The Heritage Foundation sponsored a special event for Homeland Security Related Bloggers on March 3. They invited DHS Undersecretary for National Protection and Programs, the Honorable Rand Beers, to have a candid on-the-record chat with non-traditional “news” folks. I was honored to be included.

The event began with the moderator, Former Deputy Asst SecDef Cully Stimson thanking the Undersecretary for reaching out across the obvious ideological divide to the conservative think tank. Beers responded that Homeland Security and all the related challenges are not and should not be considered partisan issues, and that we could all learn from each other. Bravo Mr. Secretary.

He next joked that his title (National Protection & Programs) was not always helpful, as he invariably had to explain what it was he did before he could begin to act. Basically, this man is in charge of the resilience (through prevention and mitigation) of the cyber and other critical infrastructure of our nation. It is a daunting task indeed. Of particular note was the wise and accurate comment he made that cyber actually was one of the keys to the resilience of ALL other infrastructure sectors. Those who wanted a completely separate “Cyber Sector” were missing the reality that all the sectors today depend on cyber to function.

Beers said that a couple of areas in which they needed help were authorities and workforce. Presently, DHS does not have sufficient authorities to compel the private sector to share information, particularly about cyber attacks. They can ask, but if the firm refuses, DHS loses the information that might help everyone be more secure. Likewise, they are very short of qualified experts in cyber defense. They have a plan to hire more, but it is slow going, as everyone is trying to capture the same finite labor resources.

The issue of the role of the National Security Agency (NSA) was raised, and Beers admitted that NSA has capabilities that DHS does not. Rather than try to duplicate these, they cooperate with the wiz kids at Ft. Meade (one of America’s greatest assets).  Presently, NSA is helping with the final development of Einstein III, the most sophisticated version of the US-CERT’s defensive capabilities.

Beers also said that NSA was working hard to solve the problem of dependable attribution capabilities for cyber attacks, a notoriously difficult problem on which many things hang (such as a policy of cyber deterrence). One hang up here will be the age old problem of using our superb intelligence techniques without revealing sources and methods to those hostile to America.

When asked about their relationship with new Cyber Coordinator Howard Schmidt, Beers said they cooperated fully and worked as a team. DHS is pleased with the synchronization they were achieving and where Schmidt was aiming the cyber policy future. He pointed out that Schmidt was out at RSA together with DHS Secretary Napolitano, and that their remarks had been highly coordinated.

Lastly, the Under Secretary noted that the defense of cyber space was one of five core missions for DHS as designated in the new Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. He noted that there was much to do, but that great progress had been made.

Thanks to the Undersecretary and to Heritage for this event.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More