A group of congressional lawmakers is renewing its call for a cyber ambassador in the State Department, reviving a bill that created friction between
A group of congressional lawmakers is renewing its call for a cyber ambassador in the State Department, reviving a bill that created friction between Congress and the Trump administration.
Lawmakers including Reps. Michael McCaul, (R., Texas), Gregory Meeks, (D., N.Y.) and Jim Langevin (D., R.I.) are planning to introduce an updated version of the Cyber Diplomacy Act on Tuesday. The bill proposes a centralized cyber bureau headed by an ambassador who would advise the Secretary of State on cyber strategy, push U.S. digital economic interests and lead international responses to security incidents.
“We need to establish cyber norms—what’s acceptable and unacceptable in cyberspace,” Mr. Langevin said. “It starts with international diplomacy.”
The ambassador would act as a liaison to foreign officials, federal agencies and private companies, some of which have called for greater collaboration between governments to deter attacks. The official’s proposed mandate also includes promoting regulations that benefit U.S. businesses and protecting human rights.
Congressional aides say the bureau would mimic and elevate the former Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, which the Obama administration created in 2011 and the Trump administration disbanded in 2017.
Christopher Painter, who led the office, said that creating the bureau pushed allies in Europe and elsewhere to similarly bolster their diplomatic ranks. A dedicated office would signal that international engagement is a priority in response to incidents such as the hack of Texas-based software provider SolarWinds Corp. , he said.
Other governments’ cyber diplomatic efforts “have been gaining resources and power and scope—ours has not,” Mr. Painter said. “With our adversaries, it’s creating a bit of an opening.”
Previous versions of the Cyber Diplomacy Act passed the House of Representatives in 2018 and the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2019. But legislators’ vision for a permanent bureau that would combine security, economic and human rights issues ran into resistance from the State Department.
In January, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies, which would view cyber issues largely through the lens of national security.
Some cyber experts warn such a focus would prevent the office from evaluating economic and security questions that often overlap. Congressional aides from both parties also said the timing of the move was puzzling given that it came just two weeks before President Biden was sworn in. The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, reported that the State Department kept other agencies in the dark and “did not demonstrate that it used data and evidence” in devising its approach.
State Department Comptroller Jeffrey Mounts wrote in response to the GAO that fears of cyber issues falling into silos were overstated.
The Biden administration has yet to signal if and how it will form the office. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed support for the bureau, a State Department spokeswoman said in a statement, but he is still evaluating its potential placement and responsibilities within the agency.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs is slated to consider potential amendments to the Cyber Diplomacy Act on Thursday, according to the House clerk’s website.
Write to David Uberti at [email protected]
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