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Senators express concern over Trump's decision to scrap top cyber post

Senators express concern over Trump's decision to scrap top cyber post
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of senators wrote to President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE this week to express concern over his decision to eliminate a top cybersecurity position at the White House. 

The letter, sent Thursday by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy MORE (R-Maine) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda Democrats offer bill on Puerto Rico statehood USPS adding up to 165K fuel efficient or electric delivery vehicles MORE (D-N.M.), represents the first instance of a Republican casting doubts publicly about the decision.

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“We write today to express our concern regarding the decision to eliminate the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator position in the National Security Council,” wrote Collins and Heinrich, both of whom sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

“We believe that the nature of the cyber threats facing our nation, their increasing number, and the difficult policy questions they raise lend themselves to a centralized Administration approach,” they wrote. 

The note comes roughly two weeks after the National Security Council (NSC) confirmed it was eliminating the position of cybersecurity coordinator in order to improve management operations. 

The cybersecurity coordinator, a post created under the Obama administration, was responsible for streamlining cyber policymaking efforts across the federal government

Rob Joyce, on loan from the National Security Agency (NSA), most recently served in the role under Trump.

Joyce, however, elected to return to his position at the NSA in April, rather than continue in his job at the White House. The move came shortly after Trump appointed John Bolton as his new national security adviser.

Politico reported early in May that Bolton was considering eliminating the position. On May 15, an NSC spokesman said the decision had been made to do away with the post in order to streamline management across the senior directors devoted to cyber policy efforts. 

“The National Security Council’s cyber office already has two very capable Senior Directors. Moving forward, these Senior Directors will coordinate cyber matters and policy. As they sit six feet apart from one another, they will be able to coordinate in real time,” NSC spokesman Robert Palladino said.

The move immediately drew ire from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Lawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation MORE (D-R.I.) swiftly introduced legislation that, if passed, would effectively save the position.

Without explicitly calling for the position to be reinstated, Collins and Heinrich wrote, “An empowered cybersecurity coordinator is needed to drive and oversee a comprehensive, White House-issued cybersecurity strategy to include deterrence, defense, and network resilience that coordinates U.S. government efforts across the various departments and agencies.”

Broadly, the senators also signaled concern over a lack of public strategy from the White House to deter, defend against and respond to cyberattacks. 

They pressed Trump to quickly complete and release a national strategy to help defend critical U.S. assets — from the financial system to the energy grid — from cyber threats and to deter nation-state hackers. 

“Bipartisan support exists in the Senate for rolling out a cybersecurity strategy as soon as possible,” they wrote.