SEPTEMBER 20, 2003 - When you first
hear the name Amit Yoran as the person who has just been charged with
overseeing cybersecurity - keeping an eye on everything that
goes on online - for America's Department of Homeland Security, it
sounds odd. One would not normally expect to hear a foreign-sounding
name for such an important national security position.
Yoran has always been a bit of an oddball.
While some children have role models like John Wayne or Babe Ruth, Amit's most envied role model was Alex P. Keaton, the character
Michael J. Fox played on the NBC TV sitcom Family Ties. People
who know him say he used to wear vests and even ties to school when he
was growing up - and
he did not attend a private school where uniforms were required.
No, this was just the way Amit used to like to dress, even amidst a
mix other kids wearing everything from Metallica shirts to the latest
Benetton fashions. And he would - like the Keaton character on
the show - frequently gush about, "What a stud," Ronald Reagan or
Oliver North were.
And this was back in his high school days.
So does that mean that the man who will
run our cybersecurity program and watch over everything we do
online is some psychotic right-winger who we should fear?
Well, to understand this man you need to
look at his roots.
Born into a life of relative privilege,
Amit was one of four sons of Israeli immigrants. As people
from Israel like to say, you mature very quickly there, and paying
attention to world affairs is not something that makes a kid a dork or
egghead, it is simply a fact of existence there. And so Amit's
focus at a young age on international affairs and embrace of the
boldly pro-Israel foreign policy of the Reagan administration is
easily understood. And, as someone descended from a nation whose
existence is threatened on a daily basis, the importance these things
played in even his early life begins to not seem so odd after all.
Yoran's focus propelled him. Although
he was smart, he was in no way one of the smartest children in his
class. While you would expect a would-be computer geek to be a braniac lost in his own world of algorithms and programming languages,
Amit was much more interested in a mix of Casper Weinberger and beer,
and actually struggled in his advanced mathematical studies.
Yes, he was already acting more like a military man than a true
And so it is not surprising that while
other kids in his extremely wealthy, Ivy League-worshiping hometown of
Pound Ridge, New York dreamed of going to Harvard or Yale, Amit was
focused on a much more serious goal - to attend West Point, as his
brother, Elad, had before him.
How many computer geeks do you know whose
dream is to join the military? One can easily start to get the
image of Yoran as someone who is a bit off-kilter and war happy.
However, in reality, Amit didn't prove so gun
happy after all. When the government offered to forgo his
contract to serve militarily after his graduation from West Point so
he could serve as a cryptology specialist, he gladly put down his
rifle and headed to Washington. There, he began to make a name
for himself and a network of contacts which he would greatly use to his advantage a
few years down the road when he decided to start his own business. Riptech, the cybersecurity firm Amit started with his West Point
brother Elad - thanks to his connections in government circles in part
- took off like an Tomahawk missile, and after only 4 years of running
the company, they were bought out by Symantec for $145 million.
Not a bad payoff for a few years work.
So, is this man, who will be charged with
watching over all of us, yet another Bush-brand Republican with no
respect for honesty, who used, like the President, inside connections
to get ahead in life?
The answer is: a resounding no.
Amit is nothing like your typical Bushie. In fact, Amit might be
dubbed the anti-Bush.
Just compare their histories for starters.
Both were born to a life of privilege, but
while Bush chose to party and had no interest - until even just a
couple of years ago - in foreign policy, Amit never had an interest in
things like drugs and was focused from early on on foreign affairs.
While President Bush chose the typical rich
boy Ivy League route by going to Yale, Amit chose to serve his country
by going to West Point.
While President Bush did as much as
possible to avoid having to serve in the military - fleeing to the
Texas Air National Guard, and even fleeing AWOL from there - Amit
fought to overcome scholastic and physical challenges to fight his way
into West Point.
While George Bush was handed businesses by
his daddy's friends and one by one ran them into the ground, Amit
started a company on his own and quickly grew it into a massive
And while President Bush is a newcomer to
"conservative" values and political ideas, only coming to them after
40-plus years of being an unambitious, uninterested alcoholic - and
even then only embracing the dishonest, fully-flawed Rush Limbaugh
version of conservatism - Amit has always been a moderate
socially and conservative politically, and his conservative politics are based on
solid ideals and a belief in certain policies that has been borne over
years of active consideration and experience.
So in the end the question is not, "Will
Amit Yoran make a good chief of cybersecurity for the Department of
Homeland Security?" He will, and, not being a Bush-brand
Republican but a true, morally sound moderate, he can be trusted
not to abuse his position or attack in the way the hateful, paranoid
No, in the end, the question becomes why
is it that George W. Bush is our President and not a thoughtful,
intelligent, accomplished, militarily trained and educated man like
Oh yeah, maybe that's because he is only
32 years old, while to be President you have to be at least 40.
Yoran was not President Bush's first choice for the position of Cyber
Tsar. One man has already resigned from the position and another
refused the President's offer to be his replacement. No, Amit wasn't the first choice, and he wasn't
even the second. But, in reality, he was likely the best choice.
He won't bring rhetoric and hate to the
office, but drive and capability. Unfortunately for the
President, who maybe was just trying to appoint another
toe-the-line-while-destroying-freedom political hack, he ended up with
the real deal. If he was hoping for another heel-biting Bush/Limbaughian
- a Hannity-like head to kiss his butt and fill a space - he screwed
No, President Bush did not inflict the
nation with an amoral, dishonest, America-hating Cyber Tsar born in
the mold of President Bush and his born-again Republican friends.
In fact, unwittingly, the President just may have given a big step up
to a man who may someday shake the Bush stranglehold on Republican
politics and go on to become the Commander-In-Chief President Bush can
only dream of being.