House Democrat places hold on State Department's move to establish cyber bureau

House Democrat places hold on State Department's move to establish cyber bureau
© Greg Nash

Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial Parties unite to move Myanmar sanctions bill Lawmakers warn of 'grave situation' after drone shot down MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, placed a hold Tuesday on the State Department’s notification that it plans to establish a Bureau of Cyberspace Securities and Emerging Technologies (CSET), calling its proposed mission too narrow.

“While Congress has pursued comprehensive, bipartisan legislation, the State Department has plowed ahead in its plan to create a bureau with a much narrower mission focused only on cybersecurity,” Engel told The Hill in a statement. “This move flies in the face of repeated warnings from Congress and outside experts that our approach to cyber issues needs to elevate engagement on economic interests and internet freedoms together with security.”

Engel was likely referring to the Cyber Diplomacy Act, a bill he co-sponsored along with House Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda House Homeland Security Republicans to introduce slew of cybersecurity bills House Dems introduce resolutions to block Trump's Saudi arms sales MORE (R-Texas) that would establish an Office of International Cyberspace Policy at the State Department.

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Engel added that the hold on the notification would stand until “the Secretary of State directs his staff to work constructively with Congress to establish a bureau that ensures the Department is able to advance the full range of U.S. interests.”

A spokesperson for the State Department confirmed the agency had “notified Congress regarding its plans to establish the new CSET bureau” but did not comment further.

McCaul, meanwhile, expressed a more positive view of the State Department's move. A committee spokesperson for McCaul told The Hill that he "looks forward to working with the Administration and his colleagues in the House and Senate to legislate the best possible cyber structure and mission set."

The State Department’s notification to Congress of its intent to establish CSET, obtained by The Hill on Tuesday, lays out the key staffing and coordination plan for the proposed bureau.

The agency wrote that CSET will “consolidate resources focused on cyberspace security and the security-related aspects of emerging technologies.”

In addition, the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs’ focus on “privacy aspects” of cybersecurity and emerging technologies will be increased. 

“In considering the growing national security challenge presented by cyber space and emerging technologies, the Department has determined that its efforts in these areas are not appropriately aligned or resourced,” the State Department wrote in justifying these developments.

As part of the establishment of CSET, a “coordinator and ambassador-at-large” would be appointed to lead U.S. international efforts on cyberspace. 

Christopher Painter, the State Department coordinator for cyber issues from 2011 through 2017, tweeted Tuesday that while he thinks the agency’s move to prioritize cybersecurity is positive, he's unsure about the approach.

“Great that State is finally re-elevating cyber,” Painter tweeted. “Its a critical issue & needs US leadership. Not so great that they have chosen stove-piping over a coordinated approach.”