Trump Gutted Cyber Defenses, Now The FBI Needs YOU!

As the Trump administration tells Americans not to worry about the creepy Russians knocking on our back door, the FBI has launched a video series to help 2020 candidates up and down ballot. The videos' messages seem to confirm everything the Trump White House and congressional Republicans say isn't happening -- that Eurotrash dudes are still trying to screw with US elections. Strangely, the FBI's videos come just as the administration forces out the very super nerds whose sole mission is to protect the White House from cyber threats.


The other day Axios gossiped that the Trump administration had been busy gutting a rather important branch of the White House cyber defense team. Back in July, the Office of the Chief Information Security Officer (OCISO) was crammed into the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) because ... reasons. In a scathing memo/resignation letter from Dimitrios Vastakis dated Oct. 17, the now-former Branch Chief of White House Computer Network Defense writes in so many words that the White House is setting itself up to get hacked.

Vastakis complains that the people who work at OCISO are "systematically being targeted for removal," and that the administration has been removing their duties, access to programs, buildings, and authority to make strategic decisions, as well as being a pack of wild assholes. Vastakis says the administration's plan to move the OCISO out of the Executive Office of the President -- against the recommendation of the Office of Administration Office of General Counsel (OA OGC) -- was fucked. Vastakis adds that the administration's plan to lump "the entire [White House] cybersecurity apparatus" in with a group of assholes who didn't have access to presidential records was doubly fucked, and it was "allowing for a large portion of institutional knowledge to concurrently walk right out the front door contrary to the best interests of the mission and the organization as a whole."

The OCISO was created after Russia managed to hack into an unclassified White House network in 2014. Their specific mission was to make sure that NEVER happened again. And while it may just be a coincidence, the OCSIO does fall under the control of self-described "right wing nut" Mick Mulvaney -- a man who prides himself on forcing federal workers to quit , so much that he recently joked about finding "a wonderful way to streamline government."

Mulvaney on Firing Federal

This raises a whole host of questions, like WHY (in July, right around the same time Trump tried to blackmail Ukraine) would the administration want to suddenly limit access to presidential records? WHY start getting rid of the nerds whose sole job is to keep out nosy Russians? HHMMMMMMMMMMM?

While the Trump administration sure seems to to be trying to hide some kind of fuckery, FBI Director Chris Wray has been busy trying to make sure what happened in the 2016 election never happens again. And to do that, he's created a bunch of videos to help people and political campaigns spot hackers.

Warnings about foreign governments trying to screw with the US are nothing new. In August of 2018 Wray and the now quit-fired heads of the NSC, NSA, DNI, and DHS held a press gaggle to unanimously say Russia was definitely screwing with us, "24-7 365-days-a-year." Twice this year Wray has gone before Congress and testified that crazy Ivans and Winnie the Poohs were trying to take all our internet bases, and that the US needed "up our game to stay ahead of it." In fact, the day before Mueller told Congress that Russia was "doing it as we sit here," Wray testified that "The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections."

Called "Protected Voices," these glorified Power Point presentations are the FBI's way of helping Uncle Sam get his groove back. Since Senate Majority Leader "Moscow" Mitch McConnell was almost tarred and feathered before signing off on an additional (and pathetic) $250 million to shore up election security for states, Wray decided to go directly to the people with what is essentially a crash course in cyber security.

The videos might be aimed at 2020 political campaigns, but they're good for everybody. They range from simple email safety to the ways foreign actors are trying to compromise elections and business. There's videos on how to protect yourself against ransomware, how to spot bots and trolls on social media, and how to vet apps, services and vendors to make sure you're not being scammed and/or hacked. Rather than beg #MoscowMitch for $250 million, Wray clearly said, "FUCK IT, WE'LL DO IT LIVE," and raided the petty cash drawer to make these videos.

Protected Voices: Social Media

In combing through the Protected Voices package, we saw one potential flaw in their video on encrypted communication. The FBI advises campaigns to use encrypted messaging systems, and to disable archiving features. The FBI says disabling archive features is the "electronic equivalent of shredding documents," which is a bit of faux pas in politics. It's a great idea for anyone to encrypt messages and keep conversations private -- Facebook sucks up enough data, as is -- but political campaigns could be violating state Sunshine laws by disabling archiving features. I'm not an expert in state or federal election laws, I just think any political campaign or elected official that doesn't hang on to their emails and text messages is acting suspicious, and coincidentally, so did former FBI directors Robert Mueller and James Comey.

As the oddball in whatever is left of the US national security apparatus, Wray says these videos are intended to create "good cyber-hygiene." They certainly won't stop Vladimir Putin from marching through the Rust Belt with an army of trolls and Pooh bears, but they will help a city council candidate spot and stop cyber fuckery. After all, it's a hell of a lot more than the #MoscowMitch and the White House have done.

[Protected Voices / Bloomberg / Axios]

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Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or in a gutter taking photos.


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