Leaving So Soon? Obama's Crew Jumps Ship

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 6, 2009

Obama Waves

Personnel departures from an Administration are not supposed to take place en masse until either the end of a one-term Presidency, or well into the second term, when it is clear that the President in question is a lame duck. But as with so many other subjects, when it comes to personnel, the Obama Administration is breaking new ground.

There have certainly been a host of firings during the course of this young Administration. Certain of those firings have been out-and-out appalling; behold an example of a firing that simply should never have taken place. But the ones I want to focus on demonstrate that there appears to be a sense of disorganization, disorientation, and crisis about this Administration.

Consider first the departure of the acting cybersecurity czar, Melissa Hathaway. A holdover from the Bush Administration, Hathaway has stated that she wants to leave “for personal reasons.” That appears to be a euphemism for stating that she was forced out:

People familiar with the matter said Ms. Hathaway has been “spinning her wheels” in the White House, where the president’s economic advisers sought to marginalize her politically.

Cybersecurity is “a major priority for the president,” White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said, adding that the administration is “pursuing a new comprehensive approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure.” In the search to fill the top cyber post, “the president is personally committed to finding the right person for this job, and a rigorous selection process is well under way,” he said.

Ms. Hathaway had initially been considered a leading contender to fill the cyber post permanently. She lost favor with the president’s economic team after she said it should consider options for regulating some private-sector entities to ensure they secure their networks, said cybersecurity specialists familiar with the discussions. Being a holdover from the Bush administration didn’t help either, they said.

So the cybersecurity czar fell out of favor with the powers-that-be. It happens, I suppose. But the aftermath of Hathaway’s decision to leave should have us worried:

Cybersecurity experts inside and outside the government heralded Mr. Obama’s May 29 speech, but since then, several people have turned down offers for the job.

“It’s almost like the system has become paralyzed,” said Tom Kellermann, a former World Bank cybersecurity official who served on a commission whose work influenced the White House’s cyber planning.

Hearing about the problems Hathaway has had with the White House will not, of course, make other potential appointees willing to join the Obama Administration. As a consequence, efforts made by the Administration to protect us from cyberattack will suffer. It might help if the Administration would come out and state unequivocally that it will do nothing to politicize the position of cybersecurity czar, but alas, such pledges do not appear to be forthcoming.

As though the drama concerning the cybersecurity czar and her potential replacement were not enough for the Administration to contend with, we learned recently that the Administration may, in short order, lose its White House Counsel, Gregory Craig:

Mr. Craig, the top lawyer at the White House and a close aide to President Barack Obama, has helped lead the administration’s efforts on several national-security issues that once enjoyed popularity but have since become become political liabilities for Mr. Obama.

These include the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the release of Bush administration-era national-security documents, and efforts to find legal ways to indefinitely hold some detainees who can’t be put on trial.

The decision to close the Guantanamo facility became a political problem for Mr. Obama when concerns arose that some of the detainees would be released into the U.S. and the public soured on the move.

Mr. Craig didn’t respond to questions about his job as White House counsel for this article.

The people familiar with the matter said a final decision hasn’t been made.

So, not only are efforts to ensure the existence of rigorous cybersecurity procedures adrift, but efforts to ensure that questions of national security law are competently addressed are in peril as well, because the position of the White House Counsel may be in doubt.

It is hard to know what or who is to blame for all of this. Of course, to the extent that organizational chaos exists in the White House, the buck stops with the President in terms of dealing with it. But it appears that a once-vaunted political operation is failing the Administration. Rahm Emanuel may be a tough cookie, but he may well be responsible for policies that are leaving bruised feelings in his wake. And there just does not appear to have been enough coordination between the White House Counsel’s office, and the rest of the Obama Administration; thus leaving Greg Craig’s job in jeopardy, and leaving a whole host of legal/national security issues utterly unresolved.

Beneath the supposedly calm veneer of the Obama Administration, there appears to be a great deal of organizational chaos afflicting the Administration’s operations. It is more than a little worrisome that it takes personnel departures for the rest of us to notice the existence of this seeming chaos. And it is more than a little worrisome to note that while there has been some media notice taken of the possibility that all may not be right within the Obama Administration, the sudden departures of key Administration personnel call for extensive media investigations that alas, have not yet taken place.

Read more at Pejman Yousefzadeh’s blog.

  • Rich_Rostrom

    Gregory Craig is leaving? Good riddance to bad rubbish: Craig is a notorious ally of anti-Americans, especially in Latin America.

  • Rich_Rostrom

    Gregory Craig is leaving? Good riddance to bad rubbish: Craig is a notorious ally of anti-Americans, especially in Latin America.

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