What’s in the US Intelligence Community’s 2024 Annual Threat Assessment?

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What’s in the US Intelligence Community’s 2024 Annual Threat Assessment?

China, Russia, and the usual suspects feature heavily in a tangled web of threats perceived by the U.S. intelligence community that range across the globe.

What’s in the US Intelligence Community’s 2024 Annual Threat Assessment?
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The United States “faces an increasingly fragile global order strained by accelerating strategic competition among major powers, more intense and unpredictable transnational challenges, and multiple regional conflicts with far-reaching implications,” the U.S. intelligence community’s 2024 Annual Threat Assessment states.

The assessment, an unclassified summary of which has been published annually since 2006 (with the glaring exception of 2020), is self-advertised as providing “a public window into national security risks.” As the introduction to the 2024 unclassified summary states, the “assessment focuses on the most direct, serious threats to the United States primarily during the next year.”

These threats fall into two broad but interwoven categories in the 2024 assessment: state actors and transnational issues.

Among the identified state actors are China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea – par for the course. While the assessment says that the order in which these threats are presented  “does not necessarily indicate their relative importance or the magnitude of the threats…” it’s notable that the section on China is the largest and widest ranging, taking stock of everything from China’s regional and global activities, to economic and technology concerns, to military and WMD issues, to cyber, intelligence and “malign influence operations.”

China, the assessment states, “may attempt to influence the U.S. elections in 2024 at some level because of its desire to sideline critics of China and magnify U.S. societal divisions.”

When it comes to Russia, many of the same categories are repeated with tailored concerns such as those relating to the Russian defense industry, which the assessment states “is significantly ramping up production of a panoply of long-range strike weapons, artillery munitions, and other capabilities that will allow it to sustain a long high-intensity war if necessary.”

The assessment also includes in the state actors section the threat of “conflict and fragility” – from the Gaza war to various flashpoints between and within specific states. “The potential for interstate conflict and domestic turmoil in other countries around the world also continues to pose challenges for U.S. national security, both directly and as threats to our allies and partners,” the assessment states, going on to note that regional and localized “conflicts have far-reaching and sometimes cascading implications for not only neighboring countries, but also the world.”

The potential interstate conflicts identified include Chinese actions in the South and East China Seas, the disputed border between India and China, ongoing tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the India-Pakistan relationship. On India and Pakistan specifically, the the assessment notes that the two South Asian neighbors are “are inclined to sustain the current fragile calm… [but] neither side has used this period of calm to rebuild their bilateral ties as each government has focused on more pressing domestic priorities…”

Potential flashpoints of intrastate turmoil are wide-ranging, from the Balkans to Haiti to Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Sahel. Afghanistan gets its own limited box in this section, with the assessment noting that “the Taliban will not adequately address Afghanistan’s persistent humanitarian crisis or structural economic weaknesses” but that the Taliban likely won’t face “regime-threatening resistance” in the near term. 

Moving onto “transnational issues,” the assessment states that such threats “interact in a complex system along with threats from state actors, often reinforcing each other and creating compounding and cascading risks to U.S. national security.” The assessment breaks these threats into three categories with several subcategories: contested spaces (disruptive technology, digital authoritarianism and transnational repression, and WMDs), shared domains (environmental change and extreme weather, health security, migration) and non-state actor issues (transnational organized crime, human trafficking, global terrorism and private military and security companies).

An overarching theme is the interwoven nature of the present threat landscape. Arguably this has always been the case, but there seems to be heightened attention on the impact of one area – whether a conflict in a specific country or something more amorphous like an infectious disease – on other areas. Added to this are efforts by (from the U.S. viewpoint at least) by malign actors like China and Russia to influence the global public.

There’s an argument to be made that societal divisions in the United States, which the intelligence community’s assessment says Beijing and Moscow seek to exploit, are themselves a risk. The assessment states, for example, “Beijing’s growing efforts to actively exploit perceived U.S. societal divisions using its online personas move it closer to Moscow’s playbook for influence operations.” (emphasis added). But societal divisions in the United States are not just “perceived”; they are very real. These may be exploited by American foes, amplified and twisted beyond recognition by disinformation campaigns, but the seeds of these conflicts are arguably domestic.

The U.S. is not listed among the countries where the assessment sees potential for intrastate turmoil – but maybe it should be. It may be outside the intelligence community’s purview, or beyond the community’s general approach to threats as external objects, but sometimes the call – the threat – is coming from inside the house.