‘Ukrainian resistance is an example for the entire free world’. An American executive’s view on transparency and the rule of law in Ukraine

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In the latest episode of Lviv International Talks, presented by Lviv Now, our distinguished guest is Andrew Borene. Based in London, Borene serves as the Executive Director of Flashpoint, a risk intelligence firm. With a diverse background spanning government, counterintelligence, national security law, business, technology, and cybersecurity, Borene is also a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations and the UK’s Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs. During the interview, he emphasized the vital importance of implementing stringent anti-corruption measures within the Ukrainian IT sector and advocating for the rule of law in Ukraine. These actions are indispensable to ensure Ukraine’s full interoperability with Western economies and to establish robust and trustworthy business relationships in the future.
Photo by Ivan Stanislavskyi/Tvoe Misto

Photo by Ivan Stanislavskyi/Tvoe Misto

You’ve done so many different things in your life. Why do you think the cybersecurity you spoke about at the Lviv IT Arena is so important?

Thank you. I’ve just been overwhelmed with how friendly the Ukrainian people are. It’s just been a great honor to be here. I’ve been studying and watching your struggle against Russian aggression for some time now. It’s a real honor and humbling to be on the frontline in cybersecurity. That was part of my remarks. It’s an unfortunate reality that Ukraine’s IT sector, universities, and researchers are under a new form of hybrid attack of Russian aggression using proxies, cyber means, traditional human intelligence or espionage, and obviously kinetic warfare with some hard battle lines thrown in a hot war. I am actually humbled to be here and I’m very excited because I think what we see coming from Ukraine in the future is that your information technology professionals will be able to say that they’ve been developing battle-tested systems for a multi-front hybrid conflict. Again, it’s unfortunate, but I think that the experience of being in this struggle successfully is going to become a really helpful export to NATO, to the United States, to the United Kingdom, and to other EU economies.

In your panel at the IT Arena, you spoke about Ukrainian IT and cyber supply chain battlefield decisions that could be a precondition for long-term business success in the U.S., EU, and other Western markets. So it’s not only about the military, but can you explain more and recap a little bit of your presentation?

One of the things that I talked about, I showed some slides. In 2003, I was a Marine officer participating in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Arguably, that was a very successful military operation. That invasion was the longest amphibious movement of troops in world history, bypassing more than 10 U.S. divisions, and it integrated intelligence in ways that hadn’t been done before. I was also showing some photographs of public-private partnerships when I was at a private sector company in Symantec, a meeting I had with the NATO Secretary General, a government, and a private sector entity, a meeting I had with the Department of Homeland Security’s Director for Critical Infrastructure Security, a meeting I had with Albanians recently, which was bringing together government, academic and industry leadership to develop a cyber defense strategy for the whole of society. Oftentimes in war or in conflict, it is appropriate to take actions that are not appropriate in a peacetime setting. 

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news. I don’t want to come from America and kind of be looking down the nose, but my thesis was that it’s really important for the information technology economy in particular to build trusted partnerships, to find trusted capital partners, to find pathways for compliant entry into the US market, the EU market, UK market, because those economies have strict anti-corruption practices.

Another thing I mentioned is that it is absolutely true that there are corruption criminal cases in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and obviously in the EU. But when we talk about defense procurement corruption, it’s taken very seriously. There are arrests made and people are prosecuted. And it’s like looking under the hood of a business, which I’ve done as a lawyer, which I’ve done working in financial services or even in business intelligence. My message was there is hope and there are many excited partners in the United States, UK, other Western economies, and across NATO, but for Ukraine to become fully interoperable, not just as a wartime partner, but as a peacetime partner, to really realize the gains of peace and prosperity, it’s going to require probably some cultural change. That’s not meant as a criticism, it’s meant as a message of hope that we can really secure great relationships to do business together in the future.

Could you explain here what you mean by this cultural change?

I think there’s a perception that historically Ukrainian has had some challenges with government procurement corruption. In the United States, there’s a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It bars U.S. companies from either paying bribes or working with companies that pay bribes. Our adversaries don’t have that challenge, right? Particularly the big, the really big bad adversaries. They can move into an economy and they can participate in a cultural norm. It might not be called bribery or corruption. It might be called other things that sound nicer. But that transparency and trust in the system has to be built person to person, relationship to relationship, one brick at a time. 

And so again, I’m very hopeful, but I also recognize that we have to address that perception and create business relationships rooted in transparency, trust, and in alignment with things like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and on the privacy side, in compliance with the General Data Protection Regime for the EU. So, knowing both things, that it is difficult in the IT economy, and it is a wartime setting in what I would call in extremis as a lawyer, things that are absolutely justified and must be done from cyber defense, from countering things through cyber offense, those tools are going to pay off because Ukrainians are trusted allies in this struggle.

I also think it’s really important that we build partnerships that already comply with Western regimes and definitely with things like NATO interoperability because I think Ukraine has so much to offer the NATO allies who also face the same threats from Putin’s regime.

One of Ukrainian’s big intellectuals, Yevhen Hlibovytsky, who is an expert in strategies, said that there were wrong decisions previously, after 2014, taken by the U.S. when it could offer either security for Ukraine or support for anti-corruption institutions, and it chose the latter. It didn’t work that well because there was no security, but it is something that is needed as a basis. What do you think about it as a person with experience as a lawyer, attorney, and intelligence officer?

As a lawyer, I’m going to say it depends. There is an expression in finance – don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see in the Wall Street Journal. There is the same expression we say in the intelligence community when we train new officers – don’t do anything that you wouldn’t stand by in the Washington Post. America has some history of challenges, of things that were done in the dark that when exposed were embarrassing. I think what you want to do is to ensure that those align with the values. I think that I and the Ukrainian people, all, believe in individual human rights. We believe nobody should get murdered by their government. We believe people should have the right to believe what they want to believe. We may not have an exactly aligned thing about privacy. That varies from country to country. Some countries have extremely tight privacy laws. Other countries support law enforcement in ways where there are more robust searches available. But I think on the whole, that what distinguishes us is the values of individual human rights, the right to life for human beings, and then sovereign states to be secure in their borders. Then I’m going to add that we all believe in the rule of law and a fair playing field. 

One of the long-term concerns is that if corruption or bribery is not combated, it’ll never go away. If there’s no active combating of that, that will ultimately hurt the national security of a country because an army buys inferior goods if a general is bribed. An intelligence service could get software that didn’t work because somebody took a bribe. That is completely antithetical to me as a human being who wants to see Ukraine win this fight and wants to see the prosperity that can come from peace. I think we want to do things that move us absolutely in that direction of transparency and level playing field so that we win the fight with the best technologies, the best equipment, the best training, all of these things that must be brought into the military supply chain. 

One of the interesting questions I got – what can we do? I think that’s the answer – to speak up, to embrace free world values, your individual human right to speak, to leverage free press. And then the other one was, well, about the fact that last week or the last month there were these cases and it makes Ukraine look bad in the international media. Well, here’s my answer, and I really do stand by this – there is no country where it doesn’t exist, and it makes sense that if there’s a transition toward more transparency, more fair play for business and economy, there may be some cases. If you’re fighting transnational crime, hypothetically, when the Italians were fighting transnational crime in Italy, there were suddenly more prosecutions of gangsters. The gangsters were there before the prosecutions, but the prosecutions were actually an indicator of moving toward a clean bill of health. I think that’s actually how I would look at it. Why do we get a fever when we’re sick? Well, our body is fighting the infection. So I think cases that come to the public light that demonstrate that this is being combated speak about the transition toward a much more Western-looking economy.

Great. Thank you. And the last question is about Ukraine and your perception. It’s your first time in Ukraine. You came to Lviv. What is your impression of these first few days?

I am really happy to see people living their lives. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I saw a bustling city. I experienced an air raid yesterday and I moved to a shelter and people were calm. Parents were helping their children move to the shelter briefly. One of my big surprises was kind of how when it was determined it was a MiG launch, everybody decided, oh, well, it’s just a MiG. They usually go elsewhere. I didn’t think in my lifetime that I would see a war in Europe as I was growing up and even in my time in the Marine Corps. But here it is. And the Ukrainian people day to day and the people of Lviv really are showing me that they live their lives as best they can and continue to resist. And that, I mean, that’s an example for the entire free world. 

The interview was conducted by Taras Yatsenko

Photos by Ivan Stanislavskyi/ Tvoe Misto

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