Cyber-Security Czar Quits Amid Fears of NSA Takeover

By Noah Shachtman EmailMarch 06, 2009 | 11:52:14 AMCategories: Homeland Security  

Rod_lecture_2 Rod Beckström, the Department of Homeland Security’s controversial cyber-security chief, has suddenly resigned amid allegations of power grabs and bureaucratic infighting.

Beckström — a management theorist, entrepreneur and author — was named last year to head up the new National Cybersecurity Center, or NCSC. To some, it seemed an odd choice since Beckström isn’t an expert in security. But the hope was that he could use his management skills to help coordinate the nation’s often-dysfunctional network defenses.

Part of the Department of Homeland Security — for now, the government’s lead agency for cyber protection — the Center was supposed to be the one place where the defense of civilian, military and intelligence networks could all be marshaled together.

At least, that was the idea. But the Center never had a chance to even start doing its job, Beckström complained in a resignation letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano that has been obtained by Danger Room. The Center “did not receive appropriate support” from the Department of Homeland Security to help coordinate network defenses, he said.

“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.”

What’s more, Beckström said, it is a fiction that DHS is in charge of the country’s cyber security. That power, he asserts, is held by the National Security Agency — the supersecret signals intelligence service — that “currently dominates most national cyber efforts.” And that, he says, is not a good idea.

While acknowledging the critical importance of NSA to our intelligence efforts, I believe this is a bad strategy on multiple grounds. The intelligence culture is very different than a network operations of security culture. In addition, the threat to our democratic processes are significant if all top government network  security and monitoring are handled by any one organization (either directly of indirectly). During my term as Director we have been unwilling to subjugate the NSCS underneath the NSA.

Last Thursday, the new Director of National Intelligence told Congress that the NSA, not Homeland Security, should be put in charge of network defense.  A week and a day later, Beckström told his bosses that he was through.

“Rod [was] trying to get over NSA’s power grab,” a cyber-security source with deep government ties tells Danger Room. But in the end, Beckström couldn’t. “He jumped nanoseconds before being pushed.”

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