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Administration's lead cyber-security aide Melissa Hathaway quit this week, partly from frustration that president -- after announcing that it was a major priority -- has yet to decide on who should be main "cyber coordinator." (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
What happened to the fierce urgency of now -- when it comes to protecting the nation's computer networks?
Two months ago, President Obama declared that it was time the country had one official to coordinate against likely future attacks on the nation's technological infrastructure, a so-called cyber-security czar.
The announcement came just a few weeks after news broke that spies had penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left evidence for future attacks. One month after Obama's speech -- with no czar named -- North Korean hackers launched multiple attacks on U.S. and South Korean computer networks.
And now, again, two months after what was presented as a major speech, not only is there no permanent cyber-czar in sight, the person who was approximating many of those duties -- actually a hold-over from the Bush administration -- just quit.
Melissa E. Hathaway, who also served as a cybersecurity aide during the Bush administration, had been a contender for the position of cybersecurity coordinator. But in an interview Monday, she said she had withdrawn her application.
"I wasn't willing to continue to wait any longer, because I'm not empowered right now to continue to drive the change," she said. "I've concluded that I can do more now from a different role," most likely in the private sector.
Hathaway noted that it has been two months since President Obama made a highly acclaimed speech on the importance of cybersecurity and pledged to "personally" select a cybersecurity coordinator.
A colleague close to Hathaway said she had become dismayed by the delay in the appointment. The colleague, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Hathaway had "the sense that this was very political, that she has been too closely tied to the Bush administration."
Industry officials have voiced frustration at the White House's inability to fill the job. One former government official said 30 people have been interviewed for the position.
The point here isn't whether Obama wants to hire a Democrat or a Republican. No one can blame the president for not wanting someone who, nominally, helped put him in office. If he doesn't want Hathaway, fine. The problem is that on a key issue such as this identified as such by the president -- when the attacks on the nation's computer infrastructure have been coming fast and furious -- why is the search for the "czar" taking so long?
If the issue wasn't of such importance, why did Obama give the speech last May? And, once the speech was given, why wasn't the appointment made immediately?
Whether the nation's security is actually at risk because there's no "cyber-security czar" is arguable. But the president has contributed to the appearance that the country is endangered by identifying a risk, proposing the necessary solution -- and then failing to deliver.
Worse, by hesitating, he's given a reason for the person who was doing part of the job to depart.
If the administration didn't have a cyber-security problem before, it does now.