President names national cybersecurity coordinator

WASHINGTON — After months of wrangling and delays, President Obama has chosen a national cybersecurity coordinator to take on the formidable task of organizing and managing the nation's increasingly vulnerable digital networks.

Obama has chosen Howard A. Schmidt, a longtime computer security executive who worked in the Bush administration and has extensive ties to the corporate world, according to a senior White House official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement will not be made until today.

Schmidt's selection comes more than 10 months after Obama declared cybersecurity a priority and ordered a broad administration review.

The official said Obama was personally involved in the selection process and chose Schmidt after an extensive search because of his unique background and skills. Schmidt will have regular and direct access to the president for cybersecurity issues, the official said.

Obama released the findings of the cybersecurity review nearly seven months ago, vowing that the White House would name a coordinator to deal with one of the "most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation."

Corporate computer security leaders have openly expressed frustration with the White House as movement on the job post stalled and questioned the administration's claims that the issue is a priority.

At the same time, computer experts and potential job candidates have complained that the position — which will report to the National Security Council and will support the National Economic Council — lacks the budgetary and policy making authority needed to succeed.

"From the industry's perspective, a lot of people are starting to think that other pressing matters in Afghanistan and other issues put this on a back burner," said Roger Thornton, chief technology officer for Fortify Software, and a cybersecurity expert. "If it is, that's understandable but depressing."

Schmidt, president and CEO of the Information Security Forum, a nonprofit international consortium that conducts research in information security, has served as chief security officer for Microsoft and as cybersecurity chief for online auction giant eBay. He was reportedly preferred by NEC director Lawrence Summers.

Thornton said Schmidt understands the technology, has broad management experience and also has worked well within the political arena, a key requirement for the White House post.

"I think he would be able to get people to compromise and move things forward," Thornton said.

Considered an expert in computer forensics, Schmidt's roughly 40-year career includes 31 years in local and federal government service, including a stint as vice chairman of President George W. Bush's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board. He also was for a short time an adviser to the FBI and worked at the National Drug Intelligence Center.