Washington and Silicon Valley Session on ISIS and Social Media Marked by Surprising Civility

January 9, 2016, 8:56 PM UTC
President Obama Speaks In The East Room Of White House On Efforts To Reduce Gun Violence
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 05: Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey arrives in the East Room before President Barack Obama delivers remarks about his efforts to increase federal gun control at the White House January 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. Without approval from Congress, Obama is sidestepping the legislative process with executive actions to expand background checks for some firearm purchases and step up federal enforcement of existing gun laws. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

A version of this post titled “When capitals collide” originally appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech-business newsletter. Subscribe here.

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled Cyber Saturday dispatch, dear readers. I hope you’ve had a pleasant new year. (I know I have.)

To build on what your weekday host, Adam Lashinsky, reported yesterday—that Washington’s law enforcement and intelligence establishment planned to pay a visit to Silicon Valley on Friday—Fortune has now learned more about the proceedings of that closed-door meeting. Yes, the reports are in. And they’re surprisingly…encouraging?

The nation’s biggest spy and security bosses convened in the tech Mecca—a calculated show of deference, no doubt—to make a request: Help, they beseeched, terrorism cannot be countered alone. Indeed, the threats our increasingly connected world faces today are unlike any that have come before; operatives coordinate—crowd-source, really—attacks through the social media networks and messaging apps that ordinary citizens enjoy for purposes of free expression. These same tools of democracy are being exploited to radicalize and recruit mass murderers. What can anyone do to fight back?

Presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—the respective Democratic and Republican frontrunners—have both recently called upon the ingenuity of America’s innovation capital to help combat the Islamic State in cyberspace. And that’s just what Friday’s hours-long conversation entailed. At the table, no paucity of leadership: Tim Cook of Apple, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and Susan Wojcicki of Google, to name a few of the big hitters representing the coding contingent. From that other capital: James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, and James Clapper, director of national intelligence, among others. What might easily have devolved into a clash of titans manifested as a discussion marked by civility and the potential for (cautious) collaboration.

Matthew Prince, CEO of CloudFlare, told Fortune after the summit that he went into the meeting highly skeptical of the other side’s aims and intentions. He was prepared to hold his ground against strong-arming and arguments. That’s why he was pleasantly surprised to discover that Washington’s bigwigs approached the tech side in the spirit of unpretentious partnership—not asking for “backdoor” access to data, but for assistance in brainstorming possible ways to keep social media sites safe and open fora for users. “I came in tweeting cynically, and I left feeling optimistic,” he said.

“It’s what I would hope a government would do,” he added.

The suits and the hoodies have often talked past one another on matters of security in recent months, especially when it comes to encryption. Perhaps the latest confab signals a detente of sorts. D.C. and S.V. may not see eye to eye on every issue, but they can at least agree on the common enemy of their enemy.

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