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Trump's Cybersecurity Advisors Flee the Ship, Citing Inadequate Attention to Major Threats

It has only now gained some publicity but there it is: Eight of the members of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), whose purview includes national cybersecurity, have resigned.

The resignations actually came last week, but were buried in the middle of everything else going on in the States—the approach of Hurricane Harvey and its destruction (find out how to donate here); more nuclear-tipped saber-rattling with North Korea; Trump’s pardoning of Joe Arpaio (the former and disgraced Maricopa County sheriff of the county where Phoenix is located that was convicted of contempt for implementing brazenly racist police policies—satirically summed up here); an advancement of Trump’s transgender ban in the military; the resignation of resident White House weirdo Sebastian Gorka; and, people still reeling, agog, from the Charlottesville situation.

Whew. That’s a lot for one week, right? To paraphrase an SNL sketch, all I want is just one day without getting a CNN alert on my phone that scares the hell out of me.

Anyhoo. Things could get scarier. In a group resignation letter obtained by Nextgov, the departing NIAC members said that the administration was not “adequately attentive to the pressing national security matters within the NIAC’s purview, or responsive to sound advice received from experts and advisors.”

That nugget came just days after the NIAC issued a statement warning of an impending 9/11-style attack on the nation’s critical infrastructure and called for “direction and leadership to dramatically reduce cyber risks.”

Those resigning added, almost in response, with a finer point: “You have given insufficient attention to the growing threats to the cybersecurity of the critical systems upon which all Americans depend, including those impacting the systems supporting our democratic election process.”

Trump, who likes to call issues of information security “the cyber,” has made a few head-scratching moves when it comes to cybersecurity—notably championing the formation of a cybersecurity task force with Russia (before flip-flopping in the face of criticism). Perhaps more notably, he has refused to publicly state that he accepts the intelligence community findings that Russia was behind the election-season hacking and disinformation campaigns in the US last year. And, even though he finally signed a cybersecurity executive order, months later than promised, it’s unclear if its mandates have the proper funding or enforcement to make it mean anything.

The resigning NIAC members also cited Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords and his remarks calling out “some” of those marching in white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville “very fine people” during what was to be an infrastructure-focused event.

“The moral infrastructure of our Nation is the foundation on which our physical infrastructure is built,” the letter reads. “The Administration’s actions undermine that foundation.”

Those resigning include three Obama-era appointees like former US Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil and former Office of Science and Technology Policy Chief of Staff Cristin Dorgelo, but the other five came on board under Trump.

The administration has lost (read: fired) a lot of people: Mike Flynn, James Comey, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon—to name the top headliners. But it should be noted that this is the latest set of voluntary defections from civilians on both sides of the political spectrum.

To wit: Trump’s self-touted CEO prowess proved brittle indeed after mass resignations from his Manufacturing Council and from the so-called Strategic and Policy Forum—both collections of business leaders from Fortune 500 companies. That same week, 16 of the 17 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned, urging Trump to go ahead and resign too. In all three of these cases, they were protesting his response to the Charlottesville violence.  

Talk about scurrying like rats from a shrinking ship. As for the NIAC, what was once a 27-member council will go on. For now. Until that 9/11-level cyberattack hits, maybe.

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