Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats listens to President Trump during a Cabinet meeting at the White House last July. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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 make up the 17 federal agencies which comprise 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.”
Dan Coats arrives on Capitol Hill to deliver a classified briefing to lawmakers. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
— 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.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump attend a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in November 2017. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
— “Despots — and would-be despots — have seen in Trump a model, as well as an alibi,” Griff Witte, Carol Morello, Shibani Mahtani and Anthony Faiola report in today’s newspaper. “The strongman style of leadership is not new, of course, and it is not always obvious who is inspiring whom. But in interviews on four continents, diplomats, rights activists and foreign officials said that after two years of Trump using the world’s most powerful megaphone to cheer authoritarians, bully democratic allies and denigrate traditional American values, the impact on how others govern is becoming clear.”
- “Viktor Orban, Hungary’s increasingly autocratic leader, said Trump represents ‘permission’ from ‘the highest position in the world.’
- “To Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of Brazil, the U.S. president is … proof that incendiary comments about women or minorities and a history of trafficking in conspiracy theories don’t need to stand in the way of taking power.
- “When the Nigerian army opened fire on rock-throwing demonstrators last fall, killing as many as 40 people, it defended itself by citing Trump’s threats to do the same at the Mexican border.
- When the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia criticized ruler Hun Sen for cracking down on the opposition and the media, the authoritarian leader pointed out that Trump had his back — not the diplomats.
- “And when members of the U.N. Security Council visited Myanmar’s commander in chief in late April to demand explanations for the expulsion of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims, he used the phrase ‘fake news’ — the only words he spoke in English — no less than a dozen times.
- “In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández backed Washington in a vote at the United Nations over U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Then Hernández allegedly used fraud to steal an election, triggering mass protests. Rather than condemn the move, the United States offered its congratulations.
- “Guatemala also voted with the United States on Jerusalem and announced it would move its own embassy to the city. Months later, in August, President Jimmy Morales declared he was abolishing the mandate of a U.N.-backed commission that had long been known as an effective watchdog in curbing corruption. As he spoke, a column of three dozen jeeps — some with roof-mounted machine guns — that had been supplied by the United States for anti-narcotics operations rolled through Guatemala City, pausing at the commission’s offices and the homes of human rights activists.”
Key quote: “While the global decline in freedom didn’t begin with Donald Trump’s presidency, I do think he has been an accelerant,” said Uzra Zeya, a State Department veteran who resigned last springfollowing a 25-year career that culminated as the nation’s top Foreign Service officer in Paris.
— Trump’s assistant secretary of state in charge of European affairs, who has overseen U.S. relations with NATO and the European Union for the past 16 months, announced his resignation. He cited personal and professional reasons. Carol Morello reports: “In September 2017, [A. Wess] Mitchell became one of the first assistant secretaries of state in the Trump administration confirmed by the Senate, and his departure creates another vacancy in the ranks of senior officials. Currently, six of the 24 spots have nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. … In an interview, Mitchell said his resignation is not a protest of the administration’s policies or the direction of foreign policy, and he praised [Mike] Pompeo’s leadership and vision.”
— The House overwhelmingly passed a bill aimed at preventing Trump from trying to pull out of NATO. Karoun Demirjian reports: “The vast majority of House Republicans joined Democrats to pass the bill by a vote of 357 to 22, after members of both parties gave impassioned speeches for why the alliance was so vital to preserve and protect. ‘Time and again the alliance has proven that the free peoples of the world are strongest when they stand together,’ said Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He called the alliance ‘a bulwark against international terror’ and ‘critical to our national security, and to the preservation of our military prowess around the world.’”