President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., in the face of rising domestic terrorism and a crippling cyberattack from Russia, elevates two White House positions that have all but disappeared in the Trump administration: a Homeland Security Advisor for managing issues as diverse as extremism, pandemics and natural disasters; and the first deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technologies.
The White House homeland security adviser will be Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, according to transition officials. She is a longtime aide to Mr Biden who served under President Barack Obama as Senior Director for Europe and then Deputy Energy Secretary, where she oversaw the modernization of the nuclear arsenal.
And for the complex task of strengthening cyberoffense and defense, Mr Biden created a role for Anne Neuberger, a rising National Security Agency official. She led the small Russian group, which staged a preemptive strike against cyberactors in the Kremlin during the 2018 midterm elections, as part of an effort to counter Moscow after its interference in the 2016 presidential election.
For the past 15 months, she has overseen the agency’s cybersecurity leadership, a newly formed organization to prevent digital threats to sensitive government and military industry networks. But it has also been an incubator for emerging technologies, including the development of impenetrable cryptography – the initial mission of the National Security Agency almost 70 years ago – with a new generation of quantum computers.
Taken together, the two appointments show just how determined Mr. Biden seems to rebuild a national security apparatus that critics of the Trump administration have said has faded over the past four years. The new White House team will focus on threats that plagued the United States even before the coronavirus pandemic rearranged the country’s challenges.
Transition officials say Ms Sherwood-Randall and Ms Neuberger will be given new powers to summon representatives from across government to deal with emerging threats. Both are expected to start their jobs on January 20, as neither position requires Senate confirmation.
Ms Sherwood-Randall will have to oversee efforts to contain the right-wing groups that besieged the Capitol last week, and Ms Neuberger will face the consequences of the most baffling cyber breach to affect the federal government. It will, according to senior officials, help determine how to fulfill Mr. Biden’s vow that the hackers behind the recent intrusion, which has spread into government networks, “will pay a price.”
Ms Sherwood-Randall, a Rhodes scholar who in recent years has been a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, had been considered a candidate for the post of secretary of energy. The job went to Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor.
She will serve as the White House’s Homeland Security Advisor, a post created by President George W. Bush who has grown more powerful under Obama, and is separate from the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who sits in cabinet.
“We will again be dealing with border security, biosecurity, global public health and building the resilience of our own democracy,” she said in a brief interview. “The last of them have become more urgent.”
Mr. Trump dismantled the National Security Council’s pandemic preparedness office, and while he had an active cyber team early in his tenure, it was languishing. “It is disturbing to be in a time of transition when there really are no counterparts for this transition to be passed on,” Ms. Sherwood-Randall said.
Ashton B. Carter, the former Secretary of Defense, who hired Ms. Sherwood-Randall during the Clinton administration, said “the challenge will be to restart this office.”
He noted that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ms. Sherwood-Randall worked to build relationships with the former Soviet republics while also “dismantling their nuclear legacy”.
Mr Biden also announced that Ms Sherwood-Randall’s deputy will be Russ Travers, a 42-year veteran of the intelligence community, where he has focused on the fight against terrorism. The Trump administration abruptly replaced Mr. Travers as the acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center in March during cuts planned by the acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell.
Mr. Travers has twice postponed his retirement to lead the National Counterterrorism Center on an interim basis. But he was so alarmed by what he saw as the Trump administration’s retreat on counterterrorism priorities that he shared his concerns with the Inspector General of the intelligence community last year at during his last weeks of work.
Over the summer, he predicted an increase in right-wing violence if Mr. Trump were re-elected.
Ms. Neuberger is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and her family arrived in Brooklyn after the failure of the 1950s Hungarian Revolution. She began her career in the private sector, leading technology at the American Stock Transfer and Trust Company, until she became a member of the White House, a program that brought talented foreigners into government for a year. But she quickly joined the National Security Agency, where she was first in charge of risks and led the electoral security effort.
She works closely with General Paul M. Nakasone, agency director and commander of the United States Cyber Command. It could facilitate what has been, over the years, a strained relationship between one of the country’s largest intelligence agencies and the White House.
But she comes at a particularly busy time. The hack of SolarWinds, named after the maker of the network management software that Russian intelligence operatives are believed to have violated to gain access to the email systems of government agencies and private companies, was a huge intelligence failure.
Ms Neuberger acknowledged that this exposed a series of vulnerabilities that Russian hackers were exploiting.
“The fact that no intelligence entity or private entity really has an end-to-end picture” of how attackers operate is a big issue, she said, “especially when you have adversaries. sophisticated people who take steps to hide their activities.
“There are some very specific ideas and suggestions that we have learned from working with SolarWinds with some really strong private sector partners,” she said. But she declined to say how Mr. Biden would honor his vow to punish the pirates.