The federal agency tasked with delivering a report on worldwide threats to the United States has yet to deliver this year’s report, which was expected in February.
The Worldwide Threat Assessment is a report produced by the intelligence community to shed light on risks facing the American public. It’s one of the few assessments the public gets directly from our intelligence community, usually.
“I do hope that folks will realize that this is a window, an important window that has been slammed shut,” said Joshua Geltzer, a Georgetown Law professor who previously served as a senior director for counterterrorism for the National Security Council.
Last year’s report, released in January 2019, specifically mentioned now-familiar topics like election interference and the very real threat of a worldwide pandemic. One section read, “We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or largescale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability.”
“What is obvious is that the administration did not take their own threat assessment to heart, and we’ve seen, I think, a historic level of lack of preparedness,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
Warner serves as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would have heard this year’s presentation from the director of National Intelligence. That job that has been largely in transition since Director Dan Coates resigned in July 2019. Current Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe took over in May and during his confirmation promised to provide the report within months.
“I didn’t support him, but I want him to be successful in his job,” said Warner. “And the first step in being successful is honoring his commitments and making that public worldwide threat assessment.”
A spokesperson for Ratcliffe told the I-Team “he followed through with this commitment in good faith” by sending letters in July to the House and Senate committees offering to present the report in open and closed sessions.
But that has not happened, and the report has not been released publicly.
Warner says DNI wanted only to present a public statement, with the report and the questioning session to be held in private.
“The director had tried to say that he was going to provide a written report or only appear in a classified setting; that is not what the law requires,” said Warner, adding that he still hasn’t even seen a classified version of the report, let alone one for the public.
Over the past decade, Congress and the public have almost always had the report by February. Critics say it may be more important now than ever.
“All we need to do is look back one year to see the value of this in a democracy where the public needs to hold accountable elected officials,” said Geltzer.
Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is a former CIA case officer who knows firsthand the importance of the intelligence in that report — for transparency, putting our enemies on notice — and warning the public.
“Not making this information public is problematic on multiple fronts,” said Spanberger.
She says threats like election interference are more important than ever for the public to understand. And they should hear them directly from the agencies that gather the intelligence, without political filtering.
“What is heartbreaking to watch as a former intelligence officer and as someone who believes deeply in the value of information, watching the intelligence community be politicized is detrimental to the mission,” said Spanberger. “It hurts our national security.”
In a letter to Congress in August, Director of National Intelligence Ratcliffe announced changes to how members of Congress would be briefed on election threats. Last week, he reiterated that he will continue to update the congressional leadership and intelligence oversight committees but would not provide all-member briefings “in order to protect sources and methods.”
Geltzer says whether or not Congress can agree on terms to hear DNI’s Worldwide Threat Assessment report, the public deserves to read it.
“I really do think people should be outraged about it. Because it is a window into work that the American tax dollar funds, and that rightly stays private much of the time,” Geltzer said.
Sen. Warner worries the usually public DNI report might stay private this year, pointing out that the prior Director Coates’ acknowledgment of Russian interference as a threat is likely what cost him his job. Warner says he understands the concern but that current Director Ratcliffe has a responsibility to inform the public and release the report.
“I think that’s a terribly important role for an intelligence community that must be independent and always willing to speak truth to power,” Warner said.