White House cybersecurity czar to retire

Richard Clarke, the nation’s first counterterrorism coordinator and de facto cybersecurity czar, plans to retire next month when the final version of the Bush administration’s national plan for defending cyberspace is released, Computerworld has confirmed.

Unconfirmed reports about Clarke’s departure from his current post as chairman of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board surfaced late last week and over the weekend. However, White House sources close to Clarke confirmed today that next month he will end a career at the National Security Council spanning three administrations. His career was also characterized by a concerted effort to enhance the government’s relationship with the private-sector operators of the critical infrastructures.

Computerworld has also learned that Howard Schmidt, Clarke’s deputy on the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Board, will likely move into the chairmanship position. Schmidt has also been added to the short list of candidates for a senior assistant or deputy assistant secretary position in the new Department of Homeland Security, according to White House sources.

In addition, John Tritak, the longtime director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) at the Department of Commerce, is slated to become the new assistant secretary for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, sources confirmed. The CIAO and the CIP Board are both expected to become part of the new Department of Homeland Security, which was officially created last week.

Clarke’s departure is getting a mixed reaction in Washington. Although earlier news accounts of his departure indicated he would not be remembered for his diplomacy, others said his retirement will be felt by the nation’s cybersecurity community, especially in the government.

“Dick represents, in my view, the best of our professional federal civil service,” said Jeff Hunker, former senior director for critical infrastructure protection under Clarke during the Clinton administration. “He has always been extremely creative, very focused on results, and willing to cut across parties and politics to get things done.”

“He was loyal — intensely so — to the people who worked for him, and never advanced himself at their expense,” said Hunker, who is now the dean of the H. John Heinz II School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh.

“Dick’s greatest talent was identifying the next security issue before it was an issue and before anyone else,” said Roger Cressey, Clarke’s former chief of staff at the President’s CIP Board. “He was able to use his tremendous bureaucratic skill to get senior-level attention to the issues. And there are not many people in government who have that talent. So his departure will be a real loss….”

Vince Cannistraro, former chief of operations at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, said people at the agency “resented” Clarke “because he was a hands-on bureaucratic guerilla who rode roughshod over the bureaucracies.” He acknowledged, however, that such an approach is sometimes useful.

Cannistraro knew Clarke during his tenure as deputy chief of intelligence and research at the National Security Council, where Clarke “often came up with questionable proposals for covert action. He was contemptuous of the bureaucracy and this attitude earned him few friends.”

Prior to taking his post as cybersecurity adviser, Clarke was responsible for planning and recommending the bombing of the Al Shifa plant in Sudan, which Cannistraro said, was probably conducted on the basis of faulty intelligence.

The CIA also resented Clarke for airing his views to the press about the intelligence failures that contributed to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, said Cannistraro. “Of course the intelligence community screwed up. But Clarke also screwed up. He was, after [all], the counterterrorism czar when 9/11 took place.”

Harris Miller, president of the Arlington, Va.-based Information Technology Association of America, who worked closely with Clarke on government efforts to reach out to the private sector on issues such as information sharing, said Clarke brought “a laserlike focus” to cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection.