In the wake of the massive and publicly unprecedented Russian and Chinese cyber attacks on critical US government and private sector targets, the Biden Administration has yet to designate a national cyber director (NCD) as mandated by Congress. Legislators ordered the creation of the ‘cyber czar’ post in a defense bill it enacted late last year.
More than two months into its term, even as the extent of the ongoing Russian and Chinese cyber-attacks grows daily more ominous, the critical position remains unfilled.
“Things are very bad,” says one prominent cyber expert.
According to Politico, Biden’s inability to designate the ‘cyber czar’ is mostly due to turf battles:
…nearly a dozen current and former officials familiar with the deliberations say that it has been the casualty of classic Washington dramas: executive branch officials wary of legislators meddling in their business and government bureaucrats trying to fend off potential colleagues from encroaching on their perceived portfolios.
The failure to fill the role, which would be responsible for coordinating the entire U.S. government’s defensive cyber operations, comes as the new administration grapples with how to kick suspected Russian and Chinese hackers out of federal cyber infrastructure following two major breaches. And it lays bare the challenges in setting up a brand-new agency that could encroach upon some power centers in the White House, particularly the National Security Council.
But the White House has also pointed to yet another review it is conducting as a reason for the dangerous delay, telling lawmakers that it will send their review’s conclusions to Congress next week. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t yet funded the NCD office, complicating White House plans on how it will be structured.
Some experts are extremely concerned and say a director should be appointed regardless. Mark Montgomery, a senior adviser to the Cyberspace Solarium Commission that successfully pushed for the inclusion of the National Cyber Director role, and senior fellow at Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told Politico:
They’re taking way too long, and while conducting this review they have not nominated someone. So they are very much slowing down the development of the NCD office.
Montgomery further stated that he believes Team Biden is “underwater” with responding to Russia’s recent hack on SolarWinds used by many federal agencies, and China’s breach of Microsoft Exchange servers, used by many local and state governments and private companies.
“Things really are very bad,” he said.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who serves as co-chairman of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission — said he was “frustrated” by the delay, and was more direct, adding:
It’s like we are in conflict and they are not appointing the secretary of defense,” he said. I would hate to have another attack occur in the next 30-60 days and still not have anyone in that position.