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Foggy Bottom’s New Cyberspace Bureau “Lines of Effort”: Dumb and Dumber

The release of the Tillerson letter to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs describes the State Department’s new “Cyber Bureau” together with its “primary lines of effort.” The proposal is said to be designed to “lead high-level diplomatic engagements around the world.” Two of those “efforts” deserve special note and provide an entirely new spin on the affectionate local term for the Department—Foggy Bottom.

While a few of the “efforts” are longstanding reasonable roles, most evince a new bilateral “America First” belligerence. Two deserve to be called “dumb and dumber.” Perhaps they are best described in a hypothetical dialogue between a US high-level diplomat (call him Donald) and one from a foreign country (call him Vlad). [With apologies to SNL.]

Donald: I’m here today to tell you about two of our new Cyber Bureau dictates…I mean efforts.

Vlad: Please do tell.

Donald: The world must “maintain open and interoperable character [sic] of the Internet.”

Vlad: Well said, Donald. Your foolish effort will greatly help our intelligence service penetrate American infrastructure and further manipulate elections! Will also help extend effort to other countries. It is better you spend money on huge wall. (wink, wink)

Donald: I have more. The Cyber Bureau also says that everyone must “facilitate the exercise of human rights, including freedom of speech and religion through the Internet.”

Vlad: Well said again, Donald! Your effort will greatly assist comrade Assange, and his colleagues get all those WikiLeaks streamed out to the world. Our intelligence agents have more coming—including through their social media bots. After all, our intelligence agents have their rights too. (wink, wink) We can also get all of your Nazis to get their message out and disrupt your society. Hurray for internet freedom of speech.

Donald: Thank you Vlad for supporting our Cyber Bureau efforts.

Vlad: Your bilateral bullying efforts and isolation will greatly assist our diplomats in increasing our global stature. However, you have to be careful. You don’t want to look like you are supporting Hillary’s Internet Arab Spring strategy or ISIS getting their messaging out.

If there is intelligent life left in the U.S. Congress, it should remind Tillerson that for over a hundred years, American cyber diplomacy was based on a strategy of technology neutrality and not “politicizing” the focus on the common global interest in “facilitating peaceful relations, international cooperation among peoples and economic and social development by means of efficient telecommunication services.” The text is the preamble of a treaty that every nation on Earth, including the U.S., has signed scores of times over the past 168 years. The strategy is also a pragmatic one because as the treaty text notes at the outset everyone “fully recogniz[es] the sovereign right of each State to regulate its telecommunication,” and communications at borders can be stopped.

That long-standing strategy was abandoned twenty years ago when the Clinton Administration seized upon one particular technology platform—the DARPA academic research internet—and sought to evangelize it as the world’s unfettered technology mandate. It was packaged as a utopian vision of happiness and economic wealth for all, while having a plethora of fatal flaws and disastrous potential effects with no effective mitigations. It should never have been allowed into the public infrastructure.

The Cyber Bureau mandate urgently needs to be re-written.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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