President Joe Biden’s top intelligence adviser said Wednesday that China is the biggest threat to U.S. national security and the “most serious and consequential intelligence rival.”
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee that China’s increasing challenges to the U.S. make it “our unparalleled priority” as the leaders of U.S. spy agencies presented their annual threat assessment.
China “represents both the leading and the most consequential threat to the U.S. national security and leadership globally, and its intelligence-specific ambitions and capabilities make it for us our most serious and consequential intelligence rival,” Haines said.
She added that China wants to avoid all-out hostilities with the U.S., believing “it benefits most by preventing a spiraling of tensions and by preserving stability” in the relationship.
Haines also called out China’s “deepening collaboration with Russia” as Moscow continues its war against Ukraine. The U.S. previously has said China has considered providing lethal military aid to Russia, and has warned Beijing against doing so.
Russia early Thursday attacked Ukraine with missiles in what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described as an effort “to intimidate Ukrainians again.”
The report released by Haines’ office said that while Russian leaders have so far avoided expanding the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders, that risk remains.
“Russia probably does not want a direct military conflict with U.S. and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur,” the report states.
Haines told senators that Moscow is unlikely to make “major territorial gains” with the war, but that doesn’t seem enough to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“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.
The threat assessment also considered U.S. domestic security. Transnational racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists who embrace white supremacy, neo-Nazism, among other extreme ideas, “pose the most lethal threat” to Americans, and “a significant threat to a number of U.S. allies and partners through attacks and propaganda that espouses violence,” it said.
It also warned that an extended war in Ukraine could give foreign extremists battlefield training and experience, as well as weapons.
The report did not mention TikTok, but senators repeated security concerns over the social media platform’s parent company’s ties to China.
Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that could enable the commerce secretary to take action against companies that can be misused by foreign actors.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said China, through TikTok, could have the ability to control the data of millions of users, and potentially use its software to divide Americans and influence opinion over a potential invasion of Taiwan.
“Something that’s very sacred in our country, the difference between the private sector and the public sector, that’s a line that is nonexistent” in the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, Wray said.
Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) later asked Wray to describe to Americans the dangers of TikTok.
“If you were to ask Americans would you like to turn over your data, all your data, control of your devices, control of your information to the CCP, most Americans would say I’m not down with that, as my kids would say,” Wray said. “That’s the question we’re asking.”