January 22, 2021

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Biden team taps NSA Cybersecurity Director Anne Neuberger for NSC

Anne Neuberger, the National Security Agency’s cybersecurity director, will be joining the Biden administration as deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, the Biden transition team announced Wednesday.

Neuberger has been serving in her role as the director of the year-old Cybersecurity Directorate at the Pentagon’s foreign signals intelligence agency for just over a year, but she has a track record of leadership at the NSA. She has previously served as the lead on the NSA’s task force to counter Russian threats to U.S. elections, previously known as the “Russia Small Group,” as well as its chief risk officer. She has also overseen cyber-operations at the NSA during her time serving as assistant deputy director of the Operations Directorate.

Neuberger’s selection could be a signal the Biden administration intends to prioritize cybersecurity issues at the NSC. The Biden transition team has already announced a whole slew of other cybersecurity-related personnel decisions, including former Department of Homeland Security official Caitlin Durkovich, who will serve as senior director for resilience and response, and Lisa Monaco, who will serve as deputy attorney general. Monaco, who previously served as homeland security adviser in the Obama administration, has a track record of working on cybersecurity issues.

The news comes as the federal government continues to grapple with the massive SolarWinds breach, which the NSA has said was run by “likely” Russian actors. The breach, which has impacted several federal agencies and top cybersecurity firms, has raised questions about how the suspected Russian hackers slipped past the intelligence community’s radar.

The Cybersecurity Directorate Neuberger has been leading was established in part to usher in a new era of the NSA tipping more threat intelligence on foreign nation-state hackers to the private sector to boost protections across the country. The goals of the directorate are to “prevent and eradicate” intruders, according to Neuberger.

President-Elect Joe Biden acknowledged last month the incoming administration will make responding to SolarWinds a “top priority.”

“As we have seen in recent weeks, America’s cyber security interests remain an important target for bad actors seeking to damage our way of life and threaten our standing in the world,” a Biden transition spokesperson told CyberScoop via email of Neuberger’s selection. “Our challenge is how to protect our democracy, while enhancing our ability to respond. Creative solutions, premised on a very real understanding of how cyber actors work, must be approved and developed. Elevating this function to be led by a Deputy National Security Advisor is natural given the scale of the challenge.”

Biden indicated that his administration will be interested in holding the perpetrators accountable for the suspected espionage operation.

A “good defense isn’t enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyber attacks in the first place,” Biden said.

There are several other cybersecurity roles the Biden transition team has yet to fill. It is unclear who will serve as White House national cyber director or who will stand at the helm of DHS’ cyber arm, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is partly responsible for election infrastructure security and disarming disinformation operations targeting U.S. politics.

The NSA congratulated Neuberger on the news and declined to share who would replace her at the Cybersecurity Directorate.

“NSA has a wealth of talented leaders who bring significant cybersecurity expertise to the mission,” the spokesperson said. “Cybersecurity at NSA is in good hands and we remain dedicated to preventing and eradicating cyber threats.”

Politico first reported the Neuberger NSC selection.

Updated, 1/13/2021: This article has been updated to include the NSA’s comment on the announcement.

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