Artificial intelligence emerged as one theme today during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on two of President Trump’s nominees for senior positions within the intelligence community.

The hearing examined the nominations of Christopher Miller to lead the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and Patrick Hovakimian to become general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

The White House nominated Miller earlier this year after the unceremonious exit of Russell Travers. The position has been filled by Lora Shiao since April. Miller currently is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism (SOCT) at the Department of Defense (DoD).

“It’s my life’s goal, whether confirmed for this position or in another capacity, to defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates,” said Miller, in his opening statement. He added to that goal “developing and nurturing the next generation of counterterrorism professionals and technologies and expanding relationships with likeminded partners around the world, who are committed to the elimination of this scourge to peaceful coexistence.”

Miller told senators that NCTC is “doing some cutting edge work on using artificial intelligence and machine learning,” but added “we’re a long way, as a government writ-large, from exploiting those, but I’m really hopeful that they continue to be best-in-class.”

Hovakimian, currently Associate Deputy Attorney General and Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at the Department of Justice (DoJ), trumpeted his experience with artificial intelligence in the legal realm, and talked about his work with the FBI and DoJ’s National Security division on matters relating to AI.

“I would do my best to render complete, thorough, and accurate legal advice no matter how novel the context,” said Hovakimian, in response to a question from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

“I’m not sure we could have two more qualified individuals,” said Burr, of the nominees, urging quick actions on the nominations.

In his opening remarks, committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the nominees had “strong qualifications,” but expressed concerns at the conclusion of the hearing about Hovakimian’s reply to a question from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., regarding his role and opinion about the way last year’s intelligence community whistleblower complaint was handled. Sen. Warner asked Hovakimian to follow up in a written response to the committee.

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Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.