Colin Kahl, the Biden administration's pick to be the undersecretary of defense for policy, talked cyber and defense while dodging critiques on past social media posts.
Colin Kahl, the Biden administration's nominee to lead a key policy office at the Pentagon, at a 2019 think tank event.
Colin Kahl, the Biden administration's pick to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy, met with heavy criticism from Republicans for past social media comments during his nomination hearing, while advocating for cyber policy that would protect the U.S. against another SolarWinds-type breach.
Before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 4, Kahl called the pervasiveness of the recent intrusion a "deeply troubling" and a reminder of how expansive the cyberattack surface is.
"I fear that that attack surface has grown substantially over the last year as so much of our activities have moved online as a consequence of the pandemic. So this is an issue of foremost importance...across the U.S. government," he testified.
Kahl said his cyber policy views aligned with the Cyberspace Solarium Commission's report, supporting a "layered approach" with deterrence by punishment, defending and rebuilding networks to make resilience a deterrent, and establishing cyber norms with allies.
"True cybersecurity requires a whole of government effort, working in partnership with the private sector," he wrote in his opening remarks.
"The Department should adopt a layered approach to respond to cyberattacks, defend our networks and improve their resilience, and work alongside our allies to shape rules of the road that constrain malign behavior."
However, the three-hour hearing was dominated with criticisms of Kahl's social media comments that Ranking Member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) characterized as "hyper-partisan advocacy" in his opening remarks.
"We know there's a new administration. I didn't want it but it's here. And We will have policy disagreements that we will all try to work through," Inhofe said. "But how will you rectify the fact that many Americans, including those who work at the Department of Defense, know you only through your very partisan comments?"
Republican senators zoomed in on Kahl's past tweets, some dating back to 2012, questioning his ability to keep composure and separate political leanings from policy decisions. The lasered focus on social media comments echoed criticisms during the nomination hearing for Neera Tanden, the Biden administration's former pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, who withdrew from consideration on March 2.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) suggested that Republicans’ controversy over Kahl’s nomination and social media record was a “essentially proxy war over the Iran deal" – U.S. participation in a multi-lateral effort to suppress Iran's nuclear capability that was ended under the Trump administration.
Kahl was previously the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and deputy assistant to the president and national security adviser to the vice president in separate stints during the Obama administration, and was one of the public faces of the Iran deal. He also served as a council on foreign relations international affairs fellow in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Bush administration.
Kahl apologized early in the hearing for any "disrespectful" past comments but defended his "long track record" of putting politics aside to develop national security policy.
"No party has a monopoly on good ideas, none of us have cracked the code on some of the toughest challenges we face...so we have to be in this together. I know there are disagreements but I am also confident that I can work with people that I disagree with both inside the Pentagon and here in the halls of Congress."
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