Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What Trump does not want to hear will cost the nation its election integrity

And that damage to our security is the price of his vanity.

Now I am no great fan of former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen but she does deserve credit for trying to do the right thing. However, that credit is qualified. Point #1: It would have been far better for the nation had she succeeded in marshaling top level support for our cyber defenses against election tampering. Point #2: I think she should have broken this story herself.

In Push for 2020 Election Security, Top Official Was Warned: Don’t Tell Trump reports the NY Times.

In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election.

President Trump’s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the president.

Ms. Nielsen left the Department of Homeland Security early this month after a tumultuous 16-month tenure and tensions with the White House. Officials said she had become increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the United States during and after the 2018 midterm elections — ranging from its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids.

But in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.”

Even though the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for civilian cyberdefense, Ms. Nielsen eventually gave up on her effort to organize a White House meeting of cabinet secretaries to coordinate a strategy to protect next year’s elections.

While American intelligence agencies have warned of the dangers of new influence campaigns penetrating the 2020 elections, Mr. Trump and those closest to him have maintained that the effects of Russia’s interference in 2016 was overblown.

“You look at what Russia did — you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it — and it’s a terrible thing,” Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said on Tuesday during an interview at the Time 100 Summit in New York.

“But I think the investigations, and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years, has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads,” he said.

What does one do in the face of such incredible stupidity? Such mendacity? Trump has gotten a wall of sorts: A White House barricaded against national security interests. The result is clear.

… cyberthreats have taken a back seat among security priorities at the White House.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, eliminated the position of cybersecurity coordinator at the White House last year, leaving junior aides to deal with the issue. In January, Ms. Nielsen fumed when 45 percent of her cyberdefense work force was furloughed during the government shutdown.

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