Cybersecurity

Trump's cyber firing stirs outrage

Democrats and some Republicans are up in arms over President Trump's decision to fire Christopher Krebs, the nation's top cybersecurity official, arguing it leaves a major hole in leadership and that it was completely without cause.

Some say the firing could endanger national security by destabilizing the government's efforts to stop foreign attacks in cyberspace. 

"The President's decision to fire Director Krebs makes America less safe," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and cybersecurity subcommittee Chairwoman Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) said in a joint statement Tuesday night. 

Krebs served as the first director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), established by Trump in 2018. 

He was seen as a key federal leader on election security and had spearheaded a "rumor control" web page to push back against misinformation and disinformation. Krebs is widely respected on Capitol Hill and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as director of CISA's predecessor agency, the National Protection and Programs Directorate. 

Trump fired Krebs over the statement put out by CISA and other bipartisan election officials last week that said the election had been "the most secure in American history." The president, who has refused to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, called that statement inaccurate.

Trump's rationale for firing Krebs was being widely criticized on Wednesday, including by some Republicans.

Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), a former intelligence official who lost reelection, described Kreb's firing as "ludicrous" and said he was terminated "because he did his job."

Riggleman noted that it was not just a loyalty test that got Krebs fired, it was also rooted in Trump and his allies seizing on conspiracy theories.

"If you fire somebody based on alternative facts ... that could be dangerous," Riggleman said in an interview with The Hill. "They seem easy to believe, but it's almost impossible to manipulate that many votes across 50 different states, based on the fact that we have federalism. It just doesn't make sense."

Riggleman also took aim at Trump statements about the Dominion voting machines.

Trump tweeted that the Dominion election equipment used in much of the country is flawed and designed to switch votes from himself to President-elect Joe Biden - a claim that has been widely debunked.

"Believing in these conspiracy theories is the same as believing in Fantasy Island," Riggleman said.

Other GOP members were also critical of the move on Wednesday, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) telling reporters that Krebs's departure "adds to the confusion and chaos."

"I'm sure I'm not the only one that would like some return to a little bit more of a - I don't even know what's normal anymore. We'll call it the next normal," said Cornyn, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

During a Washington Post virtual event, John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, said it was a "bad mistake" to "decapitate" the national security team shortly before the presidential transition, warning that doing so will cause disruptions.

Those Republicans who were not critical of Trump said it was the president's discretion to decide who worked for him, but they generally also praised Krebs's performance.

"I don't have any problem with the job Krebs did, but all these people work for the president," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters Wednesday.

Democrats were unanimous in their outrage, accusing Trump of punishing Krebs for seeking to dispel voter fraud misinformation despite his extensive work to bolster the security of recent elections after Russian interference in 2016.

"Director Krebs is a deeply respected cybersecurity expert who worked diligently to safeguard our elections, support state and local election officials and dispel dangerous misinformation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. 

"Yet, instead of rewarding this patriotic service, the President has fired Director Krebs for speaking truth to power and rejecting Trump's constant campaign of election falsehoods."

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Krebs "is an extraordinary public servant" and that it "speaks volumes that the president chose to fire him simply for telling the truth."

Krebs himself seemed defiant after the firing, which The Hill confirmed he had been expecting. 

"Rumor Control: I never claimed there wasn't fraud in the election, bc that's not CISA's job - it's a law enforcement matter," Krebs tweeted Wednesday. "We did provide info on measures elec officials use to prevent and detect dead voters, tho. Don't buy it. And think 2x before sharing."

Krebs, amid talk that he would be fired soon, was also retweeting other accounts that dismissed the conspiracy theories about voting machines, even as Trump was pushing them.

Krebs's departure adds to a hole in the government's cybersecurity team given Tuesday night's simultaneous resignation of CISA Deputy Director Matthew Travis, which came less than a week after Bryan Ware, another top CISA official, was forced to step down. 

A spokesperson for CISA confirmed to The Hill on Wednesday that CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales is now also serving as acting director.  

CISA seemed focused on moving forward with its cybersecurity missions on Wednesday, with Politico reporting that a top CISA official had sent out an email to employees after the leadership shakeup urging them to "not lose focus."

Kiersten Todt, who served as executive director of former President Obama's Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, described CISA as "strong."

"These agencies are more than two people," Todt, who serves as managing director of the Cyber Readiness Institute, told The Hill. "I have faith in that workforce, in their awareness of the issues."

Mathew Masterson, senior adviser on election security at CISA, tweeted: "The mission is unchanged. #Protect2020."

 

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