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Janet Napolitano will bring UC Berkeley faculty, researchers, and students together across disciplines to explore bipartisan solutions when it comes to political security.

The new initiative, called the Center for Security in Politics — based at the Goldman School of Public Policy — will examine factors like social media disinformation, climate change debate, and foreign interference in elections, that contribute to historic levels of political instability.

The former University of California president and secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama wants to find ways to deal with those complex challenges in a focused and effective way. The center will also focus on election technology, biotechnology, changing methods of communication, artificial intelligence, and psychology.

Napolitano will appear online with three other former Homeland Security securities from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 4 in an installment of Berkeley Conversations: “Homeland Security in a Post-Trump Era.” Joining the former Arizona governor will be Jeh Johnson, who also served under Obama, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, both of whom served under President George W. Bush.

“It’s almost too soon to identify lessons from the 2020 election, but one lesson that’s become increasingly clear is that we have a population that’s almost living in two alternative universes at the same time.”

Janet Napolitano

In a statement released by UC Berkeley, Napolitano said her concept of security in politics means integrating technology-based research with practical political policymaking to create a more secure and trustworthy political environment after the 2016 and 2020 elections.

“It’s almost too soon to identify lessons from the 2020 election,” Napolitano said. “But one lesson that’s become increasingly clear is that we have a population that’s almost living in two alternative universes at the same time.”

Napolitano said one of the motivations for the center is concern over the lack of appreciation for science, data, and facts in the current political climate. It will focus on three areas: security risks from climate change; cybersecurity and emergent technologies; and election integrity.

“You can’t have a functioning democracy if people don’t believe that elections are secure,” Napolitano said. “We’ve seen that in spades in the aftermath of the 2020 election. What are the best ways to conduct an election? What are the best ways to do a post-election process so that people understand that the votes they cast were accurately counted and accounted for? That’s a particular problem that involves technology, but also political science, journalism, and so forth.”

Napolitano said it is clear Russia interfered in the 2016 election, if not in actual vote counts, then at least to cause dissension, unrest and division leading up to the election. She said it is difficult to prepare for what we don’t anticipate.

“But we do have academics (and) researchers, who spend their lives understanding the reach of what can happen,” Napolitano said. “The center gives us a great opportunity to better integrate what they know and appreciate with policymaking and politics.”

The center will sponsor research and bring practitioners and academics together to examine key issues. The initial event will be followed up in March with a daylong workshop on election integrity with officials on the “front line” during the 2020 election.

“It’s important the center is bipartisan to have a ‘good lens,’ which is why the initial event features two Democrats and two Republicans,” Napolitano said. The center will provide a “security studies umbrella for Berkeley.”

“We really want to strive to educate a diverse generation of security professionals,” Napolitano said. “My anticipation is that those who work with the center will have a larger public profile, as a result, and that the work of the center will be used in Washington, both by people on the policy side and on the political side, by the executive branch and the legislative branch, and that we’ll see the products of the center cited and used.”