The absence of senior cybersecurity leaders in President Donald Trump’s administration may be leaving the United States more vulnerable to digital warfare and less prepared for attacks on election systems, according to lawmakers and experts worried about White House brain drain under national security adviser John Bolton. Both Republicans and Democrats are expressing concern that the White House is rudderless on cybersecurity at a time when hostile nations’ hackers are moving aggressively, inspiring fears about disruptive attacks on local governments, power plants, hospitals and other critical systems. POLITICO spoke with nearly two dozen cyber experts, lawmakers and former officials from the White House, the intelligence community and the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and State about Bolton’s decisions to oust the White House’s homeland security adviser and eliminate its cyber coordinator position. The overwhelming consensus is that Bolton’s moves are a major step backward for the increasingly critical and still-evolving world of cyber policy.
The widely respected cyber policy expert Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser, resigned in April just after Bolton joined Trump’s White House staff. Late last week, Trump named Doug Fears, a former Coast Guard Atlantic region chief of staff, as his new homeland security adviser, but while several sources praised Fears’ handling of disaster response issues, they noted that he is not a cybersecurity expert.
On May 15, Bolton eliminated the post of White House cybersecurity coordinator following the departure of Rob Joyce, who had held the job since shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Bolton’s staff has said cutting the cyber position would “streamline” decision-making in the National Security Council by reducing a layer of management. But other people familiar with the post say it’s setting up the U.S. for problems.