AILSA CHANG, HOST:
China's push for global power is the top foreign threat to national security. That's according to the U.S. intelligence community, which released its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report today. And tomorrow, five national security chiefs will go to Capitol Hill to testify as a group. For more, we're joined now by NPR's Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right. So before we dive into the details of this report, this testimony from the top intel officials - I mean, that was once a ritual in Washington, right? Why haven't we seen these hearings recently?
MYRE: Well, there was this constant friction between former President Trump and his hand-picked intelligence chiefs. One of the more memorable moments came in January 2019 when they testified and often in direct contradiction to what the president was claiming, like whether or not North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons. The president suggested they might; the intelligence chiefs said no. Trump was furious. He took to Twitter. So this was the last time we had these hearings. But on Wednesday and Thursday, these five national security chiefs, including the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, are set to testify before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Now, it's going to be foreign focused, but the FBI director, Christopher Wray, will also be among them and is expected to talk about domestic extremism.
CHANG: OK. Let's dig into some of the details in this report. The threat posed by the Chinese government is getting most of the attention. Tell us why.
MYRE: It says - the report says that China is seeking to create, quote, "new international norms that favor the authoritarian Chinese system." And this is very much in keeping with what President Biden has said. He says China is trying to present its system as a better model than the U.S. or Western-style democracy. The report cites recent concrete actions that point to this more assertive Chinese military, this probing of defenses around Taiwan, border clashes with India last year and a Chinese naval buildup in the South China Sea, just to cite a few examples.
CHANG: OK. Well, turning elsewhere in the report - not surprisingly, Russia also has a prominent role in this document. What does it say about the threat there?
MYRE: So the intelligence community is assessing that Russia does not want any kind of direct conflict with the U.S., but President Vladimir Putin will keep looking for ways to undermine American interests without provoking some sort of head-on confrontation. This would include supporting separatists in Ukraine or military assistance to Syria, Libya, things like that that he's done very successfully for quite a few years.
CHANG: OK, obviously, this report covers a lot of ground. Can you just tell us what else struck you?
MYRE: Yeah, two things. It goes on at some length about the potential fallout still to come from COVID, that is creating economic distress, which contributes to political pressures and uncertainties. So it's not just a medical problem, but a national security issue. And the second is the Middle East and Afghanistan, which have been at the heart of national security projects like this for the past two decades. They rate only a very brief mention in this report.
CHANG: Interesting. That is NPR's Greg Myre.
Thank you, Greg.
MYRE: My pleasure.
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