On this Veterans Day, the president made the highly unusual decision to, while on foreign soil, refer to three American intelligence officials as “political hacks;” at the same he time praised Vladimir Putin and said he took Putin at his word regarding Russian interference in America’s elections.

One of the three intelligence professionals the president insulted is the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper (the other two are former CIA Director John Brennan, and former FBI Director James Comey). Gen. Clapper served 34 years in the military, and 60 years in total between the military and national intelligence community.

I had the pleasure of seeing Clapper’s remarks at the inaugural event for Penn State’s new Center for Security Research and Education on Monday, November 6, and I found his insight to be invaluable. His remarks were focused on North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, technology, and the environment and disease. Overall, though, the unifying theme is a question of who will fill the global leadership role now that the U.S. seems to be voluntarily withdrawing from it (for example, by being the only country in the world that is not a party to the Paris agreement on climate change). What follows is my summary of Clapper’s speech, and is not necessarily an endorsement of it:

North Korea

North Korea will not de-nuclearize. They have a paranoid, siege mentality. China is afraid of North Korea imploding and creating a unified Korea. A pre-emptive American strike would be a cataclysmic disaster. The U.S. should maintain open communication with North Korea and enter into a peace treaty to conclude the Korean War. The North Koreans have a “JV but getting better” cyber capability.

Iran

If the United States decertifies the Iran nuclear agreement, we had better have a plan B in place. Clapper advocates using the agreement as a building block to work on other problematic behaviors by the Iranians.

China

China is the number one threat to U.S. firms through hacking and theft of trade secrets (sometimes referred to as “The Great Chinese Takeout”). At the ame time, the Chinese have surpassed the U.S. in key scientific areas, such as supercomputing. China is also tying its military modernization to American strengths. Xi is acting like an emperor. China’s growth will slow as its workforce ages, however.

Russia

Russia is our number one adversary, because of its use of tradecraft, spies, implants on our infrastructure, and use of social media. It is also modernizing its strategic nuclear forces, in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Regarding electoral interference, Russia’s original goal was to sow doubt in our system, and they will continue to do that in future elections.

Technology

The primary areas of concern Clapper identified were cyber threats, artificial intelligence (AI), and biotechnology. Regarding cyber threats, Russia and China are at the top of the list, with Iran and North Korea some distance below. Our adversaries will not only steal our data, but will begin to modify it before releasing it to the public.
China and Russia have huge investment plans for artificial intelligence. In America we need a comparable effort, akin to the scope of the race to the moon.
Regarding biotechnology, advances in genetic editing could threaten civil liberties and privacy. Other nations such as Russia don’t observe the same ethical standards that we do in America.

Environment and Disease

We face grave danger in the spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases. We need a global effort led by the United States.

I am proud to be a faculty member and alumnus of a university that draws world-class speakers such as Gen. Clapper. The Center for Security Research and Education promises to be an outstanding addition. Please learn more about it at https://csre.psu.edu/.

(Photo credit)


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