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Microsoft hires national security honcho

Hoping to play a larger role in homeland security, Microsoft taps former political adviser Thomas Richey for a new position counseling U.S. policy-makers on IT issues.

Hoping to play a larger role on the homeland security scene, Microsoft has created a new position to advise U.S. policy-makers on information technology issues.

Thomas Richey The company said Wednesday that it has tapped Thomas Richey, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, to fill the new post of federal director of homeland security at the company. After serving for 20 years in the Coast Guard, Richey retired in 2001 and became policy adviser to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in whose office he worked on homeland security and other issues.

Microsoft said it created the post to help the government manage its IT systems and to make sure the different systems work together.

"Tom's appointment is a significant step in establishing Microsoft as a strategic partner to the government as it evolves its homeland security strategy," Mitra Azizirad, general manager of Microsoft's federal systems, said in a statement.

The company said Richey would work with policy-makers and Microsoft partners to help the government develop its IT framework for homeland security.

In an interview with CNET, Richey said that one of the breakdowns in fighting terrorism has been law enforcement's inability to use technology to string together evidence already in possession. For example, an FBI agent in Arizona mentioned in a memo that potential terrorists appeared to be enrolling in flight schools, but the information didn't seem to raise red flags among other investigators. Although technology likely couldn't have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks, Richey said, "we could have done a better job of providing technological vehicles to help collate and analyze the information."

Richey also said he's been impressed with Microsoft's new focus on security. "I see an organization that is reinventing itself," he said.

Microsoft already has several ties to government security efforts. Its former chief security strategist, Howard Schmidt, is vice chairman of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board.

Many companies are hoping to get a piece of the homeland security business, which could provide a windfall to the tech sector. Any new homeland security department set up by the U.S. government would need to purchase computer equipment for internal use and would likely promote new technology to help the United States fight terrorism.

What's more, government officials have said they need more cooperation from the private sector, particularly because so many of the country's tech systems are under the control of companies.

In September, the U.S. government unveiled its draft cybersecurity strategy plan. The "National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace" calls on all companies to help secure their portion of the information technology infrastructure. Government officials fear that the nation's computer systems in general, and the Internet in particular, could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack and asked for more collaboration between the private and public sectors.