U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses this morning at a SASC hearing to receive testimony on United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command.
Witnesses included the Honorable Owen O. West, Assistant Secretary Of Defense, Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict; General Raymond A. Thomas, III, USA, Commander of the United States Special Operations Command; and General Paul M. Nakasone, USA, Commander of the United States Cyber Command, Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service.
Inhofe: How can SOCOM and CYBERCOM most effectively support our efforts against China and Russia? Talk a little bit about any deficiencies in terms of resources that you would be suffering in order to carry out these goals.
Thomas: Chairman, you highlighted at the outset the challenges to maintain the focus on the counter-violent extremist effort while shifting to the focus of the National Defense Strategy. I would tell you that it is burdensome in terms of resources, but something that we can and will manage going forward. I'm lucky on two accounts. One: my predecessors had already focused on Russia and China as emerging threats before the National Defense Strategy and already committed resources to that effort. So I appreciate the investment that preceded me. I also appreciate some new authorities that have developed in this house, which have enabled us to approach this problem differently but in a similar way that we approached the counter-terrorism problem — resources that enable some unique unorthodox approaches to peer competitors. Especially in that space that we call competition short of conflict, a big arm wave, but arguably the most important phase of deterrence.
Nakasone: Chairman, I would offer in terms of our ability for near peer or peer competitors, our most important thing right now must be to enable our partners. Whether or not those partners are joint force commanders in cyber-space or those partners are other members of the inner agency. Our work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is an exemplar I think of the enabling aspect that we will do against near peer competitors. I would also offer that the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act was critical for us at U.S. Cyber Command. It gave us capabilities and authorities that were important for us as we look to further enable. That included the ability for us to rapidly deploy elements of our force to the Department of Homeland Security. The ability for us to look at networks that are not part of the Department of Defense Network. And the other piece of it that was critical, as Ranking Member Reed mentioned, is the idea of cyber as a traditional military activity. I think those are areas that are going to help us immensely with near peer competitors. In terms of our short falls and our challenges, the areas that we are very focused on is continuing to ensure that the force that has been built, the force that is ready, the force that will operate has the required infrastructure. The sensors, the locations, the capabilities to address a number of different threats to our nation.
Inhofe: I appreciate that. I'm going to read a quote from Dan Coats and ask for a response Secretary West and General Thomas. He said, " ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria and it maintains eight branches more than a dozen networks and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world and will exploit any reduction in CT pressure to rebuild key capabilities such as media production and external operations."
Do you agree with that? Let’s start with you, Mr. Secretary.
West: Mr. Chairman, I do.
Thomas: I do, but I would add in context, we have crushed the physical caliphates so that the terrain that ISIS formally maintained a sanctuary and from where we drew their resources, specifically oil resources has been badly diminished. But they continue to be a threat and I agree with the scope of the assessment as provided by the DNI.
Inhofe: Yes, well you know we get a variety of reports in terms of the effectiveness of the various ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the terrorist operations. And so we want to make sure that everyone understands — yes, the peer competitors are important but so is the other. Senator Reed.