Tillerson cuts high-profile cyberdiplomacy office in State Dept. reorg

Enlarge / Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, has decided to merge the State Department’s Office for the Coordination of Cyber Issues into the department’s economic bureau, as State’s chief cyber-diplomat departs. (credit: Inga Kjer/Photothek via Getty Images)

On the heels of the resignation of State Department Cyber Coordinator Chris Painter—the top diplomat for negotiations on setting norms for nations’ behavior in “cyberspace”—a State Department spokesperson confirmed that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is moving toward shutting down the department’s Office for the Coordination of Cyber Issues.

The office, set up by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Obama administration, has taken the lead in negotiations with other nations on cybersecurity policy issues. It also works out how existing international law applies to hacking, cyber-espionage, and other state-directed activities on the Internet. The Cyber Coordinator, who leads the office, has reported directly to the secretary of state. As the head of the office, Chris Painter—a career Department of Justice employee who was detailed to the State Department for the post six years ago—took part in multiple multinational negotiations resulting in agreements to halt economic electronic espionage against other countries’ companies.  Among these was an agreement reached by the Group of 20 leading world economic powers (G20) in November of 2015.

In a post to the Cipher Brief, Jason Healey— a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs, and a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University—said that Painter’s departure in itself was a blow to the US’ leading role in setting the world cybersecurity diplomatic agenda. “Those that will suffer most [from Painter’s departure] are likely to be American citizens, and indeed netizens in whatever country they live, who depend on an open, free, and secure Internet” Healy wrote. “Painter has been a tireless advocate for these goals—American goals—around the world, and the best days of American cyberdiplomacy may be behind us.”

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