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Bush's New Cyber-Security Czar

The October appointment of Richard A. Clarke as President Bush's cybersecurity czar underlined the government's resolve to put information technology front and center in the fight against terrrorism.

Clarke serves under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., who retains overall responsibility for government-wide security policy and implementation. Mark Forman, associate OMB director for IT and electronic government, oversees the interagency task force in charge of federal IT as well as the administration's $100 million e-gov fund; Daniels calls him the closest thing to a government CIO.

Daniels has made it clear that IT falls into a special priority category that will be funded, no matter what the cost.

"We have to try to rationalize systems spending in the federal government," Daniels told a Washington symposium last fall. "The situation is not as bad as you think, it's much worse."

Already, the President has requested funding for Project Matrix, which will identify the networks, nodes and assets within 14 federal agencies that, if incapacitated or destroyed, would put the country's survival at risk. The evaluation includes utility systems such as electrical, gas and water.

Although the initial study is small - $1.7 million - it will affect future IT spending, because the vulnerabilities so identified will have to be protected by redundancies or other security measures.

Much of post-terrorism spending will be to beef up computer security as well as law enforcement manpower. New personnel will have to be trained, and IT education management systems are expected to be in high demand.

Other IT research areas that have been identified as urgent priorities by various government officials include:

- Biometrics: An identification system involving an infallible personal identifier, such as an iris scan, and a tracking system to link the I.D. cards to usable national security intelligence.
- Aviation communications: Real-time transmission of flight data, including video and sound recordings, to the ground, perhaps coupled with a method, automated or not, to transfer cockpit control to the ground in case of emergency.
- Intelligence agency stovepiping: Integration of various national and local law enforcement and national security databases, including INS watch lists, DEA, CIA and FBI files.
- Knowledge management: Instant profiling of fast-developing threats.
- Telecommunications: Integrating the nation's state and local civilian response teams, especially in telecommunications.
- Epidemiological tracking: A national data center that, while protecting patient confidentiality, would be able to pick out patterns of suspicious symptoms that could be the first warning of a bioterrorist attack.
- Food supply security: A data system to track inspections and symptom outbreaks related to the imported food supply.

Speaking at a Washington meeting of 350 government and industry IT leaders, Office of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge urged the IT community to think of national security as not just a federal government problem but a truly national issue. The Bush administration separately is trying to foster a new partnership with the scientific and research community.

"Take this city by the neck and shake it," Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Penn.), chair of the procurement subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington IT audience.