Ex-cybersecurity czar blasts Bush's efforts

Richard Clarke detailed what he thinks has gone wrong since his office completed its national cybersecurity plan early in 2003.

Richard Clarke became a national celebrity in recent months for his criticisms of the Bush administration's handling of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Now the former White House official is extending that criticism to the administration's handling of cybersecurity.

Clarke, who moved in spring 2001 from his job as White House counter-terrorism chief to head a new White House cybersecurity office created on his recommendation, said the administration has made cybersecurity too low a priority.

Clarke shared his criticisms about administration anti-terrorism policy with the independent panel investigating intelligence activities before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Administration witnesses -- including National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice -- also testified to rebut those charges and defend administration policy, although cybersecurity issues were not a major focus of those discussions.

In his best-selling book Against All Enemies, Clarke said cybersecurity needs more attention. In an interview last week with National Journal's Technology Daily, he detailed what he thinks has gone wrong since his office completed a national cybersecurity plan early in 2003.

"I think the national strategy fell essentially on deaf ears," he said. "The president signed it, the president issued it, there was the usual amount of lip service to it, but then nothing ever happened for the better part of a year."

Under criticism from him and people outside government, the administration agreed to create the national cybersecurity division in the Homeland Security Department, he said. "They bought some time from criticism by announcing they were going to do it, but then they didn't appoint anyone to run it for the longest period of time."

When the administration did name someone, he said, it was too low-level a position to have governmentwide impact. That might change, however, Clarke said, as House Republicans are interested in elevating the position to the assistant-secretary level and legislatively giving that person authority over cyber security in other departments.

He also criticized the administration for cutting overall funding for cybersecurity research and for not creating a federal government that is a model of how to do cybersecurity. "Most of the departments are still in bad shape," he said.

Clarke said that in January 2001, Rice and her deputy, Steve Hadley, asked him to look for ways to spin off portions of his portfolio. He proposed a separate White House cybersecurity office.

"I surprised them by proposing myself to run it, since they thought I was obsessed with terrorism and would never want to leave that issue," Clarke said. "But at the time, I thought they were not obsessed with terrorism, and if they were not going to treat terrorism with the importance it deserved I didn't want to work on it for them."

He also saw cybersecurity as "a future area of threat" that was unappreciated. "One of the things I've been able to do in my career is to find emerging issues and help them emerge," he said.

Clarke left for the private sector shortly after the release of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, following 30 years of federal service.