The United States faces an increasingly complex and daunting international threat environment that includes potential cyberattacks from China and a Russian military trying to recover from extensive losses in Ukraine, top U.S. intelligence officials told a Senate committee on May 4.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines focused her testimony on China at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, saying that Beijing has ramped up its “cyber threat capacity” as part of a growing strategic competition with the United States.

“Spurring indigenous technological innovations is paramount” for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vision of making China a world power and “will give China the competitive advantage that is crucial,” Haines said at the hearing, entitled “Worldwide Threats.”

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the committee that he believes the threat environment today is at its most dangerous since World War II in part because of “advances in technology.”

“We are now in a multipolar world with strategic competition at the forefront,” said Berrier, who added that “China and Russia are working to incorporate advanced technology to erode the U.S. technological advantage.”

In her testimony, Haines quoted extensively from the U.S. intelligence community’s Annual Threat Assessment, released in February, which concluded that China is likely “the broadest, most active, and persistent cyber espionage threat to U.S. Government and private-sector networks.”

“China almost certainly is capable of launching cyber attacks that could disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States,” the report said.

It added some ominous words about a Russian military reeling from losses stemming from its invasion of Ukraine. “Moscow will become even more reliant on nuclear, cyber, and space capabilities as it deals with the extensive damage to Russia’s ground forces,” the report said.

The report added that Iran also poses a growing cyber threat to the United States and its allies, given Tehran’s “growing expertise and willingness to conduct aggressive cyber operations.”

In fighting these threat actors, Haines told senators that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is working closely with the intelligence community. “We share almost everything with CISA, honestly,” she said. “They get our analysis on these issues, they do the raw intelligence, and we have overlap in terms of intelligence that we get from commercial threats.”

Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., echoed concerns some have recently raised about the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence (AI) landscape, asking Haines if AI “will disrupt our lives dramatically.”

Haines said senators “are wise to be focused on this” and that the intelligence community is working “to get our hands around” both the promise and potential peril of AI. “We’re putting together experts to look at these issues,” she said.

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