Cyber Diplomacy 101

February 23, 2012 By Jane Kaminski

A new Senate bill, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, reflects the reality that some of the most significant threats to U.S. national security cannot be combated through military engagement alone.  This new legislation lays out a response that engages multiple agencies, including USAID and the State Department, to address the issues inherent with cybersecurity.

The Act acknowledges the State Department’s pivotal role in combating international cybercrime.  The bill designates the Secretary of State as the top U.S. official to monitor, advise, and lead diplomatic negotiations on international cybercrime. It also instructs her to prioritize foreign assistance programs that target causes of cybercrime, such as lack of good governance or rule of law. By placing the responsibility for these objectives within the State Department, this bill highlights the unique role of development and diplomacy in fighting unconventional threats. While this bill does not allocate any new resources to the State Department, nor shift the role of lead agency on cybersecurity away from Homeland Security, it does clarify and reinforce the important part State plays in combating the lack of governance and elements of organized crime in developing countries that are often at the root of cybercrimes.  Some of the most significant and costly cyber attacks have come from organized crime syndicates and hackers from Russia, China, and Southeast Asia — countries in a region of increasing importance as the U.S. shifts its strategy to trans-Pacific engagement.

These widespread threats are recognized across national security leadership.  During testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described the security risks we face: “Cyber threats pose a critical national and economic security concern due to the continued advances in — and growing dependency on — the information technology (IT) that underpins nearly all aspects of modern society.”  The Director of the FBI Robert Mueller reinforced DNI Clapper’s statement, saying, “Down the road, the cyber threat, which cuts across all [FBI] programs, will be the number one threat to the country.”

This legislation aims to curb the ability of international hackers to steal millions of dollars and information from Americans.  It aims to reinforce U.S. national security and strengthen American leadership worldwide on the issue of cyber security.  This bill solidifies the Secretary of State’s authority in promoting a strong and effective global cyber policy.  As Secretary Clinton said last year at the release of the Obama Administration’s International Strategy for Cyber Space, “The United States will work internationally to promote an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable information and communications infrastructure that supports international trade and commerce, strengthens international security, and fosters free expression and innovation.”