Trump DHS Nominee May Signal Administration Cybersecurity Focus

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By Jimmy H. Koo and Daniel R. Stoller

President Donald Trump’s choice of Kirstjen Nielsen to head the Department of Homeland Security demonstrates cybersecurity’s importance to the department’s mission, security industry professionals and former government officials told Bloomberg BNA.

The White House, in announcing the nominee, cited Nielsen’s extensive cybersecurity experience. Her background makes her a strong choice to lead the government agency tasked with heading the country’s cybersecurity efforts, the professionals and former officials said.

Nielsen has the experience necessary to manage risk, identify crucial stakeholders, and understand budgetary restrictions, Adam Isles, principal at The Chertoff Group cybersecurity and risk management consulting company, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 12. Isles previously served as DHS’ deputy chief of staff.

Among the challenges awaiting Nielsen is the departure of cybersecurity talent from DHS, and the department’s relationship with the Department of Defense on cybersecurity, Isles said. Those roles are still being fleshed out, and Nielsen may have to help determine them, he said.

Nielsen now serves as White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s principal deputy and was Kelly’s chief of staff when he was Homeland Security secretary. She followed Kelly to the White House in July.

Previously she served as a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security at George Washington University, and worked on cybersecurity initiatives for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils.

Confirmation Focus

Cybersecurity issues are likely to be a major focus during Nielsen’s Senate confirmation hearing.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which will conduct the hearing, and committee member Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), in separate statements, favorably cited Nielsen’s cybersecurity experience.

A Senate Democrat on the committee signaled that cybersecurity issues will be discussed. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), said in a Oct. 12 statement that issues posed by “cyber criminals” will be evaluated throughout the confirmation process.

More Support

Nielsen “is extremely well-versed” in cybersecurity issues and she “can hit the ground running” without a “learning curve,” former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said said in a Oct. 12 statement.

Jamil Jaffer, director of the National Security Institute at George Mason Law School and former senior adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Bloomberg BNA that Nielsen’s experience on cybersecurity matters at DHS and as a Homeland Security Council staffer in the George W. Bush administration makes her well-suited to lead DHS’ cybersecurity efforts.

She “truly is a cyber ninja,” said Jaffer, who worked with Nielsen at the White House and on other cybersecurity policy initiatives.

Representatives for Homeland Security and the White House didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s email requests for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jimmy H. Koo in Washington at; Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at

For More Information

Text of the announcement is available at

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