Cyber security chief quits over power struggle with NSA

Rod Beckworth quits after a year on the job, saying he won't be subjugated to National Security Agency. But does Obama support NSA dominance here?

Just shy of a year in the job, Rod Beckstrom has resigned as director of the National Cyber Security Center because, he says, cyber security is being dominated by the National Security Agency. As head of the NCSC, Beckstrom reported directly to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, which was Michael Chertoff for most of Beckstrom's tenure. Janet Napolitano is now head of DHS.

Beckstrom complained in a letter to Napolitano that NSA is controlling cyber security efforts, "a bad strategy on multiple grounds." Reading the coverage it seems like the last straw might have been plans to move NCSC to an NSA facility at Fort Meade. Beckstrom said he was not going to "subjugate the NCSC underneath the NSA."

As Beckstrom sees it, he envisioned a cyber security strategy built on network operations, not intelligence culture. Based on the NSA's behavior under Bush, Beckstrom's concerns seem to have merit:

Allowing a single agency such as the NSA to handle all top-level government network security and monitoring functions poses a significant threat to "our democratic processes," he said. "Instead, we advocated a model where there is a credible civilian government cybersecurity capability which interfaces with, but is not controlled by, the NSA."

Not surprisingly, he didn't get much support or even funding - about five weeks' worth - in 10 months under the Bush Administration. With Beckstrom out, Melissa Hathaway, a holdover from the Bush years, will have a clear path to restructure CNCI as she sees fit, after a 60-day review of all cybersecurity efforts.

What still isn't clear, I suppose, is whether it's Bush officials who were pushing for NSA control of cyber security (that seems likely, given Bush's preference for approaches that are hidden and unmonitored) or whether the Obama administration is OK with NSA control. It seems more likely that no decision had been made there but the question must be a core issue in Hathaway's review.


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