CIAO chief charges against cyberthreats

Jeffrey Hunker always has been fascinated with the gray areas where disciplines and fields of knowledge intersect.

His career has been anchored by work in business and technology, but he also is an avid photographer—an intersection of interests molded perhaps by his father, a nuclear physicist, and his mother, an artist.

Hunker said his new job as director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) requires him to draw on the skills honed in a disparate array of previous jobs to tackle the massive intersection of disciplines required to protect the country from information warfare.

"I've always been fascinated with the intersection between national economics, national security policy, and science and technology," Hunker said. "I've spent my entire career working in each of those areas. The problems that face the U.S. as a nation really involve the intersection between those three sets of issues."

As director of the CIAO (pronounced "chow"), Hunker is responsible for putting together a national plan to address the physical threats and cyberthreats to the nation's critical infrastructures, such as the banking, transportation and electric industries. While this defense effort is spearheaded by the federal government, it requires an unprecedented amount of cooperation with the private-sector owners and operators of these infrastructures.

Hunker brings experience from the private sector and the government to the job. He began his career at the Boston Consulting Group, where he helped restructure technology companies, before heading to Wall Street in 1987. There he worked as vice president of corporate finance at Kidder, Peabody and Co. Inc., where he specialized in raising capital and performed acquisition advisory work for U.S. and European industrial firms.

In 1993 Hunker left New York for Washington, D.C., to work for former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown as a senior policy adviser. Hunker said he and Brown "really hit it off," and he was drawn to Brown's realization that national economic competitiveness is a core component of national security. Eventually, Hunker advanced to deputy assistant to the secretary of Commerce, where he developed policy based on the integration of economic, energy and environmental issues.

"In all of these areas, they were new issues that hadn't really even been dealt with before," Hunker said. "They were all very, very complex interagency processes."

Hunker said all these previous endeavors prepared him to head up the CIAO, which was established in a May 1998 presidential decision directive designed to help shore up the nation's critical infrastructures against emerging information warfare threats.

"Critical infrastructure seemed to be an excellent opportunity to apply a lot of the skills I had collected," Hunker said. "It brings together elements that really challenge the way government is organized."

While working on Wall Street, Hunker never would have anticipated that he soon would be working in Washington and helping to craft national security policy, he said. In fact, he toyed with a career in academia.

"This is not an academic exercise," he said. "This is real life. We're here to make something happen. The purpose of our efforts is not to produce a piece of paper, a report. It's to make things happen."

In addition to being grounded in reality, Hunker's work also involves a high degree of risk—the risk of having an attack on the national infrastructure occur before his office has put into place the necessary policies and procedures to ward off such an attack.

Oddly enough, Hunker said he always used to think of himself as risk-averse. But now his evolving outside interests—he has recently taken up mountain climbing—and this new job have made him reconsider his self-assessment.

"I view this job as a race against time," he said. "[Critical infrastructure protection efforts] are going to be an absolute watershed in making the U.S. government a positive model for information systems security. It's going to be a real lever for encouraging the private sector. Agencies understand that they have to respond to this; they have to prepare for it."

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