WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead both U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency threw his weight behind the renewal of a much-debated foreign surveillance authority that expires at the end of the year.

U.S Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh during his second confirmation hearing of the month told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is “irreplaceable,” serving as a cornerstone of the president’s daily intelligence rundown.

Section 702 allows the government to collect and review communications like emails and text messages of foreigners abroad, including when they are in touch with Americans. Haugh and others said the provision helps foil terror plots and cyberattacks.

“When we see things like the origins of fentanyl in China and its path that it takes to the United States? Informed by 702,” Haugh said July 20. “Counterterrorism actions, the ability to see some of the egregious acts that Russia has done in Ukraine? Informed by 702.”

The spying measure was last renewed in 2018. The Biden administration is now pushing for its reauthorization while facing criticism from lawmakers and advocacy groups that decry it as a warrantless dragnet. Foreign targets totaled more than 232,000 in 2021, according to an Office of the Director of National Intelligence report.

Haugh said there are sufficient guardrails on Section 702, ranging from personal and professional responsibility to the Department of Justice and the courts.

“The National Security Agency and all of the employees are focused on how to protect their fellow Americans, and that includes their civil liberties,” he said. “Inside of Section 702 is a rigorous set of oversight, both through personal accountability as well as technical accountability, to ensure that the authority is used appropriately, for its intended purpose, for foreign persons overseas.”

Biden nominated Haugh in May to lead CYBERCOM, tasked with guarding Pentagon information and coordinating cyberspace operations, and the NSA. If confirmed by the Senate, he would succeed Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, who has worked the dual-hat role since 2018.

Senior military confirmations are stalled as Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, protests a Pentagon policy for troops seeking abortion services in states where it is now illegal to administer them. More than 250 positions or assignments are now in limbo.

A closed-door meeting this week between Pentagon officials and key lawmakers failed to break the standoff.

“They didn’t prove that this was needed to help with recruiting or retention, and there’s zero evidence to support it,” Tuberville said, according to Military Times. “I’m willing to listen, but we’re not going to support this direction of allowing abortion anytime for anyone.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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