State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday approved the creation of a new office at the State Department to address cybersecurity and emerging technologies.

The new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) will help lead diplomatic efforts around these topics, including working to prevent cyber conflicts with potentially adversarial nations.

“The need to reorganize and resource America’s cyberspace and emerging technology security diplomacy through the creation of CSET is critical, as the challenges to U.S. national security presented by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other cyber and emerging technology competitors and adversaries have only increased since the Department notified Congress in June 2019 of its intent to create CSET,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement announcing the new office. 

The announcement of CSET came as the federal government continues to grapple with the Russian cyberattack on IT company SolarWinds, which began last March but was only discovered in December. The State Department, along with around a dozen other federal agencies, was affected by the breach, with SolarWinds counting the majority of the federal government as customers. 

Pompeo’s move to establish the new office was met with resistance when announced last year, with former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) placing a hold on the office’s creation, deeming it “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, who left office earlier this week, said at the time. “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 referring to the Cyber Diplomacy Act, a bipartisan bill approved by the House in 2018 that would establish an Office of International Cyberspace Policy at the State Department.

The move to formally establish the office comes almost four years after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision to merge the agency’s cybersecurity coordinator office with a bureau in charge of business and economic affairs.

Christopher Painter, the former State Department cybersecurity coordinator under both the Trump and Obama administrations, criticized the move to set up the new office Thursday. 

“Laughable that this is done @ the 11th hr when this was not adequately resourced or prioritized for 4 yrs,” Painter tweeted. “Also, this formulation only preserves stovepipes rather than coordination.”

Painter noted that both the Cyber Diplomacy Act and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a congressionally created group that issues recommendations to defend the U.S. in cyberspace, “called for a broader and more integrated scope and a higher level in the Department,” and pointed to the short time frame before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

“At this point the new administration should decide how best to structure this issue and where it should be placed,” Painter tweeted. 

Tags Cyber Eliot Engel Joe Biden Mike Pompeo Rex Tillerson State Department State Department

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