Tillerson to Ax Standalone Cyber-Office in State Department—Report

Tillerson to Ax Standalone Cyber-Office in State Department—Report

The State Department, which is understaffed in the absence of key appointments by the Trump Administration, is closing down the office responsible for coordinating cyber initiatives and information-sharing with US allies, according to reports.

Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the plan, said that the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, established under President Barack Obama in 2011, will be no more, with its functions becoming part of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. With Christopher Painter, the existing coordinator, leaving the position by the end of the month, his responsibilities will be re-flowed into the chain of command, rather than reporting directly to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as Painter does now. It’s unclear if the defined “coordinator” position will continue to exist in its same form.

Painter’s office was responsible for the 2015 US-China cyber-accord, widely seen as reducing Chinese espionage efforts on US targets. It has also worked on Interpol operations, worked to forge an understanding with Russia on financial cybercrime, and is tasked with putting other nations on notice if they become havens for unchecked hacking.

Some said the reorganization would diminish this role of the United States in combatting cybercrime on the international stage, particularly given that the Economic Bureau and its senior officials have no cyber-expertise. Losing the direct ear of the Secretary will ensure a lack of responsiveness as well, critics said.

“It’s taking an issue that’s preeminent and putting it inside a backwater within the State Department,” Robert Knake, a former director of cybersecurity policy at the National Security Council under Obama, told Bloomberg. “Position to power matters both within the US government and within the international community.”

Yet a State Department official speaking on background with the news outlet argued that the restructuring will enhance the ability of the United States to coordinate on cyber-issues, by providing the personnel involved on the cyber-front broader access to the bigger resources of the Economic Bureau. This person also said that as it stands, Tillerson doesn’t have time to give the existing coordinator dedicated attention for day-to-day concerns, so adopting a pyramid organizational structure makes more sense from an efficiency standpoint.

Tillerson is committed to Trump’s plan to cut the department’s budget by nearly 30%, trading investment in diplomacy for a focus on the broad buckets of “national security” and the “defeat of terrorism”—i.e., defense and military spending. Some of those reductions will come from workforce elimination. As it stands, there are 200 open leadership positions in the State Department that require Senate confirmation—positions that Tillerson shows no indication of filling.

Source: Information Security Magazine