There are growing rumors that Fox News reporter Lea Gabrielle will lead the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC). It’s not clear why the 43-year-old reporter for Shepard Smith Reporting would be the answer to State’s long-lasting cybersecurity problems. But in the Trump administration, having Fox News on one’s resume seems to be an answer to everything.
By the end of the Obama’s administration, the State Department's cybersecurity program was encountering new dilemmas. Until then, it dealt mainly with tasks like cyber incidents response or ISIS social media activity, and was not prepared for emerging threats such as state-backed propaganda and interference efforts by foreign countries.
According to Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump In the White House,” the Obama administration knew about Russian meddling efforts in the U.S. election since at least July 2016, and was aware that the U.S. government needed to expand it cyber capabilities. But Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first Secretary of State, didn’t seem concerned. The fact that the new president – who spent his mornings watching Fox & Friends – didn’t want to acknowledge that Russian meddling took place didn’t help either.
So the GEC was left without guidance and money, even though the funds to counter foreign propaganda were already allocated(they remain on hold to this day). In April 2017, a young State cybersecurity specialist told me that he wasn’t sure if he should feel proud of being left with overwhelming expectations and minimal supervision, or simply terrified. It was obvious to him and his colleagues that State’s cybersecurity policy was in very bad shape.
A Process Unravelling?
In May 2017, Congress forced Tillerson to launch the Cyber and Technology Security Directorate within the State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to deal with cyber threats to the nation’s diplomats. This encouraged Tillerson to abolish the Cybersecurity Coordinator position in August 2017 and put the cybersecurity staff and responsibilities entirely under the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
One could claim that the current cybersecurity problems took everyone by surprise. It took forever before tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter finally admitted that politics and technology were becoming more and more intertwined and that it was time to finally “cyber up.” In January 2018, Facebook hired Nathaniel Gleicher as head of its cybersecurity policy. In March, Google employed an Austrian, Gerhard Eschelbech, as the vice president of security and privacy engineering (he also serves as a director of information security for Deutsche Bank).
In May of this year, Trump issued an executive order on "Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure." Then, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had replaced Tillerson a month earlier, announced he would restore State’s cyber office, pledging "to commit robust resources to cybersecurity at State while saying he hadn’t yet given much consideration to who might fill State’s top cybersecurity position,” CyberScoop reported.
Now, it seems he’s finally making up his mind. But putting Lea Gabrielle at the top of State’s Global Engagement Center is hardly a solution.
The Fox Charade
Gabrielle works as a general assignment reporter for Shepard Smith Reporting at Fox News. Before she joined the channel in 2013, she served as a fighter pilot for over a decade and supposedly took part in some intelligence operations. But that’s all that is known about her, except maybe her beauty routine and her Twitter-proved loyalty to Trump, Fox & Friends and “Navy over Army.”
In fact, the only possible link Gabrielle has to cybersecurity is her recent exclusive interview with Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus has called for establishing a National Cybersecurity Agency, acknowledging that “cyberthreats have changed dramatically in recent years, but our national approach to cyber defense has not.”
During the “exclusive,” Petraeus and Gabrielle managed to talk about veterans, and who knows, maybe he also filled her in on cybersecurity issues before or after the interview, though it certainly wasn't evident to viewers.
Gabrielle’s appointment, however, wouldn't by far be the first connection between the administration and the president’s favorite TV network. Another former Fox News host, Heather Nauert, currently works as acting Under Secretary and State’s spokesperson. Nauert recently brought up D-Day while discussing the importance of America's relationship with Germany, but that doesn’t stop the White House deputy chief of staff for communications, Bill Shine, from considering her for the next White House press secretary position (Sarah Sanders is rumored to be leaving by the end of the year).
All of which brings us to Mr. Shine himself. Only a few days ago, CNN’s Reliable Sources wondered if Shine, who spent 18 years at Fox News, actually produces Fox News segments involving Trump. Shine joined the administration in early July, finally filling the void after Hope Hicks left in March. Shine was instrumental helping Roger Ailes build Fox News and now is working on building the White House communications team. (According to Politico, his old boss, Rupert Murdoch, helps with the recruiting).
There are more Fox News alumni in the Trump’s administration: Both the White House director of strategic communications, Mercedes Schlapp, and the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department, Tony Sayegh, are former commentators from the network. National Security Advisor John Bolton made most of his fortune as a Fox News contributor.
And the cherry on top? Donald Trump Jr.’s new girlfriend, Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who recently left the network to head to a pro-Donald Trump super PAC.