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News | Feb. 4, 2015

Worldwide Threat Scope, Complexity on the Rise

By Claudette Roulo, DoD News Defense Media Activity

Taken in aggregate, recent political, military, social and technological developments have created security challenges more diverse and complex than any the nation has ever experienced, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress Feb. 3.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on the subject of worldwide threats, Stewart was joined by Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Joint Staff director for operations, and Mark S. Chandler, acting director for intelligence for the Joint Staff.

"Our challenges range from highly capable near-peer competitors, to empowered individuals with nefarious intentions. Increasing demands, coupled with today's challenging fiscal environment, have stressed our defense intelligence establishments and forced us to accept greater risk," Stewart said.

The existing strategic environment isn't going away any time soon, he said.

The increasing scope, volatility and complexity of threats are “the new normal,” Stewart said.

The Defense Intelligence Agency is focused on three areas of special concern, the general said.

Military Competitors

"Capable military competitors -- Russian military activity, for example -- [are] at historically high levels," he said. "Moscow is pursuing aggressive foreign and defense policies, including conducting destabilizing operations in the Ukraine, conducting a record number of out of area naval operations and increasing its long-range aviation patrols.

"In addition,” Stewart continued, “Beijing is focused on building a modern military capable of achieving success on a 21st century battlefield and advancing its core interests -- which include maintaining its sovereignty, protecting its territorial integrity and projecting its regional influence."

Breakdown of Law and Order

Vulnerable and ungoverned territory is on the rise due to the erosion of moderate and secular Islamic states, Stewart said.

"While coalition strikes have degraded [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's] ability to operate openly in Iraq and Syria, the group retains the ability to conduct limited offensive operations and is seeking to expand its presence and influence beyond these two countries," he said. "Governments in countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Jordan and Lebanon are under stress from a variety of sources, thereby reducing their capability as a region to confront the threat posed by violent extremists."

And the breakdown of order in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and northern Nigeria has created "fertile spawning grounds" for terrorist organizations with far-reaching influence, the general said.

Space, Cyber Threats

The space and cyber domains are increasingly threatened, he said. Russia and China are recognizing the strategic value of space and are focusing on diminishing the advantages held by the U.S. and its allies.

"Both countries are conducting anti-satellite research and developing anti-satellite weapons, with the intent of denying the U.S. the use of space in the event of conflict," Stewart said.

For the Defense Department, the cyber threat is particularly alarming because of the interconnected nature of weapons, communications and networks, he said.

"At low cost, with limited technical expertise, our adversaries have the potential to cause severe damage and disruption to U.S. systems, leaving little or no footprint behind," the general said. And the speed and influence of mobile communications and social media have the potential to magnify international crises and shorten an already compressed decision-making cycle, Stewart added.


The demand for intelligence has never been greater, he said, but sequestration and operational demands have forced the military intelligence community to accept increased risk.

This "will have a direct and lasting impact on our ability to provide high-quality, nuanced intelligence required by policy makers and war fighters. I fear that the true cost of these difficult choices today may be paid on the battlefield of the future," the general said.