The FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) has been shamed in a US Congress General Accounting Office (GAO) report which characterizes the federal cybersleuths as un-original players preoccupied with trivial matters, and unable to articulate timely warnings.
The whopping 108-page critique finds the NIPC disorganized and staffed with dead-weight bunglers:
"The NIPC's efforts to develop a more robust warning capability have been impeded by a lack of staff expertise and because a government-wide or nationwide framework for promptly collecting and analyzing incident information has not been established."
It's record in providing strategic analysis -- a core NIPC mission -- is also dismal, the GAO finds.
"Since it was established in 1998, the NIPC has issued a variety of analytical products. Most of these products have been based on the work of others, with some original NIPC analysis. The majority of the NIPC's original analysis has been tactical analysis performed in support of investigations of individual incidents."
Indeed, in practice the NIPC appears to be little more than an incident reporting operation.
"To provide a warning capability....the NIPC established the Watch and Warning Unit. The Unit's objective is to identify attacks that appear imminent and alert government entities, businesses, and the public, so that significant damage can be averted. While some warnings have been issued in time to avert damage, most of the warnings, especially those related to viruses, have pertained to attacks that were already underway."
Inter-agency rivalries are another source of trouble, the GAO observes. The NIPC early on developed a reputation for not working and playing well with others, and in one example appears to have done a smashing job of offending the US Secret Service with a mixture of condescension and jealousy.
"The Secret Service withdrew the detailees it had originally provided to the NIPC because Secret Service officials felt that the Service's personnel were not provided appropriate responsibilities," the report notes.
Among its recommendations, the GAO suggests that the NIPC 'formalize relationships with other agencies' (start cooperating), and further that regulations be enacted requiring reports to be shared among agencies.
NIPC Director Ronald Dick says he intends to flesh out the Center's niche in the realm of national cyber defense during his tenure. Fair enough; but the tone of the GAO report makes it clear that he's really on a rescue mission, and one in which Congressional patience, and its attendant financial support, is running short. ®