State Department launches new cyber bureau

The State Department on Monday launched a new cybersecurity bureau, ending a years-long saga over how the U.S. could bolster digital diplomacy and online standards around the world.

The Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, which is the amalgamation of three previously existing teams, “will address the national security challenges, economic opportunities, and implications for U.S. values associated with cyberspace, digital technologies, and digital policy,” the department said in a statement.

Jennifer Bachus, a career diplomat who most recently served as a senior official at the U.S. embassy in the Czech Republic, will lead the new organization as a principal deputy assistant secretary until President Joe Biden nominates a permanent chief, who will hold the rank of ambassador-at-large. 

Michele Markoff, another long-time diplomat, will lead the cyberspace security team and Stephen Anderson will helm the bureau’s communications and information policy team, according to the department.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a speech behind closed-doors today to mark the bureau’s launch. The event was attended by Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency chief Jen Easterly.

Today’s launch caps a long-running policy debate over how much emphasis Foggy Bottom should give to its cybersecurity mission. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demoted the department’s cyber office in 2017, prompting howls from Capitol Hill.

His successor, Mike Pomeo, made an attempt to revive the mission in the final days of the Trump administration but the effort was considered half-hearted by observers and veteran officials.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers passed various legislative fixes to create an empowered cyber bureau, as did the congressionally-chartered Cyberspace Solarium Commission.

The newly-minted office starts its work as U.S. and world leaders fret about cyberattacks spilling out of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine. The administration is laboring on several fronts to shore up federal networks and bolster the private sector against the kind of ransomware attacks that dominated 2021.

President Biden requested $37 million for the new bureau in the fiscal 2023 budget proposal unveiled last week. In addition to combining existing staffs, the department hopes to hire 50 additional employees.

Martin Matishak

Martin is a senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He spent the last five years at Politico, where he covered Congress, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community and was a driving force behind the publication's cybersecurity newsletter.

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