Trump advisers resign over security concerns

By on 30/08/2017
US president, Donald Trump, has been accused of threatening "the security of the homeland" (Image courtesy: Michael Vadon).

Eight advisers to Donald Trump have resigned en masse, claiming that the US President’s actions have “threatened the security of the homeland”.

The advisers issued a joint resignation letter as they walked out of the 28-member National Infrastructure Advisory Council last week, warning that Trump has paid “insufficient attention” to growing cyber threats facing the US.

They also cite the President’s failure to single out neo-Nazis and white supremacists for condemnation following violent protests in Charlottesville and his rejection of the threat of climate change, IT news website Nextgov reported.

“The moral infrastructure of our nation is the foundation on which our physical infrastructure is built,” the letter obtained by Nextgov states. “The administration’s actions undermine that foundation.”

Charlottesville fall-out

The resignations follow Trump’s disbanding of two presidential business advisory councils from which some 20 corporate chief executives had stepped down in protest at his failure to clearly denounce white supremacist violence in the Virginia university town.

Trump made some of his most controversial remarks about the rally at a press conference on infrastructure reform earlier this month. Pressed as to whether he was putting the “alt left” and white supremacists on the same moral plane, Trump said: “I think there is blame on both sides.”

The advisers stressed in the letter that Trump’s actions threatening security included his remarks at the press conference.

“When asked about the horrific violence in Charlottesville, you failed to denounce the violence of hate groups, instead offering false equivalences and attacking the motives of the CEOs who had resigned from their advisory roles in protest,” the letter states.

Election hacking fears

The former advisers were especially critical of the Trump administration’s reluctance to strengthen the digital security of electoral systems.

“You have given insufficient attention to the growing threats to the cybersecurity of the critical systems upon which all Americans depend, including those impacting the systems supporting our democratic election process,” the letter states.

Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Russia tried to subvert the 2016 presidential election through a hacking campaign, as maintained by US intelligence officials.

Nonetheless, his homeland security secretary John Kelly had continued with reforms – launched under the Obama administration – designed to improve the cyber security of state and local election systems by designating them as critical infrastructure and providing federal services free of charge. These changes faced opposition from some members of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, launched by Trump in May, who have dismissed claims of a Russian threat as a ploy for the federal government to intrude on states’ rights. Kelly left his homeland security role when he was appointed White House Chief of Staff on 31 July, replacing Reince Priebus.

Climate change denial

As well as condemning Trump’s response to Charlottesville, the letter criticises his actions on several other fronts. “Your decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, your intent to revoke flood-risk building standards and your many other actions to ignore the pressing threat of climate change to our critical infrastructure also point to your disregard for the security of American communities,” it states.

The bi-partisan National Infrastructure Advisory Council is tasked with advising the US President on the security of critical national infrastructure sectors and their information systems. Its members are drawn from academia, the private sector and government. The resigning council members include three officials from the Obama administration.

These are Cristin Dorgelo, chief of staff at the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and DJ Patil, chief data scientist to the White House.

The names of the eight advisers were removed from the membership page of the council’s website last week. The remaining council members have approved a report which warns that US infrastructure is in “a pre-9/11 moment” in terms of cyber security.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist with more than 16 years’ experience on daily newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong. With a core specialism of education, she also has extensive experience of general news and has covered other public sector beats including environment, transport and planning. She worked on the South China Morning Post for seven years, serving as education editor, assistant education editor and education reporter as well as senior reporter on the Sunday Morning Post. She has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian, TES Global (formerly The Times Educational Supplement) and the BBC. She qualified as a newspaper journalist with the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) and has a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Essex.

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