NSA nominee sails through second confirmation hearing

NSA nominee sails through second confirmation hearing
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE’s choice to lead the National Security Agency sat for his second confirmation hearing on Thursday, during which he faced a host of questions on NSA recruitment challenges, U.S. strategy in cyberspace and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

The hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which lasted a mere hour, was largely genial, a sign that Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone will be approved by the committee.

It frequently touched on Russian election interference, which the Intelligence Committee is currently investigating.

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Nakasone agreed with the January 2017 assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and sided with other intelligence officials who have said they expect Moscow to meddle in future votes.

“Unless the calculus changes, then we should expect continued issues,” Nakasone said, citing previous statements from Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions CNN's Jake Tapper repeatedly presses Pence on whether he thinks climate change is a threat Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger MORE.

Trump nominated Nakasone, a career military intelligence officer, back in February to serve in the dual-hat position of NSA director and U.S. Cyber Command commander.

If confirmed, Nakasone will replace outgoing NSA Director Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersOvernight Defense: Latest on Iran after Trump halts planed strike | Dems call Trump's approach 'erratic' | Key Republican urges Trump to retaliate | Esper reportedly getting Defense secretary nomination GOP rep: Trump needs to retaliate against Iran to deter other hostile nations Huawei is national security issue, not trade football for our leaders MORE, who is expected to retire this spring.

The Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month held a hearing on Nakasone’s nomination and unanimously approved him. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which also has jurisdiction over the NSA, will also need to sign off on his nomination before he is considered by the full Senate.

In a key moment during Thursday’s hearing, Nakasone impressed Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE (D-Ore.), a fierce hawk of the NSA’s surveillance practices, with his answers about oversight of the agency. 

Harkening back to Edward Snowden’s 2013 disclosures about the NSA’s now-defunct wiretapping program, Wyden asked Nakasone how he would address “a similar situation.” 

“If there was a form of surveillance that currently requires approval by the FISA court and you were asked to avoid the court based on some kind of secret legal analysis, what would you do?” Wyden asked, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that oversees foreign intelligence surveillance requests. 

Nakasone answered that he would “consult” with the committee in the event of such a request. 

“At the end of the day, I think that one of the most important things is that we have the conversation between the National Security Agency and this oversight committee,” Nakasone said. 

“There are two things that I would do: I would follow the law, and I would ensure if confirmed that the agency follows the law,” he later added. 

Those statements pleased Wyden, who called them “encouraging.” 

In closing remarks, Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-N.C.) called Nakasone “the right person at the right time” to lead NSA. 

“You’ve been nominated at a very pivotal time where technology, as the vice chairman pointed out, is changing annually the same way technology used to change, literally, decade to decade,” Burr said. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity and it is a tremendous challenge.” 

But Burr also made a point to emphasize the need for Nakasone, as NSA director, to provide documents to the committee that it requests for the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling. 

“The relationship between this committee and that agency has never been better than it is right now,” Burr said. “The agency has provided us an unprecedented access to its products as we have worked for the last 14 months through a very difficult investigation.” 

“It is essential for this committee to do a thorough and a complete review of what has happened,” Burr said.