Clarke book cites problems at DHS

FRAMINGHAM (03/23/2004) - The George W. Bush administration's homeland security strategy, including its new emphasis on cybersecurity, is poorly managed and being held hostage to decades-old cultural and turf battles, according to a new book out this week by former White House adviser Richard Clarke.

Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, hit stores Monday and caused an immediate uproar in Washington. In it, Clarke accuses the Bush administration of politicizing the war on terror and forcing a virtual army of professional staffers to pull recalcitrant senior officials to the realization that national threats had changed and required new defenses.

Clarke ended a 30-year career in government last March as chairman of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and the de facto cybersecurity czar.

In 291 pages that describe detailed conversations and meetings with the president and many of his key cabinet members, Clarke paints a portrait of an administration so sidetracked by the idea of deposing Saddam Hussein that many officials charged with setting up the new Department of Homeland Security and improving information sharing across agencies quit in frustration.

Even on Sept. 11, 2001, the ability of Clarke and other members of the president's senior White House staff to communicate and direct a response to the terrorist attacks was severely hampered by poor communications, according to Clarke.

"The comms in this place are terrible," said Vice President Dick Cheney, according to Clarke. He was referring to the East Wing bomb shelter in the White House.

"Now you know why I wanted the money for a new bunker," replied Clarke.

"I could not resist," he wrote later. "The President had canceled my plans for a replacement facility."

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under former director Louis Freeh also falls squarely in Clarke's cross hairs for failing to take the issue of information sharing and IT infrastructure seriously.

"The lack of computer support was a failure of the bureau's leadership," wrote Clarke. "Local police departments throughout the country had far more advanced data systems than the FBI. In New York, I saw piles of terrorism files on the floor of the (FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force). There was only one low-paid file clerk there, and he could not keep up with the volume of paper that was being generated. There was no way for one agent to know what information another agent had collected, even in the same office."

This was in "stark contrast to the CIA, NSA and the State Department," wrote Clarke, "which flooded my secure e-mail with over 100 detailed reports every day."

Eventually, the volume of intelligence reporting became so great after the terrorist attacks that Clarke established a threat subgroup charged with tracking intelligence leads in a program made famous by the television program Threat Matrix. Many people would be surprised to learn, however, that the infamous threat matrix is nothing more than an Excel spreadsheet, according to Clarke.

Clarke describes a conversation he had with a veteran FBI official who likened the agency to an aircraft carrier. "It takes a long time to stop going in one direction and turn around and go in another," the official told Clarke.

Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security are also faulted for mishandling the massive merger of 22 federal agencies and 200,000 employees. Clarke calls Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge "at root a politician, not a manager nor a security expert."

Clarke claims that the administration downgraded the importance of homeland security in favor of the war in Iraq, and in an interview with Computerworld last week, Clarke said cybersecurity and critical-infrastructure protection suffered the same fate.

"They've demoted the issue from a White House issue to being an issue four or five levels down in the Department of Homeland Security," said Clarke. Asked about the charges that his office succumbed to industry pressure and at the last minute ripped the teeth out of the National Strategy to Security Cyber Space, which Clarke released in February 2003 just before leaving government, Clarke called such claims "an urban legend."

He doesn't address the national strategy in detail in his book but does say that he and deputy Roger Cressey worked on the issue of cybersecurity for a year "before quit(ting) the administration altogether."

The creation of the DHS was flawed from the start, according to Clarke. It should have been done in phases. Instead, dozens of agencies were simultaneously merged into one in an effort that was the equivalent of the AOL/Time Warner merger "multip(lied) by several orders of magnitude."

Fixing the DHS will require the creation of a management cadre from the best and the brightest of the civil service, military and private sector, according to Clarke. The DHS must become a place where senior managers want to work, he wrote, saying that it must become "the GE of the government." Hiring bonuses may be needed, but creating a halo effect costs money.

"Regrettably, the administration sought to do homeland security on the cheap, telling Ridge that creating the new department has to be 'revenue neutral,' jargon for no new money to implement the largest government reorganization in history," Clarke wrote.

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