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Access to Tom Ridge or bust

Another cyberczar has resigned, and CNET News.com's Charles Cooper wonders why nobody in government seems particularly concerned.

George Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, must own a super lucky rabbit's foot.

When Amit Yoran last week became the third cybersecurity chief to leave his post in less than two years, most folks barely noticed.

What with the baseball playoffs, the sexual exploits of Scott Peterson and the political silly season, other things apparently occupied their attention.

What Yoran really needed was a direct pipeline to Tom Ridge, the homeland security secretary.
OK, I'll do my part to move things along. News flash: The Yanks will probably play the Cardinals in the World Series and, well, either Bush or Kerry will win the election. Now that I've solved that, let's return to a story that shouts out for closer examination.

Yoran was appointed director of the National Cyber Security Division in September 2003. Essentially, he was charged with protecting the nation's computer networks from attack. Last year's presidential commission on how to secure cyberspace offered several recommendations, and Yoran was supposed to implement the findings.

A highly regarded technologist who once worked for Symantec, Yoran's success depended upon real buy-in from the Department of Homeland Security.

But things began to go wrong very quickly. First, his office got folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Then he wound up reporting to Robert Liscouski, who has the less-than-awe-inspiring title of assistant secretary for infrastructure protection.

What Yoran really needed was a direct pipeline to Tom Ridge, the homeland security secretary. His title also should have been upgraded to the assistant-secretary level. Instead, he was left without the pull to make things happen in Washington.

My guess is that his resignation will only add to Silicon Valley's existing frustration with the government's perfunctory approach to cybersecurity.

Out of sight, out of mind--unless, of course, the entire kit and caboodle comes crashing down because of an attack.
Industry executives have long complained about the lack of attention given to an issue that rates more important than the occasional photo op.

There's a pattern here. Both previous cybersecurity czars, Richard Clarke and , urged the government to move faster to combat the threat to the nation's information infrastructure. But whatever progress has come has been at a snail's pace.

You can understand why the administration is not circling the wagons. Unlike Iraq or the economy, the state of the nation's Internet infrastructure won't be on many people's minds when they enter the voting booths Nov. 2. Out of sight, out of mind--unless, of course, the entire kit and caboodle comes crashing down because of an attack.

Until then, the Bushistas can continue to pursue a policy of benign neglect while pretending to be doing important work. It's great politics, and isn't that what this is really all about?

All this takes place at a time when the country is already on edge about all things related to security. An upcoming CNET News.com-Harris Interactive Poll, to be published later this month, reinforces the picture of a nation on edge. With less than a month left in the presidential campaign, however, the state of America's cyberdefense is missing from the national dialogue on what should be done.

Yoran was too polite to point fingers, but he made clear his displeasure by giving just one day's notice. The message is that when the subject turns to cybersecurity, the people running the country have other priorities.