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Trump administration abolishes top-level cybersecurity post

Image credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Trump-led White House has chosen to eliminate one of the most high-profile cyber-security roles in government, following the resignation of the most recent appointee to the role.

The position of cyber-security co-ordinator – leading a team of directors and senior directors to ensure a unified policy for US cyber-security issues – was created in 2009 during the Obama administration. The co-ordinator is responsible for managing strategy for issues such as cyber warfare and security of elections, as well as representing the government at international meetings.

Rob Joyce, who had been serving in the White House as cyber-security coordinator on the NSC, resigned at the end of last week and will not be replaced. According to Politico, while policymakers, lawmakers and officials strongly advised Trump to appoint a new cyber-security expert to replace Joyce, the position has instead been abolished.

Politico reported that John Bolton, who took up the role of President Donald Trump’s national security advisor in April, had decided to remove the job in order to “streamline authority” for senior National Security Council (NSC) directors and consequently “[deliver] greater decision, activity, secrecy and despatch”.

In an email to NSC employees, an aide to Bolton wrote that “the role of cyber co-ordinator will end”, due to the NSC cyber security team already having two senior directors to manage coordination.

The decision has been criticised as unhelpful, particularly given growing concerns about independent and state-sponsored hackers. Russian-backed hackers are strongly suspected to have meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, acquiring private, embarrassing emails from senior Democratic figures to boost Trump’s standing against his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, incidents of state-backed cyber attacks on national infrastructure in Ukraine, Taiwan and elsewhere have triggered concerns of larger-scale attacks on vital infrastructure.

Mark Warner, the Democratic Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter: “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”.

“Mr President, if you really want to put America first, don’t cut the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator – the only person in the federal government tasked with delivering a coordinated, whole-of-government response to the growing cyber threats facing our nation,” he added.

In response to the news, a group of Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Jim Langevin and Ted Lieu, have filed a bill to establish a National Office for Cyberspace within the White House, which would require the appointment of a director to coordinate cyber-security issues.

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