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U.S. State Department’s International Cybersecurity Office: Path Forward?

Two dozen bipartisan U.S. legislators have implored U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to close the State Department’s international cybersecurity office (S/CCI) and fold it into the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

The State’s Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, which coordinates cybersecurity affairs with other countries, would seem of particular importance in the current political climate. But Tillerson’s move, first reported by Bloomberg, would shuttle the unit to a “backwater within the State Department,” according to Robert Knake a senior fellow for cybersecurity at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last week, Chris Painter, who heads State’s cybersecurity diplomacy, announced he will exit by the end of this month. The Department has pointed to budget cuts and redundant jobs as the reason for the change, The Hill subsequently reported.

Here’s the letter (via The Hill):

“At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever and we face constant cyber threats from state actors, it is vital that we retain a high-level diplomatic role to report directly to the Secretary on global cybersecurity.

“Although we appreciate your efforts to streamline the State Department’s functions, it would be unwise to move S/CCI into the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

“This office has an invaluable mission to engage with other countries on issues of economic importance, but it would not be able to provide the singular expertise on cyber issues that S/CCI does. It is also critical to retain a direct line of communication between the S/CCI Coordinator and the Secretary to ensure that you are aware of all potential threats from abroad.”

In many ways, Tillerson’s reorganization is a quizzical move to say the least. In 2015, the S/CCI struck a deal with China to stop hackers from stealing intellectual property belonging to U.S. businesses, and subsequently looked to sign an international cybersecurity behavior pact with Russia, although that didn’t stop that country’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The S/CCI isn’t only the province of governments. Tony Cole, FireEye’s global government CTO, told Bloomberg that businesses selling internationally also rely on guidelines set up by the agency.

The Tillerson letter was co-signed by Reps. Debbie Dingell (Mich.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), Brendan Boyle (Pa.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Mike Doyle (Pa.), Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.), Bill Keating (Mass.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Seth Moulton (Mass.), Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Kathy Castor (Fla.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), Denny Heck (Wash.), Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), Joe Courtney (Conn.), J. Luis Correa (Calif.), Val Demings (Fla.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.) and Carol Shea Porter (N.H.), with Dingell reportedly leading the effort.

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