Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Cyberwar and the Future of Cybersecurity

State Department creates bureau to reduce 'likelihood of cyber conflict'

The new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) will manage cybersecurity issues as part of the US' foreign policy and diplomatic efforts.

US Department of State

Image: US Department of State

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Thursday the creation of a new bureau inside the US Department of State dedicated to addressing cybersecurity as part of the US' foreign policy and diplomatic efforts.

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The new bureau will be named the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET).

"The CSET bureau will lead US government diplomatic efforts on a wide range of international cyberspace security and emerging technology policy issues that affect US foreign policy and national security, including securing cyberspace and critical technologies, reducing the likelihood of cyber conflict, and prevailing in strategic cyber competition," the State Department said yesterday.

Efforts to get the bureau on its feet began in June 2019, as a replacement for a previous office tasked with addressing cyber-security policies as part of US foreign diplomatic efforts had been shuttered as part of a reorganization in the summer of 2017, under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

"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 US 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," the State Department said yesterday.

State Department facing criticism

However, the move has not been well met by former State Department cybersecurity coordinator Christopher Painter, who criticized the bureau's creation on Twitter.

"Laughable that this is done @ the 11th hr [during the Trump administration] when this was not adequately resourced or prioritized for 4 yrs," Painter said.

The former US official cited the recent Cyberspace Solarium Commission report and the Cyber Diplomacy Act, both of which call for any cybersecurity-related efforts to be integrated at a higher level inside the State Department's foreign policy, coordinated with other US federal agencies, and not related to an office or bureau.

The initial attempt to set up the CSET in 2019 was also stopped on the same ground, with former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time, claiming that cybersecurity should have a broader role in the US foreign policy, controlled by higher-ranking officials inside the State Department, and not by a bureau.

"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," Rep. Engel said at the time.

"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."

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) also confirmed this in a September 2020 report, writing that the State Department had not involved or even informed other government agencies about its plan to establish CEST.

As Painter pointed out on Twitter, "at this point the new administration should decide how best to structure this issue and where it should be placed."