White House still seeking cybersecurity czar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is still searching for the right person to lead the fight against an epidemic of cybercrime, the White House said on Tuesday as it came under fire following the resignation of a top cybersecurity adviser.

A man takes a look at Toshiba laptop computers at an electronic shop in Tokyo May 8, 2009. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Melissa Hathaway, who led a 60-day White House review of cyber policies, resigned and said she had withdrawn her application for the position of cybersecurity coordinator out of frustration over the administration’s delays in filling the post.

“I wasn’t willing to continue to wait any longer because I’m not empowered right now to continue to drive the change,” Hathaway, who also worked on cybersecurity issues for the Bush administration, told The Washington Post.

Obama promised in May that he would personally decide who would become cybersecurity coordinator to lead the fight against an epidemic of cybercrime, which threatens the computer networks that underpin the U.S. economy.

Industry officials have pushed for someone to be appointed to the job. Republican Senator Susan Collins, who has worked closely with the Democratic president on many issues, blasted Hathaway’s departure as a sign of the Obama administration’s lack of leadership in cybersecurity.

“The loss of her expertise on this issue is unfortunate,” Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, said in a statement.

She said the White House should not appoint a cybersecurity czar but should work with Congress to appoint a “cyber leader” at the Department of Homeland Security.

A source with direct knowledge of the search told Reuters in June that those who had been considered included Microsoft Corp’s security chief and an executive from Sun Microsystems. The source indicated Hathaway also was in the running but less likely to be chosen for the job.

White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro praised Hathaway on Tuesday for “the significant progress she and her team have made on our national cybersecurity strategy.”

He said cybersecurity remained a major priority for Obama and insisted the president was committed to finding the right person.

“A rigorous selection process is well under way,” Shapiro said.

Separately on Tuesday, Obama’s homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, said she was working to recruit industry experts on cybersecurity.

“I hope to recruit some of your smartest people to join the government, so watch out,” Napolitano said to laughter from the audience at the Global Cyber Security Conference hosted by the U.S. Secret Service.

“This is a very, very rapidly evolving environment in which real crime and real damage can occur,” she said.

Napolitano also acknowledged that because the DHS was a new department, it was not organized well initially to deal with cybersecurity issues when she came on board at the start of the year but that the agency was beginning to mature to address the evolving threats.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Diane Bartz; editing by David Alexander and Bill Trott