News Brief

US Intel Chief Lists Disinformation a Grave Threat

The U.S. intelligence director this week warned American lawmakers that cyber attacks, including disinformation campaigns and malicious hacking, are among the top national security threats facing the country.

“Our adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly use cyber capabilities—including cyber espionage, attack, and influence—to seek political, economic, and military advantage over the United States and its allies and partners,” Daniel Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday as he presented the annual worldwide threat assessment.

Top US intelligence officials warned the congressional panel that China and Russia rank highest in their concern because of the nations’ “growing capability to shape and alter the information system” of America. The hearing covered diverse security issues – including terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and economics – but the subject of cybersecurity and disinformation was emphasized.

The threat assessment reported that U.S. intelligence agencies expect Russia, China and Iran to meddle in America’s 2020 elections by tampering with the election system itself, as well as by using “vast online influence operations.”

“Beijing will continue to use legal, political and economic levers to shape the information environment,” while “Russia’s social media effort’s will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions” in order to incite mistrust in people towards the US authorities, the report states.

Coats also stated that the American intelligence community is concerned about foreign-produced fake audio and video content – or so called “deepfakes” – and malicious use of artificial intelligence.

Coats said the fakes would get harder to handle as machine-learning improves.

“It’s a very quickly evolving flood of technological changes that poses a major threat to the United States, and something the intelligence community needs to be restructured to address,” Coats said.