The Unfillable Czar Job

Why do cybersecurity czars keep quitting? Do we even need one?

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White House cybersecurity czar Melissa Hathaway has quit, the latest to flee a job that was high on the Obama administration's priority list. The departure raises concerns about who would take her place, whether the job will ever be filled, and if it should be filled at all.

Blame game. FireDogLake's Emptywheel blamed the influence of business. "No one wants to demand that private sector companies meet certain standards for their cybersecurity," she wrote. "In the US of A, you simply can't ask money-making institutions to sacrifice for the public good, so one after another cyberczar realizes their job is completely unworkable, and leaves." Joseph Menn of the Financial Times called the job "onerous enough even with a heavyweight in place." The Atlantic's own Marc Ambinder defended, "Hathaway's review was not well received, but it was hardly her fault: she [...] should have been given more resources and time to complete."

Finding the replacement.
Dennis Fisher of ThreatPost thinks we could be waiting. "Trying to figure out who will eventually get the coordinator's job has become a popular parlor game in the security community and in Washington," he wrote. "More than a dozen big names have been mentioned in connection with the job, but no one has stepped forward to take the job." The FT's Menn warned, "Not much is going to happen with no one there, even if Obama has declared the area as one of his top priorities."

Radical alternatives. Greg Garcia, former Homeland Security assistant secretary for cybersecurity, told, "I'm skeptical that anyone could succeed in the [cyber czar] job." Emptywheel suggested, "Perhaps it's time to reconstitute the NSA such that the military isn't--as they now are--given carte blanche to sneak in my metaphorical panty drawer." Wired's Michael Tanji advocated for closing the post, which he called a "figurehead" and "the exact opposite of what we need to successfully defeat cyber space adversaries." His case:

Forget trying to shoe-horn technology stars into government cyber security jobs (a worthy if doomed-from-the-start experiment) or creating more useless bureaucracy with another czar. We need a facilitator - someone with a lot of betweenness and closeness, to use some social networking terms - to make sure that the right people are talking, sharing, and collaborating as they best see fit. Collaboration is key to improving security and collaboration comes from trust, not edicts from the Kremlin. We're not going to abandon our bureaucracies, so let's move forward using that age-old mechanism for getting things done in bureaucracies: IKAGWKAG ("I know a guy who knows a guy"). The guy who knows the most guys is the guy you want in this job. Find him, and then sit back and watch what happens when you stop fighting real problems with a Visio diagram.
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