The Cable

Who runs cyber policy?

Whether it's Chinese hackers breaking into the Gmail accounts of leading dissidents, or Russian hackers sniffing around the Pentagon, the cyber wars are heating up. Barack Obama entered office vowing to wage them more effectively than ever before.

"From now on, our digital infrastructure -- the networks and computers we depend on every day -- will be treated as they should be: as a strategic national asset," Obama said in May, "Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority."

So, is the United States finally getting its act together?

The short answer is yes, but there's much more to be done, and the Obama administration's first-year efforts have been undermined with infighting, sudden resignations, and some confusion about who is doing what. The administration has vastly increased the resources dedicated to cyber security, completed a full internal review, and moved to reform the bureaucracy. But there are still large gaps between the level of the threat and the government capability to meet it, as the actors inside the system jostle for positioning and power.

"This administration has paid more attention to the problem than any proceeding administration, but they're just at the starting point so we'll have to see how it all fits together," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Any discussion of Obama era cyber policy has to begin with the Defense Department, the part of government with the most resources, the most vulnerable assets, and the most power and influence over the issue. Leading that effort politically is Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn, who is not well known as a "cyber guy" but has taken a personal interest in the issue and is extremely active. As the most senior government person with direct involvement, he gives DoD top cover and profile, and is also heavily involved in the creation of DOD's new Cyber Command, which will be based at Fort Meade, the home of the National Security Agency, expected to open soon.

Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, will lead the Cyber Command, assuming he gets confirmed by the Senate. When that happens, almost all of DoD's cyber resources will fall under his purview, greatly increasing the already hefty cyber portfolio he had at NSA, which houses the government's most secret cyber warriors, the guys who go on offense against international threats.

Also crucial to mention is Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of Strategic Command, where many cyber attacks are defended. Cartwright has been talking about what he calls the "dysfunctional" U.S. approach to cyber security for years and he's regarded as a smart, independent, and important voice inside the Pentagon.

The non-military networks, which DoD doesn't control, fall to the Homeland Security Department, which has had a rough time on cyber policy in its first years. When DHS's cyber czar Rod Beckstrom resigned last March after only a year, he blamed the NSA in his resignation letter for not cooperating with him and seeking to hoard the issue inside DOD.

DHS is also supposed to be forging the relationships between the the government and private corporations to share info on cyber attacks. That initiative is led by Deputy Under Secretary Phil Reitenger, who works under Rand Beers and is aided by former Office of Management and Budget official Bruce McConnell and Rear Adm. Mike Brown.

Outsiders lament that Reitenger, a former Microsoft executive, has announced no real policy on the issue and few public-private partnership exist. Google is working on cooperation with the NSA, but some observers believe companies are wary of linking with DHS because that department is so dependent on contractors, which might be sharing intel with their competitors.

McConnell provides DHS with a valuable link back to OMB, a link the DHS folks will need if they plan to fund their expansion of cyber efforts, which could include 1,000 new cyber personnel. Brown, who is expected to move at some point over to the new Cyber Command, is credited with greatly improving the management of the effort at DHS but is not really a policy guy, per se.

Over at the White House, the president finally named Howard Schmidt as the new cyber coordinator in December after reportedly offering the position to over two dozen people who turned it down. Schmidt, the holder of two degrees from the University of Phoenix,is said to have lobbied hard for the job. Bush holdover Melissa Hathaway, who led the Obama administration's review, had been expected for the role, but quit the administration shortly after the review came out.

Insiders said that Hathaway had personality clashes both with her staff and with the administration, leading them to tell her she would not be appointed, which prompted her resignation. "She talked herself out of the job by fighting with everyone," one insider said.

One Bush era holdover who is still on the job is Schmidt's deputy Chris Painter, who was acting coordinator after Hathaway left. A former Los Angeles criminal prosecutor, Painter became famous when he brought down notorious cyber hacker turned consultant Kevin Mitnick. Painter also worked at the Justice Department, giving him a great sense of the legal issues involved in cyber security.

Painter's other claim to fame is his work with a cyber official everyone praises, the FBI's Sean Henry. The pair took the initiative to build bilateral agreements with a host of countries to allow cooperation on investigating and prosecuting cyber crimes. Henry is also said to have brought the FBI's cyber operation into the 21st century and was recently promoted to head up the FBI's Washington field office.

Other notable Obama-era cyber officials Vivek Kundra, the Federal Chief Information officer, Robert "Bear" Bryant, the cyber counterintelligence guru who runs the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, who leads a nation-wide cyber recruiting effort, and the State Department's Chief Information and Security Officer John Streufert, who is credited with reducing cyber risk by moving State towards a paperless cyber system so that files could be updated in real time.

The Cable

U.S. envoy in angry fight with Turkish ambassador, right outside Clinton meeting

U.S. Ambassador to Doha Joseph LeBaron got into an angry -- and by some accounts physical -- altercation with Turkish Ambassador Fuat Tanlay in Qatar last weekend, when LeBaron tried to cut off the late-running meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

According to two U.S. government officials who were direct eyewitnesses of the incident, LeBaron became frustrated when the Clinton-Erdogan meeting, which had been slated for 20 minutes, ran past an hour. That was making Clinton late for her next meeting with Qatari Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani .

LeBaron, after getting into a yelling match with Tanlay, who wanted to let the leaders go on, banged on the door leading to the hallway down which the meeting was taking place, these officials said. After that, the accounts become murkier, with one official saying that LeBaron was physically restrained and escorted from the area and the other claiming that there was no physical contact and LeBaron left of his own accord.

State Department Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley was an eyewitness and gave his account to The Cable.

"There was a sharp exchange of words, after which the ambassador banged on the door that led to the meeting location," Crowley told The Cable. "I recall that he was pulled away from the door, at which time several of us interceded."

Another U.S. government official in the room at the time, speaking to The Cable on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the bulk of Crowley's account but disputed a couple of points. This official said that there was no physical contact and while LeBaron did bang loudly on the door to get Clinton's attention, that was before his words with Tanlay. Also, he was not pulled away from the door or "restrained in any way," this official said, noting that the LeBaron-Tanlay exchange was in Turkish.

Both Clinton and Turkish officials apologized to the Qatari Amir for the late start of that meeting and the Amir was gracious about it, even unexpectedly attending Clinton's speech to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, Crowley said.

The American accounts conflict with the stories in the Turkish press, which describe a much more violent fight between the two diplomats. In the wake of the incident, Turkish newspapers have been running attacks against LeBaron for days, the official said.

Experts see the incident as both a sign of well-known Turkish sensitivity to matters of protocol but also a symbol of underlying tensions in the U.S.-Turkey relationship."For Turks, this whole business o f protocol is just as important as substance. This is something the U.S. doesn't seem to understand," said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based Turkey analyst. In one example, a man was prosecuted in Turkey for chewing gum at government ceremony, Jenkins said. (Those charges were later dropped, but still)

The Turks once objected to a foreign official not wearing a necktie at a meeting, Jenkins said. In another incident, the Turkish government was outraged when the United Kingdom didn't provide a police escort at the airport for a visiting Turkish official.

At last year's Davos meeting, Erdogan got into a well-publicized spat with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Jenkins said that Erdogan was particularly upset that moderator David Ignatius touched his arm during the back and forth, another violation of protocol.

Meanwhile, inside the meeting, the issues being discussed between Clinton and Erdogan were substantial. The U.S. and Turkey are far apart on new sanctions toward Iran and the U.S. needs not only Turkey's vote at the UN Security Council, but Turkey's help in implementing any new sanctions, as well.

"Erdogan genuinely believes the Iranians are not planning to produce a nuclear weapon," Jenkins said. "The problem is he is about the only person in the world that believes that now. The two sides are very far apart on this issue now."

UPDATE: LeBaron sent The Cable this on the record response, which directly contradicts the accounts told by Crowley and in the Turkish press. "The facts portrayed in the article do not reflect what actually transpired; no violence or physical contact occurred, for example. What was important was that Secretary of State Clinton was able to have a series of constructive talks in Doha, meeting with Qatar's head of state, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and with other top officials such as Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. "