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Our interview of Will Hurd for “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere. Will is the Representative for Texas’s 23rd congressional district and has been described as one of the leading voices on technology in Congress. He serves on the House Committee on Appropriations, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, as well as several subcommittees. Prior to running for public office, Will was an undercover agent in the CIA, serving in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
The Congressman sits down with us to discuss how social media is affecting both the intelligence community and the government generally. Will shares with us memories from his time in the CIA, as well as his viral live-streamed road trip across the country with Beto O’Rourke.
A transcript of the full interview follows:
Jon: I am joined today by Congressman Will Hurd. Welcome to the podcast.
Will: Thanks for having me on. It's good to be out here.
Jon: You are the congressman for Texas's 23rd congressional district.
Will: That's right.
Jon: That includes San Antonio.
Will: San Antonio, all the way to El Paso down to Eagle Pass. It's 29 counties total. 820 miles of the border. Takes 10 and a half hours to drive across it, at 80 miles an hour, which is actually the speed limit in most of the district. And it is larger than 26 states. It's roughly the size of the state of Georgia. So San Antonio is 50% of the population. Most people don't realize San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the country. And on the other end is El Paso, which is I think the 15th or 17th largest city in the nation. And in the middle, more cows than people.
Jon: Well, I'm from Nebraska, so I can relate to the cows.
Will: You understand that. It's my home town; it's where I grew up.
Jon: And you have been described as the leading voice on technology, or one of the leading voices on technology, in Congress.
Will: The bar is very low. We start with that. There's only eight of us that have technical degrees. There's a handful more that had been involved in businesses and had some technical background. But my degrees in computer science and when I got out of the CIA, I helped start a cybersecurity company. And so figuring out how you protect people from digital threats, which was only increasing.
Jon: And we'll get to CIA, we'll get to the cyber security. Now you are on two committees, serve on two committees currently and a number of subcommittees.
Will: Yep. The Appropriations Committee, which is the committee that funds the government. I work specifically on transportation, housing, and urban development. That's one subcommittee. And the other subcommittee is VA and military construction. So when we think about the military, we fund it two different ways. All the ships, boats, and guns is one committee. And then making sure that our men and women that are serving on our bases have houses, is another committee. And so I work on that as well as the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Jon: And you're also the subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness.
Will: I am. The intelligence committee, you know, we all do a lot of work, but one of the things that we're trying to do is make sure -- when I was in the CIA, social media was just starting to become popular, so that's changed the game. We're also looking at security clearances. Why does it take nine months in a quick to do a security clearance? Oh, and by the way, does the person that lived three houses down from you and really know that much about you or can I find all that information via social media or online? And so these are some of the questions, when it comes to modernization, making sure we have the right intelligence community.
Jon: So the most important question, Mac or PC?
Will: You know, I just recently switched back to a PC. When I was in the private sector, I got put on a Mac, but now I'm back to the PC.
Jon: And do you cover the camera on your computer?
Will: I do. I do. Old Habits die hard. I still see if there's anybody following me from the grocery store.
Jon: Did anybody follow you here this morning?
Will: No, I'm clean. I'm clean and no surveillance today.
Jon: I want to ask you your thoughts on a couple political issues, but we'll come back to, towards the end. As I was getting ready for this interview, I was telling my son that I was going to interview you and he said, "so are you going to send the questions to Will in advance?" And I said, "I don't have to, he was on Bill Maher, and he did okay."
Will: Yeah. I can handle it. Like, if I can't answer questions now, then guess what, you're crummy at your job, right?
Jon: That's right. So you kinda spilled the beans, but it's impressive enough that you're a congressman. But at least for my money it's equally impressive that you were in the CIA. You are former CIA.
Will: I am.
Jon: What was your path to the CIA?
Will: Sure. So --
Jon: I want to interject just because I had Rodney Faraon on -and I looked it up, it was season two, episode one - and I asked him how he got to the CIA and he said, "I called them." And he gave the number.
Will: That's hilarious. That's great. So Rodney and I know each other through our time together in the private sector at a company called Crumpton Group and Hank Crumpton, who was a senior CIA officer as well, when he was 12 years old, he sent a letter to the CIA and the CIA responded back to him, which I thought was pretty amazing. Well, my story is, growing up in San Antonio, I went to Texas A&M, which is one of the top three largest public universities in the country. It's on the outskirts of Houston, Texas.
Jon: And I read where you got into Stanford.
Will: I did, I did get into Stanford. I knew I wanted to do computer science because of my experiences.
Jon: And Stanford doesn't do computer stuff?
Will: [Laughter] They did. But I got on A&M's campus - and I applied to A&M because it was my backup school in case I didn't get into Stanford. And I did get into Stanford, I got scholarships to go, but I was on Texas A&M's campus, and fell in love with it, and said "this is the place I should be." And I'm glad I made that decision. But I'm a freshman computer science major. I had never been outside of Texas. And I'm walking across campus and I see a sign that says to take two journalism classes in Mexico City for $425. And I had 450 bucks in my bank account from working at the computer lab in the athletic dorm. And I said, "I'm going to Mexico." So I was in Mexico for the summer.
Jon: See, in California, they do, "we're going to Tijuana."
Will: Exactly. This a little bit deeper. This is a little bit deeper into Mexico. But I fell in love being in another culture. I thought it was cool seeing things that I only read about in books. So I decided to add international studies as a minor. And my first class in international studies, I had a guest lecturer. So this was right when George H. W. Bush just created his school, the Bush school, at Texas A&M. And so they had this guest lecturer, former senior CIA guy, and he told the most amazing stories. He was like this old school cold warrior. And when he left the CIA, he was in essence the head of all the counter intelligence. So counterintelligence is trying to stop the spies from spying on us. He was involved in finding Aldrich Ames. He had spent time in Russia. He was the head of our station in Vienna. Back in the 80s, Vienna was like true spy versus spy. He was also a chief of station in Mexico City. Again, the Russians in the late seventies, early eighties, were always trying to do stuff in Mexico because of the proximity, obviously, to the United States. So that was another hotbed place. And this guy told these stories. I was just blown away. And I went to his office the next day. I'd never done that; never gone to a professor's office. Knock on his door and said, "tell me more." And that began my interest in the CIA. And so when it was time for me to graduate, I applied, put my application in, did the interviews, and got accepted. So I started when I was 22.
Jon: What year was that?
Will: So this would have been 2000. I started October of 2000.
Jon: And I read something about on your way to your first --
Will: My first day. Everybody forgets, this is back in 2000; you still had regional cell phone plans. And so I drove my car from San Antonio to Washington DC, and I was going to stop and see friends along the way. I'm at a gas station pumping gas and the Cole - the USS Cole - had just been attacked by Al-Qaeda. I remember sitting there thinking like, "man, I'm getting ready to join the CIA. I wonder if I'm going to ever know anything about that." And after I go through the initial training, I ended up --
Jon: By the way, it just occurred to me, can you tell me who killed JFK?
Speaker 3: It's actually pretty funny. In CIA 101, which is literally a class. So it's everybody who's involved in the CIA. I was on the operation side, so I was a dude in the back alleys at four o'clock in the morning collecting intelligence. Then you have the analytical side, which is doing all source analysis. So they're bringing diplomatic information, press information, stuff from the NSA, and putting it all together. And then you have the technical folks - I always say it's Q from James Bond, those folks. And one of the reasons the CIA is so great is our information, right? You keep track of everything. And they always say, "look, don't ask, don't query the database of 'where is the Lindbergh Baby?' or, 'what's in area 51?'" because they're keeping track of everything. And then they put that in your head and you're like, "do we know where the Lindbergh baby is?" So that was one of the ones, "don't ask who killed JFK." But it was a great gig.
New Speaker: I'm sorry. I interrupted you.
New Speaker: No, no, no. So that day on the USS Cole after CIA 101, I ended up working on the Yemen account. And so I helped and I spent time in Yemen. I was in Sana'a, helping to support our operations there. So my career began ultimately with Al-Qaeda.
New Speaker: And then 9/11 happened.
New Speaker: Then 9/11 happened, yeah.
New Speaker: So how did that change your career?
New Speaker: I think it changed all of us. So the counter terrorism center - this is the entity that was tracking terrorists around the world. Osama bin Laden had been known to a lot of - he was the number one target, number one priority, but he wasn't a household name.
New Speaker: Right.
New Speaker: And while the CTC was involved and active. And they had been active from 17 November, this was a Greek group. It was not the main focus of the CIA. The CIA was still classic strategic intelligence in major power operations. And after 9/11, all that changed and counter terrorism became the major focus of the organization. And on September 12th, 2001, I got a phone call at four o'clock in the morning saying, "show up at the basement of the old headquarters building because we need your help." And I was one of the early folks in what was called the Counter Terrorism Center, Special Operations Division. We were the unit that was based in Langley that helped oversee the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. I always remind folks, we've been at war for 17, 18 years. And the toll that that takes on people. There's a lot of people that have gone into these war zones seven, eight, nine times. On September 12th, everybody believed that this was just the beginning. Everybody thought that there was going to be another major attack, like what we saw happen to the Pentagon, what we saw happen to the twin towers in New York City. And guess what? There were number of operations and plans and groups that were trying to do something of that magnitude. And the reason there hasn't been another attack like what we saw on September 11th is because the men and women in the intelligence community, our diplomatic corps, our military and federal law enforcement, are still operating as if it's September 12th, 2001.
Jon: When you were, when you first joined, how many people knew that you were in the CIA? Outside of the CIA? Did Mom and Dad know?
Will: So my mom and dad knew and my sister knew. Well, my sister didn't know right away; my sister ended up being my emergency contact. And my brother is still upset to this day that he didn't know, but my brother has a big mouth and he can't keep a secret. So, they knew, and that was pretty much it. And then you had the professor at A&M that helped me. And then at the time Bob Gates, former CIA. He was the interim head of the Bush School, he ended up becoming the president of Texas A&M University, and then he was secretary of defense. He was at A&M at the time that I was applying, and I had gone and talked to him and got his counsel. So they're the only ones, if I remember right, that knew that I was going in; most people thought I was going to work for the State Department.
Jon: Okay. So that was the cover.
Will: Yeah. My cover was State Department. And guess what? I did a lot of work for the State Department. I think I still hold the record of CIA officers as written more State Department cables than everybody else. Because I actually had responsibilities for the State Department, and so I had to do that work. The only thing that we were really concealing is, who ultimately paid your money. And part of it is, you want to protect other people. It is hard carrying secrets. You don't want people to have to lie for you. And part of it was to protect my cover, to protect the folks that I was working with. Who you work for was one tool in your toolkit to keep you safe, but also to keep the agents that are giving you intelligence safe.
Jon: And I want to ask where you were stationed, but you were undercover for a period of time.
Will: I was undercover for my entire career.
New Speaker: When you were undercover, how many people knew you were under cover, outside of the CIA? Did Mom and Dad know?
Will: Yes. So Mom and Dad knew, and my sister knew, where I actually worked, but if they got asked, I worked at the State Department. So that's all they knew. Other things that I was doing, you don't know. You're not keeping it from your fellow government employees. People in the embassy basically know what you're doing. Because your behavior and your patterns look very different from everybody else.
Speaker 1: The reason you do that is because those local governments - the FBI and the CIA equivalent of those other countries - are trying to figure out who those intelligence officers are. And over time, you do things that look different from everybody else. So your cover is just one tool to keep you safe, but it's an important one.
Jon: You mentioned it earlier, but social media was just starting at the time. Just being in the CIA, were you allowed to be on social media?
Will: Now, you are. Now, if you're not, it would be weird. Right?
Jon: That's the problem. Somebody that's not on social media, it's like "what's up?"
Will: Yeah. So, Facebook got started in 2006, right? Twitter was '09. My last day was in August of 2009. And at that point, I think we weren't allowed to be on social media. But it was still where - I forget when Facebook opened up to people that weren't in colleges - you had to have a ".edu" email in order to do this. So, so it was fine; it was still not as ubiquitous as it is now. But now, you have to. And look, when you have this access of social media, people can learn more about you, so having to protect yourself, having to make sure that your social media looks like whatever your cover is, a regular person is important.
Jon: Somebody who works for the State Department.
Will: Absolutely. But also, it gives you opportunities. Because I wish the people that I was trying to recruit, if I had access to all their social media and see what they were doing and what they were liking, what they liked to do. It increases your surface area of attack defensively, but also on the offense. In one operation, I knew a guy went to this one store, usually at the same time on the same day. And so because I wanted to meet him, guess what I would do?
New Speaker: You'd be at a store at the same time.
New Speaker: I'd be at that store at the same time every day. That's what we call a bump, where you go and you make contact with someone for the first time in order to start developing a relationship. And with social media, my ability to figure out where people go and to increase my chances of bumping into them would increase significantly.
Jon: I previewed it a second ago, but where did you serve?
Will: Sure. I was in DC for two years. Partly, that was at what I used to call "our super secret CIA training facility called 'the farm.'" now it's on Google maps.
Jon: And Rodney outed the phone number, so there you go.
Will: Yeah, exactly. Uh, yeah. Apparently, anybody can get the phone number.
Jon: Well, he said he went to just the phone directory.
Will: Yeah. I believe that. Look, part of it is you want to be accessible, right?
Will: I did two years in India, two years in Pakistan. I did two years in New York City doing inner agency work, and then a year and a half in Afghanistan where I managed all of our undercover operations.
Jon: And I read somewhere, or heard on an interview, where you got the local discount when you were in Pakistan.
Jon: At the bizarre, they would give you the local discount.
Will: Sure. So for your listeners who don't know, my father is black, my mother is white, and my skin color blends in with a lot of different cultures. And when I was in Pakistan, I would wear local clothes, had a beard, and my Urdu was good enough at the time where I could get the locals' discounts.
Jon: And how big was your beard. How long would you beard?
Will: It depends on what you're going for. Sometimes, if you wanted to look more Egyptian, it would be a little bit more tailored and pointy. When I was in Afghanistan, it was just long and unruly. In Pakistan, how long it was depended on what I was trying to do, but it was a full beard.
Jon: And you're a tall guy, a big guy. Did anybody ever say "you're bigger than the average Pakistan?"
Will: Everybody would think I would just be the biggest Pakistani that they had ever seen. But after nine or 10 exchanges in Urdu, that was when my Urdu started breaking down. And that's when I have a hint. Everybody always laughs, like, "you don't have a Texas accent." When I get tired, my draw comes out, and you have the hint of an accent that comes in. But yeah, it was a good time. I loved being in Pakistan.
Jon: So spoiler alert, you ultimately left.
Jon: What prompted you to leave the CIA?
Will: I always say, in my job, I chased al-Qaida and other terrorists all around the world. I stopped Russians from stealing our secrets. I put nuclear weapon proliferators out of business. But I also had to brief members of Congress. I probably briefed close to 200 members, Rs, Ds, men, women, all 50 states. And I was pretty shocked by the caliber of our elected officials. One of the stories, the straw that finally broke the back, I was in Afghanistan. One evening, a bomb goes off in front of the embassy, kills a local guard, takes out a big section of our perimeter defenses. My unit was responsible for trying to figure out what happened. And that was three o'clock in the morning, I think. So we conduct a couple dozen operations in a single day, which is a lot. And later that evening in the embassy, a congressional delegation of members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence - we call that HPSCI - were at the embassy in Kabul to get a briefing on operations going on in Afghanistan.
Jon: So people that should know what's going on.
Will: People that should know what's going on. So our standard operating procedure was to be in business casual; slacks, button up, sport coat. And I kind of go in and tactical gear because I'd been working all day trying to figure out what happened with this explosion. And as I'm walking into the briefing room, I overhear this one member of Congress say, "is the CIA gonna conclude this quickly so we can get to the bazaar to buy rugs?" So I'm annoyed. I'm annoyed already. We go in, and it gets to my part of the briefing, and I'm explaining the general dynamics of what's happening. And one of the members who had been on the committee for I think five or six years ask the question, "why was Iran not supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan the way Iran was supporting some of these other militia groups in Iraq?" This is like 2007, 2008 timeline by the way. I started explaining the Sunni/Shia divide, and this number of Congress raised his hand. He goes, "Hurd, what's the difference between a Sunni and a Shia?" And I'm thinking he's getting ready to make a really inappropriate joke, and who am I to deny him this opportunity? And my response was, "I don't know, congressman, what's the difference?" And I'm getting ready to go "badum bum bum."
Jon: You're the Ed McMahon.
Will: Yeah. Ed McMahon. Exactly. You know, let him have his moment. And his face goes bright red, didn't know that difference in Islam. And you alluded to this. I don't expect everybody to be able to go into the history of the split of Islam, with Ali. And who was this person that was supposed to replace the Prophet Mohammed? I don't expect all that. I don't expect everyone to understand what is Hezbollah? What is Hamas? What is Al-Qaeda? What is Jaish-e-Mohammed? But what I do expect is if you're sitting on the intelligence committee, who's making decisions on billions of taxpayer dollars and how that's going to be spent, you're making decisions and doing the oversight on important operations, you should know the basics of why the difference between Sunni and Shia matters and how that impacts the global war on terrorism. So I was appalled. And I had friends that had run races across the country. Before this incident they had said, "have you ever thought about district 23?" And I'm like, "what's district 23?" And at that moment I said, "okay, I'm going to do this." I wanted to stay in the agency for my career. I love the job. But I thought I was going to be able to help the intelligence community in a different way. So I moved from Afghanistan back to my hometown of San Antonio and ran for Congress and lost. And lost! I lost the runoff by 700 votes. But I don't tell that story anymore.
Jon: I read somewhere where you said that you sent out 10,000 emails, and people were like, "you were in the CIA?"
Will: Yeah, exactly. My favorite moment. So, I literally sent out an email to all my friends saying, "Hey"
Jon: I'm running. Support me.
Will: Yeah. "Click here and give me $25." That kind of stuff. And a friend of mine was like, "hey, let's go have lunch tomorrow." I said, "sure." We meet for lunch. And he literally goes, "how was it at the farm?" And he uses the true name. So in my nine and a half years, and even to date now, even over 18 years that I've been associated with the intelligence community, I've never used the true name of the farm. And I'm horrified that he said it. And I was like, "how did, you know? How do you know that name?" He's goes, "It's like, in every book, and every magazine article." And it was one of those first things that I learned. Sometimes when we're in the intelligence community, we're trying to protect things that guess what? Are already out there in the public sphere.
Jon: I have three clients who are former CIA. And they've always been quiet about all of it.
Will: Exactly. Exactly.
Jon: So you lost the first election. You then went to the private sector for a period of time. Worked for the Crumpton Group. Worked at a cybersecurity company called FusionX.
Jon: What did they do?
Will: So it started as an extension of Crumpton Group. We would help clients grow in markets that had never been in before. So a Mexican company would come to us and say, "look, we've operated in Latin America for 75 years, but we're getting ready to buy a plant in the Philippines. What are those external factors that are going to impact our ability to make business decisions?" So we would help answer those questions. And we are all basically at the time, former CIA officers. And our clients came to us saying, "hey, we're having some cybersecurity issues." Being good former CIA officers, we said, "we know a guy." So Matt Devoe, who had started a number of companies in Cybersecurity. We decided to start FusionX, and I was the person on Crumpton Group that was helping grow our client base. So what we did, we basically broke into banks, stole their money, show them how we did it. We would mimic what we would call APTs, advanced persistent threats. So the baddest of the bad. The people that can get into any system. And guess what? We always got in. There was not one time that we were ever stopped from getting into a digital infrastructure. So we would do that in order to find the vulnerabilities in a company's digital landscape and then help them fix it.
Jon: So if you're just an individual listening to this, other than going off the grid and not being on the Internet, how can an individual protect himself?
Will: There's three things that you can do that will protect you from like 87% of the threats out there. Have a password that is more than 14 characters.
Jon: So not my last name.
Will: Not your last name. Shouldn't be password. "Password1234" is still the number one password out there. The second most used password is "Password12345." So don't use that.
Jon: Note to self: change passwords.
Will: And there are ways to do two factor authentication in most logins now. So when you log into Google to get your email, you have to put in your password, but then it also sends you a text message and you have to put those numbers in. So, 14 character password, doing two factor authentication. The second thing is, make sure all of your software is up to date. Make sure the apps on your phone has the latest software. Make sure whatever computer you use, the programs you use, that software is up to date. That goes a long way. That should just be automated. So for example, if you use Microsoft Word, make sure it's the latest version of Word and that you have the security patches. A patch is when the company that owns the software finds that there's a vulnerability - something wrong with the code that can be taken advantage of by a bad guy - the patch is the code to fix that. And the third thing you do, do not click on emails from people you do not know who they are.
Jon: Wait, the Prince that sent me the email that I just got $1 billion.
Will: Exactly. Do not click on that. And it may look like it comes from a friend of yours, but the easiest way to look is if you have corresponded with somebody before, when that pops up, their actual name should pop up in the "from" line. If it's not a name and it's just an email address, then it is likely a fraudulent email. So do not click on emails from people you don't know. If you do those things, you're going to protect yourself.
Jon: You'll likely be safe. You'll likely be safe.
Will: And cover your camera.
Will: And cover your camera, Yeah.
Jon: I want to shift gears a second. I want to compare how the average member of Congress, for whom the age demographic is older than you are, how they use social media versus how you use social media. So that's the general topic. But transitioning out of the CIA where you were not allowed to use it at all to now going into a very public existence. How was that transition?
Will: It was odd. I had never said the three letters, CIA for nine and a half years. Actually, no. When you would recruit somebody, you would make sure they were very clear who they're actually working for and you, and you would say that, but that was a handful of times.
Jon: Not very often.
Will: Well, I was pretty good. So, you know, I'd say....
Jon: [Laughter] It was a lot.
Will: Yeah. To where now, I have to say those three letters 50 times a day. So, that was hard. And just understanding the tools and how they worked. I remember, I hired this kid from UTSA to help me with my social media.
Jon: Everybody always hires a kid.
Will: Absolutely. And he liked some pages, and I got people texting me being like, "I can't believe you're friends with So-and-so." I'm like, "I don't even know who so-and-so is." Like, how is this working? So understanding how the system works is really, I think, the difference between some of the older members and the newer members. I use social media to try to help people see kind of behind the scenes. Right. And it's not always going to be my latest press release on HR-876. It's, we were in the community helping this school on this particular project. Or now, one of the things that I've enjoyed doing, we do a Friday trivia on Instagram.
Jon: I want to come back to that because I have some questions about that.
Will: @HurdOnTheHill if y'all want to follow me @hurdonthehill. So that is a way that we try to engage people in a fun way on the issues of the day.
Jon: Now I've read that both the Democrats and the Republicans have training for the members of Congress on how to use social media. Is that true?
Will: It's true, it's true. And some of it's basic. But we all know content is king. So you have to generate good content. We also have a lot of restrictions on how to use the paid functions of social media. So I cannot run digital ads on Facebook that has my face in it, on my official congressman Will Hurd, which is my Hurd on the Hill account. So there are some restrictions that you have that are imposed so you're not using an official resource for electioneering.
Jon: Now you assumed office January 3rd, 2015? Trust me; I looked that up.
Will: Yeah, okay. Gotcha. Yeah. So you say, so you say.
Jon: So I say, yeah. Spoken like a Former CIA guy. Okay. Does anybody ever really leave the CIA?
Will: Yes. I'm an example, Rodney's an example.
Jon: Okay. Just asking. Rodney wouldn't give me a straight answer. Your first Instagram post - again, you took office January 3rd, your first Instagram post - was January 15th.
Jon: You joined Youtube January 24th.
Jon: You joined Twitter in January. You joined snapchat in January. These are all 2015. You embraced it immediately.
Will: Sure. Yeah. And you've got to remember, I ran in '09 for the 2010 election, and so I lost in the primary. In Texas, we have an early primary. So we were using social media back then, and then when I was in the private sector, um, I started using it a little bit more personally. And then when we decided to run for the '14 cycle, which I believe we started in '13, we started using that on the campaign. And the reason all those dates are 2015, those are my official congressman accounts.
Jon: Do you still have personal social media?
Will: I don't, I don't.
Jon: All on the official side.
Will: All on the official side. I primarily use Instagram, and a lot of the times people are kind of shocked because I'm the one that will respond to them or I'm actually the one taking the pictures. My use of snapchat has declined
Jon: Because I read early on where that was your app of choice.
Will: Yeah. My use there declined a little bit. Part of it is the back end of snapchat for me. If my goal is to try to interact with constituents, I want to make sure I'm interacting with constituents, and the things have changed since then. But nobody on my team used snapchat; it was all me.
Jon: And then now you've transitioned to Instagram. You talked about "Friday Trivia." Some of them are really funny, by the way.
Will: What's funny, I have a colleague of mine from Texas who hasn't gotten an answer wrong yet. His name is John Ratcliffe. Now we have a special segment of Friday trivia called "Stump John Ratcliffe". And so it's random questions.
Jon: Have you been able to stump him yet?
Will: Not yet, after three tries.
Jon: And you have "Find Your Park." These are all stories that have been highlighted
Will: For sure. When I was a kid, we didn't go to national parks. We took one family vacation and it was the Corpus Christi.
Jon: My family vacation, my one family vacation, was to the mountains.
Will: Yeah. It was something that I didn't do. And now I represent eight national parks. And these are amazing places. The national park service has been around for a hundred years. We want to make sure they're around for another hundred years. And I get on the park services and individual parks a lot. We need to be doing more to use current media using new media to expose kids those, to encourage them to go. I think with the virtual reality technology that exists, we should be having more immersive digital experiences at our national parks as a way to get people to show up. And we're starting to see an uptick in people attending our national parks.
Jon: You see legislation on the horizon on virtual reality?
Will: There isn't, not virtual reality specifically. When you look at artificial intelligence, which drives a lot of this, what are they going to be the ethics around AI? How do we do basic research with the government? What is the interconnectivity between us, between the federal government and the private sector, and how do we do this to win the competition with China. Because we should be hoping that all the great companies involved in AI or that have to deal with 5G are American companies or our allies. Because I'll tell you this, the Chinese are not developing facial recognition to make it easier for you to buy groceries at the grocery store. They're using it in order to keep track and continue human rights abuses of their population.
Jon: I want to transition back to China in a second.
Jon: The last social media site was Facebook, and you have a comments policy that I love.
Jon: I actually am the guy that reads this.
Will: Sure, sure.
Jon: First, you ask for cooperation in keeping it a family friendly forum, but then you have a "do not feed the trolls" policy.
Jon: It is, "Do not feed the trolls is a good rule to follow, and in general our policy is not to engage unless we need to clarify incorrect information." Social media trolls and political trolls, how much is it the same thing?
Will: I think that they are the same thing. And what's unfortunate is a lot of this stuff now is getting automated. I would put all of this in the broader disinformation category. And how do you deal with that? How do you know something is disinformation. And why people are nasty on social media, I just don't understand. Why people share information from folks that they have no clue who they are. The example I always use, we all know, don't get into a car with a stranger. You've got to put an asterisk on that now, unless it's an Uber or Lyft driver. So why are you sharing information from somebody you do not know? Uh, we all learned in kindergarten. If you can't say something nice, don't say something at all. But on social media, people do that because that is what excites people. That's what generates activity. And it's caustic and it's nasty. And unfortunately, I think that nastiness on social media is preventing social media from being that dialogue and that conversation and that two way street, it was originally designed to be.
Jon: It was social media that thrust you into the national spotlight. To the extent that you're not a political junkie, and don't know the congressman from the 23rd district of Texas. But it was social media that thrust you into the national spotlight. It was a famous road trip Beto O'Rourke.
Jon: When did that happen? And how did it happen?
Will: So that happened, I think it was March. It was March, two years ago, so 2017. And you probably have it written down. Did you do the research?
Jon: Yeah, I did. And I saw, you rented a Chevy Impala.
Will: A Chevy Impala. So here's how it happened. Beto and my districts touch, I have part of El Paso, he has the
other part. And he was the only Texan on the veteran affairs committee at the time. And a number of my veterans service organizations wanted to visit with someone on the VA committee. So I asked Beto to come down. He was available. So we had three meetings that day. The first meeting, our flights get canceled back to DC. There was a major storm. It was like snowpocalypse number 19. And I'm a loyal southwest airlines person. So if Southwest Airlines is canceling a flight, you know the weather is bad because southwest flies in anything. And the second meeting Beto's like, "let's drive back together." And third meeting we were attending together I said, "okay." So that next morning, we rented a Chevy Impala and drove from San Antonio to Washington, DC. 35 hour trip, 31 hours in the car, 29 hours live streamed.
Jon: So who drove?
Will: We traded. Here's what was crazy. At first, he drove and we were using his socials. So I'm riding shotgun, and I'm the one reading the comments. And for the first 90 minutes, the comments were so nasty. Directed at me.
Jon: Because you're a Republican.
Will: Because I was republican. And you know, Beto's followers are way more liberal than mine. So after 90 minutes, I was like, "man, I don't know if I'm going to be able to--"
Jon: To do this for another 30 hours.
Will: Yeah, exactly. And then something changed, and people started to be like, "this is cool that y'all are doing this. I can't believe a Republican and Democrat can ride across the country together." And then the next day, we switched off driving. The next day we were on my socials and I started off driving and he was reading the comments in the first 90 minutes, people were super nasty towards him. And after 90 minutes it changed. We talked about health care for nine hours. We talked about every issue imaginable and took questions.
Jon: And I saw you were interviewed by the national press, CBS interviewed you. What were you using for our camera?
Will: Our phones.
Jon: And where were they mounted?
Will: On the dashboard of the car. And it was literally just he and I. A lot of people were calling us and we were kind of doing these impromptu interviews along the way and we were having a hard time with the speaker on both of our phones. So we stopped and got some Wifi speaker at a Walmart so that we can hear what people were saying. But the thing that was funny and the thing that I remember is everybody would be like, "you shouldn't be looking at the phone while you're driving." And you're like, "I'm not driving. It's the other guy."
Jon: I read one of the comments, "are they driving while interviewing?"
Will: Yeah, exactly. It was, "where is your seatbelt?" So we finally got to the point where we just kept showing our seatbelts every 15 minutes. But here's a takeaway from the trip. Way More unites us than divides us. We had 26 million people watch us at some point in those 29 hours, and it was clear way more unites us than divides us as a country, and the country is ready for people to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. And those were the two lessons I took away from that trip.
Jon: I teased it earlier. I wanted to ask you about two political issues. We'll just do a real, not deep dive, but a quick dive.
Will: Gotcha. Gotcha.
Jon: Border Wall. You have more miles of border than any other representative in Congress.
Jon: Are you for a physical wall along the border?
Will: Building a 30 foot high concrete structure from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security. I've been saying that since 2009. And guess who finally agrees with me? The president, he said that recently. In some areas, a physical barrier makes sense, but in most of the areas, it doesn't. In areas where border patrol's response time is measured in hours to days, a wall isn't a physical barrier. Someone's gonna be able to jump over and get into the country.
Jon: Get a ladder.
Will: Exactly. And so we need technology. We need to be able to detect a threat and track that threat until we're able to deploy the men and women in Border Patrol. But I will also add this right now, what's happening at the border is indeed a crisis. You had 109,000 people come to this country illegally, just last month alone. All of last year, it was about 400,000. And the root causes of this is violence and lack of economic opportunities in the northern triangle - that's El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. And so we need to be addressing those root causes. And I think we should have a special representative, a senior diplomat, dealing with that. Also, we need to streamline legal immigration. At 3.6% unemployment - my hometown it's 3.1%, in the Permian basin it's 2.0% unemployment - we need to streamline legal immigration. Whether you're an agriculture or artificial intelligence, you need workers. And those are things we can be doing in order to make sure we're protecting our borders.
Jon: Second political question, what's the biggest threat to long-term security in the United States?
Will: The greatest threat long-term is China, without a doubt. They are an existential threat to our economy, to our way of life. By 2049, which is the hundred year anniversary of communism in China, the Chinese government is planning to surpass the United States of America as the leading world power. That's why they have continued to steal our technology. That's why they've continued to hack into American companies. That's why they've continued to flaunt on international agreements that they participate in. They are trying to be the dominant country on the planet. And people say, "oh, they only care about their part of the world." Well, two years ago they created their first military base outside of China. They did it in Djibouti. And if you look where Djibouti is, it's kind of an important part of how international commerce goes back and forth through a number of straights and oceans in North Africa and Middle East. So they are, without a doubt. They are an authoritarian government who has an emperor who's going to be in power for the next 40 years. They can move all factors of production into one direction in order to try to win. And they are a threat.
Jon: Again, completely shifting gears. If somebody wanted to get into politics, a young person wanting to get into politics, what advice would you give them?
Will: Have a job first. Have an expertise. The reason I've been able to be successful is because I had a previous career, and I have opinions on those things and I've been able to drill down on those issues.
Jon: We talked offline several weeks ago about kissing babies. It was like, "shaking hands and kissing babies." Is that really a thing?
Will: Yeah, it is. I think the best part of the job is actually being out in the communities. We've stopped counting, but I've done over 5,000 public events. I've done 300-something town halls. Part of the job is being out in the community. And I represent 29 counties, so going out and talking to people, hearing what's going on, you learn a lot of stuff. And that's the fun part of the job. I'm always shocked at the number of elected officials that don't like people. You should like people because --
Jon: It helps, I would think.
Will: Yeah, it helps.
Jon: I want to get personal for a second.
Jon: What's the question you get asked the most?
Will: I'm trying to speak in all of the schools in my district, elementary, middle, and high school. And the first question, after I speak, I always open up the Q&A. The first question I always get, "have you killed anybody?" And the answer is no. And I always say, "if I had to pull my gun, I'm pretty bad at my job. My job was to be sneaky. And if you're having to pull a weapon, then you're not being sneaky." It actually varies. It's whatever that issue of the day is. It may be roads, it may be their family member's in the military and they have a VA question. But that's the question I get a lot.
Jon: What TV channel doesn't exist that should?
Will: I wish --
Jon: These are typical Wall Street Journal questions, by the way.
Will: No, absolutely. I'm trying to think personally, what would I like? So I love movies.
Jon: I'll give you a chance to come up with something. I'll come back to that question. What's your favorite movie?
Will: My favorite movie. Well, I can't say "favorite movie." I can tell you good ones. I love Gladiator. Gladiator's on, I'm gonna watch it. I love Shakespeare in Love. I think it's such a witty movie. I like Notting Hill. I just recently watched LA Confidential. Man, that's such a good movie. And then ultimately, I love Casa Blanca. Having lived overseas, I have a new appreciation for that movie. But Casa Blanca is a really good one.
Jon: So I'll come back to TV channel that should exist, that doesn't.
Will: One that puts those movies on repeat.
Jon: What's your guilty pleasure?
Will: Ice Cream. And I'm real simple too. I love vanilla ice cream. I love vanilla bean ice cream, specifically. But that's my guilty pleasure. Or eating a burger at the movie theater. I love being in a theater.
Jon: What is something people will be surprised to learn about you?
Will: Surprised to learn about? Shoot, look, I'm an elected official. Everything in my background --
Jon: Everything's out there.
Will: Everything in my background has been combed over. I think people don't know that I still play basketball. I've been playing in the same park since I was 13 years old.
Jon: Have you ever been starstruck?
Speaker 1: Yes. It was a guy name Neil Howe. He's an author. He wrote a book called "Generations." It was a book that I read when I was in high school. They're the ones that kind of came up with the term "millennial," and talks about the differences with Gen-X and things like that. It was a book that I thought was fantastic. And then when I met him, this was early on when I first got to Congress. I was like, "this guy who I've been reading is coming to my office." That was pretty cool.
Jon: This is an apropos question because you're a law maker. If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow - doesn't have to pass, you can just make this rule - what would it be?
Will: Simple. It's very simple, and it's a rule everybody's heard. It is "love thy neighbor like thyself." If we would follow that guidance, the world would be a much better place.
Jon: So what's ahead for you?
Will: What's ahead for me is, I represent one of the most challenging and competitive districts in the country. Continue to get reelected, continue to work on issues. I try to focus on issues that could solve real problems. I'm trying to work on a national strategy for artificial intelligence, because this is what is going to dominate our future. The technological change we're going to see in the next 30 years is gonna make the last 30 years look insignificant, and we have to be prepared for it. We have old laws, we have a legislative officials and leaders that don't understand these kinds of technologies. And this is going to hurt us, especially when we look at the great power competition with China. So to continue to be able to stay focused on those issues.
Jon: Last question. Where can people find you?
New Speaker: Twitter, Instagram, everything's HurdOnTheHill.
Jon: Will, thank you.
Will: Hey, thank you buddy.
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