• Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, pictured at a recent White House briefing, is calling for the intelligence community to "do things differently,” given the severe threats and complex adversarial environment the United States is facing.  Photo courtesy of ODNI
     Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, pictured at a recent White House briefing, is calling for the intelligence community to "do things differently,” given the severe threats and complex adversarial environment the United States is facing.  Photo courtesy of ODNI

Intelligence Strategy Outlines Measures for a Complex Threat Environment

January 31, 2019
By Kimberly Underwood
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To combat adversaries’ threats, the intelligence community needs to sharpen its actions, ODNI report states.


A new strategy for U.S. intelligence looks to improve integration of counterintelligence and security efforts, increasingly address cyber threats, and have clear guidance of civil liberties, privacy and transparency. As outlined in the U.S. National Intelligence Strategy (NIS), from Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, the intelligence community is facing a turbulent and complex strategic environment, and as such, the community “must do things differently.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the strategy, which will guide the efforts of the 17 organizations of the U.S. intelligence community (IC)—the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies—for the next four years.

Some leaders of the IC, including Coats; FBI Director Christopher Wray; CIA Director Gina Haspel; DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, USA; NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, USA; and NGA Director Robert Cardillo; all testified on Capitol Hill on January 29 as to the threats America faces from adversaries. The leaders presented to the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence their annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Coats characterized the environment as a “toxic mix of threats” from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, as well as from terrorist organizations. Bad actor operations could apply to space, cyber and weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, he said.

The threat picture outlined to Congress is echoed in the NIS, which asserts that the United States is confronting an “increasingly complex and uncertain world in which threats are becoming ever more diverse and interconnected.” As such, the IC will have to adjust to face the new and evolving threats from adversaries that are leveraging emerging disruptive technologies in space, cyber and computing, all while combating conventional national security threats, the NIS stated. In addition, the ability of individuals and groups to wreak havoc on a political, military, economic or ideological scale is growing, the report cautioned.

“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 report stated. “These adversaries pose challenges within traditional, nontraditional, hybrid, and asymmetric military, economic and political spheres.”

To combat these threats, the report stresses the IC must increase its integration and coordination of intelligence activities; harness innovation; and improve partnerships that enable national security outcomes. At the same time, the IC will increase its transparency in regard to how it protects national security information “to enhance accountability and public trust,” Coats indicated in the NIS.

The IC will focus on strategic, anticipatory and current operations intelligence; cyber threats; counterterrorism; counterproliferation; and counterintelligence and security.

In addressing “enduring” issues of national security, the IC will continue to identify and assess adversaries’ capabilities, actions and intentions. This strategic intelligence will inform U.S. national security policy, the NIS stated. Part of this effort requires the IC to perform in-depth assessments of relevant state and non-state actors. The development and sustainment of data acquiring and evaluation capabilities remains paramount, as does the establishment of expertise in strategic issues.  

The IC does face an abundance of data, which is testing its capabilities in collecting, processing, evaluating and analyzing in a timely fashion, Coats noted in the NIS report.

The community must create quantitative and data analysis techniques to improve its faculty in forecasting trends and understanding the changing environment. For this anticipatory intelligence work, the IC needs to improve the community’s common understanding of the scope, definition, tradecraft and methods used to increase workforce proficiency in these skills, the NIS indicated. The IC should identify and remove cultural, technological, human capital and other barriers to advance the inclusion of anticipatory intelligence in routine analytical work. The strategy also called on the IC to develop integrated capabilities to improve the timely creation of alerts and warnings for decision makers.

To support current operations, the IC must supply timely intelligence that allows users an operational decision advantage, which requires “a robust IC-wide intelligence architecture,” the NIS stated. This means increasing collaboration with domestic and global partners, to extend the reach of intelligence for operations.

As far as cyber threat intelligence, the strategy calls on the IC to broaden understanding of adversarial cyber operations, in particular, knowledge of intentions, plans, abilities and activities. “To meet this objective, the IC will expand tailored production and appropriate dissemination and release of actionable cyber threat intelligence to support the defense of vital information networks and critical infrastructure,” the NIS report said.

Regarding counterterrorism, the strategy outlines a continued need for the IC to collect and analyze intelligence in order to disrupt planning and stop terrorist attacks. The IC will need to continue to counter violent extremists, define and warn of changing threats, and broaden strategic knowledge of the global terrorism environment to decision makers, according to the NIS.

Counterintelligence and security efforts of the IC apply to both foreign entity or insider threats. Technological innovation offers bad actors a range of advanced capabilities to aggressively target the U.S. government, private industry and academia, the NIS advised. The IC needs to understand and anticipate threats from foreign entities or insiders and produce new capabilities to deter any related actions. Also, the community must strengthen how it exchanges this threat and security vulnerability information amongst stakeholders, the report said.

Intelligence agencies must also play a continued role in counterproliferation by strengthening U.S. efforts to secure weapons of mass destruction, preventing the exchange of such weapons and interrupting adversaries’ related actions. Intelligence should advance the United States' understanding of foreign weapons of mass destruction programs, including the technologies and materials.

“Many adversaries continue to pursue capabilities to inflict catastrophic damage to U.S. interests through the acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction,” the NIS report warned. “Their possession of these capabilities can have major impacts on U.S. national security, overseas interests, allies, and the global order.”

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