Official named to cybersecurity post while still under federal investigation

Official named to cybersecurity post while still under federal investigation
Official named to cybersecurity post while still under federal investigation 

By Chris Strohm  
February 7, 2008  

The Homeland Security Department has appointed an official who is under 
federal investigation to a key position overseeing a program worth 
hundreds of millions of dollars to secure computer networks across the 
federal government.

The Feb. 1 appointment of Scott Charbo, Homeland Security's chief 
information officer, to be deputy undersecretary for the national 
protection and programs directorate, drew immediate criticism from House 
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who was 
familiar with Charbo's past.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Thompson 
said an investigation conducted by his committee last year showed Charbo 
failed to properly address computer security breaches within agencies 
housed at department headquarters, along with incompetent and possibly 
illegal activity by private contractor Unisys.

The incidents included the exfiltration of information from Homeland 
Security Department networks to a Web-hosting service that connects 
Chinese Web sites, according to Thompson's investigation.

The security breaches that occurred under Charbo's watch and the work by 
Unisys are now under investigation by the FBI and the Homeland Security 
Department inspector general, according to Thompson and congressional 

The IG's office confirmed to CongressDaily that its investigation is 
continuing. The FBI would not confirm or deny the existence of an 

Thompson asked the department's Office of Security to conduct an 
investigation but has yet to get a briefing from officials despite 
repeated requests.

Thompson said Charbo will be responsible for overseeing a critical part 
of a massive cybersecurity initiative that the Bush administration has 

Chertoff announced this week that the department is requesting about 
$294 million in its fiscal budget request for its portion of the 

His department will secure computer networks across agencies under the 
initiative, the details of which remain classified.

"Given his previous failings as chief information officer, I find it 
unfathomable that you would invest him [Charbo] with this authority," 
Thompson wrote Chertoff on Feb.1. "This decision raises concerns about 
the seriousness of the administration's initiative."

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman 
Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., did not criticize Charbo's appointment but is 
"deeply concerned about vulnerabilities in the nation's cybersecurity, 
as well as DHS' own systems," according to his spokeswoman.

"The committee, however, is conducting vigorous oversight of the 
cybersecurity initiative to ensure successful deployment and efficient 
spending of the increasing amount of money Congress has appropriated for 
the program," she said.

The Homeland Security Department did not make Charbo available for 
comment Wednesday.

A department spokeswoman issued a statement saying: "It is unfortunate 
that the chairman [Thompson], who has often criticized the department 
about vacancies in key leadership positions and the state of morale, has 
once again chosen to make a personal attack on a department employee who 
has demonstrated over a number of years his able and dedicated service 
to this nation."

Charbo was appointed chief information officer in 2005 and later became 
the department's acting undersecretary for management. None of the 
positions, including the most recent one, required Senate confirmation.

The spokeswoman said Charbo has "invaluable management skills" and "made 
impressive progress" on securing computers and networks while 
institutionalizing "rigorous network security and data and privacy 
protection programs."

She added that the department takes Thompson's allegations "very 
seriously" and has provided every incident report to the department's 
security operations center, as well as to the House Homeland Security 
Committee when requested.

"The vast majority of these incidents were minor in nature and were 
resolved quickly, often within hours," she said. "Every incident report 
has been provided to Chairman Thompson's committee and more than 97 
percent of all incidents reported have been closed."

Thompson has claimed that Unisys employees provided "inaccurate and 
misleading information" to Homeland Security officials about the source 
of attacks and attempted to hide security gaps.

A Unisys spokeswoman referred to a statement the company issued in 
September in response to Thompson's allegations about the firm, when 
they were first reported by the Washington Post.

"Unisys vigorously disputes the allegations . . . ," the company said. 
"Facts and documentation contradict the claims described in the article, 
but federal security regulations preclude public comment on specific 

The statement said the company routinely follows prescribed security 
protocols and had properly reported incidents to the Homeland Security 

The department rebid its contract for computer and network security for 
headquarter agencies in the fall. Unisys submitted a bid but did not 
win. Instead, a contract worth $362 million was awarded to Lockheed 
Martin Corp., a Homeland Security spokesman said.

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