State Department, Senate Consider Creation of 'Cyber Ambassador'

Following cyber attacks against Google, officials at the State Department and Congress are considering proposals to create an ambassador-like cybersecurity post and the Senate Foreign Relations committee is considering tying U.S. financial aid to foreign countries’ ability to effectively police cyber crime.

The “cyber ambassador” would negotiate cyber policy at the UN and make sure the United States has a consistent stance on cybersecurity when issues come up overseas.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is drafting a proposal to create an ambassador-level cyber position to be confirmed by the Senate.  This means the official could be called before Congress to testify, like the department’s counterterrorism coordinator who also carries the rank of ambassador.

Jim Lewis of CSIS

James Lewis, cybersecurity specialist at CSIS and a former State Department official, told The Wall Street Journal ,“Google was a watershed moment. It helped push the debate in the direction of better security.”   Lewis will be speaking on cybersecurity at the Potomac Officers Club on March 25. For registration information, click here.

The proposed position has encountered resistance from the State Department’s intelligence bureau, the professionals who oversee most cybersecurity matters at the department, according to Lewis.

The jurisdictional questions within the State Department came to light months ago, when Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met with the more than one dozen bureaus with an interest in cybersecurity issues and discovered many thought they should run cybersecurity for the department, officials said.  The Wall Street Journal said a senior administration official has confirmed the State Department’s consideration of the cyber ambassador post, a person who “would coordinate a full range of related issues from cybersecurity to Internet freedom to economic issues.”  He added, “the security dimension bleeds over into economic issues.”

The Senate Foreign Relations committee has been in talks with the department about whether the position should be mandated by law or left to the department to establish internally, a Senate Democratic aide told The Wall Street Journal, adding both lawmakers and the department agree the position should be established.

A broader proposal that is gaining political momentum would create a cyber post at the State Department and establish cybersecurity attachés at U.S. embassies. It would also mandate the State Department identify countries that are havens for cyber crime and which ones are doing little to combat it.  The findings, updated annually, would be used to prioritize foreign-aid programs to combat cyber crime, but countries that fail to make progress fighting cyber crime could also face U.S. penalties. The president would have a variety of options to sanction noncompliant nations—from limiting new foreign aid to restricting financing from the Overseas Private Investment Corp., a U.S. agency that helps U.S. businesses invest overseas.

The broader proposal is set to be unveiled Tuesday by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).

Senator Gillibrand said, “One of the greatest threats we have to our national security is cyber crime, cyber espionage, cyber terror, and cyber attack.”

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