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Defense Secretary Nominee Cautions Against ‘Stumbling’ into Cyberwar

Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis

Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis // J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Retired Gen. James Mattis called for a comprehensive cyber doctrine to respond to cyberattacks when testifying during his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.

Any such doctrine would be a multi-agency effort that could include the Defense, State, Treasury and Homeland Security departments, and he hoped it could be accomplished within 18 months, Mattis told the Senate panel.

The cyber domain, new or not, still requires urgent responses, he said.

“It is also important that our adversaries know what we will not tolerate, and by making it clear, you are less apt to have somebody stumble into a situation where new we are forced to take action,” Mattis said, answering a question about what constitutes an act of cyberwar.

A cyberattack, however, does not need to be deemed an act of war to trigger a response, Mattis wrote in his questionnaire.

Mattis also said he was “philosophically OK” with elevating U.S. Cyber Command into a unified command, promising to give the matter his personal attention.

Mattis pushed to replace, refurbish and modernize the equipment of armed forces while also mapping out a strategy for the future force 10 to 15 years from now. The department will need to harvest ideas from civilian leaders about artificial intelligence, biotechnology and other fields, possibly through programs like the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental.

Mattis, who left military service four years ago, will need a waiver to bypass the 7-year buffer period. The Senate passed the waiver with a vote of 81 to 17.

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