State Department’s new bureau makes cybersecurity a part of foreign policy

The Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy will focus on national security and other issues.

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The Department of State has cut the ribbon on the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy (CDP), which is now in operation. The move makes cybersecurity a more formal area of focus for US foreign policy following a swathe of attacks linked to Russia and China.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the CDP in October. The bureau comprises three policy units: International Cyberspace Security, International Information and Communications Policy and Digital Freedom.

The office will eventually be led by an Ambassador-at-Large, who will require Senate confirmation. Jennifer Bachus, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is running the bureau on an acting basis as senior official and principal deputy assistant secretary.

The bureau could help the US address cybersecurity threats both by itself and through partnerships with allies. A spate of major hacks have been attributed to state-linked actors from Russia and China over the last several years, including several Microsoft Exchange cyberattacks (for which the Biden administration pinned the blame on China). Others include the SolarWinds attack, over which the US has sanctioned multiple Russian companies, individuals and entities.

In February, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency had more than 2,000 active investigations related to thefts of US tech or information that were allegedly carried out by China. He claimed the country had a "massive, sophisticated hacking program that is bigger than those of every other major nation combined.” Shortly before Russia invaded the country in February, Ukraine's government blamed it for a cyberattack against its websites.

President Biden signed an executive order last May that sought to bolster the country's cybersecurity infrastructure. He followed that up in January with an EO that contained more concrete directives concerning the Defense Department, the intelligence community and national security systems.