Cybersecurity chief re­signs in protest over cen­tral­iza­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

The of­fi­cial in charge of co­or­di­nat­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s cybersecurity op­er­a­tions has quit, say­ing the ex­pand­ing con­trol of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency over the na­tion’s com­puter se­cu­rity ef­forts poses “threats to our demo­cratic pro­cesses.”

“Even from a se­cu­rity stand­point, it is un­wise to hand over the se­cu­rity of all gov­ern­ment net­works to a sin­gle or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Rod A. Beck­strom, the head of the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s Na­tional Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Cen­ter (NCSC) when speak­ing to United Press In­ter­na­tional.

“If our Found­ing Fathers were tak­ing part in this de­bate [about the fu­ture or­ga­ni­za­tion of the gov­ern­ment’s cybersecurity ac­tiv­i­ties], there is no doubt in my mind they would sup­port a sep­a­ra­tion of se­cu­rity pow­ers among dif­fer­ent [gov­ern­ment] or­ga­ni­za­tions, in line with their com­mit­ment to checks and bal­ances,” he said.

In a let­ter to Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano ear­lier this month, Mr. Beck­strom said the NSA “dom­i­nates most na­tional cy­ber ef­forts” and “ef­fec­tively con­trols DHS cy­ber ef­forts through de­tailees, tech­nol­ogy in­ser­tions and the pro­posed move” of the NCSC to an NSA fa­cil­ity at the agency’s Fort Meade, Md., head­quar­ters.

“I be­lieve this is a bad strat­egy on mul­ti­ple grounds,” Mr. Beck­strom wrote in the let­ter, a copy of which was ob­tained by UPI. “The in­tel­li­gence cul­ture is very dif­fer­ent than a net­work op­er­a­tions or se­cu­rity cul­ture. In ad­di­tion, threats to our demo­cratic pro­cesses are sig­nif­i­cant if all toplevel gov­ern­ment net­work se­cu­rity and mon­i­tor­ing are han­dled by any one or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Greg Gar­cia, who was the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first pres­i­den­tially ap­pointed head of cybersecurity at DHS be­fore leav­ing last De­cem­ber — and who worked with Mr. Beck­strom for nine months — told UPI that al­though he did not share Mr. Beck­strom’s anx­i­ety, “I rec­og­nize the cau­tion­ary flag he is rais­ing.”

Mr. Beck­strom’s res­ig­na­tion — af­ter less than a year in of­fice — comes as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion moves to com­plete a 60-day re­view of the way cybersecurity ef­forts are organized in the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions have wres­tled with the com­plex prob­lem of how to de­lin­eate and de­fine the roles of var­i­ous in­tel­li­gence, mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity agen­cies in as­sur­ing the in­tegrity of the na­tion’s com­puter net­works, the vast ma­jor­ity of which are owned and op­er­ated by the pri­vate sec­tor and de­pend for their ef­fi­cacy on their open and ac­ces­si­ble, and there­fore se­cu­rity-un­friendly, ar­chi­tec­ture.

“There’s been a lot of du­pli­ca­tion and not enough co­or­dina- tion,” Jes­sica Her­rera-Flani­gan, a for­mer se­nior con­gres­sional staffer on the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, told UPI.

Mr. Gar­cia said there had been a “fairly col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ship, not just be­tween NSA and DHS, but [. . . ] with a whole lot of mov­ing parts” and dif­fer­ent agen­cies within the gov­ern­ment.

“Clearly, both op­er­a­tionally and tech­no­log­i­cally, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity is a key el­e­ment,” he said of the sprawl­ing and some­times frac­tious col­lec­tion of spy agen­cies that serve the U.S. gov­ern­ment. But he said DHS’ role had to be pri­mary “from a le­gal stand­point and from a trust and pri­vacy stand­point.”

“Un­like the [Depart­ment of De­fense] or the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, DHS has a statu­tory re­spon­si­bil­ity to work across all lev­els of fed­eral, state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor,” he said.

DHS has come un­der fire for its cybersecurity work, with some crit­i­ciz­ing an ap­proach they saw char­ac­ter­ized by turf squab­bles and over­lap­ping and con­tra­dic­tory lines of au­thor­ity. Some, most re­cently in­clud­ing Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Den­nis C. Blair, have called for a greater role for U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in cybersecurity as a re­sult of the 60-day re­view, which is be­ing led by an of­fi­cial in Mr. Blair’s of­fice.

Mr. Gar­cia ac­knowl­edged what he called “grow­ing pains” in DHS’ cybersecurity ef­forts but main­tained it would be a mis­take to shift pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for the is­sue away from the depart­ment.

“If there were a move,” as a re­sult of the 60-day re­view, “to cen­tral­ize or fo­cus cybersecurity strat­egy on the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, that would jeop­ar­dize the re­la­tion­ship we [at DHS] built up over sev­eral years with the pri­vate sec­tor.”

An­other Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion DHS of­fi­cial, for­mer As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary for Pol­icy Ste­wart Baker, told UPI that al­though Mr. Beck­strom’s crit­i­cism of the NSA’s role was re­ceiv­ing more me­dia at­ten­tion, “I sus­pect his frus­tra­tion was driven as much by the fund­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional is­sues as by NSA.”

In his res­ig­na­tion let­ter, Mr. Beck­strom wrote that “the NCSC did not re­ceive ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port in­side DHS. [. . . ] Dur­ing the past year, the NCSC re­ceived only five weeks of fund­ing, due to var­i­ous road­blocks en­gi­neered within the depart­ment and by the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get.”

“Some­one can­celed all our con­tracts for of­fice space, com­put­ers and fur­ni­ture [. . . ] without telling us,” he told UPI. “I never had a one-on-one meet­ing with the new sec­re­tary, al­though I re­ported di­rectly to her [. . .] and last year, there were only five weeks dur­ing which we had ac­cess to the money to make hires, rent of­fice space and buy equip­ment we needed.”

“He came from a very dif­fer­ent back­ground” than most fed­eral of­fi­cials, said Miss Her­reraFlani­gan of Mr. Beck­strom, who was a Sil­i­con Val­ley en­tre­pre­neur and au­thor be­fore join­ing the depart­ment.

“There was a big chal­lenge” for him in ne­go­ti­at­ing “the dy­nam­ics be­tween the dif­fer­ent play­ers” in the depart­ment, she said. “Un­less he was given the au­thor­i­ties to co­or­di­nate across the depart­ment, it would have been a prob­lem,” she added.

Rod A. Beck­strom

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