A small contingent from the US Department of Homeland Security is in Israel this week to sign pledges to expand cybersecurity cooperation between the two countries and to discuss Israel’s progress toward joining the US waiver program visa.

According to a DHS official, the series of cybersecurity agreements includes three general areas of cybersecurity cooperation between the United States and Israel: collaboration in the fight against the financing of terrorism, the creation of an institutional vehicle allowing cyber-specific research and development and collaboration in the field of transport cybersecurity.

DHS Undersecretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans Robert Silvers arrived in Israel on Sunday and signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to collaborate on financial crime with the National Office of Counterterrorism Financing of the Ministry of Defence.

The MOU was signed on behalf of DHS Homeland Security Investigations. In November, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo visited Israel to announce a partnership targeting financial crime. The new MOU is separate but should be complementary to the Treasury initiative.

Silvers is also expected to announce two engagements with the Director General of Israel’s National Cybersecurity Directorate, Gaby Portnoy, on bilateral research and development and transportation cybersecurity, which will be signed on Wednesday at the CyberTech Global conference in Tel Aviv, according to a DHS official.

Silvers, who spoke to The Times of Israel in Jerusalem on Monday, said the joint engagements with the Cybersecurity Directorate are part of a framework agreement to provide enabling infrastructure, rather than specific in their technological details. or their goals.

US Under Secretary of State for DHS Strategy, Policy, and Plans Robert Silvers (right) signs a memorandum of understanding with Paul Landes, chief of the Department of Defense National Office for Funding of the fight against terrorism in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2022. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

“What we’re doing is putting a framework in place,” he said. “And then we bring the engineers together in the room and they figure out what are the right priorities to jointly pursue. I know we’ve talked about things over time, like the Internet of Things, cybersecurity in aviation and other transport sectors. This creates a vehicle for experts to pursue [those areas of interest].”

The partnership will only focus on defensive technologies and does not aim to develop offensive capabilities.

“[Our commitment] will include defensive technology. At the Department of Homeland Security, our mission is to serve as defenders of the network,” Silvers said.

Other than the requirement to be defensive, there are no established safeguards around the types of technology the partnership will focus on, but rather proposed projects will be assessed to align with bilateral priorities.

“We will evaluate each proposal on its own merits, and we will make projects that make sense for both countries and both institutions, including the Department of Homeland Security and including the [Cyber Directorate] and the Department of Public Safety,” Silvers said. “Where there is alignment, we will pursue that.”

In a joint research and development commitment, the parties plan to expand the Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) program, which is a jointly funded initiative underway since 1977 for scientific collaboration between Israel and the United States. .

Silvers said the new instantiation will add CyberDirection to the BIRD program, which was previously managed between DHS and the Department of Public Safety. The Cybersecurity Directorate’s version of BIRD is expected to focus on cybersecurity and emerging technologies, particularly related to ransomware and securing critical infrastructure, an embassy source said.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for DHS Strategy, Policy, and Plans Robert Silvers (left) attends a meeting at the Department of Defense’s National Office for Counterterrorism Funding in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2022. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

“What we’re doing now is adding Israel’s National Cybersecurity Directorate to [the BIRD] agreement because we want to be able to deepen cybersecurity research and development,” Silvers said. “We have a dedicated science and technology center within our Department of Homeland Security, and we bring them to the table and their expertise, their engineers to push those kinds of priorities forward.”

Silvers did not comment on the amount of funding expected to be provided by Israel or the United States to the expanded program.

As a second commitment, the US Transportation Security Administration – hosted by DHS – and Israel will strengthen collaboration on transportation cybersecurity.

Providing another framework for specific initiatives, Silvers and Portnoy are expected to sign a declaration of intent to improve information sharing, joint exercises, and research and development related to securing air and ground transportation.

As a further measure, the United States and Israel should engage in exchanges of experts in a number of cutting-edge fields, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, homomorphic encryption, and web browsing and synchronization. position, according to a US Embassy source.

The signing of the accords, Silver said, is part recognition and part continuation of longstanding cooperation between the United States and Israel in the area of ​​cybersecurity.

“[We want] to recognize the incredible partnership that has existed for decades between the United States and Israel in securing cyberspace,” Silvers said. “Our relationship with Israel is extremely close on cybersecurity issues.”

“Our cybersecurity model is increasingly one of operational collaboration,” Silvers said. “It is not enough for government and business to meet and recognize a partnership. They have to stand side by side and defend the networks together day after day, hour after hour and we have built that infrastructure within DHS. Israel has its own advanced cyber-ecosystem and I think there is a lot to learn together.

Silvers is also in Jerusalem to discuss ongoing efforts to bring Israel into the US Visa Waiver Program, which would allow Israelis to join 39 other countries in visiting the United States without a visa. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has set a goal of integrating Israel into the program by 2023.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks during a meeting of the Yamina faction in the Knesset on July 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“One of the main priorities of my visit is to advance discussions and maintain momentum on the two countries’ goal of getting Israel to join the visa waiver program,” the deputy said. -Secretary. “Our goal is for Israel to join as soon as the country meets all program requirements. And I will meet with counterparts from the Israeli government to discuss this common priority which would be an incredible and sweet success for both countries.

Silvers said an operational-level delegation from DHS visited several sites across Israel about two weeks ago, to “understand Israel’s border security and other security programs and work with Israelis to meet all program requirements.

There are two main hurdles that Israel and the United States will be tasked with ironing out in order to allow Israel’s inclusion in the waiver program. The first will be to lower visa refusal rates for Israelis to less than 3% by October 2022. Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said last August that the current rate was about 4.5%.

The other hurdle will be granting the United States access to Israeli criminal records in order to adjudicate visa applications from citizens with criminal records — which will require Knesset legislation, Shaked explained.

Once the rejection rate drops, “other hurdles can be resolved,” Erdan said in August, noting that they include Israel’s sometimes problematic treatment of Palestinian Americans at Ben-Gurion airport, that the United States has identified as an obstacle to including the Jewish state in the waiver program.

Jacob Magid contributed to this article.

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