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 John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally 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 CollinsOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission MORE (R-Maine) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' 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. LangevinHouse passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy 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.