Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Czar is Born

When watching the struggles of the Obama White House to implement policy, most eyes have turned to the health care debate or to the efforts to fight emissions linked to global warming, but there has been another negotiated milestone that has been months in the making: appointment of a cybersecurity "czar." Perhaps it is this week's scandal about how insurgents have managed to hack into video feeds of unmanned aircraft over Iraq that has brought the issue to the forefront, but this morning I received the following e-mail from John O. Brennan, announcing the appointment of Howard A. Schmidt for the position:

Dear Friend,

Cybersecurity matters to all of us. Protecting the internet is critical to our national security, public safety and our personal privacy and civil liberties. It’s also vital to President Obama’s efforts to strengthen our country, from the modernization of our health care system to the high-tech job creation central to our economic recovery.

The very email you are reading underscores our dependence on information technologies in this digital age, which is why it seemed like a fitting way to announce that the President has chosen Howard Schmidt to be the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator. Howard will have the important responsibility of orchestrating the many important cybersecurity activities across the government.

Howard is one of the world’s leading authorities on computer security, with some 40 years of experience in government, business and law enforcement. Learn more about Howard's background and approach to cybersecurity:

Howard will have regular access to the President and serve as a key member of his National Security Staff. He will also work closely with his economic team to ensure that our cybersecurity efforts keep the Nation secure and prosperous.

Moving forward we will use WhiteHouse.gov, this email program and our other communications tools to keep you posted about our progress in this important area.


John O. Brennan
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

P.S. You can play an important role in cybersecurity as well. Learn more about the issue and steps you can take to ensure your own security.

There is a link that introduces the white-haired corporate veteran with a background in the military and law enforcement, but I still have many question about Schmidt's appointment, his lack of a computer science background, and the possibility that he might offer only lukewarm support for cybersecurity research at universities, which often requires finding the vulnerabilities in proprietary software in ways that corporate shareholders don't like. I visited the website of the Information Security Forum that Schmidt has headed and saw a lot of material about licenses that support the current intellectual property regime and little about open source alternatives. (The phrase "open source" generated no results from their search engine, while "Microsoft" brought up eight links.)

As this story in the Washington Post indicates, the road to the appointment has been a bumpy one, with many first draft nominees who have turned the post down and key cybersecurity personnel who felt disadvantaged by their association with the Bush administration resigning in frustration as the search dragged on. That's certainly not an auspicious beginning.

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Blogger Jardinero1 said...

A better question would be: Do we really need another Czar.

1. Technology Czar: Aneesh Chopra.
2. Drug Czar: Gil Kerlikowske.
3. Copyright Czar: Not appointed yet.
4. Energy Czar: Carol M. Browner.
5. Car Czar: Ed Montgomery.
6. Terrorism/WMD Czar: Gary Samore.
7. Health Care Czar: Nancy-Ann DeParle.
8. Education Czar: Not appointed yet.
9. Economic Czar: Paul Volcker.
10. Mortgage Czar: Not appointed yet.
11. Urban Affairs/Housing Czar: Adolfo Carrion.
12. Guantanomo closure Czar: Danny Fried.
13. Great lakes Czar: Cameron Davis.
14. Stimulus accountability Czar: Earl Devaney.
15. Cyberspace Czar: Not appointed yet.
16. Border Czar: Alan Bersin (Former US attorney).
17. Intelligence Czar: Admiral Dennis Blair.
18. Regulatory Czar: Cass Sunstein.
19. Pay Czar: Kenneth Feinberg.
20. Iran Czar: Not appointed yet.
21. Tarp Czar: Herb Allison.
22. Middle-East peace Czar: George Mitchell.
23. Science Czar: John Holdren.
24. Green jobs Czar: Van Jones.
25. Afghanistan Czar: Richard Holbrooke.
26. Sudan Czar: J. Scott Gration.
27. Mideast policy Czar: Dennis Ross.
28. Information Czar: Vivek Kundra.
29. AIDS Czar: Jeffrey Crowley.
30. Faith-based Czar: Joshua Dubois.
31. Climate Czar: Todd Stern .

Are czars efficacious? I believe the first czar was the drug czar twenty years ago. That really worked wonders. If the past is any indication, the appointment of a czar means that the area under czarist control will get worse not better.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The use of the word Czar is telling. Do the powers that be really want us to to be afraid of dictatorial leaders? Of course, the private sector just uses the term CEO the same way. The People's Champion of Such and Such would SOUND more Democratic. But who wants TRUE DEMOCRACY anyway? We all know some people think of themselves as royalty just because...

8:56 AM  

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