WASHINGTON – FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Tuesday provided further evidence of how President Donald Trump is often at odds with his intelligence leaders, saying ISIS remains a threat, North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear program and Russian interference in U.S. politics continues.
“ISIS will continue to be a threat for some time,” Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee , just weeks after Trump and Vice President Mike Pence declared the terrorist group had been defeated in Syria.
Coats explained that despite the loss of its caliphate, ISIS still has a presence in Syria and is operating in locations around the world.
Coats also said North Korea is “unlikely to give up its nuclear capabilities,” which directly conflicts with Trump’s insistence that the authoritarian state will denuclearize amid ongoing negotiations with the U.S.
While there has not been evidence of any nuclear testing or missile launches by North Korea within the last year, the Kim regime believes nuclear weapons give it legitimacy and will be unwilling to part with them, the intelligence chief said.
Coats and Wray also said Russian interference in American elections didn’t end in 2016,
“It is the FBI’s assessment that Russia continues to engage in election interference,” Wray said.
Coats warned that he expects Russia to “refine its capabilities for 2020” and the threat but said remains a top priority for the intelligence community.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., asked Coats whether there is a single written strategy among intelligence agencies for countering foreign influence on social media. Coats said that a single strategy “would need to be updated daily” because of how quickly technology changes.
Coats refused to a question from Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on whether the lack of a written record from meetings between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin could hurt intelligence gathering, saying it should be reserved for a classified briefing late in the day.
Coats, Wray and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley also warned that China is working to overtake the United States as a global superpower through a long-term strategy that includes the use of technology, outer space and naval operations in the South China Sea.
“The Chinese counterintelligence threat is more deep, more diverse, more vexing, more challenging, more comprehensive and more concerning than any counterintelligence threat that I can think of,” Wray said.
According to a report provided to the committee by Coats, China has the ability to launch cyberattacks on U.S. technology and infrastructure, causing chaos by hacking tech companies or shutting down a natural gas pipeline for weeks.
National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo emphasized the struggles the intelligence community faces when fighting cyber intrusions and disinformation campaigns.
“In a world in which we can’t agree on what’s true, our job becomes much more difficult,” he said.