Acting on orders from Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is downgrading America's ability to respond to cyber intrusions, demoting a key office in America's cyber arsenal while ignoring security concerns.
The Trump administration is retreating from defending the United States from hackers at the same time that Russia and other international actors continue to target our country.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is planning to shut down the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, an office set up by President Barack Obama in 2011 to coordinate cyber-related issues between the United States and other countries.
Under Obama, the coordinator responded directly to the secretary of state. Under Tillerson’s reorganization, the position will be buried under State Department bureaucracy, and will have to go through the chain of command to elevate urgent cyber issues to the top diplomat.
This troubling move is part of a pattern: Tillerson has been executing Donald Trump’s dangerous vision at the department, in part by failing to fill many positions that previously have been crucial to America’s role as the sole global superpower.
Robert Knake, former director of cybersecurity policy at the National Security Council under Obama, told Bloomberg that Tillerson is “taking an issue that’s preeminent and putting it inside a backwater within the State Department.”
The decision also comes after U.S. intelligence agencies pointed to Russia-backed hackers for their role in a cyber campaign to disrupt the presidential election in favor of Trump. The report noted that Russia had “developed a clear preference” for Trump and sought to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The hackers broke into computers used by members of the Democratic Party, stole their emails, then delivered them to WikiLeaks, who released them to the world to be weaponized politically by the Trump campaign.
Of course, Trump has repeatedly dismissed the findings of the intelligence reports, insisting without evidence that some other countries could have done the hacking.
He has instead been working to roll back sanctions imposed on Russia for their election hacking, and recently floated the idea of working with Russia on election hacking, a notion that was slammed by a bipartisan group of elected officials as essentially handing a bank robber the key to the vault.
And as Trump retreats, Russia has continued to advance. Recent testimony from the Department of Homeland Security indicated that people connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states, attempting to find vulnerabilities so they could break into the systems.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that America could face a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” in which critical systems are targeted, leading to mass chaos and disorder, as well as the loss of life as a result.
Despite the looming danger, Trump and Tillerson are doing exactly what Russia would want if they are hoping for an impotent response.