New White House Cyberczar Position May Spark Turf Wars
By Stew Magnuson
When it comes to the Obama administration’s initiative to get a handle on cybersecurity, be prepared for some turf wars, a panel of experts warned June 23 at the National Press Club.
The administration recently released a 60-day comprehensive “clean-slate” review of the nation’s vulnerabilities in cyberspace. Among the recommendations is the creation of a so-called cyberczar, who will presumably be in charge of the government’s efforts to protect its networks from attacks.
James Bamford, an author of several books on national security, said observers have been disappointed that the position will be relatively toothless on the administration structure. Of most concern is whether the cyberczar will have any influence over budget decisions. Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace at the White House, said earlier this month that the scope of the cyberczar powers has “yet to be defined” but that she expects the new office will have the “ability to affect budgets.”
Bamford does not believe that the cyberczar office will have much real power. The NSA is the 800-pound gorilla that no one wants to acknowledge, he said.
The director of the National Security Agency, the secretive organization that will probably wind up as the Defense Department’s lead agency in the cyberspace operations, may end up clashing with the new czar if he or she isn’t given the authority to say “no” to the NSA’s efforts.
This all brings up questions of privacy, especially in light of the NSA’ warrantless eavesdropping program it set up in the early part of the decade. The organization has the people, equipment and know-how to carry out this task, said Bamford, who has written several books about NSA. “The problem is a lack of oversight,” he said. He recommended that the new czar have a deputy that comes from the civil liberties world.
Former Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., said the real question about the cyberczar position is “how much real authority are they going to have?”
The turf battles will most likely extend to Congress where committees overseeing the armed forces, homeland security, financial services and intelligence all believe they have jurisdiction on cybersecurity.
“And none of them have any say without the appropriators … It all becomes very, very complex,” said Davis, whose name has been mentioned as a candidate for the position. He said he wasn’t currently interested in returning to public life, but didn’t completely rule out taking the job despite his misgivings.
Dale Meyerrose, former chief information officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and now an executive at Harris Corp., said in the future there may need to be a “Department of Cyber.” The Hoover Commission in 1947 under President Harry S. Truman, spearheaded a massive reorganization of the federal government that acknowledged that the nation was moving from the agricultural to industrial based economy.
The creation of the new position in the White House is a good first step, but “it’s not the endgame,” he said.
“Has cyber so fundamentally changed our culture …that we need another Hoover Commission or Hoover-like Commission to reorganize the entire executive branch?” he asked.