President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the nation’s largest intelligence-gathering organization pushed during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday to reauthorize a controversial surveillance authority before it expires at the end of the year.
US Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the authority, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, remains critical to providing intelligence to the highest levels of the government despite a history of abuse against Americans.
“In every product that goes to our government’s top leaders, Section 702 has an impact,” Haugh testified, later calling the program “widely used” and “irreplaceable.”
The administration has argued that Section 702, which allows intelligence agencies to spy on emails and other electronic communications from foreigners abroad, needs renewal and that it has already made significant reforms to its use. But after leaked memoranda revealed the FBI used it to spy on Americans, a number of congressmen on both sides of the aisle argued it needed a major overhaul.
Biden appointed Haugh, currently second-in-command of US Cyber Command, to lead both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency in late May, where he would succeed General Paul Nakasone, who held the same position. dual command.
Both ways. Committee top Democrat and Republican Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) support an extension, but several panel members said the intelligence community should answer more questions from lawmakers before they approve.
“If this is confirmed, I think you probably still have some work to do – probably in a classified setting – with members, not only of the Senate, but also with the House to get Section 702 reauthorized” , said Senator Tom Cotton. (R-Ark.) said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “I think we have a very heavy weight on our hands and, frankly, it’s going to start with the House of Representatives. We’re going to have to make some changes with FBI authority.
This push to reauthorize Section 702 has been seen on both sides of the Capitol. House lawmakers heard from a panel of former members in June, who argued the surveillance tool could be reformed but remains essential for national security. However, there is significant skepticism from the House GOP, some of whom would rather see the program disappear altogether.
Questioned by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Haugh also vowed not to weaken the encryption communications that American citizens rely on.
“If this is confirmed, we will not weaken encryption for Americans,” he said. Wyden, a longtime advocate of consumer privacy and strong encryption protections, hailed Haugh’s response as “an important statement.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Vt.) called on Haugh to be aggressive in making clear the consequences for adversaries who choose to carry out cyberattacks on the United States, arguing that those fears may have thwarted more Russian attacks amid of his war in Ukraine.
“It’s not a deterrent if they don’t know,” King said. “You must be aggressive in letting our adversaries know that if they attack the United States in cyberspace, there will be a proportionate and hurtful response.”
Haugh promised to prioritize investment in new technology and the government’s cybersecurity workforce amid “challenges of unprecedented scale” from countries like China and Russia.