THE BIG IDEA: Every four years, the National Intelligence Strategy attempts to do something that official Washington seems increasingly incapable of: long-term thinking.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats released a chilling report on Tuesday that outlines what the 17 federal agencies that make up the intelligence community see as the gravest threats facing the United States.
The former Republican senator from Indiana, appointed by President Trump, has sought to protect the independence of spy agencies to provide candid and cleareyed assessments of what’s really going on in the world, especially vis-a-vis the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s revanchist Russia.
In the past, there’s been a public report and a separate classified version. But this year there is only one version – and it’s entirely unclassified. This is part of an effort by Coats to be more transparent in the face of sustained attacks from the president and his allies on the right against what they’ve taken to calling the Deep State.
Trump has routinely clashed with the intelligence community, likening the agencies to Nazi Germany shortly before he took office, repeatedly questioning their expert consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and boasting about his inauguration crowd size during a speech in front of the wall of stars that honors the fallen at CIA headquarters.
“We need to assure our policymaking community, and the American people, that we can be trusted with this responsibility to use our information appropriately to protect the nation,” Coats said in an afternoon speech to more than 150 members of his staff in McLean, Va. “Through transparency, we will strengthen America’s faith that the intelligence community seeks the truth – and speaks the truth.”
— Here are the 10 biggest truth bombs from the 36-page Coats report. These are direct quotes:
1. “Traditional adversaries will continue attempts to gain and assert influence, taking advantage of changing conditions in the international environment — including the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals, increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West, and shifts in the global economy.”
2. “Russian efforts to increase its influence and authority are likely to continue and may conflict with U.S. goals and priorities in multiple regions.”
3. “No longer a solely U.S. domain, the democratization of space poses significant challenges for the United States. Adversaries are increasing their presence in this domain with plans to reach or exceed parity in some areas. For example, Russia and China will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness and overall security. Increasing commercialization of space now provides capabilities that were once limited to global powers to anyone that can afford to buy them. Many aspects of modern society—to include our ability to conduct military operations—rely on our access to and equipment in space.”
4. “The ability of individuals and groups to have a larger impact than ever before—politically, militarily, economically, and ideologically—is undermining traditional institutions. This empowerment of groups and individuals is increasing the influence of ethnic, religious, and other sources of identity, changing the nature of conflict, and challenging the ability of traditional governments to satisfy the increasing demands of their populations, increasing the potential for greater instability. Some violent extremist groups will continue to take advantage of these sources and drivers of instability to hold territory, further insurgencies, plan external attacks, and inspire followers to launch attacks wherever they are around the world.”
5. “Increasing migration and urbanization of populations are further straining the capacities of governments around the world and are likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization. Pressure points include growing influxes of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons fleeing conflict zones; areas of intense economic or other resource scarcity; and areas threatened by climate changes, infectious disease outbreaks, or transnational criminal organizations. All of these issues will continue to drive global change on an unprecedented scale.”
6. “Advances in nano- and bio-technologies have the potential to cure diseases and modify human performance, but without common ethical standards and shared interests to govern these developments, they have the potential to pose significant threats to U.S. interests and security. In addition, the development and spread of such technologies remain uneven, increasing the potential to drastically widen the divide between so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.'”
7. “Despite growing awareness of cyber threats and improving cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years to come. Our adversaries are becoming more adept at using cyberspace capabilities to threaten our interests and advance their own strategic and economic objectives. Cyber threats will pose an increasing risk to public health, safety, and prosperity as information technologies are integrated into critical infrastructure, vital national networks, and consumer devices.”
8. “Many adversaries continue to pursue capabilities to inflict catastrophic damage to U.S. interests through the acquisition and use of [weapons of mass destruction]. Their possession of these capabilities can have major impacts on U.S. national security, overseas interests, allies, and the global order. The intelligence challenges to countering the proliferation of WMD and advanced conventional weapons are increasing as actors become more sophisticated, WMD-related information becomes broadly available, proliferation mechanisms increase, and as political instability erodes the security of WMD stockpiles.
9. “Continued federal budget uncertainty strains the [intelligence community’s] ability to make deliberative and responsive resource decisions. The outcome may be overextended budgets or lack of cost-effective solutions to address intelligence issues. The [intelligence community] needs to develop methods to efficiently shift resources to mitigate programmatic (fiscal) risk and avoid loss of vital programs, capabilities, and resource investments.”
10. “There will likely be demand for greater intelligence support to domestic security, driven in part by concerns over the threat of terrorism, the threat posed by transnational illicit drug and human trafficking networks, and the threat to U.S. critical infrastructure. Intelligence support to counter these threats must be conducted … with adequate protection for civil liberties and privacy.”
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