Rich Cooper

Apr 6, 2009

With the introduction of legislation by Sens. Rockefeller and Snowe and the full thumbs up support of the Obama Administration, it is a foregone conclusion that some type of executive authority position overseeing cybersecurity will be established.  

Taking heed of the lessons and experiences of previous “czar-like positions” (e.g. Tom Ridge – White House Office of Homeland Security; the Drug Czar” – White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, etc.) where great titles and office space were prime, but actual authorities to execute programs and policies were virtually non-existent, the soon to be imposed cybersecurity position appears to be getting the real capacities (and teeth) to do the job.  If enacted as currently outlined, this position has the very potential to be second most powerful position on the planet.

With deference to POTUS and the keeper of the “football” and its launch codes holding the clear number one power position (since they can turn the Earth into a cinder with a wide scale launch of nuclear missiles), the forthcoming cyber czar will not be far behind in the immediate reach and impact with the powers they may be entrusted.

As outlined in the various media reports, the position’s reach would extend beyond the public sector sphere of influence into the private sector and have the ability (and authority) to shut cyber networks down if an attack on them is underway.  With oversight over the various federal budgets, programs and policies in these areas, as well as cybersecurity standards for the public and private sectors, the scale and scope of this position has been accurately described by many as “unprecedented.”

When it is created and the person selected to occupy it is chosen, we as a republic will essentially be handing over the “On and Off” switch for America’s infrastructures and much of it way of life (as well as the world’s) into the hands of this one person.  

How so?

If you think of all of our nation’s critical infrastructures as the organs of a body, each is interdependent upon the other in order to survive and go about daily life.  If one organ is not functioning properly, degradation in the quality of life and survival is at substantial risk.  

In our national body of critical infrastructures, cyber is the one organ that ties it all together – the central nervous system which is responsible for sending messages to each and every organ and body part and telling it what to do.  Without it, a body does not know how to breathe, move, operate or sense what is happening to it or around it.  If the central nervous system should become infected, fractured or disrupted in any way, shape or form, it can have a cascading series of effects that can cause (and cost) tremendous impacts to every part of the body.

As proposed, the forthcoming cyber-czar will be the Centurion, Physician and Overseer of this expansive central nervous system and whenever the need arises, they will have the authority to hit the “Off” switch and bring public and private sectors to a complete stop.

They will have in their hands the ultimate power to dictate what’s right, what’s wrong and what the course of action can and should be.

Whereas many of today’s major decisions in life, politics and business often come down to a “New York minute,” this individual will have to operate and execute in a nanosecond depending upon the unfolding circumstances.

That is a tremendous responsibility for any one person to carry and the consequences of this position’s power should not be underestimated or trivialized.  

In a town that traditionally measures power by protocol rank and title; the size of its office spaces and accompanying views; media mentions; and their physical proximity to the Oval Office, US Capitol, Cabinet Secretary Office and so forth, this prospective position offers a whole new scale to exercising power and its reach.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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