Lawmakers praise upcoming establishment of cyber bureau at State

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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are praising the upcoming establishment of a new cybersecurity bureau at the State Department, following years of advocacy and escalating global attacks. 

The move to establish a Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, first reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal, would help to resolve criticism around the State Department’s leadership on international cyber diplomacy efforts after the decision by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017 to merge a former cybersecurity office with another bureau. 

Following ongoing criticism of this move, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the establishment of the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies days before former President Trump left office, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle objected to the setup of the office and that its establishment was rushed. 

State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed the upcoming establishment of the new bureau in remarks Monday afternoon, saying that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will formally announce the office during an event on Wednesday.

“Pending consultations with Congress, we plan to establish a Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, led by a Senate-confirmed ambassador at large, which will focus on three key areas: international cyberspace security, international digital policy, and digital freedom,” Price told reporters. “This will integrate the core security, economic, and value components of our cyber agenda.”

“We also plan to establish a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology to lead the immediate technology diplomacy agenda with our allies, partners, and across the range of multilateral forums,” he announced. 

Following the confirmation of the office, lawmakers who have long pushed for greater prioritization of cyber diplomacy at the department celebrated the move. 

These included House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the primary sponsor of the Cyber Diplomacy Act. The bipartisan bill, passed by the House earlier this year, would require the State Department take steps similar to the new efforts set to be announced Wednesday with the goal of elevating cybersecurity at the agency. 

“This is a welcomed announcement from the State Department that is in line with my House-passed Cyber Diplomacy Act,” McCaul said in a statement Tuesday. “I have worked alongside the State Department for the past three years to help ensure the enactment of this bipartisan legislation that gives the Department the necessary structure and tools to better address the growing threats from malign cyber actors.”

“I am hopeful that this latest announcement will help move this much-needed legislation to the President’s desk,” he said. 

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, and commission member Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) discussed the new office with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman Monday night, both applauding the move following the phone call. 

“We are in complete alignment with the Biden administration’s approach, which is exactly the kind of move we need to better coordinate cyber diplomacy and set international norms around cybersecurity,” King and Langevin said in a joint statement. 

They noted that they had pressed Sherman and the State Department to continue supporting passage of the Cyber Diplomacy Act to ensure “long-term viability” of the bureau. 

“We made sure to convey the urgency of passing the Cyber Diplomacy Act to Deputy Secretary Sherman,” the lawmakers said. “We remain committed to working with the State Department and advancing that legislation through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk.”

Christopher Painter, the former coordinator for cybersecurity issues at the State Department under the Obama and Trump administrations prior to his office being merged with another, expressed his support for the way in which the State Department was moving forward on cybersecurity.

“This is a great development and strong structure,” Painter tweeted Monday. “I’ve long said that a new cyber bureau needs cross- cutting authority and be placed at a high level in the organization. This does both — broad & appropriate mandate and reporting to the Deputy Secretary of State.”

Tags Angus King Antony Blinken cybersecurity Donald Trump Jim Langevin Joe Biden Michael McCaul Mike Pompeo Ned Price Rex Tillerson State Deparment

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