Background Briefing: Secretary Clinton's Participation In the London Conference on Cyberspace

Special Briefing
Department Senior Official, Office of the Spokesperson
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
October 31, 2011

MS. FULTON: All right. Thank you. And thanks everybody for joining us today. We are very happy to have with us, [Senior State Department Official] who will from this point forward be known as Senior State Department Official, who is going to discuss Secretary Clinton’s participation in the London Conference on Cyberspace coming up this week.

So I’d like to go ahead and turn it over to our Senior State Department Official, and following his remarks, we’ll go ahead and open it up for questions. So without further ado, we’ll turn it over.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks, Heide. Well, first, I wanted to set the stage. This is part of a larger effort, international cyber diplomacy effort, that the State Department is undertaking that’s weaving all of these different aspects of cyberspace together, and that includes everything from areas where the Secretary has been a strong leader for years, like internet freedom, to economic issues and governance issues on the internet, to cyber security issues, to cyber crime issues, to even kind of political-military issues, that full sweep of issues that is also captured in a very integrated way in the international strategy for cyberspace that was released by President Obama and which the Secretary helped launch back in May.

And I think it’s significant of two things that she said in that launch. One is that this basket of issues, given where we are in the development of this technology, and really we’re in a crossroads I think right now in terms of the decisions being made today and how that’s going to affect the future, that these – this basket of issues is now a foreign policy imperative or a foreign policy priority. And that’s important because I think for too long people have looked at all these different issues either as niche issues or issues that are technical issues and not really larger foreign policy issues. And as we become so dependent on these technologies, as it really is so pervasive into almost everything we do and the way we think about both growing our economy and our societies, that it’s really important to elevate these, not just in the U.S., which has been done, A, through this international strategy, but also by the efforts of the Secretary, and frankly in the creation of my office, we were the first – she created my office back in February and – to coordinate all these different issues, and that was the first time in a foreign ministry that that kind of post was created. Other countries are following suit to really make this more of a foreign policy issue, but also to get other countries to focus on this. That is one of the goals of the Hague conference, Foreign Minister Hague conference in London, to bring a lot of senior folks together from around the world, from, I think, over 60 countries, to really – in part, to raise the awareness but also to move forward on a whole range of different issues there.

The other thing she said at that launch, which I think is very important, is that this is something that’s going to require patient, persistent, and creative diplomacy, that this is not necessarily a thing where we’re going to change or make all the decisions overnight, but it’s something that we have to, over a number of years, build a consensus in the international community around certain norms of behavior and certain ways of thinking about cyberspace that will preserve its openness, preserve security, and preserve prosperity as we go forward, all things I think we’ve been very blessed to have in terms of how the technology has grown up so far.

So as – I think her – I think one of the things that I believe she’ll do when she speaks is build on her prior discussions in this area, which have been internet freedom, and then in January she talked about both internet freedom and some of the challenges and tensions. In the launch of the international strategy, she talked about some of the issues I just mentioned, the importance of getting countries to think about these norms. And then I think she’ll dig down into some of the issues we face. So for instance, there are different visions of the future of the internet, where some governments would like to see it being very state-centrically driven, driven by a particular treaty instrument. And that really flies in the face of the way the internet’s grown up, which has been a multi-stakeholder system, which has had industry and civil society and governments all working together and all having a role. And that’s one of those challenges we face going into the future.

She’s going to, I think, talk about the challenges of cyber crime and some of the things that we’re doing about that. She’s going to talk about, I believe, even some of the challenges around cyber conflict and how we can actually reduce the chance of cyber conflict by building more transparency, by building confidence-building measures between countries. And she’ll also certainly talk about the very – the big promise of the internet, what it’s been able to deliver to us, and particularly, I think with respect to both internet freedom and our economic growth and innovation, why it’s so important to maintain the system, to make sure the system thrives in the future and that we want to make sure that the decisions that are being made on these technologies and all these different international fora don’t interfere with that.

So I think that’s the general sweep of the issues that are going to be talked about. And – hold on a second – and (inaudible) just came in, sorry – and that – and also that as we think about these norms for cyberspace we have existing norms. We don’t need to create a whole new set of rules of cyberspace; we can rely on the rules that exist but apply them to this digital world. And I think this is also going to be an invitation to countries around the world, both regionally and bilaterally, to work with us to realize that future. There’s been a lot of good activity. The OECD recently had these internet policy making principles that came out; the G-8 featured the internet in its leader’s declaration this year. There’s been work in lots of different regional fora, and that’s been, I think, something that’s been really important, but this is really work that’s vital as we go forward in all of our different diplomatic channels.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Wonderful. Thank you. At this point, let’s go ahead, Operator, and open it up for questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone keypad. That’s *1 to ask a question. Please record your name at the prompt so I may introduce your question. One moment please.

Our first question comes from Arshad Mohammed. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Can you explain to us what tangible is likely to emerge from Tuesday’s conference?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. I think there are a couple of things. I think there hasn’t been a conference before, or even a meeting before, that’s brought together all these different strands. We’ve talked about these different issues and different, I think very productive ways – but in different silos that dealt with those issues. So you haven’t had a group of policy makers come together to talk about everything from internet freedom and social value through to the kind of harder security issues. And this conference is doing that and bringing not just government, but civil society and industry together.

So, first and foremost, I think what we’ll see is a very clear statement of how important this is, in a larger policy sense. I think we’re going to get a significantly raised awareness around the world, not just in the countries that have already been focusing on how important this is. And I think, frankly, the Secretary’s speech will continue to establish her leadership in this area and the U.S. position in this in a very strong way and counter, I think, some of the narratives out there that would have a very different vision of the internet. So I think that’s what I expect primarily for this conference. This is, in many ways, the beginning of a discussion that we need to have globally. It is not nearly the end of it, but I think it’s a good christening of that discussion.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. I mean, is there going to be like a statement or is there going to be --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t speak for our British hosts of what they plan to do. I think they plan to release something at the end of the conference. What form that takes I really have to leave to them.

QUESTION: And can you shed any light on how the Secretary’s speech will demonstrate her leadership? I mean what – are there new proposals in here? Is there new money for something in here? Is there anything tangible within the speech that you can foreshadow?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, two things. I think first of all it goes – I said it built upon but I think it goes beyond her prior speeches and really deals with some of the issues she’s touched on in the past but maybe has not gone into as much depth on, which is some of the security issues in this space and how that relates to issues and some of the governance issues in this space. So I think it helps establish that vision of the internet. And it also, frankly, I think, helps push back on – there has been, particularly recently, there have been some things circulated. For instance, in the UN, there was circulated a possible code of conduct by China and Russia and couple of the ‘stans. I think this clearly shows what that alternative, more open vision of the internet is. So I think that’s important. But also I think it’s a clear invitation to regional and – regional partners around the world to engage in this discussion with the U.S. and that we’re not only open for business and willing to do that, but we’ll aggressively do that over the next year.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I should say another thing, too. It also highlights the importance of some of the work that we’ve done and that includes some of the capacity building work, and that’s a critical part of this as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks very much.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you. Operator, next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Shaun Waterman with the Washington Times. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, hello. Can you hear me?


QUESTION: Yeah. [Senior State Department Official] could you just say a little bit more about – I mean is the Secretary going to directly address this code of conduct proposal from Russia, China, and – what was it – Tajikistan? Is she going to directly refer to that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t want to – since the speech is still being crafted, I don’t want to prejudge what’s going to be in there. But I think, clearly, the vision that she lays out is a vision that is very different from that.

QUESTION: And I mean, given that that isn’t seen as a way forward – I mean, what is the way forward? Are they – do you see treaties at some point in this? Do you see – I mean, talk a bit about that alternative vision.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So – I mean, there’s two things. There’s sort of the procedural issue that you raised: Do you see treaties? This is not an area where it’s really susceptible to a treaty now. We’ve had proposals about treaties for cyber arms control in the past, for treaties that try to lock in some government control of the internet. We are at a point in the discussion of how the internet works and what the internet’s future should be that really involves a discussion and a consensus around norms as a predicate to anything. And I don’t think a treaty really is the way to go. If we think about how the internet has grown up, and the multi-stakeholder system that’s produced it, a treaty is a very different kind of instrument. It’s a controlling instrument. It’s an instrument that locks in stone how things will proceed.

The other problem with the internet is it moves and develops so quickly that a treaty, if there was one, could well be obsolete by the time – not just by the time the ink was dry, but before it’s actually inked in the first place. So I think we’re not – a treaty is not the way to go in trying to either govern the internet or deal with the internet. Now, there are piece parts. For instance, for cybercrime, there is a treaty -- the Budapest Convention of the Council of Europe -- which we very strongly support, which we ratified a number of years ago. You may recall that the UK ratified it this year when the President -- and it was announced when the President was visiting Prime Minister Cameron. And that’s a core part of our international strategy as well, because that is a basis for countries around the world to have good substantive laws to deal with one of the threats we have here and to cooperate internationally. So there are some aspects that have been addressed, but we don’t think we need a new treaty or a treaty instrument.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s no – I mean, there’s no -- trying to have a treaty that was one ring to rule them all and would likely be a very restrictive sort of instrument is not the way forward for this technology or this space.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you. Operator, next question, please.

OPERATOR: I’m showing no further questions at this time. Once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone keypad.

MS. FULTON: Okay. If there are no further questions, we will (inaudible) the call. Operator, anything else that’s come in?

OPERATOR: I do have a follow-up question from Shaun Waterman.


QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, if no one else seemed to want to ask, do you -- you talked about pushing back against other narratives that are out there, countering some of the narratives that are out there. Did you mean about the future of the internet, or did you mean about the role of the United States? Because a lot of people think that the U.S. was behind (inaudible) and, I mean, I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons the U.S. opposes a treaty is because they -- they’ve got lots of secret cyber weapons that they’re working on.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I was talking about the future of the internet. But as far as a treaty -- and let me address the sort of the thing that’s been kicked around and proposed by Russia in the past, which is a cyber arms control treaty. There’s many reasons why that doesn’t work. One of them is attribution is very difficult in this area. Two is even if -- how you do verification. And three is what is a cyber arm anyway with dual-use technologies? So there’s many reasons why it doesn’t make sense. I was referring to the vision of the internet and how it would operate going forward.

QUESTION: Can I ask about -- I mean, are you at all concerned there’s a perception – there was a McAfee CSIS report at the beginning of last year which said that a lot of people saw the United States as an aggressor in cyberspace. Are you concerned about that? Is that something you’re trying to push back against as well?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, and I think that we clearly -- what we’re clearly trying to do is to build this consensus of countries around the world for a free and open cyberspace. So we engage countries around the world on that basis and not as an aggressor in cyberspace --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. A free and open what?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As a free and open space that’s secure and enables prosperity. So that is our vision of the future. Our vision of the future is not aggression. In fact, our vision of the future is how we can work to avoid aggression in cyberspace, which is why I mentioned these confidence-building measures that have been happening, for instance, in the OSCE. So yes, I mean, one way to counter that perception, if that perception is out there, is to have strong discussions and diplomatic dialogue with countries and to try to build transparency with them.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much, indeed, [Senior State Department Official]. Appreciate that.


MS. FULTON: Okay. With that, I think that concludes today’s call. I’d like to thank our speaker for joining us today, and thanks everyone for joining the call. And this concludes the call. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And Heide, the only other thing I’d say is if -- is that one place -- we can also direct people to our website if people want to look kind of at some of the background material that’s been done here. But --

MS. FULTON: By all means.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the website that we have is -- that’s all predictable, I guess -- /cyber.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Fantastic. And I should just mention one last time, this was a -- the attribution for the call is to be on background. And once again, I would like to thank our speaker, and thank you all for joining us today.

PRN: 2011/1846