Spain-U.S. Cybersecurity Seminar
The USA 07 March 2022
Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State
Good morning. It’s wonderful to be here with all of you.
I want to begin by thanking my good friend, State Secretary Angeles Moreno Bau, for hosting us today for the first-ever Spain-U.S. Cybersecurity Seminar.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been less than a year since I was sworn in as Deputy Secretary and Angeles and I began working closely together, given how frequently we have reason to collaborate.
Spain was an extraordinary partner to the United States in the unprecedented effort to evacuate more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan last August, including by enabling the U.S. military to temporarily host thousands of Afghans at Rota and Moron. Angeles was absolutely essential to making that possible.
Now, of course, Angeles and I are in constant communication about Ukraine, and the premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified war of choice that Vladimir Putin has unleashed there.
As a staunch NATO Ally and EU member state, Spain’s leadership is key to the transatlantic effort—really, the global effort—to impose severe, coordinated costs and consequences for President Putin’s war of choice, and to urge an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine.
And, of course, Spain will host the NATO Summit in June—a critical gathering at a critical moment for Europe, for the transatlantic Alliance, and for the entire world.
After so many video conferences and phone calls, it’s a pleasure to be here in Madrid with you, Angeles, for this important and very timely event.
I also want to thank Economy Ministry State Secretary Carme Artigas for joining today’s discussion. Cyber and technology policy issues cut across both foreign and domestic policy in Spain and the United States alike, so we are very fortunate to have both perspectives at the table today.
Thank you as well to Spanish Ambassador-at-large for Cybersecurity Nicolas Pascual de la Parte for proposing today’s event, and for the months of diplomatic and policy spadework to make it happen.
And finally, I want to acknowledge the United States’ exceptional Ambassador to Spain, Julissa Reynoso, for her work and the U.S. Embassy’s support of today’s event.
The digital technology revolution is happening all around us—but too many governments haven’t been keeping pace.
In recent years, we have seen increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyber incidents that violate consumers’ privacy, undermine our businesses’ competitiveness, and even threaten the security of our critical infrastructure.
We have seen more countries using the incredible powers of the Internet not to bring people together, but to suppress people’s freedoms.
We have seen all too painfully how digital technologies can be used as tools of surveillance and disinformation—and even to undermine democratic norms and institutions.
All of those trends mean that the United States has a vested national security interest in making sure the digital revolution benefits the American people and our allies and partners. That this transformation serves to strengthen the rules-based international order, not to undercut it.
For anyone who may have been skeptical that cyber and tech issues are major foreign policy issues for the 21st century, we need only to look at Ukraine and Russia right now.
As Russia moved tens of thousands of troops toward Ukraine’s borders, we also saw one of the largest malicious cyber incidents in Ukraine’s history, targeting government ministries and major banks. We were able to trace that activity to Russian intelligence services. Since 2014, malicious Kremlin-backed cyber activity have repeatedly hit Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, including the power grid and financial system.
That is why the United States has long included cybersecurity capacity-building investments in our security assistance to Ukraine, providing $40 million since 2017 to help grow Ukraine’s IT sector, build resilience, and strengthen the information security environment.
Our NATO Allies and European partners have also made significant contributions to help improve Ukraine’s cybersecurity.
And those investments have concretely helped Ukraine keep their Internet on and information flowing, even in the midst of a brutal Russian invasion.
Since President Putin directed his troops to invade Ukraine, we’ve also seen Russia taking extraordinary steps to crack down on internet freedom in their own country.
The Kremlin first throttled access to certain social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, and then blocked them entirely. They have barred news outlets from using words like “war” and “invasion.”
And President Putin just signed a law threatening up to 15 years in jail for anyone—journalists and ordinary citizens alike—who posts the truth about what Russia is doing in Ukraine.
As this war continues to sow chaos and carnage in Ukraine—and as President Putin becomes increasingly determined to control the Russian people—I fear we can expect to see even more cyberattacks, with implications for Ukraine and beyond, and certainly even more efforts to clamp down on free expression in Russia.
So, today’s Spain-U.S. Cybersecurity Seminar comes at an appropriate moment.
We need to work together to promote a global framework for how nations behave in cyberspace—to promote lasting peace, and prevent further conflict.
We need to hold malicious cyber actors—whether state-sponsored or private—accountable for their actions, because cyberattacks are not victimless crimes.
We need to help other countries build their own capacity to withstand cyberattacks that could damage their security, their economies, and their citizens’ trust.
We need to invest in innovation in the United States, in Spain, and in other likeminded democracies—so the tools and technologies of the future are built to expand opportunity, not diminish freedom.
And we need to defend and promote our values in cyberspace, just as we do in countries and organizations around the world. To uphold human rights and human dignity. To advocate for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. To facilitate the free flow of information between countries and continents.
The Internet and cyber technologies can be incredibly powerful enablers of truth, freedom, trust, and human connection.
We see that every time President Zelenskyy rallies the Ukrainian people with his video posts. Every time an online platform like Airbnb is used to help find housing for a family seeking refuge. Every time ordinary Ukrainians use Telegram or Twitter to show the world the truth of what President Putin’s war means on the ground.
It’s up to us to build the future of cyberspace and technology that we want to see.
At the State Department, Secretary Blinken has made elevating cyber and emerging technology issues a top priority.
Last year, we held wide-ranging consultations and conversations as part of a comprehensive review of cyberspace and emerging technology policy and organization at the State Department. And we consistently heard a few things.
First, just about everyone recognized that the United States urgently needs to strengthen our international leadership on cybersecurity, emerging technology, and digital policy.
Second, we heard that it isn’t sufficient to only focus on countering cyberattacks, or investing in innovation—we need to integrate our economic policy, our national security policy, and our values into a balanced approach to technology.
And third, we need to advance our diplomatic agenda in collaboration with our allies and partners.
As a result of this work, Secretary Blinken announced last fall that we will create a new Bureau for Cyberspace and Digital Policy and a new Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technologies.
Congress recently approved our plans, and we are actively working to stand up these new offices.
We’ll be advancing this agenda technology-by-technology, issue-by-issue, both within the U.S. government as well as with our allies and partners around the world—including, of course, our friends here in Spain.
So thank you again, Angeles, and your colleagues, for organizing today’s events. I know our delegations will have lively and useful discussions throughout the day, with each other and with the business and civil society leaders who will be joining for the afternoon’s sessions. We look forward to continued close collaboration and partnership between the United States and Spain on these issues.