Bush administration “a disaster when it comes to cyber security”

September 7th, 2008

pearharborxlarge A bi-partisan commission of cyber security experts Tuesday gave a scathing review of how starkly unprepared the Bush administration is to stop a digital Pearl Harbor: cyber terrorists knocking out our nation’s financial, telecom or power systems.

You can view a webcast of the Congressional hearing at which the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th President (what a name!) presented its findings here. And you can see supporting proof points from a new Government Accountability Office report released at the same hearing here.

CSIS commission members who testified before the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, Science and Technology included CSIS director Jim Lewis and Good Harbor Consulting’s Paul Kurtz and Ret. Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege. They painted an alarming picture of a secrecy-obsessed Bush White House creating a rudderless Department of Homeland Security. The experts said that DHS has utterly failed at establishing trust, much less partnerships, with the private sector and with other nations. (Such collaborations are crucial to formulating and implementing an effective cyber defense.)

“This administration has been a disaster when it comes to cyber security,” observed Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ).

And yet, the upshot of the hearing was decidedly upbeat. The good news: a bi-partisan solution has been painstakingly pieced together by the commission. What’s sorely needed, testified Lewis, is a senior level administration official, with high level security clearances, and the president’s ear. Somebody like, say, Richard A. Clarke. You may recall Clarke was an effective cyber security czar under President Clinton. But Clarke resigned in 2003 after President Bush eliminated his cabinet-level access. He has since re-invented himself as a security consultant and best-selling author of cyber thrillers.

There appears to be bi-partisan momentum in Congress to make cyber defense a higher priority. Rep. Al Green (D-Tex) and Michael McCaul (R-Tex) both cited concerns about the public outcry, should cyber terrorists strike with government preparedness at a nadir.

“We have some duty to respond,” said Green. “If we do have an attack, people are going to want to know why we didn’t move forward.”

McCaul put it more succinctly: “We don’t want to be sitting here some day with a cyber 9-11 asking what we could have done to stop that.”

By Byron Acohido
Photo: A scene from the movie ‘Pearl Harbor.’ (Touchstone Pictures)
Posted at 05:30 AM/ET, September 17, 2008 in Security | Permalink