2017 Worldwide threat assessment – the rule of law is at risk

By Christine Duhaime | May 12th, 2017

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment on May 11, 2017, from the US Intelligence Community and compared to last year, there are many more international threats to world security.

The Threat Assessment from the US is a summary of all of the threats facing the US, and the world and is a roadmap on where countries and companies should devote resources to mitigate those threats.

Last year’s Report focussed on the connection between the refugee crisis, international terrorism and global instability, as well as on Iran, Russia, China, and artificial intelligence.

Here is a summary of the the most interesting parts of the 2017 Report:

Food Security – Rule of Law at Risk

The Report notes that there is a significant risk of large-scale, violent or regime-threatening instability and atrocities will remain elevated In 2017. Poor governance, weak national political institutions, economic inequality, and the rise of violent non-state actors will undermine countries’ abilities to uphold  their authority. In other words, the rule of law is at risk and in 2017, that will be evidenced by weak state capacity that will heighten the risk for atrocities, including arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, rape and torture.

The scale of human displacement in 2017 will continue to strain the response capacity of the international community and drive record requests for humanitarian funding.

Host and transit countries will struggle to develop effective policies and manage domestic concerns of terrorists exploiting migrant flows, particularly after attacks in 2016 by foreigners in Belgium, France, Germany, and Turkey. In Yemen, for example, 82% of the population in need of humanitarian aid. Temporary cease-fires have allowed for some increased access for humanitarian organizations, but relief.operations are hindered by lack of security, bureaucratic constraints, and funding shortages. More than half the population is experiencing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. The Report noted throughout the link between international security and food insecurity.

Transnational Criminal Organizations 

Transnational criminal organizations continue to pose a threat to the US and its allies, including Canada. The threat arises from the fact that they control parts of countries or a sector of the economy using violence and corruption of public officials. They facilitate terrorism by providing money and services to terrorist organizations, and are well-integrated in extortion and cyber-activities, as well as facilitators of illegal drug trafficking. Execution-style killing and general murder are part of the package. Well-known TCOs include the Mafia, Triads, Yakuza and Fuk Ching. Paying corrupt officials or cyber criminality is a function of money laundering.

The Report notes the growing concern of deaths from fentanyl that is trafficked by TCOs that has increased 73% compared to 2015. The Report notes the growing threat from China as the source country for synthetic drugs and the concern that such drugs are sold on the Internet.

TCOs are also of concern because they facilitate terrorism and engage in cyberattacks.

According to the Report, TCOs use home and other 24/7 surveillance systems and other means to hide and avoid detection. A typology of identifying a person who is in a TCO, therefore, is hyper-surveillance and security, as well as hyper-privacy.

One of the biggest threats from TCOs is the trafficking of drugs in the US.

The Danger of Technology

The Report identifies increased use of artificial intelligence (“AI”) as introducing new threats, in particular, enabling new military capabilities for adversaries of the US.

The Report notes that although the US leads in AI research globally, foreign countries research is growing. The risks of other countries surpassing the US in AI include making the US vulnerable to cyber attacks, difficulty in ascertaining attribution, facilitation of weapon and intelligence systems, risks of accidents and mass unemployment.

The Report notes that the development of genome-editing technologies can be used to fix medical, health, industrial, environmental and agricultural challenges and to revolutionize biological research. But the range of changes and its impact will be challenging it notes for us, as lawyers, and governments, to deal with ethics and the law to govern its uses.

Deploying smart devices into everything introduces vulnerabilities. There already has been cyber attacks using smart devices for DDoS attacks and that is expected to grow. The Report notes that there are vulnerabiities in self-driving cars and medical devices in respect of cybersecurity. And finally, the acquisition by China of US technology poses a risk. The Report noted that cybersecurity issues were growing in the medical sector with hacking undermining medical institutions.

The IoT connected to billions of new devices broadens the attack potential of bad cyber actors. Their deployment has also introduced vulnerabilities into both the infrastructure that they support and on which they rely, as well as the processes they guide. Cyber actors have used IoT devices for DDoS attacks, and will continue.

Genome Editing

Genome editing is also an international security risk. The low cost and growing availability of these powerful new techniques means untrained personnel will inevitably gain access to them, and lack of experience, disregard for codes of ethics, and ignorance of appropriate precautions all but guarantee dangerous outcomes. It also raises issues of biohacking of the technology and the potential for permanently and irreversibly altering the human genome without knowing what the full results might be. Subtle changes, for example, intended to affect only genetic diseases, could have unknown consequences, interfering with signaling pathways, altering immune responses, or even threatening the species itself.

Genome editing can be used for weaponization pathogens engineered for biological attacks could target individuals or groups; they could also be employed in large-scale attacks with devastating consequences. Additionally, they could be developed to strike the plants or animals that sustain our food supplies.

Gene editing techniques could produce new diseases, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Terrorism

The Report discusses the threat of global terrorism from the Middle East and home grown terrorim as well from Sunni population, noting that homegrown terrorists will persist and happen with no warning. In 2016, there were 16 arrests for homegrown extreme terrorism and three deaths from such attacks in the US.

In respect of Syria, the Report believes that the Syrian government lacks the resources to defeat ISIS on its own. It notes the growing number of ISIS countries such as, through Boko Haram, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. ISIS is also a threat in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen. In the latter country, the Report notes that 80% of the population needs humanitarian aid – a whopping 17 million people.

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