The Biden administration is preparing for new leadership to run America’s cyber operations and defense organizations, with turnover expected atop U.S. Cyber Command, the National Security Agency and the Office of the National Cyber Director.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh is President Biden’s pick to take over Cyber Command and the NSA and has run the gantlet in the Senate this month in search of lawmakers’ support for his confirmation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday probed Lt. Gen. Haugh’s fitness to oversee Cyber Command, where he is now the No. 2 person and would soon be in charge of America’s ability to withstand and respond to cyberattacks from hostile adversaries such as China and Russia.
“I want the Politburo worried about you when they think about discussing a cyberattack on the United States,” said Sen. Angus King, Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, to Lt. Gen. Haugh.
“Senator, first, I think that both of our pacing adversaries are well aware of the capabilities that we have,” Lt. Gen. Haugh replied at Thursday’s hearing on his nomination.
He said America’s digital defenders look to first understand and share information about foreign threats, then enable defense, followed by imposing costs.
He said one future digital threat that concerns him is the potential foreign use of artificial intelligence tools to meddle in the electoral process during the 2024 election cycle. Lt. Gen. Haugh said he worked on the federal government’s election defense efforts in 2018, 2020 and 2022 and he expects new AI tools to present a different challenge next year.
As the intended head of the NSA, Lt. Gen. Haugh would oversee the U.S. government’s efforts to make and break computer code to gather information about enemies’ actions.
At a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on his nomination last week, Sen. Ron Wyden pressed for answers about whether the NSA would look to weaken encryption technology used to safeguard people’s privacy.
“Encryption is a critical responsibility of the National Security Agency. It’s critical to defend our national security systems and our weapons systems,” Lt. Gen Haugh told the Oregon Democrat. “If confirmed, we will not weaken encryption for Americans.”
The NSA and U.S. Cyber Command are not the only cyber institutions undergoing change, as Mr. Biden is looking to fill the national cyber director post in the White House that has been vacant since February. The director helps set the White House’s cyber policy and strategy and has a key role in implementing the president’s National Cybersecurity Strategy published this year.
Kemba Walden has served as acting national cyber director for several months but is being passed over for nomination to fill the vacancy because of personal debts, according to reports, which are said to include paying for her children’s education. Mr. King and Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican, previously advocated for Mr. Biden to nominate her to take the full-time position.
While the vacancy remains at the Office of the National Cyber Director, other federal departments with roles in crafting and administering cyber policy are in place. The Homeland Security and State departments have Senate-confirmed leadership handling cybersecurity issues.