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Cybersecurity Czar Position Still Open

August 5, 2009

The White House said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama is still seeking the right person to lead the battle against cybercrime.

Melissa Hathaway resigned from her 60-day White House review of cyber policies.  She wrote that she withdrew her application for the position of cybersecurity coordinator out of frustration over the administration’s delays in filling the post.

“I wasn’t willing to continue to wait any longer because I’m not empowered right now to continue to drive the change,” Hathaway, who also worked on cybersecurity issues for the Bush administration, told The Washington Post.

In May, Obama said he would personally decide the next cybersecurity coordinator to head up the fight against the epidemic on cybercrime, which threatens computer networks that underpin the U.S. economy.

Republican Senator Susan Collins, who has worked closely with Obama on many issues, criticized Hathaway’s departure as a sign of the Obama administration’s lack of leadership in cybersecurity.

“The loss of her expertise on this issue is unfortunate,” Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, said in a statement.

She said the White House does not need to appoint a cybersecurity czar, but instead they should focus on Congress appointing a “cyber leader” at the Department of Homeland Security.

Reuters reported in June a source close to the situation said that those who were being considered were Microsoft Corp’s security chief and an executive from Sun Microsystems.  The source said that Hathaway was in the running, but was less likely to be chosen for the job.

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro praised Hathaway for “the significant progress she and her team have made on our national cybersecurity strategy.”

He said that cybersecurity is still a major priority for Obama, and the president is committed to finding the right person for the job.

“A rigorous selection process is well under way,” Shapiro said.

Obama’s homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, said on Tuesday that she was working to recruit industry experts on cybersecurity.

“I hope to recruit some of your smartest people to join the government, so watch out,” Napolitano said to laughter from the audience at the Global Cyber Security Conference hosted by the U.S. Secret Service.

“This is a very, very rapidly evolving environment in which real crime and real damage can occur,” she said.

She also said that due to DHS being a new department, it was not organized well initially to deal with cybersecurity issues when she came on board at the start of the year.  However, the agency is now beginning to mature by addressing the evolving threats.

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