John Bolton’s decision to eliminate the role in May 2018 “showed a lack of seriousness in tackling the immediate national security threats facing our country,” said Sen. Mark Warner.
A pair of lawmakers demanded the Trump administration’s new national security adviser reinstate an executive-level cybersecurity position that his predecessor John Bolton eliminated last year.
Soon after President Trump tapped the State Department chief hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien to take over as national security adviser on Tuesday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called on O’Brien to restore the White House cybersecurity coordinator. Bolton eliminated the position in May 2018 under the rationale of reducing bureaucracy within the National Security Council.
The move was largely criticized by cyber experts who saw the job, which oversees government cyber protections, international cyber negotiations and general U.S. cyber policy, as too complex to be subsumed into broader White House operations.
In a statement on Wednesday, Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Bolton’s decision “showed a lack of seriousness in tackling the immediate national security threats facing our country.” Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, echoed the sentiment.
“Despite concerns raised when the position was eliminated last year, the White House has done little to address the vacuum left behind,” Thompson said Wednesday in a statement. “There is no reason that the White House should have allowed this position to be eliminated.”
Both lawmakers stressed the need for high-level oversight of federal cyber efforts as the agencies work to secure the 2020 election and fight a growing array of digital threats from adversaries like China, Russia and North Korea. Reestablishing the position should be one of O’Brien’s first acts as national security adviser, they said.
The cyber coordinator role was created in the first year of the Obama administration and last held by Rob Joyce, who now serves as a senior cybersecurity adviser at the National Security Agency. Cyber coordinators have played key roles in responding to major cyber events, including the 2014 Sony hack, the 2015 Office of Personnel Management breach and Russian digital meddling in the 2016 election.
While coordinators have played a valuable role in past federal cyber initiatives, Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, pushed back on the idea that the government’s efforts have suffered without a designated White House official at the reins.
“Don’t take the lack of the coordinator for a lack of coordination,” Krebs told reporters Thursday at the CISA Cybersecurity Summit. Still, he added, “if a federal cybersecurity coordinator is in our future, I really look forward to working with him.”