US spies see grim global outlook with Russia, China as top foes
Bloomberg March 8, 2022
China is developing one of the greatest nuclear weapons forces in history while Russia will exploit every opportunity to undermine the U.S. and its allies, according to the annual threat assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
In a stark, declassified 31-page document, the report released late Monday by the House Intelligence Committee says Iran will continue to threaten American interests as it seeks to erode U.S. influence in the Middle East. At the same time, North Korea is committed to expanding its nuclear arsenal and ballistic missile development, according to the assessment.
“In the coming year, the United States and its allies will face an increasingly complex and interconnected global security environment marked by the growing specter of great power competition and conflict, while collective, transnational threats to all nations and actors compete for our attention and finite resources,” according to the document.
The nation’s top intelligence chiefs will present — and expand upon — the assessment when they testify before the House committee on Tuesday. Speakers will include Avril Haines, director of national intelligence; CIA chief William Burns; General Paul Nakasone, head of the National Security Agency; and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The annual assessment represents a consensus among the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies of major threats confronting the U.S., and is used by lawmakers and policy makers as a baseline to make critical decisions, advance legislation and craft budgets.
The assessment is dated, however, as it was written before Russia invaded Ukraine last month and was based on information available as of Jan. 21. Lawmakers are certain to press the intelligence chiefs for the most current assessments and implications of Russia’s invasion during Tuesday’s hearing.
Still, the assessment warns that Russia is determined to “dominate Ukraine and other countries” in the near term, while not wanting a direct conflict with American forces.
“We assess that Moscow will continue to employ an array of tools to advance its own interests or undermine the interests of the United States and its allies,” according to the assessment. “We expect Moscow to insert itself into crises when Russia’s interests are at stake, the anticipated costs of action are low, or it sees an opportunity to capitalize on a power vacuum.”
The intelligence agencies assess that the Wagner Group and other private security companies managed by Russians close to the Kremlin “extend Moscow’s military reach at low cost in areas ranging from Syria to the Central African Republic and Mali, allowing Russia to disavow its involvement and distance itself from battlefield casualties.”
The Chinese Communist Party, on the other hand, “will work to press Taiwan on unification, undercut U.S. influence, drive wedges between Washington and its partners, and foster some norms that favor its authoritarian system,” according to the document.
China “will continue the largest ever nuclear force expansion and arsenal diversification in its history,” as Beijing isn’t “interested in agreements that restrict its plans and will not agree to negotiations that lock in U.S. or Russian advantages,” according to U.S. intelligence.
China’s efforts to control Taiwan — a self-governing island which Beijing claims as its territory — will probably ensure more disruptions to the global supply chains for semiconductor chips.
“China will remain the top threat to U.S. technological competitiveness as Beijing targets key sectors and proprietary commercial and military technology from U.S. and allied companies and institutions,” according to the document. And China “almost certainly is capable of launching cyber attacks that would disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines and rail systems.”
The statement disclosed that when it was launched by China last year, a hypersonic weapon designed to evade U.S. defenses “flew completely around the world and impacted inside China.” The U.S. originally labeled all details of the test highly classified.
Other issues highlighted in the report include:
— While Iran is not currently undertaking key nuclear weapons-development activities that would be necessary to produce a nuclear device, if Tehran doesn’t receive sanctions relief, officials probably will consider further enriching uranium up to 90%. Negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran are believed to be in their final stages at talks in Vienna.
— North Korea remains strongly committed to expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal and continuing ballistic missile research and development. “North Korea’s continued development of ICBMs, IRBMs, and SLBMs demonstrates its intention to bolster its nuclear delivery capability,” according to the assessment.
— The North Korean regime “is continuing to prioritize efforts to build an increasingly capable missile force designed to evade U.S. and regional missile defenses.”
— North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un “probably will continue to order missile tests,” including of short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and hypersonic glide vehicles “to validate technical objectives, reinforce deterrence, and normalize Pyongyang’s missile testing”
— North Korea’s “cyber program poses a sophisticated and agile espionage, cybercrime, and attack threat” and “is well positioned to conduct surprise cyber attacks given its stealth and history of bold action.”
— North Korea also “probably possesses the expertise to cause temporary, limited disruptions of some critical infrastructure networks and disrupt business networks in the United States.”
— The terrorist groups Islamic State and al-Qaida “will take advantage of weak governance” in Afghanistan “to continue to plot terrorist attacks against U.S. persons and interests, including to varying degrees in the United States, and exacerbate instability in regions such as Africa and the Middle East” the assessment states.