Trump nominates cyber gun Kirstjen Nielsen to sprawling homeland security post

Then White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and deputy Kirstjen Nielsen walk across the South Lawn of the White House.
Courtesy: Andrew Harnik

Washington: A cybersecurity expert who has sought to instil some order in Donald Trump’s team and irritated some White House officials with her strictness, has been named to lead US Department of Homeland Security.

US President Donald Trump will nominate Kirstjen Nielsen, a top aide to his White House chief of staff to take the reins at the sprawling department with more than 240,000 employees, The White House said.

The department is responsible for US border and airport security, immigration policy, cyber security, disaster response and refugee admissions.

Nielsen, 45, is a cyber security expert with a considerable resume in homeland security that includes work at the department’s Transportation Security Administration, known as TSA, and on former Republican President George W Bush’s White House Homeland Security Council.

She was retired Marine Corps General John Kelly’s chief of staff when he was secretary of homeland security during the opening months of Trump’s presidency. Kelly brought her to the White House as his deputy when Trump named him chief of staff in July to replace Reince Priebus.

The nomination requires Senate confirmation.

Nielsen’s departure from the White House would mark the latest upheaval in Trump’s White House team. She was responsible for carrying out some of Kelly’s orders on who gets access to the President. As a result, she has irritated some White House officials who now have limited contact with Trump, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Kelly has sought to bring more order to the chaotic West Wing since replacing Priebus. Trump has welcomed the changes to some extent, although he has privately confided to friends that the limitations on access to the Oval Office sometimes go too far.

Putting Nielsen into the Homeland Security post will allow Trump and Kelly to keep a close eye on the department, but getting her out of the White House could permit some of Kelly’s strictness to be relaxed.

The department has been led by an acting secretary, Elaine Duke.

Cyber security is one of the primary issues under the department’s portfolio. Nielsen previously worked at a cyber think-tank at George Washington University and is considered well-versed in some of the more technical missions at the department, such as sharing cyber-threat information with the private sector.

The department was created after the September 11, 2001, attacks exposed cracks in the US’ homeland security apparatus.

The appointment comes at a busy time for the department, with one of its agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, overseeing disaster relief in hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida as well as wildfire-ravaged areas of California. The department also is responsible for US border security.

It is a major player in implementing Trump’s aggressive stance toward deporting illegal immigrants, as well as vetting the lower number of refugees Trump has decided to allow into the US and devising his travel ban on six Muslim-majority nations, North Korea and certain Venezuelans.

She also served as a corporate attorney and a congressional staff member, the White House statement said.

Nielsen would immediately be given the task of helping coordinate the federal response to potential cyber attacks that target elections. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to try to help Trump win.