The unspoken but crystal clear message delivered by the leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) at the Annual Threat Assessment hearings conducted on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee is that the post-9/11 era is over.
It is not entirely coincidental that the hearings took place on the same day that President Biden announced that the pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would be concluded by Sept. 11 of this year, exactly 20 years after the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. During those two decades, the focus of America’s national security community has largely been on the threats posed by foreign violent extremists, on our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and on efforts by rival powers to take advantage of our being distracted and depleted by those costly conflicts. While there was an effort during the past several years by the Intelligence Community to shift the focus to threats posed by emerging rival state actors, this year’s hearing, in conjunction with Biden’s announcement, marked a substantive watershed.
We are entering a new chapter in the history of American foreign and national security policy. Its focus is above all on the threat posed by China and by the onset of an era of technology-enabled and often technology-focused competition and conflict that the US and its allies are scrambling to understand and prepare for.