An Incomplete Threat Assessment
The U.S. intelligence community’s annual assessment of threats was notable for one threat it overemphasized and two it failed to mention.
But “climate change” as a leading national security threat? Sorry, we’re just not seeing it.
In any case, that’s what Joe Biden’s director of national intelligence is warning us about in the nation’s just-released Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community. The introductory Foreword section of the 40-page unclassified version of the document — which can’t be too “intelligent” if it’s readily available to the masses, including our geopolitical enemies — reads in part as follows:
During the coming year, the United States and its allies will confront a complex and pivotal international security environment dominated by two critical strategic challenges that intersect with each other and existing trends to intensify their national security implications. First, great powers, rising regional powers, as well as an evolving array of non-state actors, will vie for dominance in the global order, as well as compete to set the emerging conditions and the rules that will shape that order for decades to come. Strategic competition between the United States and its allies, China, and Russia over what kind of world will emerge makes the next few years critical to determining who and what will shape the narrative perhaps most immediately in the context of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which threaten to escalate into a broader conflict between Russia and the West. Second, shared global challenges, including climate change, and human and health security, are converging as the planet emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and confronts economic issues spurred by both energy and food insecurity. Rapidly emerging or evolving technologies continue to have the potential to disrupt traditional business and society with both positive and negative outcomes, while creating unprecedented vulnerabilities and attack surfaces, making it increasingly challenging to predict the impact of such challenges on the global landscape.
These two strategic challenges will intersect and interact in unpredictable ways, leading to mutually reinforcing effects that could challenge our ability to respond, but that also will introduce new opportunities to forge collective action with allies and partners, including non-state actors. … The accelerating effects of climate change are placing more of the world’s population, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, under threat from extreme weather, food insecurity, and humanitarian disasters, fueling migration flows and increasing the risks of future pandemics as pathogens exploit the changing environment. Efforts by Russia, China, and other countries to promote authoritarianism and spread disinformation is helping fuel a larger competition between democratic and authoritarian forms of government.
Again, it rightly warns of the dangers posed by China and Russia — although this author would argue forcefully that the Russian threat has been greatly exacerbated by our $200 billion proxy war in Ukraine — and it goes on to list North Korea and Iran as additional threats later in the document. But, again, climate change? It’s also pretty rich for the Biden administration’s intelligence community to warn us about other nations spreading “disinformation.”
Additionally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note the one great threat that’s strangely missing from the assessment: Joe Biden himself. Indeed, any threat assessment that fails to consider this decrepit commander-in-chief’s foreign policy fecklessness is a glaringly incomplete assessment. But don’t take our word for it. Remember what Robert Gates, the institutionalist defense secretary to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had to say about Biden’s innate ability to, as his own former boss is reported to have said, “f**k things up.”
In an October 2021 “60 Minutes” interview with CNN/CBS dual-citizen Anderson Cooper, less than a month into the Biden presidency, Gates said that watching the events unfold in Afghanistan at the time made him sick. This shouldn’t have surprised him, though, given his prior assessment of the man. Gates, in his memoir, wrote that he believes Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” (Here, it should also be noted that Gates also wrote in his memoir that Biden is “a man of integrity,” so perhaps Gates’s own judgment should be called into question.)
Another big miss? TikTok. Not once — not once — does the document mention this malign force for rotting the minds of our children and gathering gigabytes of intelligence about how we behave and what sorts of things most influence us. It seems a significant disconnect for NSA Director Paul Nakasone to have warned the Senate Armed Services Committee about TikTok as he did on Tuesday without the Chinese app even meriting mention in the threat assessment.
“TikTok concerns me for a number of different reasons,” Nakasone said, warning of its data collection, the data it already has, the power of its algorithm, and its potential to facilitate broad influence operations. Currently, the app has more than 100 million American users, and the Biden administration’s recent requirement that all federal agencies remove it from government devices within 30 days comes far too late.
Remember: Joe Biden rescinded Donald Trump’s executive order banning TikTok, and he replaced it with a far more accommodating posture, including welcoming TikTok influencers to the White House to — no kidding — discuss Ukraine policy.
Beyond the major state bad actors, the document categorizes additional threats under the headers of CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION; HEALTH SECURITY, including infectious diseases and bio weapons; ADDITIONAL TRANSNATIONAL ISSUES, such as new technologies, digital authoritarianism (don’t we know it!), nuclear proliferation, illegal immigration (which it innocuously calls “migration” and blames on climate change rather than open borders and free goodies), and organized crime; and CONFLICTS AND FRAGILITY, including interstate conflict, internal strife, and governance challenges.
Suffice it to say, though: The first threat listed in the document is China, and the document allocates more pages, six, to this threat than any other. Here we give the Biden intelligence community credit for at least understanding that China poses our nation’s greatest external threat.
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