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March 25, 2021

ICYMI: SASC Ranking Member Inhofe Asks Special Operations, Cyber Command Leaders if Resources Match Strategy

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today questioned witnesses at a SASC hearing on the posture of U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Cyber Command. 

Witnesses included: Christopher Maier, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict; General Richard D. Clarke, USA, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; and General Paul M. Nakasone, USA, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service. 


Inhofe: I’m going to go back to a couple of things that I referred to in my opening statement. I know that, Mr. Maier, in your opening statement, you addressed this. I'd like to have a little more detail and maybe aim this at both General Clarke and you. We all understand what history is taught us: if we take our pressure off of these terrorist groups, they're going to rebuild and threaten and all that, so things have to be done at the same time. And the two things that I'm concerned with still, specifically getting into resources and capabilities — trying to balance the NDS — and, of course, we know what we're supposed to be doing there — the requirements to modernize our forces to compete with China and Russia, that's on one hand, but against the need to maintain the pressure on ISIS and al-Qaeda, especially in places like Africa. Do you really think that you have the resources necessary to accomplish both these, and this is a place you'd want to come to, because if you don't we need to know about, would you respond to that in some detail?

Maier: Ranking Member, yes, I very much agree with the idea that we've got to be able to do both and, as I think General Clarke referred to, in some cases we can do both with the same force but in a lot of cases, we can't. In the case of Somalia, there were, as you know, a lot of changes made over the last few months including moving forces out, and there's a policy review underway now looking at not only that decision but how we ultimately posture our forces to ensure we have the right capabilities there and in other places. I think one of the benefits of the beginning of a new administration is, there's a number of posture reviews and a lot of assumptions are underway, and one of the key elements of that is, just as you describe, how do we weigh that need to continue to protect the American public, citizens, our interest, against the al-Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates that are still out there, even as we look to, in some cases, change our capabilities or our posture or our focus towards the peer competitors we face. So this is something that I think I'd be happy to drill down in more specifics as we go issue by issue or place by place but I think my take on this is the counterterrorism fight is not over — the NDS says that. I think that's been reinforced in the early reviews coming out of these policy reviews.

Inhofe: Let me go back. You brought up Somalia. Now, taking some of our resources out of Somalia, going into Kenya and some other areas — that was actually a policy of the previous administration and I disagreed with it at that time. Now that we've already done this. Mr. Maier, what is your feeling now? Was that the right move? Or was that not the right move? What kind of results are we getting?

Maier: So, Chairman, I think we have a review underway right now that's weighing all this. I think, from, from my perspective, there is probably significant downsides to the pullout from the perspective of cost and effectiveness, but that's my initial look. This will have to be an interagency look, but that is something that is being looked at both from the counterterrorism perspective and the broader regional objectives we have in the Horn of Africa.

Inhofe: Well, I'd like to be in on that, because I was pretty outspoken when that decision was made, and I'd like to see how we are doing on that.

This was brought up already by the chairman that the Russian SolarWinds cyber attack, to the Chinese hack in Microsoft, and all that —we know those problems are there. DOD began building a total of 133 CMF [cyber mission force] teams in 2012 and reached full operational capacity, with over 6,200 cyber personnel in May of 2018. General Nakasone, the SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange cyber attacks demonstrate that we're vulnerable — we have vulnerabilities out there. What authorities and resources do you need? Again, it's kind of the same question I asked Mr. Maier — what resources do you need to accomplish what we have to accomplish, because this is the place you go to for resources?

Nakasone: Ranking Member, thank you very much for the question. I think first of all just taking a step back, we as a nation right now are taking a very hard look at both of these intrusions. I think there are two gaps that are being addressed right now that have to be addressed, and one of them is this idea of information sharing. These attacks took place within the United States, these intrusions, and there are right now legal barriers and disincentives for the private sector to share information with the government. We have a difficulty as a government understanding the totality of the actual intrusion. So that's being worked, and the second piece is, as I had mentioned to the chairman, we have an inability to see everything so we as U.S. Cyber Command or the National Security Agency may see what is occurring outside of the United States, but when it comes into the United States, our adversaries are moving very quickly. They understand the laws and the policies that we have within our nation, and so they're utilizing our own infrastructure, our own internet service providers to create these intrusions. The resourcing of U.S. Cyber Command right now to include the 133 teams has been instrumental in us being able to have an ability to act. And certainly we are looking as a department if further growth is necessary and we'll come back to the committee if that is a requirement. But I would say the first two pieces — being able to identify and being able to fix those areas — are part of the resiliency of the nation that has to be addressed.

Inhofe: OK, that's very good. My time has expired, but we are interested — it's a work in progress right now, and you're making headway, I see. Thank you very much.

Click here to watch Sen. Inhofe’s opening remarks.

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