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National Cyber Director’s Office Fleshes Out Ranks with Three New Deputies

The White House at Night (stock image)

The White House said it is expanding the national cyber office by hiring its first principal deputy national cyber director and two deputy national cyber directors.

The new hires include:

  • Kemba Walden, a former assistant general counsel at Microsoft and official at the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will serve as Principal Deputy National Cyber Director. While at Microsoft, she oversaw the vendor’s Digital Crimes Unit and was responsible for launching and leading the unit’s ransomware program.
  • Neal Higgins, who will serve as Deputy National Cyber Director, is a former Associate Deputy Director for Digital Innovation at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), responsible for the CIA’s cyber operations, open source collection, data science and secure global communications. Higgins also worked as CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs and as deputy chief of the WikiLeaks Task Force.
  • Rob Knake, who will serve as Deputy National Cyber Director for Strategy and Budget, is a cybersecurity policy expert who previously served as senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center’s Cyber Project and an adviser to cybersecurity startups and Fortune 500 companies.

The three officials will join Deputy National Cyber Director for Federal Cybersecurity and Federal Chief Information Security Officer Chris DeRusha to flesh out the national cyber office executive ranks. Higgins and Knake have already assumed their roles while Walden will be joining the office in the coming weeks.

“As we continue to build this new office, the additions of Kemba, Neal, and Rob will accelerate our efforts to protect Americans in cyberspace,” said National Cyber Director Chris Inglis. “Each of these leaders brings impressive experience in cybersecurity policy making to our team, and their diverse perspectives will be invaluable as we strengthen our collective defense.”

The staff additions come amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine and concerns over stepped up cyber warfare by Moscow aimed at U.S. critical infrastructure.

The fiscal $740 billion 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) created the national cybersecurity director position within the White House responsible for coordinating federal cybersecurity policies. The post refills the previous White House cybersecurity coordinator role eliminated in 2018 under the Trump administration, drawing bipartisan backlash at the time.

In September, 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that without a “clear central leader” to coordinate the disparate U.S. cybersecurity programs of 23 federal agencies, the White House cannot ensure that strategies and plans are effectively executed to support the nation’s cyber defenses. The idea for the position sprung in part from a large set of recommendations proposed by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) in March, 2020 calling for a new national cyber director to function as the president’s chief cybersecurity advisor.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.