The Wall Street Journal Thursday broke news of the federal government’s new plan to monitor cyberspace for attacks on critical infrastructure, one that might not have generated controversy without an Orwellian name or a contractor’s own assessment that the program amounts to “Big Brother."
According to the article by Siobhan Gorman, the $100 million program, called “Perfect Citizen,” is run by the National Security Agency (NSA).
For most of its history, the NSA was responsible for intercepting foreign signals intelligence and decrypting it as well as developing encryption tools used to protect sensitive U.S. information. Since 9-11 and the emergence of large-scale foreign threats to U.S. networks, however, the agency has participated in domestic surveillance and has lent its computing know-how to the ever-growing domestic cybersecurity mission.
According to the Journal, Perfect Citizen’s goal is noncontroversial and one familiar to the critical infrastructure protection community: protection of the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and industrial control systems used to monitor and manage high-risk processes from chemical manufacture to electrical transmission. As Gorman notes many of the systems were built decades ago to stand alone but have since been connected to outside operator networks, opening up a world of vulnerabilities.
(For more on the cyber threat to U.S. business and critical infrastructure, see "Yet Another 'Cyber Wake-Up Call,'” Homeland Security, April).
Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. holds an initial contract for Perfect Citizen, according to the article, and at least one company employee takes a jaundiced view of the program:
"The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government...feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure infrastructure critical to our National Security," said one internal Raytheon email, the text of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal. "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother."
The libertarian Cato Institute responded to the report Thursday, noting the prospect of a slippery slope into a surveillance state.