President Obama made his case for a "cyber czar" Friday, saying the Internet is so critical to the nation's economic and security interests that he needs a point person to coordinate web protection and report directly to him.
But no one was named to the post, as had been initially planned, and the speculation was that several candidates had backed out amid uncertainty about how much power the post would actually wield.
In a speech in Washington, Obama said protecting the Internet is a critical priority and noted international terrorists and criminals are increasingly using Internet hacking as a key part of their arsenal. He said organizing the federal government's approach to protecting the Internet under one office will ensure efficiency in securing networks.
"Cyberspace is real, and so are the risks that come with it," declared Obama, noting that his own campaign's network was hacked last fall. "We rely on the Internet to pay our bills, to bank, to shop, to pay our taxes."
The President said that during the general election his own campaign's network was hacked.
"It was a powerful reminder, in this info age, one of our greatest strengths - our ability to communicate - could be one of our greatest vulnerabilities," Obama said.
The cyber czar, when appointed, will defend military computer networks, facilitate information sharing and expand partnerships with allies, Obama said.
The cyber czar will be a special assistant to the president and will be supported by a new cyber directorate within the National Security Council. The president said the cyber czar would also work with the National Economic Council.
The government has said U.S. computer networks are constantly tolled and probed in efforts ranging from nuisance hacking to more serious attacks. Critics have accused other nations, including China, of conducting cyber espionage.
Reports of a behind the scenes power struggle that left the new officer's powers ambiguous may have scared off qualified applicants, blocking Obama from naming a choice on Friday as originally planned. An administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said candidates were still being vetted.
When the “czar” is revealed, critics say the post will not have enough clout to haul the government into the digital age.
A report Obama outlined yesterday was completed six weeks ago, but its release was delayed because policymakers in and outside the White House have been at loggerheads over how much power and budget-making authority the new office will have.
According to officials familiar with the discussions, the cyber czar would be a special assistant to the president and would be supported by a new cyber directorate within the National Security Council. The cyber czar would also work with the National Economic Council, said the officials, who described the plan on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly released.
The special assistant title is not as high in the White House hierarchy as some officials sought. It would not give the czar direct, unfettered access to the president. Instead, the official would report to senior NSC officials — a situation many say will make it difficult to make major changes within the calcified federal bureaucracy.
Because of lingering uncertainty over the cyber czar's authority and presidential access, several contenders for the post took themselves out of the running, according to one former administration official.