The president will be offered a "full range of options" in response to China’s cyber attack that stole tens of millions of records on government workers, the nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, currently the Corps’ commandant, also identified Russia as the primary national security threat to the United States, and China as the second main security threat.
"The cyber threat is clearly very significant," Dunford said during a nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Asked how the United States should respond, Dunford said: "From my perspective, if confirmed, my role will be to provide the president with a full range of options to deal with these cyber attacks, which is what the OPM breach was."
President Obama in the past has rejected plans proposed by military and intelligence leaders to conduct offensive cyber counterattacks on China, preferring a legal and diplomatic approach.
Dunford, during two and half hours of testimony, also said he would review the U.S. strategy to counter the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) terrorist group if he believes the strategy is not working. Currently, he said there are indications the group is being "degraded" by a combination of airstrikes and ground operations by Iraqi forces and that the fight will be a long campaign.
James Comey, the director of the FBI, appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday, said that "millions and millions" of sensitive records related to security clearance background investigations were compromised in the [Office of Personnel Management] OPM hack, which was discovered in April.
"It is an enormous breach, and a huge amount of data that is personal and sensitive to federal employees, former federal employees, people who applied for employment was available to the adversary," Comey said, adding that the administration is preparing to go public with a fuller account.
Initially, OPM stated that more than 4 million records were stolen by the hackers. On Thursday, administration officials said the new figure on the number of people implicated in the data breach is 22.1 million, including the database of sensitive background investigations.
Comey said sensitive information on his SF-86 security questionnaire, a form used for granting access to secrets, was stolen, including all the places he has lived and worked, along with information about family members and addresses.
The hackers behind the OPM breach were identified by government officials and computer security analysts as linked to the Chinese military.
Dunford noted that confirming the identity of the cyber attackers is difficult. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said June 25 that China is the "leading suspect" in the attack.
The OPM cyber attack was carried out despite numerous warnings from the agency’s inspector general that its databases were vulnerable to such security breaches.
Dunford said the military’s U.S. Cyber Command is continuing to grow and he continues to support its efforts. The command is creating more than 30 cyber mission forces that are being integrated with military commands and will take part in combat operations in any future wars.
Dunford identified China as the second major security challenge facing the country because of its growing military capabilities.
"It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a current threat. It doesn’t mean we view China as an enemy," he said.
"But again, as somebody in uniform, I get paid to look at both somebody’s intent and their capability," Dunford continued. "When I look at Chinese capabilities relative to our interest in the Pacific, I’d have to consider China as an area of concern for security, again, as distinct from a threat."
In written answers to the committee, Dunford said Chinese territorial actions in the South and East China Seas have been destabilizing. He noted the "rapid military modernization and growing defense budgets" that have caused the United States and regional countries to question China’s long-term intentions.
A major concern is China’s development of "anti-access weapons" designed to prevent the United States military from operating in Asia.
"One of the keys to our nation’s success is our ability to rapidly project power around the globe," Dunford stated in his written testimony.
Chinese missiles and those of other adversaries are "designed to limit U.S. military’s freedom of movement," he said, adding that as chairman he will make it a priority to sustain U.S. power projection.
Dunford stated that he is concerned about China’s development of space weapons.
"China is rapidly developing space capabilities of its own that both mirror U.S. capabilities and could threaten our access and use of space for national security purposes," he said. "If confirmed, I will review our efforts to address China’s developments in space."
On Russia, Dunford said he supports sending arms, including counter-artillery arms, to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression and covert operations.
"From a military perspective, I think it’s reasonable that we provide that support to the Ukrainians," he said. "And frankly, without that kind of support, they’re not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression."
Dunford said Russia "presents the greatest threat to our national security" because of its nuclear power and its violation of sovereignty of U.S. allies.
"So if you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.
Dunford declined to answer during the hearing when asked whether the United States should withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force treaty as a result of Russia’s violation of the accord. Congress has been pressing the administration to take action in response to the treaty breach, which has been known for several years.
Moscow has denied it is violating the treaty through its development of what the U.S. government has said is a new cruise missile with a range between 310 and 3,400 miles.
In written answers to questions posed by the Armed Services Committee, Dunford stated that sanctions alone are unlikely to deter future Russian aggression.
On the counter-IS strategy, Dunford said the current operations were having some success.
"Militarily, we are making moderate progress," he said in written testimony. "ISIL has lost ground overall since the beginning our campaign. However, the current strategy depends on the development of reliable ground partners and on progress toward inclusive political systems in Iraq and Syria. If we get an indication that the other lines of effort cannot make the necessary progress, we should re-examine the strategy."
Dunford identified cyber threats, space weapons, and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal as among the most significant challenges he would face.
Asked about the U.S. military’s capability to conduct operations against Iran in the future, Dunford said he is confident in U.S. forces’ ability to take effective action.
"My understanding today is that we have both the plans in place and the capability in place to deal with a wide range of eventualities in Iran," Dunford said.
Iran poses a "significant threat" to the United States and allies in the region, he noted.
On the issue of integrating women into frontline combat positions, Dunford stated in his written answers that he would ensure that the plan to place women in combat roles would not lead to a reduction in training standards.
Dunford also said the military is reviewing whether it will go ahead with plans to build 2,443 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
The frontline fighter-bomber has been plagued by cost overruns for years, making it the most expensive weapon system ever built.
Current plans call for spending $12 billion to $15 billion a year for 20 years for F-35 procurement.
Dunford also did not rule out resumption of underground nuclear testing, if government technical specialists determine that such testing would be needed to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons.