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As for personnel, the report claims that at U.S. academic institutions today, “there are fewer than 250 active cyber security or cyber assurance specialists,” largely due to “insufficient” and “unstable” funding. PITAC would like to see the size of the research community at least doubled. Lastly, the report points out that “the government-wide coordination of cyber security R&D is ineffective,” with agencies focusing on “their individual missions” and losing sight of “overarching national needs.”

So here we have two major problems: an open position in a dysfunctional department and a serious lack of long-term research. With that in mind, is it too much to hope for a different kind of candidate for the job of assistant secretary than the last few we have seen? Instead of looking for an old Beltway hand or an exec from the IT business, perhaps the administration ought to look for the kind of person who can’t wait to spend a few hours pondering the possibilities of self-aware and self-healing systems. Such a figure might be less useful in overseeing the myriad of talks that go on between agencies at home and abroad, but the handshakes so far haven’t produced much, and given the vulnerabilities of the Internet in its current design, they seem unlikely to pay off with anything more than a very full calendar of seminars and announcements. DHS needs a visionary.

Bryant Urstadt has written for Harper’s, Rolling Stone, and the New Yorker.

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