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Defense Secretary Ash Carter: We need to change

The U.S. government needs to become more agile if it's to develop the technology that will allow it to defeat its enemies, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Wednesday.

Speaking with CNBC from the Defense Department's tech innovation hub in Mountain View, California, Carter said his interactions with American tech innovators have shown there are some tensions between Silicon Valley and D.C.

Along with concerns about privacy, he also highlighted the perception that "we're too slow, that we're cumbersome, that the government's hard to work with."

"That's a signal to me that we — on the government side — need to change, we need to stay agile," he told CNBC's "Power Lunch." "It's a competitive world in military things, just like it's a competitive world in business: We need to compete with all those around the world who would do us harm, and we need to beat them."

Carter recalled that when he started in science — he's a trained physicist — most endeavors were tied back to the government in some way. And although he acknowledge that it's a "different era" and he doesn't expect that level of cooperation, he said he hopes there "are enough connections that we can stay the very best."

And the government's shift into a less cumbersome, more tech-friendly partner has never been more important, he said.

"We've got to be the best because we're protecting the greatest country on earth, and the wonderful people, and all of the civilization that we all stand for has to be defended," he said.