Why it matters that Trump fired US election cybersecurity chief –analysis

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This may be the most problematic firing Trump has carried out in his entire presidency.

US President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 US presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, November 4, 2020. (photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 US presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, November 4, 2020.

(photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)

Who is Chris Krebs and why should anyone care that US President Donald Trump just fired him?

Put simply, Krebs, whose title had been head of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), was possibly the most important American official for protecting the 2020 election from hacking and social media disinformation campaigns.

Despite being given top marks by both Republicans, Democrats and cyber experts, Krebs was fired early Wednesday morning, Israel time, essentially for fighting disinformation.

Only, the disinformation he was fighting the last two weeks had expanded beyond combating Russia, China and Iran, and had started including debunking groundless myths perpetrated by Trump about election fraud.

This may be the most problematic firing Trump has carried out in his entire presidency.

It essentially sends the message to future protectors of US elections that securing an election which ends up coming out against the incumbent president could be considered punishable disloyalty.

How do you motivate cyber election protectors with that kind of atmosphere?

Without getting into how far Trump should or should not take his lawsuits, and acknowledging that every election ever held has its share of minor fraud, more than two weeks after the election no actual evidence of widespread fraud has been produced.

Krebs was not torpedoing Trump’s right to sue in court based on actual evidence of problems in certain states.

But his CISA website, known as Rumor Control, was debunking non-evidence-based conspiracy theories, including those propagated by Trump.

He viewed his mission as imbuing the US public with confidence in the country’s electoral infrastructure and resilience while blowing up any false claims that undermined that.

Like most cyber experts, he was also declaring the election the most secure in history, having learned many lessons from Russian interference during the 2016 election.

Last Thursday, his agency released a powerful statement signed by most major players in the US election, including the US Election Assistance Commission chairman, the presidents of the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors as well as other security leaders.

It said, “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Trump’s former homeland security adviser Thomas P. Bossert said, “Chris Krebs made America safer and our election system more secure. Thank you for your service, Chris. Well done.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-New York), a senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “Chris Krebs is a dedicated public servant who has done a remarkable job during a challenging time. Chris and his team at CISA have worked diligently to strengthen our election infrastructure, helping to shore up vulnerabilities and build trust between state and federal governments.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) praised Krebs and added, “He obviously should not be fired.”

Democrats like Rep. Bennie Thompson (Mississippi) and Rep. Lauren Underwood (Illinois), who are the heads of the House’s Homeland Security Committee, were even more emphatic, saying: “The president’s decision to fire director Krebs makes America less safe.”

Krebs was also one of the few remaining Senate-confirmed leaders in all the Department of Homeland Security, where Trump has fired a huge volume of his own appointees.

And Krebs did not have an easy job.

He had to succeed at a combination of coordinated offensive moves with the US military’s Cyber Command and the NSA, as well as pulling off massive campaigns to get agencies and companies in 50 states and innumerable municipalities to update and patch their networks.

This required a rare combination of technical mastery of the arena with the ability to coax and persuade people from a variety of backgrounds to accept help to secure the US’s electoral infrastructure.

Combating foreign disinformation campaigns also had to be done at lightning speed and using new, sophisticated and not fully tested techniques – after all, fighting disinformation is still a new and evolving issue.

Despite all of that, Trump did not even try to conceal why he was firing Krebs.

The US president tweeted, “The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 Election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud – including dead people voting, Poll Watchers not allowed into polling locations, ‘glitches’ in the voting machines which changed… votes from Trump to Biden, late voting, and many more. Therefore, effective immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency,” wrote Trump.

Disagree with the president about groundless voting conspiracies, and your success in defending America from hacking and disinformation could become insignificant.

As the US looks toward the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential elections, the ripples of Krebs’s firing may go on to haunt America for some time.

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