DOJ heightens focus on state-backed cyber crime

Growing state-sponsored cyber espionage has pushed the Justice Department’s (DOJ) National Security Division (NSD) into a “new phase,” according to John Carlin, DOJ assistant attorney general for national security.

The DOJ revealed Tuesday that three new senior officials will join the NSD as the agency reconfigures its Anti-Terrorism and Advisory Council (ATAC) program, created after 9/11 to coordinate efforts between the private sector and federal, state and local law enforcement. 

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“While our top priority will always be combatting terrorism, we must also sharpen our focus and increase our attention on the emerging threats of economic espionage and proliferation,” Carlin said.

The move is part of a broader DOJ effort to bring state-sponsored cyber thieves to justice.

“Enough is enough,” the department declared in May when it brought its first case against alleged state cyber criminals, indicting five members of the Chinese military. 

“These changes will help us continue confronting today’s threats while readying the NSD workforce to engage what we see as the key emerging threats to our national security,” Carlin said.

The U.S. needs to aggressively go after state-sponsored actors, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said at a Bloomberg Government event Tuesday.

“This is such a new field and frontier that there aren’t sanctions, there aren’t penalties in place for doing this,” he said. “I think that’s the piece that’s missing.” 

McCaul has seen private companies fill the vacuum, waging their own cyber offensive against these state cyber thieves. 

“I would obviously prefer that that be done through our capabilities at the federal level,” he said. “I think we have capabilities that the private sector doesn’t always have to help with attribution.”

Luke Dembosky will shift over from DOJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, where he was deputy chief for litigation. Dembosky has prosecuted a number of high-profile cyber crime cases over the years, most recently the GameOver Zeus P2P malware case. 

At NSD, Dembrosky is establishing a new position, deputy assistant attorney general, to oversee the reorganization of the ATAC program.

Mary McCord will join NSD as principal deputy assistant attorney general, leaving her role as criminal division chief at the Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. McCord oversaw myriad types of federal criminal prosecutions while at the Attorney’s Office. 

Anita Singh is also being bumped up to chief of staff and counselor after serving as NSD acting chief of staff for a year and a half.