President Trump may soon give the boot to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, lauded on her nomination for her cybersecurity experience.
Nielsen, who has been long-rumored to be unhappy in her role, has faced criticism from the president over a number of issues, including enforcement of the administration’s immigration policy and Trump may be planning to fire her as early as this week, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Once the top aide to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly when he headed DHS, Nielsen followed him to the White House, becoming his principal deputy chief of staff and helping him tighten up the West Wing. Her expertise included homeland security policy and strategy as well as cybersecurity, critical infrastructure and emergency management, according to a post on the White House website. She was senior legislative policy director for Transportation and Security Administration in DHS under President George W. Bush.
Nielsen also founded Sunesis Consulting, LLC, a risk and security management consulting firm.
“President Trump’s appointment of Kirstjen Nielsen as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is a smart move. In the past decade, the government has elevated cybersecurity to a federal-level discussion but the recent departures of several cybersecurity advisors and the lack of a federal CISO appointment were worrying,” Netskope CEO Sanjay Beri said at the time. “By appointing Nielsen, whose cybersecurity expertise is needed now more than ever as the country faces threats from hacktivists and state-sponsored malicious actors, the Trump administration is showing it’s making the necessary efforts to get more cyber leadership in the government.”
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, last year also praised Nielsen’s work at GWU’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security and “her strong focus on critical infrastructure protection, cybersecurity and emergency preparedness. “I’m grateful for the wealth of experience Ms. Nielsen brings to this position. In addition to her previous experience at DHS under multiple administrations,” said Ratcliffe, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection.
Nielsen has asserted that the White House is committed to election security. Speaking recently at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting, she indicated that front end work securing polling infrastructure – against attack and suppression – had paid off for the country’s election systems but claimed foreign actors posed a more daunting threat. "There’s no evidence that anyone can hack one time and take out [the whole] system,” she said.
“The other threat that is much more difficult to combat and more pernicious is the influence of foreign government,” Nielsen said, explaining that while the U.S. has “seen continued attempts to scan [systems], like a burglar walking around your house and checking the windows” as well as some attempts at intrusion, there is no evidence a foreign power has been successful. “As of today, there’s no activity we’ve attributed to a foreign power.”