WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. cyber command, said on Thursday he did not think Russia, China and other countries expected much of a response from the United States to cyber attacks.
“They don’t think much will happen,” he said, when questioned by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan at his confirmation hearing to be general and director of the National Security Agency and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.
“We seem to be the cyber punching-bag of the world,” Sullivan said during the Senate Armed Services hearing.
Nakasone’s confirmation hearing was held two days after his retiring predecessor, Admiral Mike Rogers, told the same panel that Trump had not granted him the authority to disrupt Russian election hacking operations.
Nakasone said responsibility for developing a “whole of government” response to cyber attacks lay with the executive branch.
Leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies have said repeatedly that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election that brought Trump to power. And more recently, they have warned that Moscow – which denies any such efforts – is trying to disrupt the midterm elections in November.
When questioned by another Republican member of the committee, Senator Ben Sasse, Nakasone said he did not think countries behind cyber attacks had seen enough of a U.S. response to deter them.
“Our adversaries have not seen our response in sufficient detail to change their behavior,” Nakasone said.
Nakasone also said he had not come to an opinion on an issue that has been influencing discussion of the NSA and cyber role for years: whether the two positions should be separated.
He told the committee he would make a recommendation to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on that issue within 90 days of assuming the position, if he is confirmed.
Nakasone is expected to be confirmed. Some committee members took time as they questioned him to praise his record and thank him for his service to the country.