White House eliminates Cybersecurity Coordinator role

The White House has eliminated the role of Cybersecurity Coordinator, generally viewed as the top cybersecurity role in the US government.

The decision was made by John Bolton, the most recent National Security Advisor of the United States, after both Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser to the president and cybersecurity czar, resigned in early April and Rob Joyce, special assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator on the National Security Council, left the post to return to the National Security Agency, where he used to head the agency’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) hacking unit.

The Cybersecurity Coordinator role was elevated to the position of assistant to the president two years ago under President Barack Obama, and the person occupying it was tasked with helping coordinate and unify cybersecurity policy and efforts across government agencies.

According to Politico reporter Eric Geller, the elimination of the role was announced by an aide to Bolton in an email to National Security Council (NSC) staffers. The official explanation for the move is that the NSC cyber team has two capable senior directors that will take over the responsibilities of White House cybersecurity coordinator.

“As they sit six feet apart from one another, they will be able to coordinate [cyber matters and policy] in real time,” NSC spokesperson Robert Palladino stated. “Today’s actions continue an effort to empower National Security Council Senior Directors. Streamlining management will improve efficiency, reduce bureaucracy and increase accountability.”

Criticism of the move

The decision to do away with the role was met by criticism by government officials and cybersecurity experts, who fear that the Trump administration won’t be ready to handle the increasing cybersecurity threats the US is facing – from hacking of digital election systems to cyber penetration efforts by Russian and Iranian hackers.

Senator Mark Warner, the Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “it’s frankly mindboggling that the Trump Administration has eliminated the top White House official responsible for a whole-of-government cyber strategy, at a time when the cyber threat to our nation is greater than ever.”

“We should be investing in our nation’s cyber defense, not rolling it back. We also need to articulate a clear cyber doctrine. I don’t see how getting rid of the top cyber official in the White House does anything to make our country safer from cyber threats,” he added.

Netskope’s CEO Sanjay Beri says that eliminating the White House’s top cybersecurity job is vexing for a number of reasons.

“It comes at a time when our greatest cyber-adversaries are more relevant than ever on the global stage, and the country already lacks central cybersecurity leadership. There is a lack of discipline and finality in the government when it comes to tackling the cyber crises that we’re facing on a global scale, so choosing not to fill the role previously held by Rob Joyce would only weaken the nation’s cybersecurity posture,” he notes.

“The US needs cybersecurity leadership today more than ever, but the current structure of our top officials needs to be overhauled if we hope to correct course. Forming a cohesive cyber defense strategy has become nearly impossible as hundreds of departments report into a siloed set of decision makers. Instead of eliminating jobs we need to be creating them, and the first step in the right direction would be the appointment of a federal CISO to oversee all of our nation’s cybersecurity initiatives and promote inter-agency collaboration.”

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