A Worldwide Threat Assessment

As we noted in the Wednesday edition, the US intelligence community has released its latest Worldwide Threat Assessment. Much of the media focus this week has fallen on President Trump's criticism of the US intel chiefs, but let's begin with the report itself. Here are its key findings:


  • The Trump administration's trade policies have damaged US interests by pushing allies to build new relationships with other governments.
  • "At present, China and Russia pose the greatest espionage and cyber attack threats."
  • ISIS isn't finished. The group can still call on thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, as well as a dozen networks around the world.
  • "Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security."
  • North Korea "is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability." Following Kim Jong-un's meeting last year with President Trump in Singapore, North Korea has continued nuclear development in some areas and taken actions that are reversible in others. CIA Director Gina Haspel testified before Congress on Tuesday that North Korea "is committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States."
  • Iran continues to support terrorist groups in the Middle East and Europe, but it's still complying with the terms of the nuclear deal even after the US withdrew from the agreement and re-imposed sanctions. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress this week that "We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device."

And now to the controversy. President Trump, who has made statements in the past that contradict every one of these findings, was not pleased with the assessment, particularly on the subject of Iran. "The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond," he tweeted on Wednesday.

If you want to know how a particular government weighs threats to national security, don't look to politicians. They have their own motives for stressing this or that threat. Look to intelligence professionals who were there before a particular president or prime minister arrived and will be there after they're gone. US intelligence has been (sometimes dangerously) wrong over the years, but the experience of its people and their extraordinary access to information make it unwise to dismiss their judgment.

And it's alarming to see the president of the United States, whom the US Constitution designates as Commander in Chief of the military, publicly deriding the integrity of the nation's intelligence agencies. This week, your Friday author is in Japan, one of several US allies where officials are watching with serious concern. It's also noteworthy that a clear majority of Republican senators voted this week to support a measure declaring that the Islamic State and al-Qaeda remain serious threats in Syria and Afghanistan, a rare rebuke for the president by lawmakers from his own party.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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"Neither America first, which is ultimately America alone, nor America the world's policeman," Sen. Chris Coons told Ian Bremmer in describing VP Joe Biden's approach to foreign policy should he win the presidential election in November. In the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, Sen. Coons provides details of how U.S. relationships with foreign governments and multilateral alliances could change in a Biden presidency. He also defended President Obama's track record, saying "I think it is a mischaracterization of the Obama-Biden foreign policy for President Trump to say that we were picking up the tab and fighting the world's wars and that we were disrespected." Coons stated that Biden would work to restore U.S. involvement in alliances like NATO, and shore up global support to pressure China on labor and environmental standards. The exchange is part of a broad conversation with the Senator about COVID response and economic relief, Russian interference in elections, and the 2020 presidential race. The episode begins airing nationally in the U.S. on Friday, July 10. Check local listings.

Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics:

How is coronavirus jeopardizing the legitimacy of a 2020 presidential election?

Well, what coronavirus is doing is a lot of states are worrying about people who aren't going to want to come to the polling places in the fall, and they're worried about a shortage of polling workers who are going to want to come out and volunteer to get sick by interacting with a bunch people in person. So, what they're doing is they're looking at making a shift to vote-by-mail. Most states allow some form of absentee balloting today. Five states just automatically mail you a ballot and they don't do any in-person voting. But the challenge here is that a lot of states are unprepared for the sharp increase that's expected. In the last election, 25% of ballots were cast by mail. You may see 50, 60 or even more percent of ballots cast by mail this time, which could overwhelm election administration, which happens at the state level.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have diverged. As of July 8, the average number of new deaths every three days in the EU had fallen 97 percent since peaking at the beginning of April. The US number, however, has fallen only 67 percent over the same period. That means that although both regions' death tolls peaked with only two weeks difference, the EU has flattened its COVID-19 fatality curve faster than America. Some experts attribute the difference to EU countries' more robust public health systems and better compliance with mask-wearing and other social distancing measures.