Assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the DHS, Robert Liscouski, is stepping down this month to return to the private sector. Liscouski could not be reached for comment.
Lawrence C. Hale, the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate's deputy director for cybersecurity, is also planning to leave the department, the DHS confirmed. But it was not prepared to comment on where he is going.
"If one or two left, you could assume a mis-match between the person and the job, but when you see such a wholesale exodus, you have to assume that the job given to do cannot be done by mere mortals," said SANs Institute's director of research Alan Paller.
According to Paller, the pain has been caused by the critical infrastructure companies that are supposed to be partnering with DHS' National Cyber Security Division (NCS) sniping, or giving unending advice, but not actually doing anything. Indeed, the reason the NCS division exists is to protect the critical infrastructure, most of which is controlled by private organizations.
"My sense is if you set up an organization that is supposed to please industry, then you don't have much chance for good people to succeed," he said. "The job would not be that hard to do if you had support from industry instead of the sniping and barrage of advice."
The departures follow that of DHS National Cyber Security Division director, Amit Yoran, who resigned last fall. Yoran was the third person to quit that particular post in just 18 months, but he believes that the departures are relatively normal.
"It is fairly regular to have a certain amount of turnover and to some extent, it's healthy for the organization to bring in new blood," he said, maintaining that the departures have not been all negative.
"When you look at the organization itself, there's tremendous consistency in the employee base. We brought in talented folks and initiated a series of programs."
Before Yoran, the two other cybersecurity czars to quit were Richard Clarke, who felt his role did not have enough authority within DHS, and Howard Schmidt, who resigned in May 2003.
Schmidt now has a part-time role at eBay as chief security strategist and recently re-entered federal government as chairman of the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team, an organization jointly run by the the Department of Homeland Security and technology groups, such as Carnegie Mellon University. In this role, he will work with the technology industry to develop more effective U.S. cybersecurity policies.
Licouski joined DHS from The Coca-Cola Company in March 2003 and is set to become chief executive officer of Content Analyst, a newly-formed company based in Reston, Virginia. Content Analyst was formed to develop the commercial potential of technology developed by Scientific Applications International, which specializes in the analysis and categorization of unstructured text and data.
Meantime, President Bush has nominated Michael Chertoff, who now sits on the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to be Tom Ridge's replacement as secretary of DHS. The nomination must be approved by the Senate.