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Sen. Joni Ernst Questions Dr. Ashton Carter at Senate Armed Services Committee Nomination Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) asked President Obama’s Secretary of Defense nominee Dr. Ashton Carter about the impact that sequestration has had on the Reserve and National Guard. Senator Ernst also addressed rising threats – particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Europe – and the need to ensure that our Guard and Reserve units maintain their ability to reinforce the active duty component as effectively as they have since our nation was attacked on September 11, 2001.

Senator Ernst later asked Dr. Carter about the impact of cyber security threats on our military’s acquisition strategy, and his thoughts on where the government should be in regards to protecting national security versus personal privacy. Senator Ernst emphasized the heavy reliance on networking tools throughout the ranks of the military and timeliness of cyber security threats in the wake of recent attacks.


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SENATOR ERNST: Thank you, Dr. Carter, for being here today. Thank you Mr. Chairman. Also, Senator Lieberman, thank you for joining us today. As we sat down in my office the other day, one thing that hopefully was very clear to you was my passion for the National Guard and the Army reserves, and all Reserve members. Actually. And so we have spent a considerable amount of time talking in this forum about sequestration and the effects on our services, not just our active duty forces but also those that serve as wonderful weekend warriors. So I would love for you to please address the panel, and just talk -- talk to us and explain to us those impacts that you have seen regarding sequestration and how it has impacted those Reserve and National Guard forces, please.

DR. ASHTON CARTER: Thank you, senator, and by the way, thank you for your own service. Appreciate it. And I begin by saying that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Guard and Reserve, for what they've done over the last 12, 13 years. We couldn't have done, I know this from the time I was in the Department of Defense previously, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their peak, we couldn't have sustained the tempo of combat in those two locations without the contributions of the Reserve component of our military. So if there's ever a time when they're value was made clear, it's been in the last 10 to 12 years. And they are impacted, as every other part of the Defense Department is, by sequester. That's the terrible thing about sequester. It's everybody and it hits them hard. And it hits them soon. Which means that we don't have time to adjust. So I think the Guard and Reserve component have borne the impact of sequester as all the rest of the departments have. Sad to say.

SENATOR ERNST: And thank you for that. I appreciate that. If confirmed, we do -- we do have a number of rising threats that we see all around the world. And specifically, in the Middle East right now. So considering those threats, with many new possible deployments, coming up, then if confirmed, how do we ensure that our Guard and Reserve units then maintain their ability to reinforce our active duty component, as effectively as they have in the past dozen years? How do we ensure that they're being supported?

DR. ASHTON CARTER: Thank you for that. And that is the key issue, as you well know. And I think that the Reserve component forces need to be as prepared to go in to action, if they're called to go in to action, as any active duty element. But you never want to send anybody into harm's way on behalf of the United States who hasn't had the training, and isn't fully prepared, and isn't adequately equipped to do the job. So I think it's important that the Guard and Reserve are at a state of readiness that is commensurate with the need we have for them, and in -- one other thing I'll add is that they also not incidentally at all, very importantly, play a role in responding to disasters in our own country. That's another important and, by the way, also amply demonstrated in recent years, attribute of having them. So both for defense of civil authorities, and for deployment in a national security emergency, they need to be fully ready when we need them.

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you much Dr. Carter and thank you Mr. Chairman.


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SENATOR ERNST: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Again, thank you, Dr. Carter from being here today. As a military we have moved a very long ways away from using the old compass and map. Many of our systems now are very heavily networked. We rely very much on technology for our weapon systems, for our command and control systems and that is really our primary tools for achieving dominance over our adversaries on the battlefield. But what we are seeing now is cyber security threats, cyber attacks that are looming out there. And a number of countries out there including Russia, China, North Korea, probably many others, have very sophisticated means of attacking networks. And how do you see that impacting our acquisition strategy as we move forward? And how do we best protect our equipment, protect our personnel moving forward?

DR. ASHTON CARTER: I think you said it exactly the way I see it. You understand, but perhaps others around the country don't understand that not only is our civilian infrastructure susceptible to cyber attack, but we have to be concerned about our military infrastructure because exactly as you say, there's no point in having planes and ships and armored vehicles in today's world if the network, is itself, vulnerable. And I think -- I hope I can work together if I'm confirmed by this Committee on improving our cyber defenses, many aspects of cyber. One is the defense of our own networks in the Department of Defense. That is, not where it should be in terms of making them immune to attack by a potential enemy that would impair our own forces, engaged with that enemy. So that – I agree with you entirely.

SENATOR ERNST: Yes, thank you. We rely on networking so very much from the simple ordering of a part for a Humvee to targeting, you know, the enemy on the battlefield. It goes from every level from your squad level all the way up through the ranks. Do you have an opinion on this, just your opinion, because it is more than just the military and the department of defense and our network security, we could look at attacks to our financial institutions, to our utilities as being a security risk for the United States also. Do you have an opinion on where the federal government should be in regards to protecting our national security interests versus the privacy of individuals out there that might be using the network?

DR. ASHTON CARTER: I do. I have some understanding of that issue. And I would say that the federal government does have a role in protecting the country from a cyber attack in the same way it has a role in protecting the country from other kinds of attack. And I think it can do a lot more to exercise that responsibility without causing concerns over invasions of people's privacy and so forth. So, for example, the government can share information and knowledge it has collected about threats to private networks with those private parties provided the proper legal safeguards are provided which have less to do with privacy than they do with anti-trust and other aspects that are important. I think that the government can sponsor and conduct R&D that improves the trade craft in network defense for the good of the country. So, I think there's a lot we can do. And we're not anywhere near where we should be as a country. I think if we were as unprotected in some other domain that was more familiar to ordinary people, they would be clamoring for us to do more. I think if people fully understand what you understand about how vulnerable we are in cyberspace, they would want us to do more, not in any way that compromised anybody's privacy but they would want us to be doing do a lot more than I believe we are doing now.

SENATOR ERNST: Thank you, I appreciate that. I think this will continue to be a vexing problem for us moving forward. This is a situation that we are dealing with in many of our separate committees but I do appreciate your opinion very much. Thank you very much Mr. Chair.


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