Summary of the 2016 US Threat Assessment

By Christine Duhaime | February 20th, 2016

The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community (the “Report“) prepared by the Director of National Intelligence on February 9, 2016, is a very interesting read from a counter-terrorism perspective, and essential reading for any bank in respect of assessing client and regional risks.

Generally, the Report is dead on in respect of the connection between the refugee crisis, international terrorism and global instability.

Pursuant to the Report, the main focus of the US, however, appears to be on Iran, Russia and China, and emerging technology.

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

The Danger of Tech

The Report identifies increased reliance on artificial intelligence (“AI”) for decision making as a security risk, such as in stock markets. It also notes the risks from the prospect of mass unemployment caused by AI, machine functions and risks of other countries becoming better than the US at artificial intelligence and having the capacity to compromise and take control of US based AI systems.

The Report believes that the growth of tech with minimal security requirements could lead to widespread vulnerabilities in US government systems and critical infrastructure.


The Report discusses the threat of ISIS and notes that home grown terrorists pose the most significant Sunni terrorist threat to 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.

In Libya, the ISIS presence poses a continuing threat to regional stability and is deteriorating Libya’s economy. After Syria and Iraq, Libya represents the most well developed branch of ISIS.


The Report believes that Iran is a threat to the US because of its support of the Assad regime in Syria and its advanced military capabilities. The Report notes Iran’s engagement in Syria to battle terrorists and similarly in Iraq and Yemen but it does not make it clear whether it considers Iran battling ISIS to be a positive or negative thing. Presumably, a positive thing.

The Report notes that Turkey has angst in respect of Russia and Iran because they are eroding Turkey’s leadership role in the region.

The Report noted Iran’s advanced tech capabilities such as in space launch vehicles. Interestingly, although the Report covers the risks of tech in relation to general risks, it avoids mentioning Iran’s significant lead in all things tech-related, in particular because it has the most highly educated STEM population.

Syrian Refugee Crisis & Global Insecurity

In Syria, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. According to the Report, refugees are putting significant strain on countries around Syria and in the EU. Turkey, for example, has 2.2 million Syrian refugees. About 50% of Syria’s pre-conflict population is gone – 4 million are refugees and 6.5 million are IDP. The EU has 500,000 Syrian refugees and expects 1.5 million migrants to arrive in 2016.

The EU will face political, economic and security challenges from the refugee crisis and terrorist threats, as well as a slow economic recovery.

Lebanon is facing security threats from the civil war in Syria and faces security, political, economic and humanitarian challenges. The Syrian conflict has negatively impacted Lebanon in all aspects of life and is straining its political balance. Its most immediate threat is trying to keep ISIS terrorists out from the north and controlling Sunni extremist retaliation against the Hizbollah for intervening in Syria. There are more than 1.1 Sunni refugees from Syria in Lebanon which has “burdened the economy”. Regional tensions are growing as a result of Syrians entering Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and the EU.

The US believes that there is a risk of the displaced refugee populations becoming violent extremists because of assimilation problems.

Funding for the refugee crisis continues to be a problem. In 2015, the UN received less than 50% of the money it said it needed. Increased refugee issues will mean that 2016 will be under-funded as well.

Insufficient capacity to respond to the refugee crisis and terrorists are contributing to global insecurity, and there is a real risk of waning support for human rights. In all, over 60 million people are IDPs or refugees, and half of them are children.

The refugee crisis will fuel an increase in human trafficking as refugees will be trafficked for sex, forced labour, debt bondage and will allow terrorist organizations and gangs to exploit the situation for revenues. Specifically, Boko Haram and ISIS are engaged in human trafficking and use this activity for terrorist financing.

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