Cybersecurity a key bilateral issue for White House, and not just with China

The Justice Department's indictment last month of five Chinese military officers for alleged cyber-espionage sent a shockwave through Sino-American relations, surprising some cybersecurity experts and leaving all to divine Washington's next move on the issue.

China reacted furiously, canceling a bilateral cyber working group and, through its state media, labeling U.S. tech firms like Facebook and Microsoft threats to state security. But a senior White House official is sanguine on the prospects of China rejoining the dialogue and points to recent cooperation with the Australian government as evidence of the administration's intent in global cyberspace.

A summary of U.S.-Australia relations issued by the White House last week included a generic sentence about improving cooperation on "cyber defense and cybersecurity incident response." The Obama administration sees Australia's cybersecurity capabilities as steadily maturing and will look to the two countries' computer emergency response teams (CERTs) to share cyber-threat information, the White House official told FCW in a June 16 interview.

The United States "has been trying to increase cooperation in these areas with likeminded countries across the board," the official added. Cybersecurity collaboration is intuitive for the United States with allies like Australia, with which the U.S. shares a common language and similar legal systems, the official noted.

Cybersecurity has also emerged as a theme in U.S. relations with its neighbors. A joint statement of the defense ministers of Canada, Mexico and the United States in April pledged to "share information regarding cyber defense challenges and approaches to address them."

In the coming months, the White House will "continue to press on the international norms piece," the official said. There is likely no one global treaty that would compel China to cease its alleged cyber-espionage, but the White House hopes to clarify international cybersecurity norms through consensus-building with Australia and other allies.

The White House official cited speeches from President Barack Obama at West Point and National Security Advisor Susan Rice at the Center for New American Security as indicators that developing global norms in cyberspace is a "strong theme for the administration," adding that the administration could "make some more concrete statements on that in the next few months."

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group