Obama to invent cybersecurity czar

Announcement expected this week


President Obama is expected to announce late this week his decision to create a senior White House official responsible for protecting the nation's government-run and private computer networks from attack, according to a published report.

The "cyber czar" will probably be a member of the National Security Council but will report to the national security adviser and the senior White House economic advisor, according to The Washington Post, which cited unnamed officials who had been briefed on the plan. As of Friday, Obama had not yet settled on the advisor's rank and title.

The announcement is to coincide with the release of a 40-page report evaluating the government's strategy for security government networks and other infrastructure deemed critical to national security. The timing of the report - it was expected to be released a week or two ago - and the details included in the Washington Post report suggest the plan may have run into infighting by advisors to Obama.

On his first full day in office, Obama signaled a willingness to have the cyber czar report directly to the president, an arrangement that he promised as a candidate and that was also recommended by a panel of more than 60 government and business computer security experts.

While the idea is whoever is appointed will be someone who can "pick up the phone and contact the president directly, if need be," the advisor no longer would report directly to Obama, according to the report. What's more, the czar would now have two bosses, in an attempt to strike a balance between homeland security and economic concerns.

Over the past few months, turf wars have arisen between advisors who want the ultra-secretive National Security Agency to oversee the country's cybersecurity. Others have said the job is best carried out by the National Cybersecurity Center, an office within the Department of Homeland Security that's responsible for coordinating the defense of civilian, military and intelligence networks. In March, the government's cybersecurity chief abruptly resigned amid allegations his office was woefully underfunded and inappropriately controlled by the military.

The plan for the czar to report to a senior economic advisor appears to be an effort to give Senior White House Economic Advisor Lawrence H. Summers a degree of control in ensuring efforts to protect private networks don't unduly threaten economic growth. ®

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