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US cybersecurity chief quits over NSA power grab

A threat to democracy

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The US government's cybersecurity chief abruptly quit last week amid allegations his office was woefully underfunded and unduly controlled by the country's ultra-secretive National Security Agency.

Rod Beckstrom was named last year to head the NCSC, or National Cybersecurity Center, an office within the Department of Homeland Security that's responsible for coordinating the defense of civilian, military and intelligence networks. In a widely circulated resignation letter (PDF) dated last Thursday, the former Silicon Valley entrepreneur warned that a power grab by the NSA threatened the success of the office's mission.

"While acknowledging the critical importance of the NSA to our intelligence efforts, I believe this is a bad strategy on multiple grounds," he wrote.

"The intelligence culture is very different than a network operations of security culture. In addition, the threat to our democratic processes are significant if all top government network security and monitoring are handled by any one organization (either directly or indirectly). During my term as Director we have been unwilling to subjugate the NCSC underneath the NSA."

Beckstrom also let loose the rather jaw-dropping accusation that since his office was formed last March, it has received funding for just five weeks and had only five people working there.

The power struggle ought to come as a wake-up call to the Obama administration, which on its first full day in office unfurled its master plan for securing the country's national infrastructure. While the NCSC is currently under the control of the DHS, there have been calls for the Department of Defense's NSA to oversee national cybersecurity.

Resolving the struggle needs to be a top priority. Until then, it's unclear who's steering the boat. ®

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