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EDITORIAL: White House cybermistakes

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Monday's resignation of White House cybersecurity adviser Melissa Hathaway was another reminder that President Obama's cyberpolicy is lost in space.

Mr. Obama broadly outlined his cybersecurity plan and creation of a cyberczar May 29 following a policy review led by Ms. Hathaway. The White House has yet to fill the post, likely because the power is limited for any one official to coordinate the disparate federal agencies involved.

Ms. Hathaway, a George W. Bush administration holdover, largely was sidelined by Obama administration officials after arguing that the cyberczar should have direct access to the president. This would ensure 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 to protect their turf. The czar will report to both the National Security Agency and NEC.

No one seems to know exactly what the czar will actually oversee. Legislation pending in the Senate would make the Department of Commerce -- an agency with no significant cybersecurity expertise -- the clearinghouse for information the Department of Homeland Security already is supposed to handle. The NSA and many industry interests are quietly fighting this pointless transfer of power between agencies that would add another layer to the federal government's ability to respond.

The federal response is muddled with redundant efforts. Following coordinated attacks on U.S. government and private-sector Web sites over the July 4 weekend, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV asked 11 federal agencies to report on their cybersecurity preparedness. Such issues already had been covered in the White House review. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is asking critical infrastructure industries about their view as part of her Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. These industries already provide an annual update to Homeland Security about threats to their sectors.

Government officials appear more interested in writing new reports and redesigning things from the ground up than actually solving problems. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and repeating existing analysis, they need to focus on a coordinated multiagency response.