[ISN] FBI considering plans to dismantle cyber-security unit

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed Mar 20 2002 - 23:58:48 PST

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    By Ted Bridis
    March 20, 2002 
    WASHINGTON - The FBI is strongly considering a plan to dismantle its
    premier cyber-security unit, responsible for protecting the nation's
    most important computer networks, and instead focus more narrowly on
    arresting online criminals and hackers.
    FBI Director Robert Mueller has outlined a plan on Capitol Hill in
    recent weeks to break up the $27 million-a-year National
    Infrastructure Protection Center, formed in February 1998 to watch
    over the nation's systems controlling banking, water, power,
    telecommunications and government.
    Mueller was expected to make a formal decision as early as next week,
    administration and congressional sources said Wednesday.
    An FBI spokesman said no plans have been finalized. The topic was
    expected to come up during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight
    hearing Thursday.
    The proposal to dismantle the unit, whose reputation has improved
    markedly in the past year after a string of early embarrassments,
    already is raising concerns among some lawmakers, Bush administration
    officials and industry experts. They worry that a narrow focus by the
    FBI on criminal investigations into computer attacks might discourage
    corporations from disclosing details of threats and attacks on their
    private networks.
    The move "would destroy the fragile trust between NIPC and the private
    sector, which controls 90 percent of the nation's critical
    infrastructure," Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote this week in
    a letter to the FBI director. "The broken trust would, in turn,
    curtail, if not end, the flow of information from the private sector
    to the FBI, leaving the bureau essentially blind about threats to
    critical infrastructure."
    Grassley, a Judiciary Committee member and one of the FBI's toughest
    congressional critics, indicated that Mueller outlined the proposal in
    a meeting last month. Other congressional and administration sources,
    speaking on condition of anonymity, said they also have discussed the
    proposal in recent weeks with Mueller. Some who discussed the idea
    with the director said they believed he was leaning toward breaking up
    the unit; others said they thought he was only considering the idea.
    Grassley cautioned Mueller: "You do not fully realize the consequences
    of your proposal."
    The plan Mueller has described would move most of the unit's functions
    into a newly formed cyber-crime division under the FBI's new executive
    assistant director for criminal investigations, Bruce J. Gebhardt,
    whose background is mostly in organized crime and drug cases.
    Other parts of the unit would be moved into existing FBI divisions
    focused on counterterrorism and counterintelligence.
    "It doesn't sound like a particularly good idea," said Harris Miller,
    head of the Washington-based Information Technology Association of
    America, a trade group. "If it's put into the criminal division, it
    becomes an enforcement function, not an information exchange."
    The ITAA runs an early-warning center about online threats for the
    nation's technology companies. Other such centers exist in the
    electric, telecommunications and financial industries.
    Grassley warned Mueller that some companies participating in such
    privately organized warning centers have indicated they would stop
    sharing details with the FBI about online threats if the unit were
    Under the plan, it was unclear how or whether the FBI would continue
    to exchange warnings with U.S. corporations about online threats.  
    Already, that branch of the FBI unit is physically moving out of the
    bureau's headquarters to share a building near the White House with
    part of the Office of Homeland Security and a little-known
    cyber-protection unit within the Commerce Department.
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