Moultrie's cyber background clears path to confirmation
- By Lauren C. Williams
- May 12, 2021
President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Defense Department's intelligence and security office, Ronald Moultrie, appears to have a smooth path to Senate confirmation thanks in large part to his cybersecurity experience.
Moultrie, the nominee for undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, fielded multiple questions about the recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which delivers nearly half of the East Coast's fuel, that resulted in a shutdown Friday and is having an impact of gas availability and pricing.
Moultrie called the attack "extremely concerning" during the Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing May 11, saying that such intrusions likely "occur much more frequently than what we know."
"The adversary knows what our vulnerabilities are better than we do; they've studied us," said Moultrie, who was previously the National Security Agency's director of operations and was a principal on the Navy secretary's cybersecurity readiness review.
"We're probably the most connected but most underprotected society in the world."
Senators homed in on the need for enhanced government cooperation across departments and within the defense and intelligence agencies
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who praised Moultrie's cybersecurity work with the Navy, stressed the need for government cooperation to prevent and respond to cyberattacks, saying "there's a real lesson to be learned here about the coordination that has to occur" between government departments, branches, and particularly the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who called Moultrie a "particularly good choice" due to his cybersecurity background, asked how the U.S. would have responded if the pipeline hack had been a terrorist attack.
"I wonder if this had been a terrorist attack on the pipeline would we have reacted the same way," Shaheen said.
Moultrie's answer: "We have to do more." If confirmed, he said he would address such attacks as a public-private partnership issue, working closer with industry and agency partners, and looking at laws and processes "in place for alerting people."
Moultrie also expressed support for military information operations, including those who work "across multiple domains to counter foreign malign actors and advance U.S. national security." He added that "efforts to deter and defend against foreign strategic information operations should be prioritized with appropriate resources and must include more robust coordination and collaboration across the Department."
Budget concerns for comptroller nominee
Michael McCord, who testified May 11, also seems poised for confirmation to reprise his 2014 role as DOD's comptroller and chief financial officer.
Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), questioned McCord regarding his previous support of increasing the Defense Department's budget by at least 3% over inflation per the National Defense Strategy Commission's recommendations from 2018.
Republicans have voiced their dissatisfaction with the Biden administration's $715 billion topline budget for DOD. But when pressed, McCord said the 3% to 5% recommendation was intended as a five-year average "and the FY '22 request is still in that range from where the budget was five years ago...so I think, in that respect, there's a certain consistency."
Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.
Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.
Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.
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