Report to Congressional CommitteesNATIONAL SECURITYLong-Range Emerging Threats Facing the United StatesAs Identified by Federal AgenciesDecember 2018GAO-19-204SP
Highlights of GAO-19-204SP, a report to congressional committeesNational SecurityLong-Range Emerging Threats Facing theUnited States As Identified by Federal AgenciesWhy GAO Did This StudyThe United States faces a complex array ofthreats to our national security, including ourpolitical, economic, military, and social systems.These threats will continue to evolve as new andresurgent adversaries develop politically andmilitarily, as weapons and technology advance,and as environmental and demographic changesoccur. A House committee report accompanyinga bill for the National Defense Authorization Actfor Fiscal Year 2018 included a provision forGAO to identify emerging threats of high nationalsecurity consequence. This report focuses onlong-range emerging threats—those that mayoccur in approximately 5 or more years, or thosethat may occur during an unknown timeframe—asidentified by various respondents at the Departmentof Defense (DOD), Department of State (State),Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and theOffice of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).To identify long-range emerging threats, GAOadministered a questionnaire to 45 governmentorganizations that assess emerging threats acrossDOD, State, DHS, and ODNI, and had a 78-percentresponse rate. GAO conducted a content analysisof the responses to identify specific threats anddevelop broad threat categories. To supplement thedata from the questionnaire, GAO reviewed nationalsecurity strategies and agency documents providedby DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI, and interviewedkey agency officials. This report is a public versionof a classified report that GAO issued on September28, 2018. Information that DOD deemed classifiedand sensitive has been omitted.What GAO FoundDOD, State, DHS, and ODNI independentlyidentified various threats to the United States or itsnational security interests. In analyzing more than210 individual threats identified by organizationsacross DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI, as well as itsreview of national security strategies and relateddocuments, and interviews with key agency officials,GAO developed four broad categories for 26 longrange emerging threats that officials identified:Adversaries’ Political and Military Advancements,Dual-Use Technologies, Weapons, and Events andDemographic Changes.The figure below contains examples of the 26 threatsin 4 categories—as identified by DOD, State, DHS,and ODNI—in response to GAO’s questionnaire.For more information, contact Joseph W. Kirschbaum at(202) 512-9971 or email@example.com or Brian M. Mazanecat (202) 512-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Emerging Threats As Identified by DOD, State, DHS, and ODNIAdversaries’ Political and Military AdvancementsChinese Global Expansion» China is marshalling its diplomatic, economic, and military resources to facilitate its rise as a regional and global power. Thismay challenge U.S. access to air, space, cyberspace, and maritime domains. China’s use of cyberspace and electronic warfare could impact various U.S.systems and operations.Russian Global Expansion» Russia is increasing its capability to challenge the United States across multiple warfare domains, including attempting tolaunch computer-based directed energy attacks against U.S. military assets. Russia is also increasing its military and political presence in key locations acrossthe world.Iranian Political and Military Developments» Iran is expanding its influence by increasing the size and capabilities of its network of military, intelligence,and surrogate forces, while increasing economic activities in other areas of the world. Iran will also likely continue to develop its military capabilities, includingdeveloping technology that could be used for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and improving its offensive cyberspace operations.North Korean Military Developments» North Korea is developing capabilities to strike North America and its allies with long-range missiles and mayproduce significant numbers of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Foreign Government Capacity and Stability» Violent extremist organizations may proliferate in countries that have limited governing capacity and arefacing conflict, which may result in a higher risk of terrorist attacks and increased demand for U.S. resources to counter them. Countries in Africa, LatinAmerica, and the Caribbean may experience instability based on conflict, which may lead to humanitarian disasters and government collapses.Terrorism» Violent ideologies could influence additional individuals to turn to terrorism to achieve their goals across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.Terrorists could advance their tactics, including building nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, or increase their use of online communications to reach newrecruits and disseminate propaganda.New Alliances and Adversaries» The United States could face challenges from potential new state adversaries and non-state adversaries (e.g., privatecorporations obtaining resources that could grant them more influence than states).Information Operations» Adversaries—such as Russia, Iran, and China—may engage in advanced information operations campaigns that use social media,artificial intelligence, and data analytics to undermine the United States and its allies.
Emerging Threats As Identified by DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI (Continued)Dual-Use TechnologiesArtificial Intelligence (AI)» Adversaries could gain increased access to AI through affordable designs used in the commercial industry, and couldapply AI to areas such as weapons and technology.Quantum Information Science» Quantum communications could enable adversaries to develop secure communications that U.S. personnel wouldnot be able to intercept or decrypt. Quantum computing may allow adversaries to decrypt information, which could enable them to target U.S.personnel and military operations.Internet of Things (IoT)» The United States may face difficulties protecting networks and data as IoT grows and traditional approaches for security(e.g., encryption) may no longer effectively protect information. Adversaries could also disrupt IoT-enabled critical infrastructure and devices.Autonomous and Unmanned Systems» Adversaries are developing autonomous capabilities that could recognize faces, understand gestures, andmatch voices of U.S. personnel, which could compromise U.S. operations. Unmanned ground, underwater, air, and space vehicles may be used forcombat and surveillance.Biotechnology» Actors—which may include state or non-state entities such as violent extremist organizations and transnational criminalorganizations—could alter genes or create DNA to modify plants, animals, and humans. Such biotechnologies could be used to enhance theperformance of military personnel. The proliferation of synthetic biology—used to create genetic code that does not exist in nature—may increase thenumber of actors that can create chemical and biological weapons.Other Emerging Technologies» Actors may gain access to new technologies previously limited to militaries, such as affordable and sophisticatedencryption technologies, which would hinder U.S. efforts to monitor terrorist and criminal activities. Other emerging technologies—such as additivemanufacturing (i.e., 3D printing)—may be vulnerable to cyber attacks or be used to manufacture restricted materials, such as weapons.WeaponsWeapons of Mass Destruction» An increasing number of actors may gain access to these weapons. Adversaries could steal nuclear materials fromexisting facilities or develop new types of biological weapons using genetic engineering and synthetic biology.Electronic Warfare» Adversaries are developing electronic attack weapons to target U.S. systems with sensitive electronic components, such asmilitary sensors, communication, navigation, and information systems. These weapons are intended to degrade U.S. capabilities and could restrictsituational awareness or may affect military operations.Hypersonic Weapons» China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude, and maneuverability may defeat mostmissile defense systems, and they may be used to improve long-range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities. There are no existingcountermeasures.Counterspace Weapons» China and Russia are developing anti-satellite weapons to threaten U.S. space operations. China is developing capabilitiesto conduct large-scale anti-satellite strikes using novel physical, cyber, and electronic warfare means.Missiles» Adversaries are developing missile technology to attack the United States in novel ways and challenge U.S. missile defense, includingconventional and nuclear ICBMs, sea-launched land-attack missiles, and space-based missiles that could orbit the earth.Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) Platforms» Future advances in AI, sensors, data analytics, and space-based platforms couldcreate an environment of “ubiquitous ISR”, where people and equipment could be tracked throughout the world in near-real time. China, Russia, Iran,and North Korea are developing multiple ISR platforms.Aircraft» China and Russia are developing new aircraft, including stealth aircraft, which could fly faster, carry advanced weapons, and achieve greaterranges. Such aircraft could force U.S. aircraft to operate at farther distances and put more U.S. targets at risk.Undersea Weapons» Russia has made significant advancements in submarine technology and tactics to escape detection by U.S. forces. China isdeveloping underwater acoustic systems that could coordinate swarm attacks—the use of large quantities of simple and expendable assets tooverwhelm opponents—among vehicles and provide greater undersea awareness. Adversaries could achieve breakthroughs in anti-submarinewarfare—such as using AI to locate U.S. submarines—or attack U.S. undersea infrastructure, which could cripple communications.Cyber Weapons» Adversaries, such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, may launch cyber attacks against critical U.S. infrastructure (e.g.,electric, oil and gas, and nuclear power systems) and military infrastructure (e.g., communications and ISR platforms). Adversaries could also launchcyber attacks on the U.S. health care system, threatening patient safety by disrupting access to medical care. Finally, adversaries are also developingtools to directly attack hardware and embedded components in aviation systems, which can manipulate or destroy data.Events and Demographic ChangesInfectious Diseases» New and evolving diseases from the natural environment—exacerbated by changes in climate, the movement of people into cities,and global trade and travel—may become a pandemic. Drug-resistant forms of diseases previously considered treatable could become widespreadagain.Climate Change» Extreme weather events—such as hurricanes and megadroughts—could intensify and affect food security, energy resources, and thehealth care sector. Diminishing permafrost could expand habitats for pathogens that cause disease. The loss of Arctic sea ice could open previouslyclosed sea routes, potentially increasing Russian and Chinese access to the region and challenging the freedom of navigation that the United Statescurrently has.Internal and International Migration» Governments in megacities (i.e., over 10 million people) across Asia, Latin America, and Africa may not have thecapacity to provide adequate resources and infrastructure, and may be vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters. Mass migration events may occurand threaten regional stability, undermine governments, and strain U.S. military and civilian responses.Source: GAO analysis of DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI questionnaire responses, agency documents, and national security strategies. GAO-19-204SP4GAO-19-204SPNATIONAL SECURITY
ContentsLetter1Background3DOD, State, DHS and ODNI Identified a Variety of Emerging Threatsto U.S. National Security That May Occur over the NextApproximately 5 or More Years6Adversaries’ Political and Military Advancements7Dual-Use Technologies8Weapons9Events and Demographic Changes1011Agency Comments and Our Evaluation12List of Congressional Committees13Appendix I: Objective, Scope, and Methodology17Appendix II: DOD Comments18Related GAO ProductsThis is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States. The published product may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further permission from GAO. However, because this work may contain copyrighted images or other material, permissionfrom the copyright holder may be necessary if you wish to reproduce this material separately.GAO-19-204SPNATIONAL SECURITY5
ificial IntelligenceDepartment of Homeland SecurityDefense Intelligence AgencyDepartment of DefenseIntercontinental ballistic missileInternet of ThingsIntelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissanceNorth Atlantic Treaty OrganizationOffice of the Director of National IntelligenceDepartment of State
December 13, 2018Congressional CommitteesThe United States faces a complex array of threatsto our national security, including our political,economic, military, and social systems. Thesethreats will continue to evolve as new and resurgentadversaries develop politically and militarily,as weapons and technology advance, and asenvironmental and demographic changes occur.Our adversaries may include foreign governments,violent extremists, transnational criminalorganizations, and megacorporations.1 Threats mayalso come from events such as pandemics, humanmigration, regional conflict and instability, economicinequality, or the effects of climate change andenvironmental issues.A variety of national intelligence and securityorganizations are responsible for national security,including identifying, analyzing, and counteringemerging threats. Such organizations include: theDepartment of Defense (DOD), the Department ofState (State), the Department of Homeland Security(DHS), and the Office of the Director of NationalIntelligence (ODNI).For purposes of this report, we define “threat” asan actor with capability and intent, or an event withpotential capability, to harm the United States orits national security interests. We define “emergingthreat” as a threat that may be newly recognized;may have been recognized before but maypotentially affect a new or different population,industry, or geographic area than previouslyaffected; or may be an existing threat that hasdeveloped new attributes.A House Committee report accompanying a billfor the National Defense Authorization Act forFiscal Year 2018 included a provision for us toidentify emerging threats of high national securityconsequence.2 This report describes long-rangeemerging threats as identified by DOD, State, DHS,and ODNI.3 For purposes of this report, we definelong-range threats as threats that agency officialsidentified that may occur in approximately 5 or moreyears, or those threats that could occur in a futureunknown time frame.4This report is a public version of a classified reportthat we issued on September 28, 2018.5 It omitsclassified and sensitive information about threatsidentified by executive branch agencies anddescribed in 26 profiles in our classified report. Italso omits classified and sensitive information inthose profiles related to specific threats, the effectsof those threats, specific warfare domains, andquestions for oversight. Although the informationprovided in this report is more limited, the reportaddresses the same objectives as the classifiedreport and uses the same methodology.To identify long-range emerging threats, weadministered a questionnaire to 45 selectedorganizations across DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI.6In the questionnaire, we asked respondents toidentify and describe emerging threats that theirorganizations assess could occur in approximately5 years or more from today, or those that have anunknown time frame. We received approximately210 individual threats from 26 of these 451Adversaries are potentially hostile or disruptive state or non-state actors. According to the 2018 National Defense Strategy, state actors and non-state actors, such asterrorists, transnational criminal organizations, and cyber hackers, have transformed the direction of global affairs with increased capabilities of mass disruption. Disruptivestate actors include North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran. Non-state actors include violent extremist organizations such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.Transnational criminal organizations can participate in the sale of illegal drugs and counterfeit goods, human trafficking and smuggling, and other criminal activities. Accordingto DOD officials, megacorporations are large companies that have the financial resources and a power base to exert influence on par with or exceeding non-state actors.2H.R. Rep. No. 115-200, at 181 (2017).3ODNI supports the Director of National Intelligence’s role as head of the Intelligence Community. The Intelligence Community is comprised of 17 separate organizationssuch as the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and intelligence componentswithin agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and the military services.4We established this time frame because officials from DOD and ODNI stated that they consider threats occurring earlier than 5 years from today as near-term or mid-termthreats, which receive greater attention and resources from defense and intelligence organizations than long-term threats.5GAO, National Security: Long-Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States Identified by Federal Agencies, GAO-18-497SPC (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 28, 2018).(SECRET//NOFORN)6We focused on DOD, State, DHS, and ODNI as among the federal agencies with primary responsibility for national security. We identified the 45 selected organizationswithin these agencies that assess long-range emerging threats through consultation with agency officials.1GAO-19-204SPNATIONAL SECURITY
organizations, which formed the basis of ourthreat profiles.7 See appendix I for more detailsabout the specific organizations that receivedthe questionnaire. In addition, ODNI submitted aquestionnaire but did not identify any threats on thequestionnaire. Instead, ODNI officials referred usto their Global Trends: Paradox of Progress reportand provided verbal input on long-range emergingthreats.8 We used this information to supplementquestionnaire responses from DOD, State, and DHSorganizations. In total, we received a 78-percentresponse rate (28 of 36) to our questionnaire.9To supplement information from the questionnaire,we reviewed documents provided by DOD, State,DHS, and ODNI. For example, we reviewed themost recent national strategies that pertain toemerging threats and ODNI’s 2017 Global Trends:Paradox of Progress report.10 We also interviewedofficials about long-range emerging threats from22 organizations, including 11 DOD organizations,6 State organizations, 4 DHS organizations, andODNI. We selected these 22 organizations becausethey may have a role in identifying and assessinglong-range emerging threats. This review did notassess any efforts to mitigate threats. We pretested the questionnaire instrument with officialsfrom different agencies to confirm that it wouldbe understood by respondents as intended, anddetermined that the data collected were sufficientlyreliable for our purposes.unpredictable events with no prior warning.Therefore, this report does not attempt to providea comprehensive listing of all potential emergingthreats to the United States that may arise overthe next 5 or more years. Rather, it represents theassessments of agency experts who responded toour questionnaire, supplemented by informationfrom national security strategies, related agencydocuments, and interviews with agency officials.Furthermore, many questionnaire responses focuson threats that originate outside the United States.For more information on our objective, scope, andmethodology, see appendix I.The performance audit upon which this report isbased was conducted from July 2017 to September2018 in accordance with generally acceptedgovernment auditing standards. Those standardsrequire that we plan and perform the audit toobtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide areasonable basis for our findings and conclusionsbased on our audit objectives. We believe that theevidence obtained provides a reasonable basis forour findings and conclusions based on our auditobjective. We subsequently worked with DOD fromSeptember 2018 to December 2018 to preparethis public version of the original classified reportfor public release. This public version was alsoprepared in accordance with those standards.It is not possible to predict every potential longrange emerging threat. According to IntelligenceCommunity officials, the further out in timepredictions go, the more uncertain they become,because the future is a confluence of multiple trendswith an infinite number of possible permutations.For example, adversaries may use emergingtechnologies together in novel and unpredictedways to amplify their harm. Several DOD officialsalso noted that there will always be completely7Two additional organizations provided responses after the response period had ended. These responses were not used in the development of the threat profiles but wereincluded in our response rate calculations.8Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Intelligence Council, Global Trends: Paradox of Progress, NIC 2017-001 (Washington, D.C.: January 2017). AnODNI official stated that the Global Trends: Paradox of Progress report lists some key threats over the next 5 to 20 years. In particular, ODNI officials emphasized economicthreats such as U.S. debt and growing inequality; new technologies and ethical questions surrounding the use of those technologies; geopolitical conflict, including thespread of corruption to the developed world and the rise of China; and the spread of populism and nationalist identities around the world.9Of the 45 organizations selected to receive our questionnaire, 9 organizations were excluded from our response rate calculations because 8 told us that they do not identifythreats that meet our scope or definition, and 1 told us that a separate office within their organization had responded on their behalf. Of the remaining 36 organizations, 28organizations provided responses (2 of which provided responses after the response period had ended, and were not used in the development of the threat profiles). Inaddition, 1 organization did not receive a questionnaire due to an administrative error and ODNI submitted an incomplete questionnaire that did not identify any threats. Wedid not receive responses from the remaining 6 organizations.10NIC 2017-001.GAO-19-204SPNATIONAL SECURITY2
BackgroundCurrent Landscape of Emerging ThreatsDOD officials noted that Western liberal democraticinstitutions around the world are being challengedin new and novel ways. Adversaries have had over40 years to study the United States and Westerninstitutions. As such, the nature of warfare hasevolved to include “gray zone” conflict—definedas the area between war and peace—whereweaker adversaries have learned how to seizeterritory and advance their agendas in ways notrecognized as “war” by Western democracies. Also,these gray zone conflicts can offset superior U.S.economic and security structures. DOD officialsadded that adversaries around the world may erodedemocracies, often using democratic institutions,in the gray zone of conflict.11 ODNI officials alsonoted that China and Russia are pursuing grayzone strategies to achieve their objectives withoutresorting to military conflict.DOD officials provided a list of recent significantexamples of adversary success in the gray zoneof conflict, several of which have occurred withoutsignificant consequences, including: Russian and Chinese near-unrestricted theftsof U.S. intellectual property, Office of PersonnelManagement data theft, and penetrations of U.S.civil, utility, and military data and electoral votingsystems; Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory, namelyCrimea; Chinese seizure of the South China Seas andthe building of military islands in defiance ofinternational court rulings; China using bilateral economic deals tomarginalize U.S. multilateral frameworks in Asia,Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific; Iran realigning the Middle East by using proxyforces to create friendly governments includingSyria, Iraq, and Yemen at the expense of U.S.leadership in the region; “Strongmen” in countries such as Venezuela,Egypt, and Turkey using democratic institutions topromote new paradigms independent of Westernliberal norms; and The continued attraction of extremist groups,including the Islamic State and al-Qaida, as apreferable means to achieve Sunni Arab autonomyas a viable alternative to minority governance incountries with majorities that outnumber them (asin Syria and Iraq).DOD officials said that, with current demographictrends, Western liberal democratic institutions will betested in new ways as the nature of warfare changes.The challenge for the United States and its allieswill be to develop responses faster than adversariesthrough a better understanding of the strategicenvironment. Officials added that this presents achallenge since the United States appears to bestrategically surprised by an evolving world.DOD officials also said that the United States mustadapt to challenges from adversaries and better linksecurity objectives and economic objectives, or riskfurther erosions of U.S. influence to adversaries suchas China and Russia. Officials stated that Chinaand Russia are more agile than the United Statesin creating relationships with other countries todegrade U.S. bilateral and multilateral frameworks.For example, China and Russia are working to definethe United States as a “status quo” power trying topreserve the old world order in what is becominga multipolar world. These officials added that thenature of conflict has changed, and so the UnitedStates must evolve. Russia attempting to resurrect former Soviet clientstate relationships with Syria, Egypt, and Libya,and potentially with additional countries in theMiddle East and North Africa;11Officials from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency noted that gray zone warfare is characterized by limited conflict that sits between normal state competitionand what is traditionally thought of as war.3GAO-19-204SPNATIONAL SECURITY
Future Landscape of Emerging ThreatsGoverning is getting harder. The publicwill demand that governments deliver securityand prosperity. However, flat revenues, distrust,polarization, and a growing list of emerging issueswill hamper government performance. Technologywill expand the range of players who can block orcircumvent political action.The rich population is shrinking, the poorpopulation is not. Working-age populations areshrinking in wealthy countries and in China andRussia, and are growing in developing, poorercountries. This trend has the potential to increaseeconomic, employment, urbanization and welfarepressures, and spur migration.13The nature of conflict is changing. The riskof conflict will increase due to diverging interestsamong major powers, an expanding terror threat,continued instability in weak states, and the spreadof lethal, disruptive technologies. Disruptingsocieties will become more common, with longrange precision weapons, cyber, and roboticsystems to target infrastructure from afar, and withmore accessible technology to create weapons ofmass destruction.ODNI’s January 2017 report Global Trends:Paradox of Progress describes future trends thatwill shape the direction of the world over the next 5or more years.12 ODNI’s report describes potentialenvironments from which long-range threats mayemerge, based on secen key global trends:1The global economy is shifting. Weakeconomic growth will likely persist in the near term.Major economies will confront shrinking workforcesand diminishing productivity gains while recoveringfrom the 2008-2009 financial crises with high debt,weak demand, and doubts about globalization.Inequality and wealth concentrations—combinedwith corruption and eroding trust in authorities—aredriving a wave of political change.2Technology is accelerating progress butcausing discontinuities. Rapid technologicaladvancements will increase the pace of changeand create new opportunities, but will aggravatedivisions between winners and losers. Automationand artificial intelligence will threaten to changeindustries faster than economies can adjust,potentially displacing workers and limiting the usualroute for poor countries to develop. Biotechnologiessuch as genome editing will revolutionize medicineand other fields, while sharpening moral differences.3Ideas and identities are driving a wave ofexclusion. Growing global connectivity amid weakeconomic growth will increase tensions within andbetween societies. Populism will increase on theright and the left. Some leaders will use nationalismto shore up control. Religious influence will beincreasingly consequential, and nearly all countrieswill see economic forces boost women’s status andleadership roles, but backlash against this trendalso will occur.456Climate change, environment, and healthissues will demand attention. A range of globalhazards pose imminent and longer-term threatsthat will require collective action to address—evenas cooperation becomes harder. More extremeweather, water and soil stress, and food insecuritywill disrupt societies. Sea-level rise, oceana
North Korean Military Developments» North Korea is developing capabilities to strike North America and its allies with long-range missiles and may . Why GAO Did This Study The United States faces a complex array of threats to our national security, including our political, economic, military, and social systems. .
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