Top Intelligence Officials Give Assessment Of Global Threats Facing The U.S.

Jan 29, 2019
Originally published on January 29, 2019 5:48 pm
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The top U.S. intelligence officials were up on Capitol Hill today to give their annual assessment of the global threats facing the U.S. Those threats range from North Korea to China, Russia and ISIS. As NPR's Greg Myre reports, the intelligence chiefs largely agreed with each other but seemed a bit out of sync with their boss, President Trump.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are planning another summit in about a month, and the president says his ultimate goal is the dismantling of that country's entire nuclear program. But Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, sees it this way.

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DAN COATS: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.

MYRE: Coats was one of six national security officials sitting side by side as they took questions from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. While the president tends to discuss many national security questions in black-and-white terms, the intelligence chiefs offered more nuanced and somewhat different assessments. Maine Senator Angus King asked CIA Director Gina Haspel about the nuclear deal with Iran that Trump withdrew from last year.

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ANGUS KING: Since our departure from the deal, they have abided by the terms. You're saying they're considering, but at the current moment, they're complying.

GINA HASPEL: Yes, they're making some preparations that would increase their ability to take a step back if they make that decision. So at the moment, technically they're in compliance.

MYRE: In Syria, Trump says the Islamic State caliphate has been defeated, and he has ordered the withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 American troops there. The first stages of the pullout have begun. But Coats offered a cautionary note.

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COATS: While we have defeated the caliphate, with a couple of little villages left, we should not underestimate the ability of terrorist groups, particularly ISIS.

MYRE: Several senators, Republicans and Democrats, also joined the intelligence officials in taking a tougher line on Russia than the president. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the Russians are pressing ahead with fake social media accounts that attempt to sow divisions in the U.S.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Not only have the Russians continued to do it in 2018, but we've seen indication that they're continuing to adapt their model and that other countries are taking a very interested eye in that approach.

MYRE: A theme that came up repeatedly was the long-term challenge posed by China. The Justice Department announced criminal charges Monday against Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant. And U.S. officials say the company seems to be operating on two different levels. Again, here's Angus King.

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KING: It seems to me they have to decide they're either going to be a worldwide telecommunications company or an agent of the Chinese government. They can't be both. And right now, they're trying to be both.

MYRE: Senators and the spy chief cited China's ongoing theft of U.S. intellectual property as well as its desire to challenge U.S. political and economic influence around the globe. Wray called China his biggest concern.

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WRAY: The Chinese counterintelligence threat is more deep, more diverse, more vexing, more challenging, more comprehensive and more concerning than any counterintelligence threat I can think of.

MYRE: And on that at least, the intelligence chiefs and the president appear to be in full agreement. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

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