Skip to content

(L to R) Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Jeffrey Kruse, FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director William Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Timothy Haugh, and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research Brett Holmgren testify during a Senate Intelligence Committee on worldwide threats on 11 March 2024. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

New Report Highlights U.S. Intelligence Agencies’ Threat Outlook

The U.S. Congress requires U.S. intelligence agencies to submit an annual report assessing the most dangerous threats the country faces. Yesterday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued the 2024 report and six agency heads appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer questions about the report.

The 41-page report identifies a wide range of threats, providing a broad overview of the issues each present. The two-hour hearing focused on such areas as the war in Gaza, the war in Ukraine, and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as examinations of threats posed by countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea.

Despite ominous, quote-worthy statements—such as when Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said, “While it is too early to tell, it is likely that the Gaza conflict will have a generational impact on terrorism”—the report and testimony, which were unclassified and publicly available, did not bring new information to light.

The report does succinctly describe the potential dangers the U.S. intelligence community sees in these areas, and it goes much further than the obvious topics discussed in the hearing. For example, there is a section on the threats posed by instability in Western African nations and another on the possibility of hostilities in the Balkans. (See Security Management resources on extremism and violence.)

All of these summaries can be informative to corporate security directors, but digging into the report beyond the headline-worthy subjects reveals some additional areas of interest to corporate security, beginning with AI and digital technologies.

AI and Digital Technologies

From the report: “New technologies…are being developed and are proliferating at a rate that makes it challenging for companies and governments to shape norms regarding civil liberties, privacy, and ethics. The convergence of these emerging technologies is likely to create breakthroughs, which could lead to the rapid development of asymmetric threats.”

The report highlighted such diverse threats from AI as political interference from deepfakes and misinformation programs to the creation of new biochemical weapons or new materials that increase stealth and nondetection capabilities.  Beyond the threats posed directly, the report underscored the idea of race to develop the technologies. It noted China’s advancements in many areas, such as surveillance technologies and development of smart cities, and said the work of China and the United States specifically “will exert substantial influence over the global economy for generations.” (Artificial intelligence will be the focus of the next issue of Security Technology, which will publish on 1 April.)

“Generative AI is a means for discovering and designing novel technologies and advanced system-level processes that could strengthen a country’s technological, economic, and broader strategic competitiveness,” the report said.

The report also has a section titled “Digital Authoritarianism and Transnational Repression.” In the preface to this section, it said, “Foreign states are advancing digital and physical means to repress individual critics and diaspora communities abroad, including in the United States, to limit their influence over domestic publics. States are also growing more sophisticated in digital influence operations that try to affect foreign publics’ views, sway voters’ perspectives, shift policies, and create social and political upheaval.”

Transnational Organized Crime

From the report: “Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) threaten U.S. and allied public health systems, exploit the international financial system, and degrade the safety and security of the United States and partner nations. TCOs incite instability and violence, drive migration, and provide some U.S. adversaries with additional avenues to advance geopolitical interests.”

Global financial institutions, regulations, and regulation enforcement agencies—including those in the United States—are not able to keep pace with the fraud schemes and money laundering tactics of criminal organizations, which the report stated, launder “billions of dollars of illicit proceeds through U.S. financial institutions.” The report said traditional money laundering tactics, including use of shell companies, continues and is compounded by the complexities introduced with cryptocurrency transactions. (See Security Management resources on cryptocurrency and finance.)

The report noted that cybercrime posed significant challenges to critical infrastructure, including healthcare, schools, and manufacturing.

“The emergence of inexpensive and anonymizing online infrastructure combined with the growing profitability of ransomware has led to the proliferation, decentralization, and specialization of cyber criminal activity,” the report stated. “This interconnected system has improved the efficiency and sophistication of ransomware attacks while also lowering the technical bar for entry for new actors.” (See Security Technology resources on organized crime and technology.)

As a result, extortion, service disruption, and sensitive data exposure events continue to increase, and is unlikely to be significantly curtailed as long as Russia and other actors do not cooperate in multinational attempts to crack down on the perpetuators.

Finally, international drug trafficking remains a lucrative business for criminal organizations. The synthetic opioid fentanyl, mostly supplied by Mexican drug cartels, poses a major threat to U.S. health, the report said. Ecuador and Colombia continue to produce and export vast amounts of cocaine to the United States and Europe. In addition to the resultant health problems caused by addictions, the drug trade has destabilized governments in the two countries and the cartels have proven adept at corruption, bribery, and violence-induced fear throughout the region.

Climate Change

From the report: “Climate-related disasters in low-income countries will deepen economic challenges, raise the risk of inter-communal conflict over scarce resources, and increase the need for humanitarian and financial assistance.”

The report covers the usual climate change threats: an increase in severe weather events from strong storms to drought and flooding cycles to oppressive heatwaves, and the impact they have on food systems, water availability, and safety. The events also disrupt energy production and supply chains. One novel threat being, literally, uncovered due to climate change is the potential for conflict in the competition for resources unlocked as Arctic ice recedes. The countries involved include the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Norway. (See Security Management resources on climate change and security.)

Health Security

From the report: “National health system shortfalls, public mistrust and medical misinformation, and eroding global health governance will impede the capacity of countries to respond to health threats.”

Among the many health challenges facing the world, the report noted, are a predicted shortage of 10 million healthcare workers in the near future; trends in political isolationism, which erode support for and of international health organizations such as United Nations health agencies and the World Health Organization; any of a number of pathogens that have caused regional havoc, such as avian flu, cholera, Ebola, and polio, could expand and cause havoc to governments still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath; and showing how the threats in the report interconnect, the combination of climate change creating conditions where infectious disease can be more problematic with the prevalence of disinformation and misinformation in medicine creates mistrust and exacerbates negative consequences of adverse health events.