White House reorganizationU.S. will create cybersecurity czar

Published 27 May 2009

President Obama is set to name a cyber security czar; announcement to be timed with the release of the administration’s much-anticipated cybersecurity review; the czar would have two bosses — the national security adviser and the White House economic adviser — in order to strike a balance between homeland security and economic concerns

President Obama is expected to announce later this week his decision to create a senior White House official responsible for protecting the U.S. government-run and private computer networks from attack, according to a published report. The cyber czar will probably be a member of the National Security Council (NSC) but will report to the national security adviser and the senior White House economic adviser, according to the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima, who cited unnamed officials who had been briefed on the plan. As of late last week, Obama had not yet settled on the advisor’s rank and title.

The announcement is to coincide with the release of a 40-page report evaluating the government’s strategy for security government networks and other infrastructure deemed critical to national security. The timing of the report — it was expected to be released a week or two ago — and the details included in the Washington Post report suggest the plan may have run into internal fighting by advisers to Obama.

Dan Goodin writes that on his first full day in office, Obama signaled a willingness to have the cyber czar report directly to the president, an arrangement that he promised as a candidate and that was also recommended by a panel of more than 60 government and business computer security experts (see 5 May 2009 HS Daily Wire). The idea is that whoever is appointed will be someone who can “pick up the phone and contact the president directly, if need be,” the adviser no longer would report directly to Obama, according to the report.

Note also that the czar would now have two bosses, in an attempt to strike a balance between homeland security and economic concerns.

Over the past few months, turf wars have arisen between advisers who want the ultra-secretive National Security Agency to oversee the country’s cybersecurity. Others have said the job is best carried out by the National Cybersecurity Center, an office within DHS which is responsible for coordinating the defense of civilian, military, and intelligence networks. In March, the government’s cybersecurity chief abruptly resigned amid allegations his office was woefully underfunded and inappropriately controlled by the military (see 9 March 2009 HS Daily Wire).

Nakashima writes that the plan for the czar to report to a senior economic adviser appears to be an effort to give Senior White House Economic Adviser Lawrence Summers a measure of control in ensuring efforts to protect private networks don’t unduly threaten economic growth.