Dimitrios Vastakis, a branch chief of the White House computer network defence unit, has blamed Donald Trump’s management shake-up for exposing the US administration to a potential cyberattack.
In an internal memo dated last Thursday and obtained by the news site Axios, Vastakis complains that the White House has effectively been forcing out members of its cybersecurity team, which was established under Barack Obama.
This team, called the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer (OCISO) was set up following the 2014 breach by unknown hackers of an unclassified computer network of the Executive Office of the President, a group of agencies that includes the White House Office and the National Security Council. The hackers were reportedly able to get their hands on sensitive documents such as President Obama’s daily schedule.
In July, the White House dissolved the OCISO and folded it into the Office of the Chief Information Officer – an entity operating beyond the scope of the Presidential Records Act, which mandates the preservation of all presidential records. In effect, this means that the cybersecurity mission will now be kept off official records.
“It is highly concerning that the entire cybersecurity apparatus is being handed over to non-PRA entities,” the memo reads. “This is a significant shift in the priorities of senior leadership where business operations and quality of service take precedence over securing the President’s network. As a career cybersecurity professional, this is alarming.”
Vastakis went on to claim that the OCISO staff were “systematically being targeted for removal from the Office of the Administration (OA) through various means,” including the reduction of their responsibilities as well as access to programmes and buildings.
Vastakis, who presented his resignation in the memo, complained that the new leadership had been “hostile” to the incumbent OCISO staff. According to Axios, at least a dozen high-level officials were dismissed or resigned from the cybersecurity team. Vastakis warned that the staffers will continue to resign.
He warned that the recent reshuffle is making the Trump administration more vulnerable as a result, and that “the White House is posturing itself to be electronically compromised once again.”
The White House has yet to comment on the matter.