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U.S. Intel Officials Detail Threats From China, Russia

March 8, 2022 | BY JIM GARAMONE , DOD News

Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence, discussed the intelligence community's assessment of China and Russia — America's strategic competitors — during testimony before Congress this morning. 

A ship sails along the horizon.
USS Carl Vinson
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the South China Sea in January. Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with alliances and partnerships while serving as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Photo By: Navy Ensign Sarah Weinstein
VIRIN: 220112-N-EF547-2018

Haines told the House Intelligence Committee that China "remains an unparalleled priority for the intelligence community." 

She said China is coming ever closer to being a peer competitor to the United States economically, militarily and technologically.  

"China is especially effective at bringing together a coordinated whole of government approach to demonstrate its strength, and to compel neighbors to acquiesce to its preferences, including its territorial and maritime claims and assertions of sovereignty over Taiwan," she told the House panel. "President Xi Jinping and China's other leaders are determined to force unification with Taiwan on Beijing's turns." 

While China would prefer to avoid an armed conflict, Chinese leaders have stepped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on the island. "At the same time, Beijing is preparing to use military force if it decides this is necessary," she said.  

She noted that China is also engaged in its largest ever nuclear force expansion and arsenal diversification effort in its history. The Chinese want to match or exceed U.S. capabilities in space. The nation also presents "the broadest, most active and persistent cyber espionage threat to U.S. government and private sector networks," she said.  

An aerial view of the Pentagon.
Aerial View
An aerial view of the Pentagon, May 11, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, DOD
VIRIN: 210512-D-BM568-1287R

Russia also remains a focus of the intelligence community, deservedly so in light of Vladimir Putin's "recent and tragic invasion of Ukraine, which has produced a shock to the geopolitical order with implications for the future that we are only beginning to understand, but are sure to be consequential," she said. 

The intelligence community provided ample warning of Putin's plans, and U.S. officials shared this intelligence with the world. "This is a case where I think all of us wish we had been wrong," Haines said. "The invasion has in fact proceeded consistent with the plan we assessed the Russian military would follow." 

Haines said Putin did not expect the ferocious defense by Ukraine, nor did he expect the unified and fast response by the world.  

"Russia's failure to rapidly seize Kyiv and overwhelm Ukrainian forces has deprived Moscow of the quick military victory [they] probably had originally expected would prevent the United States and NATO from being able to provide meaningful military aid to Ukraine," she said. "Moreover, we assess Moscow underestimated the strength of Ukraine's resistance and the degree of internal military challenges we are observing, which include an ill-constructed plan, morale issues and considerable logistical issues."  

Even if Putin ignores the condemnation of the world and the increasingly effective sanctions directed against Russia "it will be especially challenging for the Russians to hold and control Ukrainian territory and install a sustainable pro-Russian regime in Kyiv in the face of what we assess is likely to be a persistent and significant insurgency," she said.  

Haines said the Russian and Ukrainian militaries have probably suffered thousands of casualties, along with numerous civilian deaths. "Moreover, Russian forces are at the very least operating with reckless disregard for the safety of non-combatants," Haines said. 

She criticized Russia for shelling civilian sites and launching missiles into the hearts of Ukrainian cities. She also specifically pointed out the Russian attack on a nuclear power plant as the height of disdain for civilian safety. 

The West's unified response to Russian aggression almost certainly surprised Moscow. "In particular, while Putin probably anticipated many of the current sanctions to be imposed when he weighed the cost of the invasion, we judge that he did not anticipate either the degree to which the United States and its allies and partners would take steps to undermine his capacity to mitigate Western actions," she said. Putin also did not anticipate the pullback from Russia by private sector actors.  

Still, the intelligence community assesses that Putin will escalate — "essentially doubling down" — to achieve Ukrainian disarmament and neutrality to prevent it from further integrating with the U.S. and NATO if it doesn't reach some diplomatic negotiation, the director said.  

"We assess Putin feels aggrieved, the West does not give him proper deference and perceive this as a war he cannot afford to lose," she said. "But what he might be willing to accept as a victory may change over time, given the significant costs he is incurring."