US intel chiefs say China likely to press Taiwan and seek to undercut US

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US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress Wednesday that Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to press Taiwan and try to undercut US influence in the coming years as he begins a third term as president.

While Beijing has stepped up its public criticism of the US, Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the intelligence community assesses that China still believes it “benefits most by preventing a spiraling of tensions and by preserving stability in its relationship with the United States.”

The US intelligence community believes that Russia “probably does not want a direct military conflict with US and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur,” according to the unclassified annual threat assessment report of the intelligence community issued on Wednesday that US intelligence leaders testified about.

“Russian leaders thus far have avoided taking actions that would broaden the Ukraine conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders, but the risk for escalation remains significant,” the report says.

Haines said in her testimony that the Ukraine conflict has become a “grinding attritional war in which neither side has a definitive military advantage,” but said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely to carry on, possibly for years.

“We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains, but Putin most likely calculates the time works in his favor, and that prolonging the war, including with potential pauses in the fighting, may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russia’s strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years,” Haines said.

Haines and the other top intelligence officials – CIA Director William Burns, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier and NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone – testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday at the panel’s annual public worldwide threats hearing.

Haines ticked through the global challenges the US faces – from Russia and China to Iran and North Korea – along with risks related to cyber and technology and authoritarian governments.

As Russia deals with “extensive damage” from its war in Ukraine, Moscow will grow more dependent on its nuclear, cyber and space capabilities, US intelligence agencies said in their report.

Heavy losses on the battlefield in Ukraine “have degraded Moscow’s ground- and air-based conventional capabilities and increased its reliance on nuclear weapons,” the report added.

“Although its cyber activity surrounding the war fell short of the pace and impact we had expected, Russia will remain a top cyber threat as it refines and employs its espionage, influence, and attack capabilities,” the report states.

In addition to the threats facing the US, senators were expected to press the intelligence leaders on issues including a new assessment on the Covid-19 origins and the damage assessment of classified documents found in the offices and homes of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, noted in his opening statement that the committee still had “unfinished business regarding the classified documents that we need to see in order for the Intelligence Committee to effectively undertake its job of providing intelligence oversight.”

This story is breaking and will be updated.