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The White House has named a key Senate staffer to a cybersecurity leadership role as senior director in the office of the cybersecurity coordinator, the White House confirmed on Friday.
The staffer, Sameer Bhalotra, was the lead staffer for cybersecurity and other technology issues for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, including the intelligence community's cybersecurity budget. He was also a contributor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies' report "Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency," which served as the underpinnings for the Obama administration's initial cybersecurity strategy report released last May.
As senior director, Bhalotra should wield considerable influence, as the only other senior director in the cybersecurity coordinator's office is Chris Painter, who was the acting cybersecurity coordinator before cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt came on board.
According to a spokesman for the White House's National Security Staff, Bhalotra's specific portfolio has yet to be decided. However, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Bhalatra will most likely be focusing on strategy, while Painter will continue working as he has been recently on fostering international cooperation -- he's headed to China and other countries in the coming weeks -- and interagency coordination on cybersecurity.
Observers applauded the move, saying that Bhalotra was well-respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. SANS Institute research director Alan Paller called Bhalotra the "most technically savvy staffer on the Hill."
"He knows what really works and what doesn't," Paller said.
Before joining the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2007, Bhalotra worked on cross-community technology efforts for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He has also worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, where he worked in a support role for the director of the CIA.
Bhalotra has a bachelor's degree in chemistry and physics from Harvard University and a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University.