Outgoing intell chief discusses cybersecurity challenge

Despite some progress, the government’s cybersecurity effort is not as far along as Mike McConnell, the outgoing director of national intelligence, would like.

“We’ve got a good program, we’ve got funding, we’ve got the attention of the Congress, we’ve got the attention of the current administration, we’ve got the attention of the incoming administration,” McConnell told a group of reporters Jan. 16, according to a transcript of the event. “But cybersecurity is the soft underbelly of this country.”

“So my regret would be we introduced this idea about 18, 20 months ago,” he added. “It got some pretty quick traction, and it’s been a very slow…process to work our way through it.”

McConnell added that although he would like to be further down the road, “we’ve got a good vector, and we’re going [in] the right direction.”

President George W. Bush signed a directive in January 2008 that formally launched the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. Officials say the classified multiyear, multibillion-dollar effort involves agencies from across the government and the private sector, with the director of national intelligence playing a central coordinating role.

The initiative involves policies related to defense, intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security. One problem has been determining which agencies have authority over different aspects of the initiative, McConnell said.

That is one of the challenges awaiting President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for director of national intelligence, McConnell said.

“How do you write the rules and govern the process and establish the authority to take the exploiters [and] put them in [in] a way that they can be technical support for defense, and how do you take it to the private sector?” he said. “That’s the challenge.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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