Too Many Questions

War or no war, there are too many questions for NET Guard to advance beyond an appealing concept.

How much time will it take to organize? What are the qualifications for members? How will they be screened? Would they be compensated? What allowances would their employers be asked to make?

With the military's National Guard and Reserve units (the ideological model for NET Guard) these are all detailed for volunteers and their employers.

Many of the questions were left unanswered on purpose. The bill "does not create a large bureaucracy, nor does it seek to micromanage," Wyden told his colleagues. (Remember too that the DHS didn't even exist when the bill was drafted.)

Since its formation in late November, DHS chief Tom Ridge has been merging and reorganizing 22 federal agencies and 170,000 employees in the new cabinet-level department.

Carol Guthrie, Wyden's spokeswoman, was diplomatic when asked about the lack of progress.

"I think it's somewhat understandable that with all it has on its plate the Department of Homeland Security hasn't turned to (NET Guard) yet," she said.

Because of press reports last year, Guthrie said the office received many inquiries from IT experts interested in the program. But, according to Wray, those names haven't been passed to DHS.

This sort benign neglect was a concern of skeptics, including Michael Drapkin, CEO of Drapkin Technology, a New York IT consulting firm, the former chair of e-Commerce management for Columbia University's Executive IT Management program.

"The government has pretty much sat on the sidelines throughout the entire rise of the Internet," Drapkin said. "I don't have much of a sense of this going anywhere except the usual lip service and congressional hearings with big CEOs that don't produce anything."

So far, he's right.

Now What?

It's unclear, what if any pressure Wyden, or the bill's other sponsor, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), could bring on DHS. At this point, probably very little. Wyden still "believes it is an incredibly helpful program," Guthrie said.

Americans remain concerned about terrorism remains, but real-time images of servicemen and women facing machine gun fire and suicide bombers can't help but lessen concern about "virtual" computer systems incursions.

Earlier this week, Richard A. Clarke, President Bush's former IT security chief, told a congressional committee that DHS lacks the resources and staff to carry out the administration's overall plan.

Ultimately, it's up to DHS whether the NET Guard goes anywhere.

The DHS has merged three IT staffs, including one from the FBI, to monitor the performance of the nation's core Internet and phone networks and flag problems. Though they may not have the local presence that NET Guard would, the experts are doing some of the work outlined for the NET Guard.

"We're confident they are sufficient to do the job now," Wray said. "We will continue to monitor the systems and focus on developing the techology needed to deal with threats."

Williams, the security expert, said there are small, but useful, steps that could be taken, namely, spreading the word about actions companies to block network attacks.

Some signs within the federal government are promising, including some agencies publishing security policies for the first time. NET Guard could still work, if on a smaller scale, if dovetailed with those.

"It would be a shame if it didn't happen," Williams said.