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Biden names former NSA, retired naval officer, Harry Coker as cybersecurity chief

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Biden’s pick for a new cybersecurity chief despite concerns of digital censorship from Republicans.

The Senate voted 59-40 to appoint Harry Coker, a retired naval officer and former National Security Agency official, as the United States’ second national cyber director.

Coker brings more than four decades of public service to the role, including his time from 2017 to 2019 as he served as the Executive Director of the NSA, where he helped lead and manage the largest component of the U.S. Intelligence Community, according to the White House.

Coker will be taking on the role that has been vacant since February when inaugural director, Chris Inglis, resigned. Biden announced his intent to nominate Coker back in July. 

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Harry Coker

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 02: Harry Coker Jr., President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next National Cyber Director, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on November 02, 2023 in Washington, DC.  (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images))

Coker’s appointment comes after months of backlash from Republicans worrying this new position would strong-arm social media companies and censor speech, but Coker affirmed his opposition to the government encouraging digital censorship, and he made clear that the Biden administration intends to continue to collaborate with private tech firms.

“I am a proponent, a strong proponent, of First and Fourth Amendment, free speech and privacy,”  Coker said at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on his nomination. “I do not see any role in ONCD in that area.”

Mayorkas Wray national security

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 15: (L-R) Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid testify before the House Homeland Security Committee in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. The security and intelligence officials testified about the current threat level against the United States, including both physical and cyber attacks. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The success of Biden’s cyber agenda will depend largely on how effectively Coker works with other agencies to navigate through political and logistical obstacles and mend previously strained relationships. 

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Coker expressed that his corporate experience had shown him “the need for stronger partnerships” between government and industry, and he promised to make collaboration “the guiding principle for the administration’s cyber work,” adding that companies are “on the front line” of the nation’s fight against hackers.

According to reports, one of the biggest projects on Coker’s plate will be searching for ways to ignite new interest in cybersecurity careers to fill a massive cyber talent shortage.

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Harry Coker

Harry Coker takes over as the second ever cybersecurity chief.  (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

One of Coker’s other obstacles will be easing the tensions between federal agencies and companies that complain about receiving too little information about cyber threats.

During the hearing, Coker also said that he considered it his responsibility to ensure that “less capable” organizations “are more aware” of the threats they face and the government support available to them.

Harry Coker

After President Biden nominated Coker back in July, he has now been appointed as the second cybersecurity chief.  (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Congress created the Office of the National Cyber Director in 2021 to coordinate federal cybersecurity policy and advise the president on policy matters. However, the Biden Administration created a new national security council position to oversee cyber policy matters when the president took office. 

The White House was not immediately available for comment. 

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