Cybersecurity, responsible journalism and Americans’ crisis of confidence were a few of the issues Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, took on during a Wednesday morning Q&A with Reuters editor at large Sir Harold Evans.
Before “No Man Above the Law; No Man Below It: Meting Out Justice in the 21st Century” got under way at Reuters’ Times Square office, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton chatted with his predecessor Ray Kelly. Tina Brown was also in the mix. Before the two headliners got down to brass tacks, attendees learned of Bharara’s affinity for Clarence Darrow, his 30-concerts-strong Bruce Springsteen habit and how his U.S. attorney office has won 82 convictions for insider trading cases.
Referring to cyber threats, Bharara said for too long companies excused their inability to safeguard against them by saying they didn’t really understand it. He insisted that senior executives need to tackle the issue with the same attitude they use to lead or motivate people and not be scared of dealing with it. “There’s no bigger issue for anybody to be thinking about for national security reasons, economic reasons, infrastructure reasons and pure theft of money. Companies are uniquely situated to be the policemen of their networks, intellectual property and other information. Someone once said, ‘We’re now witnessing in the modern age the greatest transfer of wealth in human history,’ and it’s in part because people are stealing intellectual property, trade secrets and other material from good American companies,” Bharara said.
He continued, “Like everything else in the world, the best police force for protecting against bad things happening are the people who are within the institution itself. So financial institutions here in New York have banded together and are sharing information at a better rate and at a greater scope than they ever have before. But you still find too many companies that don’t have a plan…that sort of offload this issue of dealing with a cyber threat to the IT people or information officer or some other person when it should be an issue that is thought about in the same way you think about issues of corporate governance and corporate risk like competition or regulatory issues that should be front and center for the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, board of directors and shareholders as well.”
Cautioning that everyone needs to exercise some discretion and responsibility with respect to allegations, Bharara said that is especially true in the journalism world, where people will not have the opportunity to defend themselves. “At least with respect to U.S. attorneys and districts of attorney, when we make allegations against people, there is an opportunity to defend oneself in court. Sometimes people prevail and sometimes they don’t….The reason we have a seemingly high conviction rate is because we are very careful making sure we have the appropriate facts of the law on our side,” he said.
“From time to time, there are people in the world of journalism who also make allegations often through unattributed sources, saying X or Y are under investigation. They have not been charged by our office or any office, or may never be charged by any office and they get smeared and there’s no recourse for that. And people in your industry talk about transparency and that the public has a right to know.”
When Evans suggested that video has complicated Bharara’s job “enormously,” the U.S. attorney said, “I don’t know if it’s complicated it or not. It depends on the circumstances. I think generally speaking video is good,” he said. “When you have instances of he-said-she-said or he-said-he-said scenario after the event, generally speaking, I think video is impossible to be misleading. It can be edited, it can come in only at a particular time and not give the full context. But I think overall transparency in law enforcement is generally a good thing. And I think there is nothing more transparent, even though it has limitations, than video tape.”
Bharara waved off a question about what potentially might be his next gig, but he did remind the crowd that he will speak at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s and Fordham University’s International Conference on Cyber Security later this month.
Before leaving the event, Bratton noted that the New York Police Department remains committed to fighting cybersecurity and counterfeiting just as it does other issues. “With the plethora of things that we have to focus on, you can’t ignore one. We prioritize from time to time. In the city right now, we’re prioritizing on gang violence because of the loss of life and the fear that it creates,” Bratton said. “But at the same time, I have many people working on cybercrime. You literally have to be constantly attending to all of these issues. The challenge for policing, and for law enforcement in general, is that, I’ve been in the business for 45 years, to some respect the simplicity of what we dealt with in 1970 versus the complexity of what we’re dealing with in 2016 is mind boggling. But that’s what makes the job so interesting and challenging.”