Obama’s Cybersecurity Speech: Why Bother?

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From TIME national security/intel correspondent Bobby Ghosh

It was a case of cyber-hooey and cyber… who? After a 60-day review of the nation’s cybersecurity policies, followed by a six-week turf war over which department should guard the nation in cyberspace, President Obama’s speech today was disappointingly long on generalities by short on specifics. Revealing Washington’s worst-kept secret, the President announced that he was creating the position of a “Cybersecurity Coordinator” in the White House. But he didn’t name his choice for the job, and didn’t offer a timeline on when a choice would be made.

It’s been known for months that Obama would appoint a cyberczar; speculation in recent weeks has centered on Melissa Hathaway, who conducted the 60-day review and was President Bush’s go-to person on cyberstuff. Obama acknowledged her work, but went no further. Much of Obama’s speech was taken up in stating the obvious: that cybersecurity is vitally important, that responsibility is currently distribute diffusely across too many government departments, that there needs to be better government-business collaboration. But it’s unclear how the new cyberczar will help cut through the bureaucracy when they will themselves be answering to two masters: the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. Obama promised his pick would have “regular access to me,” but the fact that the czar won’t report directly to the President will greatly undermine their ability to do battle with the DHS, the NSA and any number of other departments that have a finger in the cyberpie.

It’s worth remembering here that the Bush administration had a cyberczar, too: Silicon Valley entrepreneur Rod Beckstrom. But Beckstrom quit as Director of the National Cybersecurity Center in March, citing interdepartmental politics. Meantime, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have introduced legislation to create a national cybersecurity adviser who WOULD report directly to the President.

What we need here is some cyberclarity.