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Obama's Cybersecurity Czar

President Obama with new Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt.

After his May 2009 announcement that he would appoint a main adviser for cybersecurity, President Obama tapped former Bush administration cybersecurity adviser Howard Schmidt for the post late last month. Schmidt has dealt with network security issues in a number of roles – with the Bush White House, eBay and the FBI, to name a few. Under the Bush Administration, one of Schmidt’s key roles was to develop the US National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. Given his wealth of experience and access to the President, Mr. Schmidt may prove to be an asset in improving the nation’s cyberdefenses. And, while Obama has been lauded by supporters in offering a clean break from various Bush policies, it is also encouraging to see bipartisan continuity.

Mr. Schmidt’s impressive credentials aside, this position will face a number of technical and administrative challenges. The Christian Science Monitor frames one of the issues aptly: will the Cyber Coordinator post have sufficient authority? In the wake of the Flight 253 security breach and news of insurgents using , having an informed security official is only half the battle. Schmidt will not require Senate confirmation, and will report to both John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser, and Lawrence Summers, White House economic adviser.

Persons who received consideration before Schmidt did not want the position specfically for its lack of authority. In short, his authority will rely largely on how Brennan and Summers handle cybersecurity advice. Given the fact that the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace was not given much attention by the Bush Administration, both of Schmidt’s direct superiors would do well not to provide him with the same frustration anew.


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