It’s been about two months since Donald Trump eliminated the job of the nation’s cyber-security czar, as part of John Bolton’s reorganization of the National Security Council. The New York Times reported at the time, “Cyber-security experts and members of Congress said they were mystified by the move…. It was the latest in a series of steps that appeared to run counter to the prevailing view in Washington of cybersecurity’s importance.”
Evidently, they weren’t the only ones confused by the move. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff reported yesterday:
Amid mounting warnings about another Russian cyberattack on the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump’s former homeland security adviser said a recent staff shakeup ordered by national security adviser John Bolton has left the White House with nobody in charge of U.S. cyber policy and raised concerns about “who is minding the store.”
“On cyber, there is no clear person and or clear driver, and there is no clear muscle memory,” said Tom Bossert, who served as White House homeland security adviser until last April, in an interview with the Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery.
“In some way playing jazz music, improvising policy because there is no clear playbook for it,” Bossert said. “And so, yes, if you’re asking me do I have any concerns? The concern would be who’s minding the store in the coordination and development … of new and creative cyber policies and strategies.”
It’s worth emphasizing that Bossert was not a peripheral figure in the president’s orbit. During the presidential transition process, Trump announced that Bossert would serve in a newly created position: –assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism – giving him a prominent White House role.
And even this guy has “concerns” about the ways in which the Trump White House – where he worked for a year and a half – is addressing cyber-threats.
In fairness, not all of the news is discouraging. Politico reported yesterday that Trump “will chair a full meeting of the National Security Council on Friday to discuss election security.” That almost certainly should’ve happened quite a while ago, but I’m glad it’s happening.
But with the “warning lights blinking red,” as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats recently put it, it’s difficult to credibly make the case that the Trump administration is doing everything it should. To that end, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote to the president yesterday, urging his administration “to take stronger action prioritizing cybersecurity.”
As NBC News’ report on this noted, the bipartisan letter asked the White House to detail what the executive branch is doing to combat Russia’s cyber capabilities. We’ll see what kind of response, if any, Cantwell and Graham receive.