All hail the cyber czar

Obama needs unity of command in the cyber war
By | Sunday, May 31, 2009
source: Washington Times

President Obama announced creation of a new federal cyber czar on Friday. “Cyberspace is real, and so is the risk that comes with it,” he said. Too bad this czar’s power isn’t.

The framework outlined has precious few details and primarily rehashes well-documented problems such as the need for better federal and private sector coordination. The yet-to-be named cyber czar reports to both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council and so will have limited independent power to exert influence over the Defense Department, intelligence and civilian agencies that deal with cybersecurity. Mr. Obama said his appointee will have “regular access” to the Oval Office, but that doesn’t appear to be assured.

Mr. Obama was not completely frank about the nature of ongoing federal efforts to police the Internet. “Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not – I repeat, will not – include monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic,” he said. Contrary to this claim, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security have been pushing financial, transportation and other sectors to sign onto a program that would give the federal government unprecedented access to their cyber systems.

According to documents obtained by The Washington Times, major industries have been asked to give the federal government the ability to monitor traffic in and out of private corporate systems. This is referred to as the Defense Industrial Base pilot program expansion to industry, and it could open the door for the feds to monitor much more than just cyber attacks on some private networks. Companies have pushed back against direct federal monitoring, instead proposing that an intermediary funnel information on cyber attacks to the federal government.

Administration and cyber industry sources confirmed that Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace on the National Security Council, has argued for the cyber czar to have direct access to the president, ensuring his power to coordinate federal policy. National Economic Council director Lawrence H. Summers, National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones, Jr., and John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, fought this accessibility.

Coordinating cyber policy is needed as cyber attacks against U.S. power structures escalate. The breakdown in control between bureaucracies such as Homeland Security and the National Security Agency remains a significant barrier to American cyber security. If Mr. Obama takes the cyber threat seriously, he will end the infighting in his administration and establish a clear chain of command on this important battlefield in cyberspace.

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