U.S. intel chiefs testify to China, Russia threats

Two top U.S. intelligence officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 11 on global threats to the United States and its allies emanating from China, Russia and Iran as well as terrorist organizations.

Army Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Avril D. Haines, director of national intelligence, spoke to the committee on the U.S. intelligence community’s 2022 assessment of worldwide threats.

“The invasion has demonstrated Russia’s intent to overturn the U.S.-led, rules-based, post-Cold War international order, expand its control over the former Soviet Union and reclaim what it regards as its rightful position on the world stage,” Berrier said.

Russian military capabilities have been used to violate the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, and they pose an existential threat to U.S. national security and that of our allies, the general told the committee.

Spotlight: Support for Ukraine

“In response to stiff resistance, Russia has resorted to more indiscriminate and brutal methods that are destroying cities [and] infrastructure and [are] increasing civilian deaths. Negotiations remain stalled as both sides focus on the outcome of the battle in the Donbas [region of Ukraine], while partnership with Ukraine and warning of potential escalation remain key priorities for [the] DIA,” Berrier said.

China also remains a pacing threat and a major security challenge to the United States and its allies, he said. “Beijing has long viewed the United States as a strategic competitor, [and] China is capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army, which has already fielded sophisticated weapons and instituted major organizational reforms to enhance joint operations, is nearing the status of global competitor to the United States, its allies and partners, and is a credible, peer competitor in the Indo-Pacific region, Berrier noted. “China’s current nuclear force expansion is historic,” he said.

Spotlight: Focus on the Indo-Pacific

“The United States faces military and intelligence threats from competitors, particularly Russia and China, who have, and are developing, new capabilities intended to contest, limit or exceed U.S. military advantage,” Berrier said. “State and non-state actors are selectively putting these capabilities into play globally and regionally. These capabilities also span all warfighting domains — maritime, land, air, [and in] electronic warfare, cyberspace information and space.”

Russia’s and China’s capabilities include more lethal, ballistic and cruise missiles, the general told the committee. China is growing nuclear stockpiles of modernized conventional forces and a range of gray-zone measures, such as the use of ambiguous unconventional forces, foreign proxies, information manipulation, cyber-attacks and economic coercion, he said.

The People’s Republic of China remains an unparalleled priority for the intelligence community, Haines said. The governments of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have all demonstrated the capability and intent to promote their interests in ways that cut against U.S. and allied interests, she noted.

The PRC is coming ever closer to being a peer competitor in areas of relevance to national security and is pushing to revise global norms and institutions to its advantage, Haines added. They are challenging the United States in multiple arenas — economically, militarily and technologically.

The more the conflict drags on, or if Russian President Vladimir Putin perceives Russia is losing in Ukraine, the most likely flashpoints for escalation in the coming weeks will involve increasing Russian attempts to interdict Western security assistance, retaliation for Western economic sanctions, or threats to the regime at home, she said.

“We believe that Moscow continues to use nuclear rhetoric to deter the United States and the West from increasing lethal aid to Ukraine and to respond to public comments that the U.S. and NATO allies … expanded Western goals in the conflict,” Haines said.

Spotlight: NATO

“And if Putin perceives that the United States is ignoring his threats, he may try to signal to Washington the heightened danger of its support to Ukraine by authorizing another large nuclear exercise, involving a major dispersal of mobile intercontinental missiles, heavy bombers [and] strategic submarines,” she told the Senate committee. 

“We otherwise continue to believe President Putin would probably only authorize the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state or regime.”

But, the United States will remain vigilant and monitor every aspect of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces,” Haines said. “With tensions this high, there is always an enhanced potential for miscalculation [and] unintended escalation, which we hope our intelligence can help to mitigate,” she added.

Beyond its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow presents a serious cyber threat, a key space competitor, and one of the most serious foreign influence threats to the United States, Haines told the committee.

Using its intelligence services proxies’ wide-ranging influence tools, the Russian government seeks to not only pursue its own interests, but also to divide Western alliances, undermine U.S. global standing, amplify discord inside the United States, and influence U.S. voters and decision making, she said.

Additionally, “[the] Iranian regime continues to threaten U.S. interests as it tries to erode U.S. influence in the Middle East and trench its influence, … project power in neighboring states and minimize threats to regime stability,” Haines said.

“Meanwhile, [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un continues to steadily expand and enhance Pyongyang’s nuclear and conventional capabilities, targeting the United States and its allies, periodically using aggressive [and] potentially destabilizing actions to reshape the regional security environment in his favor, and to reinforce its status quo as a de facto nuclear power,” she said.

The intelligence community’s assessment continues to focus on a number of key global and transnational threats, Haines said, “including global health security, transnational organized crime, the rapid development of destabilizing technologies, climate, migration, and terrorism, … because they pose challenges of a fundamentally different nature to our national security than those posed by the actions of nation states — even powerful ones, like China and Russia.”

The United States sees the same complex mix of interlocking challenges stemming from the threat of climate change, which is exacerbating risks in U.S. national security interests across the board, but particularly as it intersects with environmental degradation and global health challenges, she added.

And terrorism remains a persistent threat to the people of the U.S. and interests at home and abroad, Haines said, adding, “but the implication of the problem [is] evolving in Africa, for example, where terrorist groups are clearly gaining strength.”

In short, Haines said, “the interconnected global security environment is marked by the growing specter of great power competition and conflict, while transnational threats to all nations and actors compete not only for our attention, but also for finite resources.” 

Text credit: Terri Moon Cronk, DOD NEWS

Photo credit: Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrea R.  Sea Breeze is a U.S. and Ukraine co-hosted multinational maritime exercise held in the Black Sea and is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security and peace within the region.

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