Hathaway at RSA: Obama Admin's Missed Opportunity
Based on what we've seen from our new President thus far, one of the Obama Administration's top priorities is, and will be, taking advantage of ready opportunities to foster stronger relationships with important constituencies that can help the United States advance its interests across many different domains.
No matter what side of the aisle you may, or may not, align with in regards to U.S. politics, it probably would have been shocking for you to read that any U.S. President was in Latin America shaking hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last week, who had famously characterized President George W. Bush as a living incarnation of the devil before his colleagues at the United Nations in late 2006.
However, that's exactly what we saw happen. And whether you agree with President Obama's decision to make an effort at repairing U.S. relations with some of its more outspoken neighbors in such a public, forgiving fashion, it would seem that his team's overarching mandate is to get out and be as proactive as possible in cultivating stronger ties with those people it views as centrally important to advancing its political cause.
The timing and nature of Obama's physical outreach to Chavez might have struck many Americans as controversial, but, it was an important if only symbolic act in forwarding the process of making geopolitical change as swiftly as possible, our Commander In Chief said in defending his actions.
The 44th Admin's obvious predisposition toward such an open philosophy of communication is precisely why so many members of the IT security industry gathered for this week's RSA Conference 2009 were roundly disappointed by the lack of substantive results offered in acting Cyber Czar Melissa Hathaway's keynote address at the annual industry confab in San Francisco.
The truth of the matter, by all estimates, would seem to be that the Obama Admin had yet to find sufficient time to analyze Hathaway and her team's work in performing their recently completed 60 day review of the nation's cyber-security standing to allow her to reveal those results to the industry.
But, in doing so, it would seem that the Administration fundamentally failed to realize what a unique opportunity it had created to use RSA as a launching pad for turning its cyber-security plans into a national and industry-wide cause by sending Hathaway out to deliver her speech.
The way that the event went down was so surprising specifically because improving U.S. cyber-security posture was a platform plank of the 2008 Obama Presidential election campaign, and since one of the most impressive elements of Obama's approach to the issue so far was his choice of Hathaway, a former Bush intelligence advisor, as acting Cyber Czar in a move to lend continuity to our national efforts in this arena, and keep the best people on the job no matter whom they supported.
RSA is THE seminal annual industry meeting of the IT security market, and there won't be a chance for the President and his appointees to gain the spotlight, and the concentrated attention of the market again for another twelve months. You could also argue that this year's show had a far greater emphasis on government policy work, based on the reality of the cybercrime landscape, and the many related presentations offered at this year's show, than any one of its kind before.
As a colleague of mine said when I saw her outside the Moscone shortly after Hathaway's speech on Wednesday - which basically just outlined the process and goals of the 60 day review, versus sharing its findings - she was profoundly surprised and disappointed both as an American and a member of the IT security community that the 44th Admin hadn't had the foresight to realize the opportunity that it had just missed.
So many of us in the community had lined up to go into that room for the keynote ready to be challenged and inspired to be part of something special, a historic chance to affect change in improving national cyber-security policy at a time when we are being overwhelmed by electronic attacks from outsiders, including those backed by both organized overseas criminals and foreign states themselves.
But most of us walked out of the room a scant 30 minutes later shaking our heads at the lack of direction we'd been given, openly disappointed by the Administration's inability to realize the moment, and feeling sort of sorry for Hathaway for having been put up on stage with nothing to tell us that we didn't already know.
If the Obama Administration is truly serious about its good faith desire to enact significant change in the realm of cyber-security in the four short years of its only guaranteed term, they are going to need to work hard to make the most of any and all opportunities with which they are presented.
Perhaps even more so, now, since they just allowed a really big one to pass them by.
Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Please send news, research or tips to SecurityWatchBlog@gmail.com.