- - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Robert M. Gates, a former CIA director, once said that when intelligence analysts smell flowers, they look for a hearse. The latest long-range intelligence forecast by the National Intelligence Council is a case in point.

The NIC, an academic and intelligence analysis group, released a report this week on future global trends, and the picture the analysts painted is not bright.

“The next five years will see rising tensions within and between countries,” the 235-page report concludes. “Global growth will slow just as increasingly complex global challenges impend. An ever-widening range of states, organizations and empowered individuals will shape geopolitics.”

Worse, the analysts predict the post-Cold War era of American world dominance is drawing to a close, along with the rules-based international order in place since the end of World War II.

International cooperation will be much harder, and “veto players will threaten to block collaboration at every turn, while information ‘echo chambers’ will reinforce countless competing realities, undermining shared understandings of world events.”

The reference to echo chambers is an interesting reference — considering that was a term used by Ben Rhodes, outgoing White House deputy national security adviser. Mr. Rhodes boasted at one time of creating a propaganda echo chamber of think tank experts and pliable journalists during the political campaign to win support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Terrorism also is getting worse: “The threat from terrorism will expand in the coming decades as the growing prominence of small groups and individuals use new technologies, ideas, and relationships to their advantage,” the report said.

Russia and China also will remain growing threats aimed at undermining the United States through nontraditional warfare “gray zone aggression” and activities designed to “stay below the threshold of hot war but bring profound risks of miscalculation” — intelligence-speak for triggering a conflict.

Globalization has “hollowed out” Western middle classes and prompted a backlash — a not-so-veiled reference to the election of Donald Trump on a populist and economic nationalist platform and Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“Migrant flows are greater now than in the past 70 years, raising the specter of drained welfare coffers and increased competition for jobs, and reinforcing nativist, anti-elite impulses,” the report said.

Identity politics is increasing populism on both the left and right of the political spectrum along with nationalism. The NIC states that nationalist sentiment and threatening characterizations of the West are being used to “shore up authoritarian control in China and Russia.”

The report defines populism as “suspicion and hostility toward elites, mainstream politics and established institutions.”

Echoing leftist pundits like The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, the report warns that populist leaders and movements are anti-democratic.

“Populist leaders and movements — whether on the right or left — may leverage democratic practices to foster popular support for consolidation of power in a strong executive and the slow, steady erosion of civil society, the rule of law, and norms of tolerance,” the report said.

CHINA DENIES MILITARY HACKING

The Chinese Defense Ministry has responded to a U.S. Army report disclosed by Inside the Ring last week exposing two Beijing hotels as headquarters for its electronic warfare unit, known as the People’s Liberation Army 4th Department, or 4PLA.

The unusual statement issued Jan. 6 and posted on the Defense Ministry website criticized the Army report on the use of the hotels in the Haidian district in Beijing as “the strongholds of its cyber-espionage operations headquarters to scout and collect intelligences.”

“[The] relevant accusation is totally groundless and a bad act of smearing China,” the ministry said. The Chinese military “has never supported any hacking activities.” Additionally, the ministry says, the Chinese firmly oppose “relevant criminal activities in accordance with law, including network attacks.”

The ministry said the United States “should not make groundless accusations against China.”

Instead, the ministry invoked the disclosures by renegade former contractor Edward Snowden revealing the National Security Agency’s Prism program.

“The U.S. should give a clear explanation on the Prism Gate incident to China and the international community,” the ministry said.

The statement did not directly dispute the Army report’s finding that the two hotels are used by the PLA’s electronic warfare and cyberattack service.

The Justice Department indicted five PLA hackers in 2014 on charges of breaking into networks of U.S. corporations and stealing valuable information that was provided to Chinese competitors.

U.S. intelligence officials have said the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management and the theft of sensitive files on 22 million federal workers were the work of Chinese military hackers in retaliation for the indictments.

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday, in response to questions about Russian cyberattacks during the election campaign, cited China’s hacking of the OPM as an example of widespread threats posed by foreign cyberattacks.

“Twenty million accounts were hacked in this country by China,” Mr. Trump said at a New York press conference. “And that’s because we have no defense. That’s because we’re run by people that don’t know what they’re doing.”

Mr. Trump promised to develop stronger cyberdefenses early in his administration.

STRATCOM CHIEF ON MISSILE DEFENSE

The new commander of the Omaha, Nebraska-based Strategic Command said the military is poised to shoot down any long-range missile fired by North Korea.

Interceptors at the missile defense base at Fort Greely, Alaska, are prepared to knock out any long-range missile fired toward the United States, said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the Stratcom commander.

“You have soldiers standing watch in case there is a launch against the United States. We have a defensive system that will shoot it down,” the general said.

Fort Greely’s interceptors make up one element of the anti-missile system. “We have a series of sensors, radars at the far end of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, radars in the Pacific, radars in Alaska proper, that are there to sense the capabilities,” Gen. Hyten told Alabama’s WAAY television.

“Then we have overhead space assets that are the bell-ringers that see the event when it first happens, cue all of those capabilities, and it’s all integrated together through an integrated command-and-control process to make sure that we’re not surprised, that we can defend the United States against those kinds of adversaries that might want to do us harm with an ICBM. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

Gen. Hyten is overseeing a multibillion-dollar modernization of the U.S. nuclear force, including new missiles, submarines and bombers.

“If we don’t build those, then we’re in significant problems — not now, but in about a decade from now some really significant risks could start,” he said.

The risk is that one element of the U.S. deterrent force could be weakened, undermining the nation’s ability to deter states such as Russia and China.

Gen. Hyten said the Stratcom subcomponent, Fort Meade, Maryland-based Cyber Command, eventually will be elevated to a separate combatant command.

“Right now, I don’t support separating it from the National Security Agency because the capabilities we use are in many cases in the National Security Agency,” he said. “The separation will come at some time down the road — just not in the near future.”

Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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