Feds wait on Trump's cyber plan
- By Sean D. Carberry
- Apr 20, 2017
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In January, cyber was a hot topic for President Trump who promised a "major" hacking report, a private sector advisory initiative and an executive order designed to strengthen cybersecurity and combat hacking by adversaries like Russia.
So far, there's little to show for all that talk.
In a January 11, 2017 press conference, Trump said the U.S. was getting hacked constantly by a variety of actors, and his incoming director of national intelligence and CIA director were going to do something about it.
"Within 90 days, they're going to be coming back to me with a major report on hacking," said Trump.
On the 90th day of the administration, there is no report,, and it's not clear one was ever ordered. The White House and CIA did not respond to requests for information about the report, and the ODNI could not comment.
In his first public remarks as CIA director on April 13, Mike Pompeo made no mention of a hacking report and focused his remarks on condemning Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, who recently released a trove of hacking tools that appear to have been stolen from the CIA.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, has yet to deliver any public remarks since taking office.
On January 12, the Trump transition team released a statement announcing that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani would "be sharing his expertise and insight as a trusted friend concerning private sector cyber security problems and emerging solutions developing in the private sector."
The statement said that Giuliani would lead a process of convening meetings with the president and "senior corporate executives from companies which have faced or are facing challenges similar to those facing the government and public entities today," to discuss approaches to cybersecurity.
Again, the administration did not respond to questions about the status that initiative and what meetings have taken place to date.
While the administration received praise from former officials and experts for bringing on Tom Bossert as homeland security advisor and Rob Joyce as cybersecurity coordinator, many top cyber positions, from federal CIO and federal chief information security officer to positions in the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, remain unfilled.
On January 31, president Trump appeared to be a pen-stroke away from issuing an executive order on cybersecurity, but the order has been reworked and indefinitely on hold.
On March 15, Tom Bossert spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and previewed the executive order. He said it would make cabinet secretaries responsible for cybersecurity at their agencies, and they would have to implement the NIST cybersecurity framework, which was well received by government and industry.
The order will also stress moving to cloud and shared services, as well as an effort to eliminate botnets, Bossert said.
As FCW reported recently, some in industry have commented favorably on a leaked draft order and said it should be released sooner rather than later.
On April 17, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly delivered his first public remarks and stated cyber was of critical importance to the DHS, yet he offered no policy roadmap or indication of new initiatives. He stated that he was "standing by with baited breath," waiting for the executive order.
Megan Stifel, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative who served on the National Security Council in the Obama administration, said the combination of a new administration lacking institutional memory on cyber and some initial political distractions have resulted in a case of overpromising and underperforming.
"It's a complex space [for] a new administration to make some significant headway without convening experts in this space," she said, adding that many key political positions relating to cyber have yet to be filled.
Stifel said that if the executive order is released before those positions are filled, it could make it more difficult to attract candidates, so the focus should be on getting appointees in place.
Given the leaked draft does not indicate any radical changes from existing policy, Stifel said there is not much anxiety in industry about the potential impact of the EO.
Where she sees the real impact is with the career government officials who already suffer from low morale in a relentlessly challenging space.
"I don't think it's helping morale to have promised additional guidance in this space and not follow through on it," she said.
Sean Carberry is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence. Prior to joining FCW, he was Kabul Correspondent for NPR, and also served as an international producer for NPR covering the war in Libya and the Arab Spring. He has reported from more than two-dozen countries including Iraq, Yemen, DRC, and South Sudan. In addition to numerous public radio programs, he has reported for Reuters, PBS NewsHour, The Diplomat, and The Atlantic.
Carberry earned a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and has a B.A. in Urban Studies from Lehigh University.