Recently Michael Daniels, the cyber security czar for the Obama administration openly admitted during an interview with GovInfoSecurity that his technical expertise in the digital domain was very limited. Timothy Lee in Vox.com quotes Daniels as saying “You don’t have to be a coder in order to really do well in this position … In fact, actually, I think being too down in the weeds at the technical level could actually be a little bit of a distraction.” Some criticism has been leveled at Daniels for his lack of experience in cyber security and some of that criticism may be valid. After all, we expect the Attorney General (Eric Holder) to be a lawyer, and the head of the Department of Education (Arne Duncan) to have experience in education. Then again the Secretary of the Army (John Michael McHugh) was never in the military, so not having come from the trenches does not disqualify a person from being appointed to a position.
I had the personal experience of attending this year’s RSA conference and heard Daniels speak to that technical audience. Afterwards some people I spoke with described him as ‘cyber lite’. Which of course brings us back to the original issue – do you have to have expertise in an area in order to lead it. There is some thought that an effective leader does not need to know the nuts and bolts of an organization in order to provide guidance. I suspect that few corporate CEOs in the auto industry can tear down and reassemble one of the engines they sell. Good leaders—really good ones that have their ego in check—recognize that they do not know everything and surround themselves with highly skilled people that can fill the gaps. Perhaps that is what Daniels has done. Then again, when it comes time to make an important decision it helps to have background knowledge on a subject instead of always relying on someone else’s inputs.
Time and the unfolding pages of history will determine if Daniels has what it takes to be effective in the position. Facing the many cyber issues that are assaulting our defenses on a daily basis—we certainly hope so.