February 10, 2011

DNI's Threat Assessment: Natural Security-Style

Okay folks, it's time to evaluate how natural resources play a role in this year's Annual Threat Assessment from the intelligence community. I'm a bit slow to read through today's testimony (pdf) from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as I was at CSIS for a great climate change event with their energy/climate expert Sarah Ladislaw, our pal Jay Gulledge, Dan Chiu from OSD-Policy, and others among our nation's best thinkers. Be prepared: this is going to involve a lot of bullet points because, well, I don't have mad html skills.

My top 5 observations:

  1. The complete lack
    of connection between nuclear energy dissemination and nuclear
    weapons/proliferation is huge, and highly, highly disturbing.
  2. Oil is mentioned 23 times - the
    same number of times Clapper said "North Korea" and
    terror/terrorist/terrorism. If you count mentions of gasoline prices and
    related mentions, oil takes the lead. Note, terrorism is the top-listed
    category, and the small-ish count likely means that section contains
    more specifics than generalities, showing the limits to word counts on
    their own. With these caveats, I still find it extremely notable that
    petroleum is such a large focus of this threat assessment. Oil is also
    mentioned mostly in country-specific context; only 5 of the mentions are
    in the energy section of the assessment.
  3. It's
    just plain notable that renewable energy doesn't warrant mention in an
    intelligence threat assessment. Hint, hint, Congress. Renewable energy =
    less problematic for our security.
  4. Two of the five political and economic trends noted on Iraq pertain to oil. 
  5. Last
    year climate change was an individual section, and this year it is not.
    However, "Resource Issues" is - a categorization that I much prefer.

As we so love pop analysis, let's take a longer look at word counts from the testimony:

  • Energy: 5 (4 if you don't count it within "International Atomic Energy Agency")
  • Oil: 23
  • Gas (all: natural, shale, prices, etc.): 21
  • Any renewable energy source in general or specific: 0
  • Nuclear (energy-specific): 0
  • Climate change: 2
  • Water: 11
  • Food/agriculture: 8
  • Minerals: 0
  • Arctic: 0
  • Resources (the natural kind): 8
  • Disasters (also the natural kind): 3
  • Demographic: 0
  • Disease: 4

For the sake of comparison:

  • Afghanistan (Afghan, other permutations): 41
  • Bin Laden: 0
  • al-Qa'ida: 17
  • Iraq: 25
  • Cyber: 12
  • North Korea: 23
  • Terrorism (terror, et al.): 23
  • Insurgency/counterinsurgency: 15
  • Nuclear (weapons/proliferation): 38
  • Missile: 13

Last year we thought it was useful to compare the 2010 threat assessment with the 2009 version to map how the consideration of these issues is changing. I've begun doing so, but it appears that this year's assessment is formatted much differently as compared to last year. This year's (public) assessment is 13 pages shorter, for example. Last year cyber security and the economy were leading sections, and this year terrorism comes first. There are so many changes in placement and level of detail that we may have a difficult time coming to any conclusions on what it means in terms of security. I've thought through at least a dozen things the minimization of climate change this year could mean - change in leadership, it's a trend not a "threat" so doesn't fit well in this document, influence of politics on the process, the IC is even more confused about the nature of what the impacts of climate change will be, the IC understands it much better so contextualizes it differently, and on and on. Cyber seems to be much less in-depth this year as well, but does that mean it's less important? Obviously not. Really, I don't know what it means, and anything we all say publicly is only speculation.

Anyways, this is a busy week ahead, so we may or may not have more analysis on this in the coming days depending on whether we find more to say. I'm not sure if I'll continue comparing it with last year's if I continue to find that it's comparing apples to space aliens. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts, and sleep soundly: the U.S. intelligence community is keeping an eye out.