Experts find fault with cyberdirective

Intelligence monitoring authorization reverses 20 years of policy and laws, critics contend

Separation of powers

For 23 years, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency have tried to gain responsibility for overseeing civilian agency networks. Each time, Congress and Office of Management and Budget officials have stopped them through policy or legislation. Two prominent laws, among others, create clear separation between intelligence and civilian networks. They are:

The Computer Security Act of 1987.

The law gives the National Institute of Standards and Technology authority to develop governmentwide computer security standards.
The Federal Information Security


The Management Act of 2002.

FISMA restates NIST’s and OMB’s roles in overseeing computer security policies and standards.


— Jason Miller

When President Bush issued a classified cybersecurity directive early last month, he reversed 21 years of policy that had prevented the Defense Department and the National Security Agency from having oversight of civilian agency networks.

Some opponents of the directive, which include several former Office of Management and Budget officials, say that National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 authorizing intelligence monitoring of all federal agency networks will create a new set of information technology security problems and raise privacy and civil liberties concerns that had been avoided until now.

“To solve the security problem, they want to use intelligence monitoring?” asked Glenn Schlarman, a former OMB official in charge of security policy who is now a consultant. DOD has not done a great job of defending its own networks, Schlarman said, adding that there are “starkly different needs and purposes for intelligence gathering and computer security.”

Schlarman is one of several former OMB officials who disapprove of parts of the president’s classified directive. They said it violates the Computer Security Act of 1987, the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 and the Privacy Act of 1974. Until now, Schlarman and others had fought — and won — a recurring battle to prevent DOD and NSA from having a role in managing civilian agency networks.   

Bruce McConnell, who was at OMB for 15 years and was chief of the information policy and technology branch for many years, testified before Congress last week that the classified directive could have a potentially chilling effect on the free flow of information between government and citizens.

“It is impossible for DOD to balance the needs of security and monitoring,” McConnell told House lawmakers last week.

McConnell, who is president at Government Futures, a consulting company, said the directive has garnered a lot support because of repeated attacks on federal networks.

Asked about the concerns expressed by former OMB officials, Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT, said the new policy “has been fully vetted, and it is clear what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are.”

Evans said she could not comment further because of the classified nature of the directive.

Several critics say such secrecy is one of their concerns. “People have consistently concluded that this kind of secrecy slows down the responsiveness and effectiveness of responding” to network security problems, said Jim Dempsey, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s policy director. “That is why the Computer Emergency Readiness Team publishes vulnerabilities and their fixes as quickly as possible.”

DOD and NSA have been trying to obtain rights to monitor federal computer networks since 1984, when John Poindexter, then the National Security Advisor, issued a directive. Each time, OMB and lawmakers stopped or staved off those attempts.

 “Either no one raised these concerns, or they finally got into a situation where they went above the OMB staff level and to the White House staff and convinced them it was the right thing to do,” Schlarman said.

Dempsey said he believes this latest effort to change agency network oversight originated with Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence. “For McConnell, this is the latest chapter in a 20-year effort,” he said. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred all questions about the new cyberdirective to the Homeland Security Department.

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