Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 29, 2018. [State Department photo)

Tillerson Plan Would Form New Bureau for Cyber Diplomacy on Security

The head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee praised the State Department’s proposed formation of a new cyber bureau as “welcomed” in terms of pulling together global partners for national security and protecting the U.S. economy from cyber intrusions.

In a Tuesday letter to Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) with the proposal attached, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stressed that “cyberspace policy affects almost every aspect of modern American life and it is a critical foreign policy imperative,” and “with increasing incidents of disruptive global cyber attacks, including some sponsored by nation states, and the emergence of the digital economy dependent on internet connectivity, U.S. international leadership in this area will be important in the years to come.”

Organization at the State Department level, he said, is key “to lead diplomatic efforts related to all aspects of
cyberspace.”

The Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues and the Bureau of Economic Affairs’ Office of International Communications and Information Policy would merge in the creation of a new Bureau for Cyberspace and the Digital Economy. An assistant secretary, who will need to be confirmed by the Senate, would lead the new bureau and report to the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.

Tillerson said the decision came after the State Department “engaged employees within relevant… offices, invited the input of our partners across the federal interagency, and met with leading cyber experts and practitioners outside of the government to ensure that the department’s structure and policies would be well-informed and prepared for future technology challenges.”

“This placement in the department’s structure will ensure close coordination with the other bureaus that report to the under secretary and focus on functional policy issues while closely coordinating with the private sector,” he added. “It will also give the department the most effective platform from which to engage relevant global stakeholders.”

The first listed priority in the proposal for the new bureau is establishing “a global deterrence framework in which participating States make a political commitment to work together to impose consequences on States that engage in malicious cyber activities, based on participating States’ shared understanding of what constitutes responsible State behavior in cyberspace.”

The bureau would also “advise and coordinate external responses to national-security-level cyber incidents” and “promote adoption of national processes and programs that enable foreign territorial cyber, threat detection, prevention, and response.”

More responsibilities: “Build foreign capacity to protect the global network thereby enabling like-minded participation in deterrence framework; maintain open and interoperable character of the Internet with multi stakeholder governance, instead of centralized government control; promote an international regulatory environment for technology investments and the Internet that benefits U.S. economic and national security interests.” The bureau would “secure radio frequency spectrum for U.S. businesses and national security needs,” the proposal adds.

Tillerson said he understood “the keen interest of members of Congress in cyberspace diplomacy and welcomes your input on, and support for, this proposal.”

In a statement, Royce noted that cyberspace “is vital to America’s national security, and to our economy,” and “that’s why I have long called for the State Department to have a high-ranking diplomat who can confront the full range of challenges we face online.”

“The Foreign Affairs Committee will continue to work with the department and our colleagues in the Senate to ensure this assistant secretary and bureau is empowered to engage on the full range of cyber issues, dealing with security, human rights, and the economy,” Royce said.

The chairman received Tillerson’s letter during a House Foreign Affairs hearing on how to reform cyber diplomacy in an era of growing threats.

At the hearing, Royce cited the 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the Intelligence Community: “Our adversaries are becoming more adept at using cyberspace to threaten our interests and advance their own, and despite improving our cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years.”

“Yes, our military does have some very unique offensive and defensive capabilities in cyberspace and other agencies protect critical infrastructure, but it’s our diplomats who work with our allies and partners to develop a common response to these threats while engaging our adversaries to make clear that cyber-attacks resulting in real world consequences will be viewed as a use of force,” Royce said. “The importance of the State Department’s work cannot be understated.”

Last month, the House passed Royce’s Cyber Diplomacy Act that “ensures that the State Department has a senior diplomat charged with leading this effort that brings together our security, human rights and economic priorities.”

“I am encouraged to hear that the administration has heard our concerns and is working to elevate this position,” the chairman said.

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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