The U.S. government recognizes that we are in a time of change. They realize the same internet that boosts commerce and provides an unprecedented forum for political and social discourse also provides a new attack vector for criminals and governments. They also realize there are not enough computer hackers working for the government to meet the need.
The New York Times reports that the Department of Homeland Security is starting young in its search for hackers to recruit. To interest teens, DHS has begun hacker contests to show teens the excitement and exhilaration of hacking for the government.
The Chinese government has been developing hackers through contests for years. Time magazine profiled a young Chinese hacker named Tan in 2007. He was famous in China for winning cyber battles in government sponsored hacking contests. The victories led to Tan forming a hacking group, which received money from an unknown sponsor. There may be hundreds of groups like Tans in China attacking foreign governments and industries. The U.S. doesn't have anything like the Chinese program in place.
They recognized the problem, and both the Pentagon and DHS are working to correct it, but time and reputation are against them. The Chinese have been actively recruiting and rewarding hackers, but the U.S. has always treated them more as villains than as a valuable resource. Hackers don't trust the government in the U.S, and with good reason. They've been burned. John Arquilla suggests an act of mercy, like pardoning Gary Mckinnon - then hire him. It won't totally bridge the chasm between hackers and government, but it would show sincerity.
When it comes to hacking, the US is playing catch-up. The Chinese own the field. That can change, if the government will treat hackers with dignity and respect instead of like a thief caught in the house. Until then, the US will be at the mercy of nations who honor their cyber warriors.