WASHINGTON — Officials from the U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon on Tuesday gave a rare glimpse of the outlook of threats to the nation — and the prospects were not reassuring.
Thousands of ISIS fighters and advocates remain in Syria and Iraq, with no intention of going away or stopping suicide and other attacks. North Korea is not likely to give up its nuclear weapons, despite what it pretends to say. The war in Afghanistan will continue to be a stalemate with mo military breakthrough envisioned. The U.S. is certain to be the target of a plethora of cyber attacks to influence the 2020 presidential election.
Those scenarios and others were presented Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee by intelligence officials including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel in a rare public hearing.
Their assessments often were in dissonance to what the Trump administration has projected — including one of the few neutral assessments: that Iran does not appear to be developing nuclear weapons in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement from which the U.S. withdrew.
“Our adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly use cyber capabilities — including cyber espionage, attack, and influence — to seek political, economic, and military advantage over the United States and its allies and partners,” Coats said. Other nations are likely to join China and Russia with the knowhow for cyber espionage and attacks, he said.
Pentagon officials had previously said China is ahead in many cyber areas. The Pentagon is increasing its efforts to detect and thwart practices such as “deep-fakes” and grey zone cyber attacks.
Coats said Russia has increased its skills in social media and cyber manipulation in advance of the 2020 election.
“Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities, and criticizing perceived anti-Russia politicians…in a targeted fashion,” he said.
A report given to the committee said: “We expect our adversaries and strategic competitors to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections.”
Wray said China’s approach is different, using economics to gain control over institutions and facilities as well as sophisticated stealing of data, information and intellectual knowledge. He said China’s operations are “more deep, more vexing, more comprehensive and more challenging than any other” he has tried to counter.
“We have economic espionage investigations … in virtually every one of our 56 field offices,” Wray told the committee. “And the number of those have doubled over the past three or four years, and almost all of them … lead back to China.”
In regards to North Korea giving up its nuclear arsenal, Coats told the committee that the opposite seems to be the case. “We continue to observe activity inconsistent with full denuclearization.”