Crime

Fledgling National Security Agency Honcho Visited Texas to Talk Counter-Terrorism

A leader of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, spent last week talking counterterrorism in Texas.
A leader of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, spent last week talking counterterrorism in Texas. Wikimedia Commons
When hackers breached the Houston-based Colonial Pipeline’s cybersecurity defenses in late April, the whole country took a hit.

Within days, drivers from Houston to New Hampshire found themselves waiting in line for hours to get gas.The federal government later concluded the country could’ve only lasted another three to five days with the pipeline shut down before mass transit systems across the country would’ve had to limit services and hours of operation — all because a single Texas pipeline’s security wasn’t up to snuff.

“Every fragility was exposed,” Dmitri Alperovitch, a co-founder of and former chief technology officer at CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, and now chairman of the think tank Silverado Policy Accelerator, told The New York Times.

During the last week of October, Dr. David Mussington, the executive assistant director of a fledgling agency within the Department of Homeland Security, came to Texas to address vulnerabilities at crucial infrastructure sites like Colonial. But his visit comes at a time when advocates are sounding the alarm on the way data collection is infringing on privacy rights.


Former President Donald Trump signed a bill creating the agency in November 2018, just 10 days after his fellow Republicans were trounced in the 2018 midterm elections. Without offering any evidence, Trump claimed that his party's routing at the polls was the result of widespread voter fraud.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is tasked with ensuring the integrity of future elections and protecting critical infrastructure sites from attacks or disasters. 

“One of the main things the infrastructure security division is going to focus on is combatting violent extremism at critical sites, including any foreign or domestic terrorism.” - Jonathan Moor, CISA

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Mussington, who directs CISA’s infrastructure security division, spent last week meeting with public and private sector infrastructure stakeholders across the state. Mussington’s division of CISA works on security for various infrastructure sectors, from commercial chemical plants and oil pipelines to dams and computer server farms.

Across all sectors, “one of the main things the infrastructure security division is going to focus on is combatting violent extremism at critical sites, including any foreign or domestic terrorism,” said Jonathan Moor, regional external affairs officer for CISA’s Region 6, which includes Texas.

During his trip, Mussington discussed counterterrorism and infrastructure protection with Houston’s FBI office and the Texas Military Department, CISA staffers told the Observer. Mussington also attended a security roundtable with the Port of Houston, the American Petroleum Institute and Centerpoint Energy on Oct. 25.


Moor said that one of Mussington’s goal is to better protect Texas’ infrastructure by facilitating better communication across the board. “We work on engaging with other entities that are interested in infrastructure security, whether it be the owners of a pipeline or a chemical plant or state and local governments."

Advocates say this strategy endangers citizens' privacy by granting law enforcement access to people's personal data from multiple levels of government and even the private sector.

"There's just too much information that's been collected on everyone," said Freddy Martinez, executive director of digital surveillance watchdog group Lucy Parsons Labs.

"These data breaches just keep getting bigger and bigger, and that's partially because [law enforcement] just keeps sharing more and more information between them," said Martinez.

Moor explained that CISA's strategy will enable increased collaboration between agencies. "So, it's not just us in a vacuum, so we're all working together on a coordinated effort, can share best practices, and make sure we have more uniformity of effort across the board,” he said.
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Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney