Top State cyber official to exit, leaving myriad questions

STATE DEPARTMENT LOSES TOP CYBER OFFICIAL — The global cybersecurity community is still struggling to process the news that Christopher Painter, the Trump administration’s top cyber diplomat, will leave his State Department job at the end of the month, as Eric first reported on Monday. Painter, the coordinator for cyber issues at State, has been leading American delegations to international cyber meetings since 2011, negotiating joint agreements with other countries on issues like protecting critical infrastructure and developing cyber norms. “Chris has been a tireless defender of American interests in cyberspace,” Jason Healey, a senior cyber researcher at Columbia University, told MC, “flying hundreds of thousands of miles a year to push our views of freedom online, conduct countless bilateral meetings with allies and friends and [champion] international engagement in multilateral settings.”

“The U.S. government didn’t have many like Chris,” Healey said, “and his departure will be a major loss.” Painter previously served in top cyber roles at the National Security Council, the FBI and the Justice Department. He may return to DOJ, where he is technically an employee on detail to State. DOJ did not respond to a request for comment on his status. “Chris will be hard to replace,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This will be an easy one to mess up.” Michael Sulmeyer, a former senior Pentagon cyber policy official, told MC that Painter accumulated invaluable experience in his previous jobs. “You weren’t just ‘working with State,’” he said of interagency meetings with Painter. “He and his colleagues understood the broader concerns and priorities of everyone else in the room.”

— WHAT’S NEXT AT STATE: Painter’s departure may complicate the State Department’s task of delivering an international cyber strategy to President Donald Trump by late September as part of his cyber executive order. Tim Maurer, co-director of the Cyber Policy Initiative at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the tight deadline made appointing a successor “an important and urgent task.” More generally, he said, the world needs U.S. cyber leadership: “The security environment continues to deteriorate while geopolitical tensions remain high and diplomatic efforts to tackle cyber threats are stalling or making only slow progress.” A State Department official said the agency “will continue to address and prioritize these important cyber issues.”

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering closing the cyber office or merging it with another office and downgrading the cyber coordinator’s rank, according to a source familiar with internal planning. “It’s a step back from everything done over the last ten years,” said the source, who added that Tillerson was also considering “limiting the number of people who work on cybersecurity” at State. “They basically gave [Painter] two weeks notice,” the source told MC. “It’s clear they’re thinking about reorganizing it. … Clearly they don’t think it’s that important.” A State Department spokesman did not provide a comment on the fate of the cyber office. Painter’s deputy, Michele Markoff, is also an experienced cyber diplomat. When MC reached her by phone, she declined to comment on her status. “If she leaves as well,” Healey said, “it might take State years to rebuild.”

Cyber policy experts urged Tillerson not to eliminate State’s dedicated cyber mission. Doing so “would mean the United States would be the only major country without a lead diplomat to discuss cyber norms and trying to reduce the ever-escalating cyberattacks we see around the world,” Healey said. The U.S. was the first country to create a high-level cyber diplomat role, and since then dozens of other countries have followed suit. “It is not just a shame if the U.S. were to surrender that leadership, but would mean the future internet will have more Russian and Chinese characteristics.”

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TOP DEM WEIGHS IN ON NSA-CYBERCOM SPLIT — The Trump administration should proceed cautiously with a reported plan to split the “dual-hat” leadership structure that governs the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, according to Rep. Adam Smith. If the organizations are broken up “we need to ensure it is done the right way. We must avoid leaving either organization with diminished capabilities or creating institutional gaps that could endanger national security,” Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told POLITICO in an email statement.

Smith noted that while the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill called for the elevation of Cyber Command to a unified combatant command, lawmakers directed the GAO to study the risks and benefits of breaking up the two organizations. That assessment is still underway. Smith also emphasized a provision prohibiting the Defense secretary from ending the leadership arrangement unless he and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff jointly determine and certify to Congress that doing so won’t impact the military effectiveness of the much-younger Cyber Command.

KEEP CALM AND ENCRYPT EVERYTHING — IBM claims it has come up with a new approach to mainframe security technology that will allow businesses of all shapes and sizes to encrypt their customer data, potentially signaling a new chapter in the policy debate that has gripped Washington for years. “The last generation of mainframes did encryption very well and very fast, but not in bulk,” Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM’s mainframe business, told The Washington Post. The key to the strategy is utilizing new IBM Z mainframe that can run 12 billion encrypted transactions per day, tapping artificial intelligence for cryptography to make sure communications are scrambled and unbreakable at the same level the U.S. government trusts to transmit classified information, according to Wired. “So for any type of transaction system we can now get the safety that we’re all after, which just hasn’t really been attainable up to this point,” said Caleb Barlow, vice president of threat intelligence at IBM Security.

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