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Lt. Gen. Ron Burgess

College of Liberal Arts alum

Lt. Gen. Ron Burgess, a 38-year U.S. Army veteran who spent much of his career in the upper levels of military intelligence and security, is now serving Auburn University as senior counsel for national security programs, cyber programs and military affairs.

A 1974 Auburn graduate, Burgess served as director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency from 2009 until July 2012, prior to his retirement from the Army last September. At Auburn, he coordinates with the university's Office of the Vice President for Research to provide guidance, direction and support for a broad range of interdisciplinary research as an integral part of the Auburn University Cyber Initiative.

Watch an interview of Burgess discussing Auburn's designation as an NSA Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations here.

1. What will Auburn's designation as an NSA Center of Academic Excellence do for our cybersecurity program?

The trifold designation (Center of Excellence for Research, Teaching and Operations) is a terrific stamp of approval, recognizing a high level of competency practiced among the faculty and students participating in the program. It will allow us to interface at the highest levels with agencies and with industries working in the cyber domain. Utilizing this interface will add rigor to our curriculum, enabling us to develop the specific skill sets needed not only at the national level, but the state level as well. There will be new opportunities for student internships and co-ops that provide valuable real-world experience. Our students will leave here better-prepared to contribute meaningfully from day one, as opposed to having to deal with a near vertical learning curve.

Informed by these interactions, we will continue to develop our research capabilities in terms of looking at practices and products that will benefit private and public sector interests. This designation will serve as a mechanism by which experts can be exchanged and can work collaboratively on areas of common interest. Further, we will now be in a position to access funding that has previously been unavailable.

Depending on which source you consider, over the next several years, the Pentagon will need anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 cyber warriors. If you add industry needs, those numbers increase to somewhere between 20,000 to 50,000 cyber personnel. Working with the NSA will help us be more effective in training the workforce needed by the military, the Intelligence Community, business and industry. At the end of the day, it's about equipping the nation to deal with the increasingly complex and often hostile cyber domain.

2. Why is information security so important to our government and citizenry?

National Security and the U.S. economy are inextricably intertwined. The place that they meet is the cyber realm, which in many ways remains the "wild west" in that it is largely unregulated and uncontrolled. The United States, whether it is at the level of government, business, utilities and industry or the individual level is in a state of almost constant cyber-attack. The cost estimates associated with these attacks and with protecting our critical infrastructure (utility systems, financial systems, etc.) from attack range from significant to massive. Threats to information security are sophisticated and rapidly evolving. The only way these continuous threats can be mitigated is by equipping individuals and organizations with the most rigorous and up-to-date techniques, tactics and protocols with which to do battle. All of this requires research and education, where Auburn plays a strong and constant role.

3. Where do you see Auburn's cybersecurity program in five years?

We are in the early stages in what will soon be rapid growth. The designation as a Center for Academic Excellence in Teaching, Research and Operations by NSA represents a great step toward that growth. Auburn is currently working on expanding its partnerships with the government and private sectors. Some of this expansion has already developed through the initiation of formalized collaborative agreements, including our most recent with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We look forward to welcoming additional faculty members and students, and to a planned, stand-alone, multi-level secured facility intended to foster a robust, collaborative environment in which business, community and government have an active presence. In the months and years to come, curriculum and research efforts will continue to be refined, resources will be secured, funding streams matured, and infrastructure put in place to make sure that the Auburn University Cyber Initiative is making significant contributions to individual, corporate and national security.

4. You came back to work for Auburn after a long career in military intelligence. How have the last 10 months been?

It has been a great 10 months. My wife and I have enjoyed readjusting to Southern living and being back in Alabama. It has been a whirlwind from a job standpoint as I work with my many teammates at the university to strengthen and advance our capabilities and resources. Moving and adjusting to new surroundings has been part of our life in the military, but this move has been less hectic and a true labor of love.

5. What are your favorite memories of Auburn from your time as a student, and how has the university and community changed since you graduated in 1974?

My favorite memories from my days at Auburn involve ROTC, all Auburn sports, my involvement in my fraternity (Theta Xi) and frequent visits to the Sani-Flush (my metabolism was a lot more helpful back then). While some things have changed, much remains as I remember (the advantage of growing older). From a change standpoint the growth in the university and the greater Auburn-Opelika area is one that jumps out. Additionally, the move to a walking campus, the explosion in eating establishments and the number of cars are all evidence of change. What has not changed is the friendly feel of the campus and its students and faculty, the festive spirit in and around a football Saturday and the Auburn spirit.

Sept. 30, 2013