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From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Bob Barr

New cybersecurity Czar faces huge hurdles

President Barack Obama has reached into the private sector and named Howard A. Schmidt as the new coordinator for cybersecurity in the administration – a new “Cybersecurity Czar,” if you will. Mr. Schmidt has his work cut out for him; balancing the many and often divergent – even parochial – interests of the many federal agencies concerned with the security of their computer systems and information. Schmidt also will have to consider the security of the government’s cyber systems as they relate to the business sector and to other governments – state, local and foreign.

The approach Schmidt takes, and the perspective he decides to bring to his new job will in large part determine whether this administration will succeed in protecting vital national security and economic data from domestic and foreign threats.

Often, the federal government trains its attention on the “big picture” – in this case, global cybersecurity – and in so doing concludes it has addressed the problem sufficiently; and then diverts its attentions to other problems. It sees the forest but not the trees.

The newest “czar” may decide to spend his time focusing on the cyber “forest” – such things as a cybersecurity treaty and national legislation giving the president broad powers over civilian cybersecurity, as for example, in draft legislation that has been floating around Capitol Hill for many months (the “Cybersecurity Act of 2009”). If he does this, he runs the risk of squandering an opportunity to make some real headway toward improving security of our working national defense systems that sorely are in need of fixing.

For example, as reported publicly in recent days, US military video technology being employed in Iraq has been compromised repeatedly. Iraqi militants have successfully hacked into American video transmissions; including those actually targeting enemy positions by our drone aircraft. This hacking apparently has been accomplished with the help of a software program called “SkyGrabber,” available on the internet for $25.95.

Obviously, the US military, in focusing on deploying high tech weaponry on the battlefield, has overlooked the low-tech interception technology available to anyone with $30 to spend. The mighty US Department of Defense seems to have forgotten the not-so-minor detail of encrypting the technology used to protect our troops and destroy the enemy.

This problem apparently is not new. As reported by the Wall Street Journal recently, for example, it has been known that US military video transmissions were vulnerable since the 1990s. In fact, senior members of the Joint Staff knew that Russia and China were intercepting and manipulating video from unmanned aircraft and Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) since 2004. Our top military brass chose to ignore such problems with the unsecure signals because they were more concerned with roadside bomb attacks.

Congress and the Obama administration should demand accountability of the Defense Department, and ask the Joint Chiefs why technological systems have been installed hastily and not properly encrypted. Whether the new cybersecurity czar will have a sufficiently robust portfolio, backed up by the president and the defense secretary personally, to address such serious problems, remains to be seen. But if he doesn’t, problems such as those that have surfaced recently regarding the lack of cybersecurity in our operational defense and weapons systems will only worsen. And that’s just one part of his job description.

The Census three-ring circus

The actual language in the Constitution of the United States regarding the census is short and sweet. It’s located in Article I Section 2 of that magnificent document – an “actual enumeration shall be made . . . every . . . term of ten years.” Every decade, the federal government is tasked with counting the number of people in the country. Seems pretty simple; and especially considering the number of technological tools and the array of data bases available to government and businesses alike as we prepare for the 2010 “enumeration,” it would seem a fairly easy task to complete.

Not so. The census has become big business. In fact, it’s become a multi-billion dollar circus that gets more complex and expensive every time we undertake the task. Problem is, every interest group out there, and every state, city, county, parish and other unit of government at every level, wants to skew the numbers in its favor in order to justify or qualify for more federal dollars. This is leading to ever and more ludicrous schemes to find and count more and more people.

It’s reached the point at which we really ought to call it what it is – a television reality show in which contestants compete to “find” the largest number of “people” to fit into whatever category best suits their needs. ACORN, of course, has mastered the drill; but they’re not the only ones by a long shot. As reported in this Blog in September, the government has enlisted the PTA and school children to help in its efforts.

The National Association of Latino Elected Officials, for example, is exploiting religion in an attempt to collect its “fair share” of people and dollars. This particular group is distributing posters encouraging Latinos to register for the census, just as Joseph and Mary did as recounted in the Gospel. Despite the controversy stirred up by invoking religion to promote a government-mandated census, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights reportedly is translating the “Mary and Joseph” posters into other languages, including Korean and Vietnamese.

Next year’s census is expected to cost us taxpayers upwards of $15 billion, apart from the money non-government organizations will spend to encourage people to be counted. However, for many organizations and government units, spending money now to reap a larger share of the hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars that will be distributed over the following decade in federal programs and benefits, makes a lot of sense.

With so much federal largess at stake, we can only anticipate that the games people play in order to inflate the census count will grow ever more imaginative and costly. Spin the wheel! Pick a door! Make a deal! It’s Census Time!

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  1. rashid omar rashid omar December 26, 2009

    good article, good information, in-depth analysis to a degree.

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