Biden to Restore Homeland Security and Cybersecurity Aides to Senior White House Posts

Biden to Restore Homeland Security and Cybersecurity Aides to Senior White House Posts

2021-01-13 12:51:30

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., facing the rise of domestic terrorism and a crippling cyber-attack from Russia, is raising two White House posts that have all but disappeared in the Trump administration: a homeland security adviser who manages cases that as diverse as extremism, pandemics and natural disasters, and the first deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology.

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall will be the White House's homeland security adviser, transition officials say. She is a longtime assistant to Mr. Biden who served under President Barack Obama as Senior Director for Europe and then Deputy Secretary of Energy, where she oversaw the modernization of the nuclear arsenal.

And for the complex task of bolstering cyber-attacks and defenses, Mr. Biden has been given a role for Anne Neuberger, an up-and-coming official at the National Security Agency. She led the Russia Small Group, which organized a pre-emptive strike against Kremlin cyber actors during the 2018 midterm elections, as part of an effort to counter Moscow following its interference in the 2016 presidential election.

For the past 15 months, she has led the agency's Cybersecurity Directorate, a newly formed organization to prevent digital threats to sensitive government and military industry networks. But it is also a breeding ground for emerging technologies, including the development of impenetrable cryptography – the National Security Agency's original mission nearly 70 years ago – with a new generation of quantum computers.

Taken together, the two appointments show how Mr. Biden appears determined to build a national security apparatus that critics of the Trump administration say has been destroyed over the past four years. The new White House team will focus on threats plaguing the United States even before the coronavirus pandemic has rearranged the nation's challenges.

Transition officials say Ms. Sherwood-Randall and Ms. Neuberger will be given new powers to convene officials from across the government to deal with emerging threats. Both are expected to start their jobs on January 20, as neither position requires confirmation by the Senate.

Mrs. Sherwood-Randall will have to oversee the effort to contain it right-wing groups that besieged the Capitol last week and Ms. Neuberger will face the aftermath of the most nerve-racking cyber-breach to hit the federal government. She will need to help determine how to deliver on Mr. Biden's promise that the hackers behind the recent break-in, which has spread across government networks, "will pay a price," say senior officials.

Ms. Sherwood-Randall, a Rhodes Scholar who has been a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology for the past few years, was considered a candidate for secretary of energy. The job went to Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor.

She will serve as the White House's internal security adviser, a position created by President George W. Bush who became more powerful under Mr. Obama, and is different from the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who sits in the cabinet.

"We are now going to talk about border security, biosecurity, global public health and strengthening the resilience of our own democracy," she said in a short interview. "The last of these have become more urgent."

Mr. Trump dismantled the National Security Council's office for pandemic preparedness, and while he had an active cyber team at the beginning of his term, it languished. “It is troubling to be in a moment of transition when there really are no counterparts to hand over that transition,” said Ms. Sherwood-Randall.

Ashton B. Carter, the former Secretary of Defense who hired Ms. Sherwood-Randall in the Clinton administration, said the "challenge will be to reboot this office."

He noted that Mrs. Sherwood-Randall after the collapse of the Soviet Union worked to build relations with former Soviet republics while "dismantling their nuclear legacies as well".

Mr. Biden also announced that Mrs. Sherwood-Randall's deputy would be Russ Travers, a 42-year veteran of the intelligence community, where he focused on counterterrorism. The Trump Administration abruptly replaced Mr. Travers in March as Acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center during planned budget cuts by Acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell.

Mr. Travers twice postponed his retirement to lead the National Counterterrorism Center on an interim basis. But he was so alarmed by what he viewed as the Trump administration's backlash in counter-terrorism that he shared his concerns with the inspector general of the intelligence community last year in his last weeks on the track.

Over the summer, he predicted an increase in right-wing violence should Mr Trump be reelected.

Mrs. Neuberger is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, and her family came to Brooklyn after the failed Hungarian Revolution in the 1950s. She began her career in the private sector leading technology at the American Stock Transfer and Trust Company until she became a White House fellow, a program that brings talented outsiders to government for a year. But she soon joined the National Security Agency, where she was the first chief risk officer and headed election security.

She works closely with General Paul M. Nakasone, the agency director and commander of the United States Cyber ​​Command. That could ease what has been a tense relationship over the years between one of the country's largest intelligence agencies and the White House.

But it arrives at a particularly loaded time. The SolarWinds hack, named after the maker of network management software that Russian intelligence agents are suspected of breaching to gain access to the email systems of government agencies and private companies, was a massive intelligence flaw.

Ms. Neuberger acknowledged that it exposed a range of vulnerabilities exploited by the Russian hackers.

"The fact that no intelligence agency or private entities really have an end-to-end view" of how the attackers operate is a big deal, she said, "especially when you have sophisticated adversaries taking steps to hide their activities. "

"There are some very specific ideas and suggestions that we have learned from working through SolarWinds with some very strong private sector partners," she said. But she declined to say how Mr. Biden would keep his promise to punish the hackers.

Eric Schmitt contributed to reporting.


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