President Obama's decision to place responsibility for our cyber security with the National Security Agency (NSA) is a classic example of sending the fox to guard the chickens. This is the same agency that gave the irresponsible Edward Snowden access to virtually the entire trove of NSA's highly secret information - a monumental blunder that continues to have horrendous implications for our government and our national security. Yet the President apparently continues to have faith in NSA.
Then again, President Obama continues to have faith in the team that launched his visionary Affordable Health Care Act known as Obamacare. One can only wonder how badly someone in the Obama Administration would have to screw up before the boss got out of sorts.
The NSA/Cyber Command of course is a supporting element of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - a vast, far- flung bureaucratic behemoth inhabited by legions of midlevel bureaucrats engaged in the usual government turf battles, and overseen - if that is the correct term - by some 22 Congressional committees and subcommittees. To observe this Hydra-headed monster in action as I often do summons memories of the old Keystone Cops movies in which dozens of intense guys in uniforms scurried to and fro, banging into each other and generally creating a mess. Except those movies were amusing; the DHS is scary.
For more years than I care to remember, I have been raising the alarm - or at least trying to raise the alarm - about the fundamental error we make in distributing top security clearances to millions of people who shouldn't be trusted with neighborhood gossip. Benjamin Franklin observed wisely many years ago that three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. Thus our staunchest allies today know we have been listening in on their private conversations while our enemies presumably know the names and addresses of our best secret agents.
Having such an unwieldy mob running amok in our national security apparatus also serves to aggravate yet another one of our unfortunate tendencies - the wholesale acquisition of vast troves of information that we cannot begin to analyze or take advantage of. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that rounding up mountains of data in and of itself serves our national security interest. But it just bogs us down.
There is no way that NSA or DHS can manage cyber security effectively. There will inevitably be far too many people involved and hence steady leaks of sensitive information that will sabotage the whole point of the effort. Rather, responsibility should be lodged with the Defense Information Systems Agency or some other smallish entity in which a few qualified (and discrete) people have control of sensitive information and know how to translate it into actionable decisions for our leaders to consider. In national security, less is more.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.