President Obama will soon name his top cybersecurity aide, industry and government officials say, but the identity of the pick might be a surprise.
One leading candidate was said to be Priscilla Guthrie, currently the chief information officer to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But she is not in the running for the post, an administration official said. Another would-be candidate is former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), a tech-savvy moderate Republican who knows many of the stakeholders. Davis has told administration officials he does not want the job, although he stopped short of ruling himself out of accepting an offer.
Coordinating the government's cybersecurity policy might seem like a plum assignment, but it's fraught with bureaucratic and political obstacles. One of the new coordinator's first task would be to integrate the government's defensive and offensive cybersecurity capabilities. But the Pentagon, in the absence of leadership on the civilian side, has moved to consolidate its security and warfare operations in a new cybercommand slated to be commanded by the National Security Agency's director, Keith Alexander.
It's assumed that the Department of Homeland Security will shoulder the administrative burden of securing both the ".gov" domain and take the lead role in protecting the physical/virtual cyber infrastructure within the country. DHS's National Cyber Security Center is on a bit of a hiring binge. Nothing can be done, however, without NSA's technology, which makes many cybersecurity professionals worry about a militarized and compartmented culture of security. Then there's the political problem: the NSA, after all, is still defending its role in post-9/11 domestic communications surveillance, which already includes significant data-mining of web traffic.
In a speech on cybersecurity that coincided with the release of a commissioned federal report on the subject, Obama said that the cybersecurity coordinator would have direct access to him but would not report directly to him. After the speech, members of Congress and senior security consultants urged Obama's aides to reconsider that decision, arguing that the problem was so complex that only someone with the implied authority of the president would be able to make the tough bureaucratic decisions necessary to develop the cybersecurity capacity.
Nicholas Shapiro, a White House spokesman, said that "no final decision" had been made about the cybersecurity position.