“Competition among countries will increase in the coming year as major powers, and regional aggressors exploit complex global trends while adjusting to new priorities in US foreign policy. The risk of interstate conflict, including among great powers, is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. The most immediate threats of regional interstate conflict in the next year come from North Korea and Saudi-Iranian use of proxies in their rivalry. At the same time, the threat of state and nonstate use of weapons of mass destruction will continue to grow.”
These are the words Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats used in his opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 13 February 2018, submitting their Worldwide Threat Assessment 2018. The In his testimony Director Coats added element of national power, cyber warfare, as potential threats to the US and its allies. Richard A. Clarke defined cyber warfare as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks to cause damage or disruption.” STUXNET virus launched on Iran’s nuclear program is the most historic example of cyber warfare. In this Nation’s DIME, we’ll explore quotes from the Director of National Intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessment in the diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and cyber elements of national power.
In the Diplomatic area, the Director appears to think the US will return to the Cold War era. Governor Mitt Romney was vilified in the press when he said in the Presidential Debate Russia would be our primary adversary as the proxy US-Russia war continues in Syria.
“China and Russia will seek spheres of influence and to check US appeal and influence in their regions. Meanwhile, US allies’ and partners’ uncertainty about the willingness and capability of the United States to maintain its international commitments may drive them to consider reorienting their policies, particularly regarding trade, away from Washington.” Threat Assessment, pg. 4
“Russia and China continue to publicly and diplomatically promote international agreements on the non-weaponization of space and “no first placement” of weapons in space. However, many classes of weapons would not be addressed by such proposals, allowing them to continue their pursuit of space warfare capabilities while publicly maintaining space must be a peaceful domain.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 13
In the Informational area, global terrorist organizations are very computer and media savy. ISIS employs the internet for propaganda, fund raising, and recruiting. Google Earth allows our terrorist enemies access to ten to thirty meter square imagery of US bases in the Middle East. As I’ve often heard in many intelligence briefings, we can tell if it’s a mustache or cleavage in commercially procured satellite imagery.
“Terrorist groups will continue to use the Internet to organize, recruit, spread propaganda, raise funds, collect intelligence, inspire action by followers, and coordinate operations. Given their current capabilities, cyber operations by terrorist groups mostly likely would result in personally identifiable information (PII) disclosures, website defacements, and denial-of-service attacks against poorly protected networks.” Threat Assessment, pg. 6
There is much to cover in the Military area of the Worldwide Threat Assessment. The US and Russia are fighting a low intensity war in Syria. Putin employs mercenaries from the Wagner Group and coordinates their operations with his Iranian Shia allies, Major General Qasem Soleimani leading the Iranian Republican Guard Al Quids Forces in Syria.
And then there’s Kim Jong Un to deal with… we continue to live in a very uncertain world.
“Despite Russia’s ongoing development of other Treaty-compliant missiles with intermediate ranges, Moscow probably believes the new Ground-Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) provides sufficient military advantages to make it worth risking the political repercussions of violating the INF Treaty.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 7
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to modernize its nuclear missile force by adding more survivable road-mobile systems and enhancing its silo-based systems… In addition, the PLA Navy continues to develop the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and might produce additional JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. Threat Assessment, Pg. 7
“Iran’s ballistic missile programs give it the potential to hold targets at risk across the region, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Tehran’s desire to deter the United States might drive it to field an ICBM.” Threat Assessment, Pg 7.
“North Korea will be among the most volatile and confrontational WMD threats to the United States over the next year… Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States. We assess that North Korea has a longstanding BW capability and biotechnology infrastructure that could support a BW program.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 8.
Terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Al Qa’ida, Hezbollah, and what the Threat Assessment calls “Homegrown” groups will continue to threaten US interests.
“Over the next year, we expect that ISIS is likely to focus on regrouping in Iraq and Syria, enhancing its global presence, championing its cause, planning international attacks, and encouraging its members and sympathizers to attack in their home countries.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 11
“The primary threat to US and Western interests from al-Qa‘ida’s global network through 2018 will be in or near affiliates’ operating areas. Not all affiliates will have the intent and capability to pursue or inspire attacks in the US homeland or elsewhere in the West.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 11
“Homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) will remain the most prevalent and difficult-to-detect Sunni terrorist threat at home, despite a drop in the number of attacks in 2017. HVE attacks are likely to continue to occur with little or no warning because the perpetrators often strike soft targets and use simple tactics that do not require advanced skills or outside training.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 10
Reviewing Threat Assessment testimony in the Economic arena illustrates a number of pressure points around the world. Africa and South America top the list of economic depressed continents.
“Global growth in 2018—projected by the IMF to rise to 3.9 percent—is likely to become more broadly based, but growth remains weak in many countries, and inflation is below target in most advanced economies.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 15
“Developing countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa face economic challenges, and many states struggle with reforms to tamp down corruption. Terrorists and criminal groups will continue to exploit weak state capacity in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 15
“In Africa, declining oil revenue, mismanagement, and inadequate policy responses to oil price shocks have contributed to Angolan and Nigerian fiscal problems, currency strains, and deteriorating foreign exchange reserves.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 15
The US faces serious threats from Cyber warfare, and the common enemies are not surprising.
“The potential for surprise in the cyber realm will increase in the next year and beyond as billions more digital devices are connected—with relatively little built-in security—and both nation states and malign actors become more emboldened and better equipped in the use of increasingly widespread cyber toolkits.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 5
“Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea will pose the greatest cyber threats to the United States during the next year. These states are using cyber operations as a low-cost tool of statecraft, and we assess that they will work to use cyber operations to achieve strategic objectives unless they face clear repercussions for their cyber operations.” Threat Assessment, Pg. 5
“The widespread proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI)—the field of computer science encompassing systems that seek to imitate aspects of human cognition by learning and making decisions based on accumulated knowledge—is likely to prompt new national security concerns.” Threat Assessment, pg. 12
I invite all of you to click on the DNI link above and read the Threat Assessment in detail on the points above.
— Final note, please let me know your feedback and suggestions on Twitter, your thought on this weeks DIME, and what do you want more or less of? Let me know by sending a tweet to @MarkHasara and put #nationsdime in the header.