Under Tillerson, the State Department may put cyber diplomacy on the chopping block

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According to new reports by Politico and Bloomberg, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to merge or eliminate its cybersecurity office, long tasked with representing U.S. cyber interests abroad. The Office of the Coordination for Cyber Issues, created in 2011 by former President Obama, was established as a State Department liaison on a “full spectrum of cyber-related issues” that include cybersecurity, economic issues and information freedom.

The office is currently led by Christopher Painter, a former senior policy director for the National Security Council, but Politico reports that the nation’s longtime head of cyber diplomacy will be out by the end of the month.

Bloomberg reports that the office will be collapsed into the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs within the State Department and the future coordinator, if the role survives the cuts, will no longer report directly to the Secretary of State.

The decision, initially reported by Foreign Policy in April, is said to be part of a broader restructuring at the State Department. Still, the choice to shrink or eliminate the group tasked with cyber diplomacy faces criticism given that the office’s stated goal of crafting “diplomatic responses to cyber threats” is even more vital in 2017 than could have been imagined when the office was conceived in 2011.

Critics and cyber policy experts widely view the move as a misstep that will weaken the role of the U.S. in shaping global policy as the threat of international cyberattacks looms.

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