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The Director

Stephen (Steve) J. Lukasik
(1931 – 2019)
On Thursday, Stephen J. Lukasik passed away peacefully at the age of 88. He was the legend in a field with no peer. For nearly half a century, he shaped the development of national security and network technology developments at a level and extent that is unlikely ever to be matched. For a great many of us in that arena from the 1960s past the Millennium, he was the demanding visionary leader who set the policies and directions, framed the challenges, approved and funded the projects, and questioned the results. He remained so until his final days—leaving an enormous body of material that he produced himself as an extraordinary writer. For all that he accomplished, he also disdained fame and awards—preferring to give credit to the teams of people that he led. He was The Director.

Having seen the newspaper photos of Hiroshima’s destruction as a teenager growing up on Staten Island, he dedicated his career driven to avoid similar destruction in the United States. An avid reader and researcher, he eventually amassed a personal library of nearly 10,000 books relating to every dimension of national security. Along the way, he was the second longest-serving DARPA Director during key technology development periods, having also served as Deputy. He was Chief Scientist at RAND. He was brought into the FCC by its chairman to completely rebuild and lead its strategic technology capabilities. He led and shaped almost every U.S. national security committee that existed at that time. After four years at the FCC, he shifted to hard-core defense technologies at Northrup-TRW to lead stealth aircraft developments. In the 1990s, he was personally supported by SAIC’s founder/CEO to pursue whatever he thought was needed. Almost every national security agency joined in to get some slice of his time.

Thus, the past twenty-five years of his life was spent dealing with collateral national security threats that some of his approved projects had created—notably, the DARPA internet. In the mid-90s, he began pulling together expert interdisciplinary teams to effectively create the sectors now known as cybersecurity and infrastructure protection. Among all the networking luminaries contributing to the seminal IEEE Internet Computing Millennium issue, only Lukasik cautioned be careful what you wish for—asking the seminal question “will we be better off.” One of his classified reports to DOD largely predicted the Sep 11, 2001 attacks being coordinated via the internet and proposed means of detection. A subsequent report a decade ago, described in amazing detail, the Russian attacks on our socio-political fabric in 2016 and mitigations that were never pursued.

Although most of Lukasik’s accomplishments are not relevant to the readership here, many are. The obvious ones are approving, funding, and championing some of the most important network/internet technology and research occurring during their formative years. It is unlikely there would have ever been a DARPA internet if he had not done so. At the FCC, his seminal accomplishments were twofold: enabling the public, commercial use of spread spectrum technology, and setting the policies that enabled internetworking technologies to proceed indefinitely unregulated—known as forbearance.

At the FCC, his presence was immediate and legendary. Every wall of his office was filled with photos and paintings of waves. It represented the importance of capturing and analyzing the signatures of electromagnetic and physical phenomenon that went into the ability to detect adversarial developments. At DARPA, Lukasik envisioned, funded, and led the development of essentially all the sensor systems in the sea, in networks, on satellites. He was also the control on “Dr. Strangelove” through myriad efforts to “secure the nukes.” In recent years, his related advocacy of response reciprocity led the defense community away from kinetic weapons and resulted in the formation of the Cyber Command. Few people knew the scope of that work, which is threaded through the histories of national security agencies.

At the FCC, Lukasik was a profound, refreshing change as he imported his management style of omnivorous knowledge development, leveraging of resources at other agencies, and no BS exploration of strategies, challenges, and possible solutions. It was a renaissance period that slowly disappeared after he left, and never returned. However, at the time, it significantly shaped some key network developments for the nation and the world—which other members of the team, like General Counsel Bob Bruce, brought to European and global regulatory policy circles. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, it also facilitated major industry players to pursue global markets through massive participation in intergovernmental bodies, especially the CCITT, CCIR, and treaty conferences for radio, internet, and satellite systems.

Steve also left his mark on all of his many admirers, friends, and colleagues who carry on today in a world where facts, knowledge, and thorough analysis mixed with pragmatic altruism are often not well appreciated. His constant admonition of “what are the challenges and how are you going to deal with them” will always remain with them.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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