Intelligence Assessment: A.I., Drug Epidemics, Space Warfare Among Top Threats to U.S.

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WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. intelligence community (IC) unveiled its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment before a Senate panel on Tuesday, highlighting global perils facing the American people that range from Islamic terrorism and drug overdoses to artificial intelligence (AI) and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Joined by other American IC leaders, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats presented the assessment’s report to the Senate Intelligence Committee in the form of written testimony.

Below is a list of seven of the top threats mentioned in the assessment.

Jihad

Both Sunni and Shiite terrorists pose a major threat to the United States.

Acknowledging that terrorism “will continue to be a top threat to US and partner interests worldwide,” Intelligence officials caution in the report:

During the next year, [Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy] Hizballah most likely will continue to develop its terrorist capabilities, which the group views as a valuable tool and one it can maintain with plausible deniability. Hizballah most likely maintains the capability to execute a range of attack options against US interests worldwide.

The Shiite terrorist group reportedly operates in various corners of the world, from the Western Hemisphere (United States, Peru, Bolivia) to Thailand and several countries (Nigeria, Syria, Bulgaria, Yemen) in between.

According to the assessment’s map of Hezbollah (or Hizballah) activities in recent years, the Iran proxy has attempted or successfully carried out attacks in several of those countries.

The assessment also warns that the Baghdad-sanctioned umbrella organization for mainly Iran-allied Shiite fighters — the Popular Mobilization Forces/Units (PMF/U) — threaten the estimated 5,000 American troops in Iraq, noting:

In Iraq, Iran-supported Popular Mobilization Committee-affiliated Shia militias remain the primary threat to US personnel, and we expect that threat to increase as the threat ISIS poses to the militias recedes, Iraqi Government formation concludes, some Iran-backed groups call for the United States to withdraw, and tension between Iran and the United States grows.

Despite the near-complete annihilation of ISIS’s territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the jihadi group retains the capability to terrorize the United States and its allies using the presence and influence it has established in the Middle East and beyond.

“ISIS is intent on [its resurgence] and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda is showing signs of confidence as its leaders work to strengthen its network and encourage attack against Western interests [including the United States],” Coats says.

The Sunni jihadi group still controls about one percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria.

Echoing Breitbart News’ end of year appraisal of ISIS activities, the intelligence community notes that the group “maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks, and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world, despite significant leadership and territorial losses.”

Al Qaeda is operating in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, notes the report, adding that the group’s “affiliates in East and North Africa, the Sahel, and Yemen remain the largest and most capable terrorist groups in their regions.”

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) and Other Emerging and Disruptive Technologies

The “overall U.S. lead in science and technology” will shrink in 2019 as China and Russia expand their capabilities, the assessment predicted.

While highlighting the benefits of A.I., the threat assessment also admits that there are perils associated with the use of the new technology, noting:

The global race to develop artificial intelligence (A.I.)—systems that imitate aspects of human cognition—is likely to accelerate the development of highly capable, application-specific A.I. systems with national security implications. …AI-enhanced systems are likely to be trusted with increasing levels of autonomy and decision-making, presenting the world with a host of economic, military, ethical, and privacy challenges.

The report cautions that reliance on A.I. “could lead to unexpected outcomes that increase the risk of economic miscalculation or battlefield surprise.”

According to the assessment, advances in communication technologies such as 5G wireless networks and “quantum computing” may erode U.S. competitiveness and data security.

IC officials also warn against “rapid advances in biotechnology, including gene editing, synthetic biology, and neuroscience,” noting that it will “likely to present new economic, military, ethical, and regulatory challenges worldwide.”

Among the risks of biotechnology is “the potential for adversaries to develop novel biological warfare agents, threaten food security, and enhance or degrade human performance,” the report points out.

WMDs: Potential for ‘Nuclear Incident’ Fueled by India-Pakistan Rivalry

The overall WMD threat will “grow during 2019,” particularly the threat posed by chemical warfare at the hands of North Korea, Russia, Syria, and ISIS, among other nefarious actors, intelligence officials predict.

Intelligence officials also foresee an “increase” in “the risk of a nuclear security incident in South Asia” fueled by the “continued growth and development of [regional rivals] Pakistan and India’s nuclear weapons programs.”

U.S. intelligence officials acknowledge that Pakistan continues to harbor terrorist groups who carry out attacks against the United States and its allies in neighboring Afghanistan, increasing the risk that its nuclear stockpile can fall into the wrong hands.

Despite ongoing denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea, the rogue regime “retains its WMD capabilities, and the IC continues to assess that it is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities,” American intelligence officials concede.

Infectious Diseases and Drug Overdoses

Acknowledging that “the ongoing crisis in Venezuela has reversed gains in controlling infectious diseases,” the IC’s global appraisal notes:

We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large- scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.

The report also points out that “drugs and transnational organized crime take a toll on U.S. public health and safety,” noting that heroin from Latin America and the Chinese-produced synthetic opioid fentanyl are fueling an unprecedented fatal drug overdose epidemic that is considered a national security threat.

U.S intelligence officials note, “The foreign drug threat will pose continued risks to U.S. public health and safety and will present a range of threats to U.S. national security interests in the coming year.”

Fentanyl is considered the top source of the unprecedented 70,000 (estimate) fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2017, the latest year for which data is available. That year, the number of deaths from illicit drugs in the U.S. alone exceeded worldwide fatalities linked to terrorism. Some experts warn that fentanyl could be used as a WMD.

Cyber and Space Warfare 

U.S. intelligence officials identified cyber proliferation threats as a top global peril, observing:

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. China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways — to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure.

In the report, American intelligence officials highlight “online influence operations and election interference” at the hands of Russia and China as top threats gripping the United States.

The report deems Russia and China “the greatest espionage and cyber attack threat.” Bloomberg News reported Monday that the Pentagon’s cybersecurity efforts are falling behind, citing an annual assessment of cyber threats it obtained.

U.S. intelligence officials also deemed competition in space between global rivals the United States, China, and Russia as a top threat, noting:

We assess that China and Russia are training and equipping their military space forces and fielding new anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons to hold US and allied space services at risk, even as they push for international agreements on the non-weaponization of space.

Experts have cautioned that China considers satellites — which are used to warn of a missile strike or to deploy nuclear weapons — the “Achilles heel” of the U.S. military.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Echoing other U.S. officials, the American intelligence community identified Beijing’s multi-trillion dollar BRI, also known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) as a major threat, noting:

We assess that China’s leaders will try to extend the country’s global economic, political, and military reach while using China’s military capabilities and overseas infrastructure and energy investments under the Belt and Road Initiative to diminish US influence.

Strategic Competitors

“Threats to U.S. national security will expand and diversify in the coming year, driven in part by China and Russia as they respectively compete more intensely with the United States and its traditional allies and partners,” the report notes.

Last year, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. is moving away from the war on terror, choosing instead to primarily focus on deterring “strategic competitors” China and Russia.

The IC assessment acknowledges:

China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s, and the relationship is likely to strengthen in the coming year as some of their interests, and threat perceptions converge, particularly regarding perceived US unilateralism and interventionism and Western promotion of democratic values and human rights.

Early last year, the Global Firepower (GFP) index, which ranks 133 countries annually, suggested that the militaries of China and Russia together outrank their U.S. rival, considered the most powerful in the world.

The assessment also lists climate change, assaults on religious freedom, counterintelligence, and “violent ethno-supremacist and ultranationalist groups in Europe,” among others, as top threats facing the United States.

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