Russia, China Will Exploit West’s ‘Isolationist Tendencies,’ Says New Intel Strategy

In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks at a Heritage Foundation event in Washington.

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In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks at a Heritage Foundation event in Washington.

The intelligence community’s warning arrived as the House rebuked President Trump for his attacks on NATO.

The U.S.’s “traditional adversaries” — read: Russia and China — will seek to use “the weakening of the post-WWII international order and…increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West” to gain influence, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned in a new strategy document released Wednesday.

The National Intelligence Strategy, which is issued every four years, lays out a broad framework for the U.S. intelligence community’s approach to countering national security threats. Although this year’s edition provides few concrete details, it begins with a warning that Russian efforts to “increase its influence and authority are likely to continue and may conflict with U.S. goals and priorities in multiple regions.” The document adds that China’s expansionist claims in the Pacific and its efforts to modernize its military also remain concerns.

The warning from the intelligence community comes amid rising concerns about what critics call isolationism under President Trump. Former secretary of defense Jim Mattis resigned in December over differing opinions over the value of partners and allies abroad. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan measure barring the administration from using federal funds to withdraw from NATO and rebuking Trump for his frequent attacks on the alliance. The vote, 357-22, showed the depth of concern on Capitol Hill.

“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,” the strategy reads. “These adversaries pose challenges within traditional, non-traditional, hybrid, and asymmetric military, economic, and political spheres.”

The strategy also emphasizes the risks posed by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, stating that the new toolkits enable other governments’ military and intelligence capabilities as well as the U.S.’s. It warns that the “democratization of space” poses fresh challenges from the U.S., as countries like Russia and China continue to pursue anti-satellite weapons “as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness and overall security.”

For the first time this year, the strategy contains a section on transparency. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats vowed to make more information public, following right-wing complaints about the FBI counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election. The 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community are notoriously closed-lipped, in part because of the need to safeguard fragile sources and methods. Broadly, critics from both sides of the aisle argue that the intense secrecy surrounding the intelligence apparatus allows those agencies to infringe on U.S. civil liberties without the appropriate public oversight. Some conservatives over the past year have claimed “corruption” and bias at the FBI during the election.

“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 prepared remarks on Tuesday. “When we speak the truth, you can have faith in us, and trust in what we say.”

In a divergence from its sister strategy, the National Defense Strategy, the ODNI document includes a warning on the risks posed by climate change. Increasing migration is straining governments and “likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization,” the report assesses. One of the pressure points? Migrants and refugees fleeing conflict zones and “areas threatened by climate changes,” among other things.

“All of these issues will continue to drive global change on an unprecedented scale,” the report said.

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