Additional Thoughts on the DNI's Annual Threat Assessment

By Amy Zegart
Monday, March 2, 2015, 4:05 PM

Jack gave a terrific rapid reaction to the DNI's 2015 annual threat assessment, delivered last Thursday. Here, I wanted to add a few more brief thoughts comparing this assessment to previous ones.

First, the rank ordering of global threats remained almost exactly the same in 2015 as it did in 2014. The top six threats are identical. The bottom two cover many of the same topics as last year, but with different names. So while DNI Clapper notes (in my view, correctly) that the threat environment is more uncertain and harder to predict these days than ever, ODNI still seems to think the relative ordering of threats remains unchanged.

1. Cyber

2. Counterintelligence

3. Terrorism

4. WMD and Proliferation

5. Space and Counterspace

6. Transnational Organized Crime

7. Economics

8. Human security

Second, cyber is listed as threat number 1 but it's only been number 1 since 2012, suggesting just how fast the cyber threat landscape is changing. As late as 2009, cyber appeared toward the very end of the threat assessment, just behind drug trafficking in West Africa. In the 2007 assessment, cyber was not mentioned at all. No kidding. Not one word. So we've gone from no cyber to all-about-cyber in just eight years.

Third, space really is the final frontier. I recently went to Vandenberg AF base to watch a space launch and learn about space policy challenges, so I was particularly interested to see what Clapper had to say about space and counterspace. It seems the intelligence community sees this as a growing area of concern. In 2012, space and counterspace threats were mentioned midway through the assessment.  But in 2013, 2014, and 2015, space and counterspace jumped to global threat number 5---ahead of global economics, pandemics, and natural resource challenges. While the public threat assessment doesn't say much, the high placement of this threat suggests that there's much afoot in the classified domain. It's also interesting to note that this year's threat assessment is more overtly critical of China's counterspace efforts, noting that China's 2007 antis-atellite missile test created "long-lived space debris" (these quite serious consequences were not mentioned last year) and that China in 2014 conducted a non-destructive anti-satellite missile test.