U.S. Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump on North Korea and Iran
WASHINGTON — A new American intelligence assessment of global threats has concluded that North Korea is “unlikely to give up” all of its nuclear stockpiles, and that Iran is not “currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activity” needed to make a bomb, directly contradicting two top tenets of President Trump’s foreign policy.
Daniel R. Coats, the director of national intelligence, also challenged Mr. Trump’s insistence that the Islamic State had been defeated, a key rationale for his decision to exit from Syria. The terror group, the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report to Congress concluded, “still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” and maintain eight branches and a dozen networks around the world.
Mr. Trump is expected to meet next month with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in a second round of direct negotiations aimed at ridding Pyongyang of its nuclear weapons.
But Mr. Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that “we currently assess North Korea will seek to retain its W.M.D. capability and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability.”
“Its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” Mr. Coats said.
Mr. Coats said Iran continued to sponsor terrorism in Europe and the Middle East, supporting Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militants in Iraq. He also said that he believed Iran hard-liners would continue to challenge centrist rivals.
“We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device,” Mr. Coats said, but he added that Iranian officials have “publicly threatened to push the boundaries” of the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015 if it did not see the benefits it expected.
Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from that agreement last year. He called it “defective at its core” and said if the deal remained in place, Iran “will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.” The agreement still stands, largely with support from European capitals.
Perhaps the strongest rebuke of Mr. Trump’s security priorities comes in what is missing from the report: Any rationale for building a wall along the southwest border, which Mr. Trump has advertised as among the most critical security threats facing the United States. The first mention of Mexico and drug cartels comes on page 18 of the 42-page assessment, well after a range of other, more pressing threats are reviewed.
Most pressing, as it has been for the past five years, are cybersecurity threats to the United States. For the first time, the report concluded that China is now positioned to conduct effective cyberattacks against American infrastructure, and specifically cited Beijing’s ability to cut off natural gas pipelines, at least briefly.
The assessment also argues that while Russia’s ability to conduct cyberespionage and influence campaigns is similar to the one it ran in the 2016 American presidential election, the bigger concern is that “Moscow is now staging cyberattack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage U.S. civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis.”
It specifically noted the Russian planting of malware in the United States electricity grid. Russia already has the ability to bring the grid down “for at least a few hours,” the assessment concluded, but is “mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage.”
Taken together, the report paints a picture of threats vastly different from those asserted by Mr. Trump. Russia emerges as a disruptive threat, China as a long-term one, and the failure of the United States to invest heavily enough in research and development for key technologies as perhaps the biggest concern, allowing new competitors to close the technological gap.