State Department Approves Creation of Cyber Bureau


The Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies Bureau will address national security- and diplomatic-related tech issues.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved the creation of a new bureau within the department to lead diplomatic efforts on cybersecurity and emerging technology issues.

According to a State Department announcement Thursday, the bureau stems from a “need to reorganize and resource America’s cyberspace and emerging technology security diplomacy” in response to national security threats posed by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and other actors.

The State Department notified Congress of its intent to create the bureau in June 2019, two years after then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced plans to close the department’s cyber coordinator office—which handled similar duties—and shift some of its responsibilities to the Bureau of Economic Affairs

“The CSET bureau will lead U.S. government diplomatic efforts on a wide range of international cyberspace security and emerging technology policy issues that affect U.S. foreign policy and national security, including securing cyberspace and critical technologies, reducing the likelihood of cyber conflict, and prevailing in strategic cyber competition,” the announcement said. “The secretary’s decision to establish CSET will permit the Department to posture itself appropriately and engage as effectively as possible with partners and allies on these pressing national security concerns.”

A State Department spokesperson told Nextgov the bureau’s launch was “not in response” to the recent and ongoing intelligence-gathering campaign linked to a backdoor within a SolarWinds software product. The hack has impacted several federal agencies, including the Justice and Treasury departments, with some reports indicating State, too, was breached.

“The Department notified Congress in June 2019 of its intent to stand up this new bureau, well before the SolarWinds hack became known,” the spokesperson told Nextgov. “Despite delays, we are moving forward to posture the State Department to meet growing threats from countries such as the PRC, Russia, Iran, and North Korea by reorganizing and resourcing America’s cyber diplomacy.”

The bureau came under scrutiny in September 2020 following an investigation by the Government Accountability Office. The audit found the State Department didn’t consult with other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, in developing plans for the new bureau. In addition, the audit found poor cyber coordination across government.