“General Nakasone has clear eyes and steel nerves.”
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued the following statement regarding the Senate’s confirmation of Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone to be Commander of U.S. Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency.
A transcript of the Senator’s March 1, 2018 exchange with General Nakasone is found below.
SASSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Congratulations to you all. Thanks for your willingness to serve.
General, you know that I'm a big fan of yours, and our country's blessed to have you in this new role, so this isn't a hostile question to you. But I want to go back to your exchange with Senator Sullivan.
We're four years -- we're 31 years into cyber war, but we're four years into regular attacks against the United States to which we publicly admit we don't respond or we don't respond in any way that's sufficient to change behavior.
Your exchange with Senator Sullivan is the most important thing that will happen on Capitol Hill today. We have hundreds of hearings around here; 80 percent of them are fake; 90 percent of them are pointless -- lots and lots of questions that we ask. And they all seem like they're equal, because they're questions, and they go on and on, and senators pontificate.
What you just said was that you agreed with Admiral Rogers, I think, right? Admiral Rogers, earlier this week, said that Russia has not received any response from the U.S. sufficient to change their behavior.
That's what he said. Do you agree?
NAKASONE: It has not changed their behavior.
SASSE: And, three years ago, at the OPM hack, we had Obama intelligence chiefs up here, primarily before the Homeland Security committee, and we asked them the exact same questions. "Is there any response from United States government that's sufficient to change the Chinese behavior?" And they said, "Absolutely not."
Do you think there's any reason the Chinese should be worried about U.S. response of the president?
NAKASONE: Again, I think that our adversaries have not seen our response in sufficient detail to change the behavior.
SASSE: So this is, ultimately, not the responsibility of uniformed military to bear the brunt of the hopefully rightful anger and ire of the American people. But their government is failing them. At the top, at the executive and the legislative level, we are not responding in any way that's adequate to the challenge we face.
We face, in cyber war -- if we're just playing cyber defense, we have an asymmetric threat against us, because we're the biggest, most advanced economy in the world, we have the most electronics and 90 percent of our critical infrastructure is in the private sector.
So we stand to absorb attack after attack after attack, unless we add offensive cyber capabilities. We do have the capabilities. The problem is not technical, but -- if we had the will and the strategy and, adjacent to cyber response, a sense that diplomatic tools and kinetic responses were all on the table.
Why should the American people have any confidence in their government right now in the area of cyber war?
NAKASONE: So, again, Senator, I would offer, from my comments previously, we have to think of this broadly. How are we going to respond? It's not necessarily always within the military or cyber realm that we're going to do it, but obviously, offering a response in terms of being able to -- to -- an adversary to determine that that is a behavior that we don't accept is important.
SASSE: And can you give -- again, let's distinguish among three different groups that have culpability here: the NSA and CYBERCOM and DOD need to present options. We need to have a technically trained workforce that's able to respond. And we need leadership that can be strategic enough to lay out a menu of options.
But, ultimately, the top of the executive branch and a legislature that's responsible for oversight is where the people should be angriest (ph). But, if you were going to assess blame right now -- don't put it on the legislature, because somebody else will ask you a hard question in response to that -- but clearly the oversight in this body is woefully inadequate.
But, at the top of the DOD world and at the handoff to civilian leadership, what does that conversation look like right now, where a menu of options is presented? And then what happens next? And when will we be more urgent?
NAKASONE: So, Senator, you offer a number of different questions that, right now, in my current role, I couldn't give you an informed response.
What I think has to happen is, obviously, if confirmed, I provide a series of cyber and military options that's considered by the secretary of defense and, ultimately, the president.
But these are only, you know, a realm of one portion of our deterrence, and others will have to bring the whole-of-government piece of what we might offer, Senator.
SASSE: In -- when we're in the classified space and we talk about overmatch in every other domain, we know we've got lots and lots of challenges. In the cyber space, are our problems primarily technical? Or are they primarily strategic and will?
NAKASONE: So, Senator, I would offer that we have a number of different capabilities, and I don't think that our -- our problems are either of those. I think that what we have to do is to continue to determine what is the best way forward here, what fits within -- within our national strategy, and then act on that, Senator.
SASSE: I'm at time, but again, I want to reiterate, our country is blessed to have you in this new role. You're clearly going to be confirmed. Lots of people around you, including me, have great confidence in you.
But I do want you to know, I think there is, bubbling up in this body, a little more seriousness about the urgency. And I hope that, at DOD and at NSA, we -- we feel that urgency in response. Thank you, sir.