Senate unanimously approves Jen Easterly to lead DHS cyber agency
The Senate on Monday unanimously approved the nomination of Jen Easterly to serve as director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
Easterly’s nomination was approved by the Senate weeks after Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) blocked a vote on Easterly until either President Biden or Vice President Harris visited the U.S.-Mexico border. Harris visited the southern border late last month, and Scott has since lifted his hold.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which considered and approved Easterly’s nomination, expressed frustration Monday that she was not confirmed earlier.
“Before the Senate adjourned for the July 4th holiday, I stood right here and urged my colleagues to confirm her for this vital position,” Peters said on the Senate floor on Monday. “I warned that without confirming Ms. Easterly, we risked leaving ourselves vulnerable to cyberattacks, and in the two weeks since I last called on my colleagues to approve this critical nomination, nation state actors and criminal organizations have continued their relentless targeting of the United States.”
Peters pointed to the ransomware attack on software group Kaseya earlier this month, which hit up to 1,500 businesses in one of the largest ransomware attacks in history.
While the Biden administration has not yet formally concluded who was behind the attack, cybersecurity experts have blamed the Russian-linked cybercriminal group “REvil,” which according to the FBI was also behind the ransomware attack in May on meat producer JBS USA.
In addition, Bloomberg News reported last week that the Republican National Committee (RNC) had been targeted by Russian-government linked hackers through the targeting of Synnex, a third-party technology contractor. The RNC denied being breached but confirmed the breach of the contractor.
“These attackers will stop at nothing to infiltrate our networks, and we urgently need qualified, Senate-confirmed cybersecurity leaders in place to fight back,” Peters said. “With more than three decades of cybersecurity expertise in the public and private sectors, Ms. Easterly is more than qualified to lead CISA.”
Easterly previously served as the deputy for counterterrorism at the National Security Agency (NSA), and as the senior director for counterterrorism on the White House National Security Council under former President Obama.
Easterly was approved unanimously during her Senate confirmation hearing last month and stressed the need to “anticipate the unimaginable” in cyberspace.
She will lead an agency that bills itself as the “nation’s risk advisor,” responsible for helping defend critical infrastructure against cybersecurity threats, including elections. CISA has also played a role in responding to other recent major cyber incidents, including the SolarWinds hack and the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday praised the confirmation of Easterly, who takes over from CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales, who has served as acting director of the agency since November.
“I congratulate Jen Easterly on her confirmation as Director of CISA,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “Jen is a brilliant cybersecurity expert and a proven leader with a career spanning military service, civil service, and the private sector. I am proud to welcome her to the DHS team and look forward to working together to protect our country from urgent cybersecurity and physical threats.”
“I thank Brandon Wales for serving as Acting Director of CISA,” he added. “Brandon’s steadfast, superb leadership has been invaluable, especially as CISA continues to respond to rising cybersecurity incidents impacting businesses, government, communities, and critical infrastructure across our nation.”
Other officials applauded the Senate’s confirmation of Easterly on Monday.
“Today, CISA finds itself at the forefront of several major cyber incidents impacting both federal networks and the private sector,” House Homeland Security Committee ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) said in a statement. “Now more than ever, our nation’s lead civilian cybersecurity agency needs strong leadership.”
“Jen Easterly has a proven record of success in government and industry alike, and I applaud her confirmation by the Senate,” Katko added. “Our nation is at a crossroads when it comes to our cybersecurity posture, and I look forward to working with Ms. Easterly to ensure CISA has the resources, workforce, and authorities it needs to effectively carry out its mission.”
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, also praised the confirmation.
CISA has been without Senate-confirmed leadership since former President Trump fired former CISA Director Christopher Krebs in November following CISA’s efforts to push back against election disinformation and misinformation. CISA Executive Director Brandon Wales has served as acting director since then.
“Congrats to Jen Easterly on her confirmation as the next @CISAgov Director,” Krebs tweeted Monday. “The perfect leader for an increasingly important agency. Bravo to Brandon Wales to leading the agency the last 8 months. Excited to watch this team continue to do great things. #DefendTodaySecureTomorrow.”
Easterly will likely work closely with former NSA Director Chris Inglis, who was approved by the Senate last month to serve as the first White House national cyber director, and sworn in to that position on Monday.
-Updated at 7 p.m.