White House Still Interviewing For Cyber Coordinator Position


A month ago, it seemed like the White House was on the verge of announcing the president's choice to be cyber security coordinator for the government. It was, after all, National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and the Pentagon's Cyber Command officially stood at attention. No dice. National Security Council principals continue to interview candidates for the position, several people with knowledge said. As a sign that the process remains open, several potential candidates had met with very senior officials, like the chairman of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers.

Former White House cyber security adviser Frank Kramer, widely rumored to be the leading outside candidate, declined to comment, as did senior national security officials. A spokesperson for the White House, Nicholas Shapiro, said that the process "is well underway" and pointed to White House-coordinated actions, like the recent formulation of a national cyber incident response plan and a consolidation of first responder cyber alert centers, as evidence that the President was paying close attention to the urgency of the issue.

"The President is personally committed to finding the right person for this job," Shapiro said in an e-mail.

Whether the White House delay is hurting the nation's cyber policing efforts is an open question. Contractors and some mid-level government officials have expressed frustration that certain critical projects are shovel-ready but await White House approval.

For example, federal agencies have different rules about monitoring their own networks. There's a patchwork of regulations that protect the privacy of federal employees as well as the privacy of citizens who visit the sites. The government is waiting for standardized rules, which may not come until Congress deals with the issue. And Congress is about to embark on a months-long debate about cyber security; there are at least three competing versions of what a cybersecure world would look like.

As Shane Harris notes elsewhere on this blog, last night's 60 Minutes feature on cyber security may add a sense of political urgency to the debate. It featured interviews with three of the cyber security world's leading proselytizers, including the former Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, the FBI's top cyberterrorism cop, Sean Henry, and Jim Gossler from the Sandia National Laboratory. Each spoke from their own perspectives -- McConnell as the national security expert, Gossler as the supply chain expert, and Genry as the cyber crime expert -- and provided a shared vision of what the threat is.

Chris Painter is the National Security Council's Acting Senior Director for Cyber Security. It is not known whether Painter is a candidate for the cyber coordinator position. He's been detailed to the White House from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Information Week has the scuttlebut on several other possible contenders.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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