Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies before lawmakers on Wednesday during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats faced by the United States. The session at the U.S. Capitol in Washington included testimony from U.S. intelligence officials and information from a newly declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
March 8 (UPI) -- Intelligence officials testified before Congress Wednesday about a range of threats facing the United States, saying China and Russia continue to be at the top of the list.
At the annual congressional hearing on global threats Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers China's Communist Party and Russia's invasion of Ukraine both present ongoing and possibly expanding threats to U.S. interests.
On China, Haines said that Chinese leader Xi Jinping had "surrounded himself with like-minded loyalists at the apex of the Party Standing Committee," and continued to work toward solidifying China's status as a leading regional power, as well as a major global power. She also said China has strengthened its ties to Russia, as well.
China's political party, Haines said, is using coordinated "whole-of-government tools to demonstrate strength" and force its regional neighbors to acquiesce to its strategic desires, including those related to the sovereignty of Taiwan.
"Throughout the world, countries are struggling to maintain democratic systems and prevent the rise of authoritarians, in some cases because Russia and China are helping autocrats take or hold power," Haines said.
On Russia, Haines said President Vladimir Putin might not see major military victories in Russia's war in Ukraine this year, but it is willing to play a long game to accomplish territorial gains and strategic victories.
Haines' appearance before the committee -- which also heard from CIA, FBI, National Security Agency officials and others in the intelligence community -- was accompanied by a newly declassified report analyzing U.S. threats.
That report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says Russia tried to influence the 2022 elections and will try to do so again.
"Moscow views U.S. elections as opportunities for malign influence as part of its larger foreign policy strategy," the report says. "Moscow has conducted influence operations against U.S. elections for decades, including as recently as the U.S. midterm elections in 2022."
The report also warns about the danger of direct military conflict with Russia, something analysts say is not necessarily wanted by Moscow yet could happen in today's highly charged climate.
"Moscow will continue to employ an array of tools to advance what it sees as its own interests and try to undermine the interests of the United States and its allies. These are likely to be military, security, malign influence, cyber, and intelligence tools, with Russia's economic and energy leverage probably a declining asset," the assessment states.
The report also states that Russia has been seeking to enhance its ability to target infrastructure.
"Russia is particularly focused on improving its ability to target critical infrastructure, including underwater cables and industrial control systems, in the United States, as well as in allied and partner countries, because compromising such infrastructure improves and demonstrates its ability to damage infrastructure during a crisis," the assessment states.
The report, and intelligence analysis presented to U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday, also warned that China will "continue to integrate space services -- such as satellite reconnaissance and positioning, navigation, and timing -- and satellite communications into its weapons and command-and-control systems in an effort to erode the U.S. military's information advantage."
The committee also heard about other threats confronting U.S. stability and interests, such as the rise of fentanyl use in illicit drugs and the popularity of China-owned social media app TikTok.