That giant sucking sound you hear is the steady stream of talented security people and experienced policy makers getting out of Washington as quickly as possible as the Obama administration continues to be paralyzed by indecision and a lack of direction regarding cybersecurity.
The latest chapter in what is turning into a classic Washington farce is the resignation last week of Mischel Kwon, the director of US-CERT, the Department of Homeland Security’s research and response unit. Kwon, a well-respected presence in the federal security community, left to join RSA as the company’s top public policy executive. This is a big win for RSA and yet another key loss for the Obama administration. Kwon’s departure follows close on the heels of the resignation of Melissa Hathaway, Obama’s top adviser on security and the architect of the administration’s current policy on cybersecurity.
Hathaway had been considered a finalist for the still-vacant national cybersecurity coordinator position, but when she learned that she would not be getting the job, she was gone. Hathaway reportedly also was frustrated during her time working in the Obama administration with the lack of authority she had to effect change and the number of obstacles that constantly arose. This is an all-too-familiar refrain that has been repeated by a long line of officials who either have left Washington or declined to even cross the Potomac, citing little or no authority and too many institutional roadblocks standing in the way.
The list of big-name security people who haven’t been considered for the top job in Washington in the last couple of years is probably shorter at this point than the list of those who have. And who can blame any one of them for not taking the job? The prospect of leaving a high-paying, high-visibility job in the private sector for what amounts to a high-pressure temp job?
Obama has said that information security is a key priority for him and that he’s committed to improving the country’s critical infrastructure. People involved in the search for someone to fill the coordinator job say that Obama and his top aides are taking the search very seriously, and that the administration is indeed working hard on the cybersecurity issue.
But at some point it’s time for the talking to end and the action to start.
Obama obviously has a number of other pressing issues on his agenda, but he has shown in his short time in office that he’s willing to take bold, decisive action when it’s required. This is one of those times. The volume and sophistication of attacks on the Internet is continuing to increase, state-sponsored attacks are now a fact of life and the idea that the most powerful nation on earth can’t find a qualified person to lead its cybersecurity efforts is just unacceptable.
This is a failure of both imagination and execution and it’s a shadow that will continue to hang over Obama until he steps forward and makes a move.
*Obama photo via jurvetson‘s Flickr photostream
*Capitol building via Cornell University Library‘s Flickr photostream