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Politics: Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday formally announced the establishment of a new cyber bureau at the State Department to help tackle cyber and emerging technology diplomatic issues.

Tony Blinken wearing a suit and tie: Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau © Getty Images Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau

The new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy was announced by Blinken as part of a speech around the reorganization and modernization of the State Department to meet 21st century needs, with Blinken noting he consulted with Congress and outside experts prior to establishing the office.

"We have a major stake in shaping the digital revolution that is happening around us, and making sure that it serves our people, protects our interests, boosts our competitiveness and upholds our values," Blinken said during remarks at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute.

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"I intend, with the support of Congress, to establish a new Bureau for Cyberspace and Digital Policy, headed by an ambassador-at-large, and to name a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology," he announced.

The new bureau will address issues including cyber threats, global internet freedom, surveillance risks and working with democratic allied nations to set international norms and standards on emerging technologies.

Blinken said both the head of the new bureau and the new special envoy would report to Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman for the first year. The State Department will also focus on hiring individuals with science and technology expertise to address emerging threats.

"By taking these steps, we will be better able to make sure that the United States remains the world's innovation leader and standard setter," Blinken said.

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The Wall Street Journal first reported Monday that the bureau would be established, with several key bipartisan lawmakers applauding the move in the days since.

The new bureau is being established over four years after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson merged the former Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues with another State Department office, drawing widespread criticism that the move could undermine the department's cyber diplomacy efforts.

In response, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the establishment of the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technology in the final days of the Trump administration, but experts criticized the move for being rushed and the setup of the office poorly planned out.

Congress has become involved in the issue, with the House passing the Cyber Diplomacy Act earlier this year, which would establish a cybersecurity bureau at the State Department and ensure it is led by an official appointed by the president with the level of ambassador.

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The establishment of the new bureau is among a variety of other steps laid out by Blinken on Wednesday that are intended to help modernize the State Department. These included requesting Congress grant a 50 percent increase in the agency's IT budget, prioritizing workforce diversity, strengthening domestic diplomacy efforts and learning lessons from recent pullout operations from Afghanistan.

Blinken also teased a potential upcoming announcement in relation to the mysterious health incidents suffered by State Department personnel, which have become known as "Havana syndrome," noting he would have "more to say about that in the next day."

He stressed the need to leave the State Department better positioned to face current and future threats.

"We have a window before us to make historic, lasting change, and we are determined to seize it," Blinken said.

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