Bush said to be planning cybersecurity board

By Dan Verton, Computerworld online |  Business

The Bush administration plans to create a board of senior national security officials to oversee the federal government's critical infrastructure protection efforts, effectively doing away with the idea of designating a single cybersecurity "czar," sources said.

The move was said to have been agreed upon during a July 2 meeting with President Bush, who gave National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and other officials the green light to prepare a draft executive order setting up a Cybersecurity and Continuity of Operations Board. The sources said the meeting lasted for more than an hour, after initially being scheduled for 20 minutes, and resulted in a proposed plan that's now being circulated for agency comment.

A final version of the order is expected later this year. Sources on Capitol Hill, who asked not to be identified, said the proposed structure eliminates the notion of giving cybersecurity responsibility to one official in favor of appointing a board with representatives from the Defense, State and Commerce Departments plus the intelligence community and other agencies.

Richard Clarke, the longtime national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection and counterterrorism at the White House, is seen as the leading contender to be named chairman of the proposed panel. Under the new structure, Clarke would likely give up his counterterrorism role in favor of exclusive cybersecurity duties, according to the sources.

Ken Watson, director of critical infrastructure protection at Cisco Systems Inc. and president of the private-sector Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security (PCIS), said the general reaction from corporate officials to the draft presidential order has been positive.

"No single government agency can do all that's needed [to protect technology infrastructures], especially when that includes liaison with industry, oversight of federal budgets and international cooperation," Watson said. "We [think] that a board headed by a presidential adviser provides the right breadth and emphasis."

Kim Kotlar, an assistant to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), said establishing a high-level cybersecurity office would be a good first step in the government's effort to tackle the issue. However, "there are many unanswered questions on how such an organization would work and what its mission would be," she said.

The new plan also leaves open the option of allowing the tenures of the National Infrastructure Assurance Council (NIAC) and the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) to expire on Oct. 1, according to sources familiar with the draft order. Just before he left office in January, former President Bill Clinton appointed 21 people, many of them longtime Democratic Party supporters, to the NIAC. Terminating those appointments would simply be a way for the Bush administration to put its own team in place, the sources said.

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