Senators want answers on President Bush’s secret cyber security initiative

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the committee's ranking Republican member have this month fired off a letter to Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security with a long list of questions about how the Initiative was formulated; how it will be staffed and whether – despite the need for secrecy – there will be releases of unclassified information.

The Initiative, was secretly signed into effect by President Bush back in January , and there are rumors that Congress will be asked to come up with as much as $30 billion over the coming years.

The CNCI , according to the senators, is a multi-agency, multi-year plan that lays out 12 steps to securing the federal government’s cyber networks. DHS has been tasked to lead or play a major role in many of these tasks. “This bold, much-needed approach to cyber security will lead to a fundamental shift in the way the Department approaches the security of US networks,” they say.

Not much else is known about the initiative although there are reports that the National Security Agency, the CIA and the FBI will co-operate on monitoring and share information via a new body called the National Cyber Security Center. The aim of the NCSC is classified, Chertoff told the audience at the recent RSA Conference, but it has appointed a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Rod Beckstrom, as its director.

The senators had several questions about the NCSC and Beckstrom’s role. Not only do they want to know what the Center’s role is but why was it formed. They had several questions about Beckstrom’s two year contract, wanting to know under what legal authority was the appointment made.

Among the other areas the senators are interested in is the role the private sector will play. They ask, for instance, “Given that private sector cooperation is crucial to effectively protect federal government networks, how do you plan to work with this sector in the implementation of the CNCI?”

They also want to know how the privacy of Americans who visit government websites and input personal information will be protected.

The senators wrote to the DHS and made public their letter, saying their request for an unclassified briefing on the Initiative has gone unanswered for five months.

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