port Op­er­a­tions, sta­tioned at Camp Vic­tory, near Bagh­dad.

She pro­vided what she re­ferred to as sit­u­a­tional aware­ness to pi­lots. For in­stance, she would re­port how long it would take for air­craft to re­spond to en­emy en­gage­ment.

When asked about lessons she learned from com­bat, Jones re­calls the al­lies she worked along­side from Europe and Ja­pan.

“When we see some of the things that are hap­pen­ing on the in­ter­na­tional stage, and un­for­tu­nately the pres­i­dent was just laughed at in the UN, it re­ally does cause me to think about how some of these ac­tions will af­fect peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to help us in the fu­ture,” she said.

Role in Libya

Af­ter three years of ac­tive duty, Jones, who had at­tained the rank of first lieu­tenant, re­turned to San An­to­nio in 2006 to help care for her mother, who was bat­tling colon can­cer. For two years, she worked at Fort Sam Hous­ton as a con­sul­tant for Booz Allen Hamil­ton, ad­vis­ing on a range of mat­ters re­lated to Latin Amer­ica.

Jones was plugged into South Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary mat­ters at the height of Venezuela Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez’s power, dur­ing which time he alarmed Amer­i­can lead­ers with his ef­forts to ex­port his brand of so­cial­ism across the con­ti­nent.

She fo­cused on how Chavez and other lead­ers were mak­ing de­ci­sions, the reach of their in­flu­ence and the im­pact on U.S. in­ter­ests in the re­gion, she said.

Later in 2008, Jones faced a de­ci­sion: go to law school or join the new U.S. Africa Com­mand, based in Stuttgart, Ger­many. She chose Africa and the ap­peal of be­ing on a team that set up the com­mand. She trav­eled widely in Africa, car­ry­ing out in­tel­li­gence as­sign­ments that in­cluded fo­cus on the trou­bled coun­try of Libya, ruled then by Moam­mar Gad­hafi.

One of her tasks was to mea­sure re­sponse from around the world to Op­er­a­tion Odyssey Dawn, the code name for the 2011 at­tack by U.S. and Euro­pean forces on the Libyan air de­fense sys­tem. The al­lies sought to en­force a no-fly zone and pre­vent Gad­hafi’s govern­ment from car­ry­ing out fur­ther vi­o­lence on its own cit­i­zens and op­po­si­tion groups.

In Africa, Jones worked along­side lo­cal mil­i­taries, in­clud­ing in Mozam­bique, where so­cial­ism had re­cently been aban­doned in fa­vor of a free-mar­ket econ­omy. She re­called a meet­ing in Mozam­bique, seated around a table with mil­i­tary and lo­cal lead­ers, deal­ing with health is­sues.

“It dawned on me that I’m the only woman in the room and we were talk­ing about health care. But the main health care and home care providers in the coun­try are women,” she said.

In 2012, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama set about tack­ling the for­eign trade im­bal­ance that was fast be­com­ing the po­lit­i­cal is­sue that would help fuel Don­ald Trump’s rise. By ex­ec­u­tive or­der, Obama set up the In­ter­a­gency Trade En­force­ment Cen­ter, and Jones was asked to be a se­nior ad­viser ex­am­in­ing mat­ters such as the grow­ing theft of Amer­i­can in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

“I un­der­stand the im­por­tance of for­eign in­vest­ment. I un­der­stand how the econ­omy works. But I also un­der­stand how all of these things fit in the con­text of na­tional se­cu­rity,” she said.

Jones also worked for a year and a half at the Of­fice of the U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, leav­ing early in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. That op­por­tu­nity, com­bined with her mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence ex­pe­ri­ences, sug­gests the ap­proaches she would take in Congress.

“I will speak specif­i­cally about the kinds of ques­tions that we must ask be­fore we send our men and women into harm’s way,” she said. “But I also want to en­sure that when we do work on an is­sue that we’re not just look­ing at it from a mil­i­tary per­spec­tive. How does it af­fect our eco­nomic se­cu­rity, and how does this af­fect our over­all ob­jec­tives?

“The way we are go­ing to de­velop the part­ners and al­lies we need is through strong eco­nomic ties. But we have to do this with our val­ues. It’s al­ways our val­ues that carry the day.”

“(Na­tional se­cu­rity is) my back­ground, it’s my pas­sion. Be­ing able to work on the most im­por­tant na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges of the day is what I love do­ing and why I ran for Congress.”

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, Re­pub­li­can in­cum­bent

“My back­ground from the very tac­ti­cal in Iraq to the very strate­gic … in the ex­ec­u­tive of­fice of the pres­i­dent, is an un­matched na­tional se­cu­rity back­ground in this race.”

Gina Or­tiz Jones, Demo­cratic chal­lenger

Tom Reel / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Jerry Lara / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

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