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National Intelligence Strategy 2019: DNI Looks to Outside Partnerships to Counter Complex Threats

Director of National Intelligence, Daniel R. Coats, warned of the increasingly complex threats facing the United States and its allies as he unveiled the 2019 National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) on January 22. The NIS is the guiding strategy for the U.S. intelligence community and will drive its strategic direction for the next four years.

This is the fourth NIS developed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, since the organization was created 14 years ago. Coats says the 2019 Strategy is more than just an update to previous strategies.

“We face significant changes in the domestic and global environment,” said Coats. “We must be ready to meet 21st century challenges and to recognize emerging threats and opportunities. To navigate today’s turbulent and complex strategic environment, we must do things differently.” Coats said the intelligence community must increase integration and coordination of its intelligence activities, bolster innovation, better leverage strong, unique, and valuable partnerships to support and enable national security outcomes, and increase transparency while protecting national security information to enhance accountability and public trust.

A complex and diverse threat picture

The strategic environment is changing rapidly, and the United States faces an increasingly complex and uncertain world in which threats are becoming ever more diverse and interconnected.

Traditional adversaries continue to flex their geopolitical muscles, posing challenges within traditional, non-traditional, hybrid, and asymmetric military, economic, and political spheres. The NIS states 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. Meanwhile, Chinese military modernization and continued pursuit of economic and territorial predominance in the Pacific region and beyond remain a concern, though opportunities exist to work with Beijing on issues of mutual concern, such as North Korean aggression and continued pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile technology. Despite its 2015 commitment to a peaceful nuclear program, Iran’s pursuit of more advanced missile and military capabilities and continued support for terrorist groups, militants, and other U.S. opponents will continue to threaten U.S. interests.

Moving away from traditional concerns, the democratization of space poses significant challenges for the United States and the intelligence community. The NIS says adversaries are increasing their presence in this domain with plans to reach or exceed parity in some areas. For example, Russia and China will continue to pursue a full range of anti-satellite weapons as a means to reduce U.S. military effectiveness and overall security. Increasing commercialization of space now provides capabilities that were once limited to global powers to anyone that can afford to buy them.

Cyber threats are already challenging public confidence in global institutions, governance, and norms, while imposing numerous economic costs domestically and globally. As the cyber capabilities of others grow, they will pose increasing threats to U.S. security, including critical infrastructure, public health and safety, economic prosperity, and stability.

Despite growing awareness of cyber threats and improving cyber defenses, the Strategy says “nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years to come.”

“Our adversaries are becoming more adept at using cyberspace capabilities to threaten our interests and advance their own strategic and economic objectives. Cyber threats will pose an increasing risk to public health, safety, and prosperity as information technologies are integrated into critical infrastructure, vital national networks, and consumer devices. The intelligence community must continue to grow its intelligence capabilities to meet these evolving cyber threats as a part of a comprehensive cyber posture positioning the Nation for strategic and tactical response.”

Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, automation, and high performance computing can be beneficial, however these advances also enable new and improved military and intelligence capabilities for the United States’ adversaries. Advances in nano- and bio-technologies have the potential to cure diseases and modify human performance, but without common ethical standards and shared interests to govern these developments, they have the potential to pose significant threats to U.S. interests and security. In addition, the development and spread of such technologies remain uneven, increasing the potential to drastically widen the divide between so-called “haves” and “have-nots.”

Increasing migration and urbanization of populations are also further straining the capacities of governments around the world and are likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization. Pressure points include growing influxes of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons fleeing conflict zones; areas of intense economic or other resource scarcity; and areas threatened by climate changes, infectious disease outbreaks, or transnational criminal organizations.

Meeting the challenge

The NIS calls for the intelligence community to master strategic intelligence issues through research, knowledge development, collaboration with experts within the community and outreach to experts in academia and industry, as well as the use of advanced analytics and tradecraft to provide in-depth assessments.

The Strategy also sets out key objectives in the field of anticipatory intelligence – identifying emerging trends and changing conditions and assessing the developing risks. These objectives include developing quantitative methods and data analysis techniques and tradecraft; removing the cultural, technological, human capital, and other barriers to incorporate anticipatory intelligence into the intelligence community’s routine analytic efforts; and providing intelligence information and products that highlight emerging trends, changing conditions, and opportunities or threats in areas of limited customer focus to maximize decision advantage.

To continue to fight the cyber threat, the Strategy sets out the need to expand tailored production and appropriate dissemination and release of actionable cyber threat intelligence; and to enhance the ability to enable diplomatic, information, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement plans and operations to deter and counter malicious cyber actors and activities.

Countering the threat from WMD, the Strategy calls for stronger U.S. government efforts to secure global WMD stockpiles, disrupt adversaries’ programs, and prevent the transfer of WMD, related technologies, materials, or expertise. In turn the intelligence community will develop, maintain, and enhance intelligence capabilities to advance understanding of foreign WMD programs, related technologies, materials, or expertise to effectively inform interagency counterproliferation strategic planning and operations.

In other measures, the NIS pledges to develop and implement new capabilities to detect, deter, and disrupt foreign intelligence entity (FIE) activities and insider threats. Rapid technological advances are allowing a broad range of FIEs to field increasingly sophisticated capabilities and aggressively target the government, private sector partners, and academia. FIEs are proactive and use creative approaches including the use of cyber tools, malicious insiders, espionage, and supply chain exploitation.

The Strategy concludes by setting out various enterprise objectives, which include leveraging advanced analytics with modern data extraction, correlation, and enrichment capabilities; and exploring novel operational applications of technology and other resources to advance tradecraft and achieve mission advantage.

Widening the Intelligence Community 

Presenting the new NIS, Coats said “We must become more agile and apply the most advanced technologies in our pursuit of the truth, and this Strategy provides us a roadmap to get there.”

“We look for innovation to make us more agile, so we can swiftly take the right people, and the right technology, and use them efficiently to advance our highest priorities. This is a major focus of the Strategy. We have needed to improve in this area for some time. We need to become more agile in how we employ our own staff internally, and bring new talent on board.

“We will expand and strengthen our partnerships outside the intelligence community, to leverage the talent, and unique skillsets that exist beyond the federal government.

“We are developing innovative policies to harness talent in ways we never have before. Given the threats we face, we simply cannot ignore the advantage that partnerships outside of the federal government bring to the intelligence community.”

Former head of I&A welcomes the Strategy

Homeland Security Today asked Francis X. Taylor, former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS for his thoughts on the 2019 Strategy. Does he agree that it is more than just an update to previous strategies?

“While it captures traditional themes on threats, I think it is a clear-eyed look at the threats and issues that will develop over the coming four year: cyber, climate change, migration, economic displacement, military operations in space, etc.”

Taylor says the need to share intelligence with a broader range of customers and partners comes through loud and clear both from the aspect of sharing classified information but also from the aspect of incorporating open source and unclassified information into analysis and products.

“The intelligence community continues to broaden its reach to ensure that critical intelligence is shared with those that might be able to address the risk and it is clear that Director Coats understands and champions that idea. The greatest benefit here are more sources and more eyes and ears to understand how the threat actors are evolving their capability and what we need to do to address it now and into the future.

“The challenge is how we can spread “intelligence analysis” to more entities that can add to our understanding of the threat environment. Indeed, this was the reason for the creation of DHS I&A, the State, Local, tribal and territorial fusion centers, working with critical infrastructure partners and the use of the Homeland Security Information network to get more of our partners the information that they need and the opportunity to share that information across the broader homeland security enterprise.

“I am pleased to see the Director of National Intelligence clearly lead the intelligence community towards its solemn mission of developing unbiased information and analysis to keep our national security leaders informed of threats, and to “speak truth to power”. We need an empowered national intelligence community now, more than ever!”

Read the complete Strategy here

This story was updated on 1/24/19

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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