Former ODNI Official Speaks Out on the National Threat: China

A former government official who worked as Chief of Staff for John Ratcliffe, Director of National Intelligence, who headed the intelligence community within the Trump administration, raises the alarm over the Chinese threat (as of May 9).

Interviewer: Satoshi Nishihata


Dustin Carmack

Dustin Carmack

He served as Chief of Staff for John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) under the Trump Administration. Prior to that, he served in the House of Representatives as Chief of Staff to Congressman Ratcliffe and Congressman Ron DeSantis (present Governor of Florida). He is currently a research fellow for cybersecurity, intelligence, and emerging technologies at The Heritage Foundation.


Interviewer: Since the conflict in Ukraine broke out, the Western countries seem to regard Russia as a greater threat than China and just focus on Ukraine. Would you share your view on this situation?

Mr. Carmack: I think it’s difficult to kind of put the two apples to apples. To a large extent, the President has had a deep interest in Ukraine for a long time. From his time when he worked on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or was a Senator as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he had spent a lot of time personally invested in going over to Ukraine, and also during when he was Vice President to President Obama. This was a major focus, and kind of one of the main focuses that was tasked to him by President Obama. So, I think some of that also stems from an intellectual history that he’s had too, for a long time, and from a lot of focus on Vladimir Putin; it’s been around for a very long time now.

I do think the administration has been a little strange and that it’s kind of going through hiccups and starts of what it wants its China policy to be. In many ways, it wanted to very much differentiate itself and campaign on being very different than its predecessor, President Trump. But at the same time, they’ve carried over to large extent a lot of the same internal policies or some of them have been under internal review now, it seems for a long period of time. Secretary Blinken was supposed to give a big speech related to China on foreign policy for the administration, but he just got COVID-19 and this speech has been rescheduled (as of May 9). So I think a lot of people are kind of waiting with bated breath to see what they kind of outline (Secretary Antony Blinken delivered a speech outlining the Biden administration’s approach to China on May 26).

One of the hard things with China in many ways is that a lot of people [including policymakers] want to focus on putting lip service to the threat, but yet we’re not doing enough policy and investments and things that need to change in our military and our intelligence community and many other areas and how we handle domestic technologies and preventing their exportation, to an extent.

How do we do those types of things? I haven’t seen enough work on that because of the challenge that China provides. And back to your original question on the difference between why people are focusing on Russia, I mean, I don’t think you can choose one or the other. You can’t ignore what’s happening in Ukraine, and it has ramifications not only for the security of Europe, but it also has ramifications of what Xi and the Chinese think that the international response could be to future aggressions on their part, that may be on action related to Taiwan or the South China Sea. They’ll look to see what kind of international resolve has been related to that. And that’s where I’m really curious. Will you find friends and allies that are just as eager to be engaged? I mean, it’s one thing for the Europeans to be engaged because Ukraine is in their back doorstep. It’s very much different when they talk about how intertwined their economies are to China and what that means for them in the case of sanctions or an actual strategy to kind of counter that relationship going forward. So, very different, but very challenging nonetheless.

Interviewer: Your former boss John Ratcliffe, former DNI, said China posed “the greatest threat” to America, to democracy and freedom worldwide, and shifted the Intelligence Community’s budget on China upwards of 20% to counter this grave concern. Can you tell us how China damages the US and how the US tried to stop it under the Trump administration?

Mr. Carmack: In terms of military technology, China is developing an array of tools, in space, in anti-satellite technologies, and in cyberspace. The FBI Director and others have all talked about how China has beaten the U.S. hands down in terms of the investments they’re making, the personnel that they have, and their capabilities. They’re almost second to none and on par with the United States in many ways.

I think where the former DNI hit the nail on the head, and something that he tried to spend a lot of his time talking about, especially throughout his time in the administration, but prior to that as well, was this threat from China, because it’s a multitude of threats. It’s not any one area.

Regarding Russia, my old boss, Ron DeSantis has talked about, kind of like John McCain and others, it’s a gas station with nuclear weapons and with a kind of curmudgeon head of state who wants to relive the old days of the Soviet Union and has different ramifications of how he thinks about his security environment.

But China holds all the cards economically, to a large extent, technologically. They went from being an economy that was very agrarian in some ways, but then now has moved on towards technical innovation, the ability to function and centralize state action around specific programs to flood markets and cause essentially non-free market mechanisms to go and gut other industries around the world, and the ability and capital to go invest in countries that are needing economic development or needing infrastructure and are signing essentially their rights away for future terms and conditions by the Chinese party. Where Russia’s very different in the case was, John used to like to say, that Russia’s economy was smaller than the size of his home state of Texas.

And just look at that as a differing, prior to the previous question and previous answer, why I think it’s going to be so difficult to tackle the challenge with China and why people need to start talking about it more often, is because you’ve seen the difficulties of Europe itself to wean itself off of gas and infrastructure from Russia.

Can you imagine what that means? That’s not just a Europe problem. That’s a lot of the world’s problem now, in terms of either supply of rare minerals, pharmaceutical underlying chemicals, you name it. There are elements in supply chains around the world that are heavily driven by the Chinese economy and the Chinese state. And that doesn’t preclude, like I said, Russia, Ukraine, for example, or heavy suppliers of titanium, palladium, and neon gas, which are used in semiconductor manufacturing. It shows the intertwinement of a very complicated world, but in the case of aggressive action by somebody like China, why they’re so strong, why they’re so powerful, to be able to be a leveling mechanism against the United States, and also just technologically and militarily developing an array of tools, may that be in space, in anti-satellite technologies, in cyberspace.

I mean, the FBI Director and former ODNI and others have all talked about how they are hands down, in terms of the investments they’re making, the personnel that they have, and their capabilities, they’re almost second to none or on par with the United States in many ways, but I’d say actually with even more personnel and the ability to create headaches for a variety of folks and at the same time also absorbing, collecting large amounts of data, individual data on everyday Americans and other countries around the globe for future nefarious use, possibly.

Interviewer: According to an annual report released last November by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Chinese Communist Party will increase its nuclear warhead arsenal to at least 1,000 by 2030. It has also been found that the CCP is increasing the accuracy of their hypersonic missiles and building more missile silos. How do you see the CCP’s intentions?

Mr. Carmack: Well, it’s definitely to not only create parity or catch up in many ways technologically to an extent with the United States, but in many ways, as former DNI and others have stated, it is not only that, it’s both to supplant and surpass the United States in terms of some of our capabilities technologically and weapons-wise.

They also look for ways, just like any adversary, to technically challenge our defense systems. So, when you think about re-envisioning what missile defense looks like from what Ronald Reagan and the Star Wars programs in the 1980s, and a lot of our conventional missile defense systems for ICBMs, a lot of that goes out the window in the case of some of these hypersonic capabilities that have been reported upon, and those are only going to continue to advance. And I think there’s been Mark Lewis, ETI(Emerging Technologies Institute) with NDIA(National Defense Industrial Association) and others, have worked formally in the hypersonics programs, and DOD has kind of noted the US has really fallen behind the ball over about a five or ten-year period due to a variety of bureaucratic problems, I think, and maybe to an extent, fear and lack of testing and fear of failure, where the Chinese are pouring resources into everything from not just the development and understanding for data, but the ability to go into large-scale wind tunnels and understand how physics work.

Hypersonics challenge the elements of physics. And those are weapons systems that could easily evade not just from an ICBM standpoint for nuclear purposes, but they also challenge our Navy forces protecting an aircraft carrier, which has been kind of the standard bearer of the United States Navy and our capability to project force. Those put these in very much danger.

Interviewer: Why do you think China is so advanced in hypersonic areas? That’s what many people are wondering.

Mr. Carmack: I think there are two answers to that. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at procuring information from the United States, not just the United States, but research institutions around the globe that are doing this type of work. I think if you look at what the FBI and others have noted about intelligence threats, and espionage threats to not only universities, but corporations, same as I mentioned, they’re cyber threats. They spend a lot of time trying to understand the US defense industrial base, and that includes research and development and taking maybe even some of the mechanisms of that and taking the resources that they have or the ability to test a lot of those in large scale, and moving that quickly.

And at the same time, I think that they’re innovators as well. They’re spending a lot of time and money on advancing the STEM field, from science and technology and math and engineering. They have a capable workforce that’s learning and evolving to take that type of data and build these types of systems.

Interviewer: Some in Japan believe that China will learn to be careful about invading Taiwan in view of the global condemnation for Russia. We believe this outlook may be naive. So what do you think about the possibility of a simultaneous war, like a two-front war?

Mr. Carmack: That is a question for President Xi in many ways. But if you look at the rhetoric and past statements of Xi and the CCP, this is not just a long-term agenda. He would like to see this in his lifetime, likely during his time as the head of China’s Communist Party. So you’ve got to take it at face value, but if you look at what’s happening, I mean, this has been a dangerous trend.

Regardless the Taiwan situation is different than, say, Hong Kong. But what happened to Hong Kong in the last three to five years and what China is doing to bend and wield either their technology industries or bend and wield their national security law to kind of force state actors to do its bidding will continue to put and keep driving pressure, on Taiwan. I think the situation is very different. Taiwan is just a very different situation than Ukraine. Ukraine, again, I think it’s larger than the size of Texas, versus a very different type of environment.

But all those skill sets and those weapons systems that I mentioned, including cyber and a lot of unconventional systems that we haven’t maybe seen as proactively, at least visually in Ukraine, would be heavily used in the case of action on Taiwan. So I don’t think we can write it off. I think that they do evaluate what the world’s reaction is, but as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the reactions when it comes to sanctions and different things like that, that people would deter China’s behavior, it’s much more difficult for a lot of countries to come on board with that. So it drives into the question what are we doing to not only empower Taiwan to protect and defend itself, but are we leaning into that to kind of show US and international resolve, that this type of behavior would not only by all means not merit it, but would face adverse reactions from us and others?

Interviewer: Is the current situation increasing or decreasing the possibility of China’s invasion of Taiwan?

Mr. Carmack: I don’t know if the exact question of the invasion of Ukraine drives that answer. I think more of it depends on just the timing of it being right and understanding the US’s resolve and the international world’s resolve to do something about it. And I think those are really open questions that I don’t think people have easy answers to.

But it’s something that people need to be talking about more proactively because it is a concern and it’s not a long-term concern. I do think that they do have flexibility, by all means, in terms of timing. They kind of essentially, much like a snake, contracted the pressures around Hong Kong to eventually bend them into the will of the state. Well, this type of pressure’s very different in the case of Taiwan, but it’s what they do in the South China Sea. They see how the US decides what their red line policy is, and they like to drive up right along with that red line and tip their toes across it and watch and see our leaders like President Biden or President Trump, and what their reactions are to it.

And I think if you look at what the US did in Afghanistan, I think that was a very telling and hurtful situation that damaged US credibility. Regardless of even how you felt about the overall war in Afghanistan, the way in which it was handled was atrocious, and I think really challenged conventional behaviors of people like President Xi and Putin and others who want to poke the Americans’ buttons and see what they’ll do.

Interviewer: I see. Maybe Xi Jinping has been pondering on this issue.

Mr. Carmack: Exactly.

Interviewer: You’re an expert in the issue of cybersecurity intelligence and emerging technologies. So can we ask about China’s AI technology? It is said China will be leading the world in the field of AI. How do you think advanced China’s AI technologies are?

Mr. Carmack: I would say extremely advanced and very worrying for the United States leadership on the issue. I think there are some great American companies and other companies around the world that are doing great work in this. Where I think it differs with what China is doing, and where it makes it dangerous, and this gets into their ability to drive the state and its citizens for their goals and purposes of advancing and surpassing the United States and others in technology, they will surveil and scope out not just their own population, but elements around the globe to ways that a lot of governments would never allow on their citizenry.

So I think in many ways, what worries me is that a lot of people kind of treat artificial intelligence like it’s something out of Terminator or that it’s just an algorithm that gets better over time. It’s a beast you have to feed. And so what China is doing is maximizing the use of data purposes for machine learning and others to refine and increase their ability to use artificial intelligence in a variety of functions.

That goes to everything from the surveillance state on one end to driving the same type of capabilities and understanding into their weapons systems and cyber capabilities. And so what really worries me is that the US, due a lot of times to bureaucratic problems, everything from the Pentagon – there’s been problems with the Joint Defense Artificial Intelligence program – they’ve gone through multiple revisions. I think good work is being done there, but I would say that speed has to be the absolute key.

I think the Pentagon itself has talked about a lot of issues, that there have been multiple people that resigned from the Pentagon in the last six months to a year (as of May 9) that have led different elements of this, whose whole purpose was to speed up innovation and commercial technology and AI into certain fields, and it hasn’t been working. And that’s just in the defense industry alone.

It’s not just a US problem. I think the international world has to kind of really come to grips with this because China wants to challenge the conventional order of the rules in the international realm and drive their technology capabilities and their rules.

Interviewer: China’s rules.

Mr. Carmack: Exactly. If you’re worried about privacy, if you’re worried about what surveillance looks like going forward, it doesn’t just stay in China, these types of technologies bleed into similar autocratic regimes. And so there’s a reason why Vladimir Putin and Maduro in Venezuela and the Cuban regimes and others, people that want to resolve to stay in power to keep their citizenry at bay, use these types of tools. And AI is a very powerful function to help do that.

Interviewer: As you pointed out in the past, the CCP has constructed a mass surveillance system with this advanced AI technology, and this system allows them to track anyone across the entire country. Can you tell us the current situation of this issue?

Mr. Carmack: Yeah. I think the US has sanctioned some different companies that have been involved in some of this. But if you’re looking at the suppression of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in China, there’s been much discussion and a good amount of light shown on the use of these types of systems for data tracking purposes, for identification, and these types of mechanisms. Look what’s happening with COVID-19. Some of the videos and other things that are coming out of Shanghai in terms of identifying people that are breaking curfew or breaking protocols of quarantine and this kind of fallacy of a Zero COVID exercise that’s so important for regime stability.

I think in some ways, or just in terms of the CCP’s ability to feel like they can challenge the very difficult exercise, to say the least, and the Zero COVID policy. They’re using these types of surveillance tools to essentially suppress their people, and then many times you could say starving them, keeping them, damaging the health and well-being of its citizenry, all on behalf of a fallacy of a goal. It’s scary when you think about it in today’s day and age, and these things are only going to increase. And then what scares me a lot, too, is the data. I think there have been rough numbers. The former head of counterintelligence for the US noted that about 80, 90 percent of Americans’ personal identifying information is currently collected and then had by the Chinese, and you’ve seen them invest heavily in understanding biometric data. There are telecom data and other things that they can just actively get on the open market.

They can really put together a very opaque artwork picture of an American. People say, “Well, what’s the scare there?” Because not only from the defense and intelligence side of trying to protect either assets or protect your people, but they can target everyday Americans. They can target Chinese nationals that are in the country that want nothing to do with the CCP, but they can target them to blackmail them, to use them for purposes of espionage or for the state. The same goes with foreign malign influence campaigns in terms of trying to drive a possible social divide in the United States, using social media mechanisms and other things to kind of understand what issues press Americans into conflict.

Interviewer: So they’re tracking Chinese people in other countries.

Mr. Carmack: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Also, it is pointed out that this mass surveillance system has been exported to other countries along with the Belt and Road Initiative. How do you see this issue?

Mr. Carmack: Huawei is a good example. I mean, essentially, you promised a country that it’s a subsidized telecom solution for raw and developing countries around the globe, and you come in and say, “We’ll build your entire telecommunications network for you, but then you’re on the hook for X, Y, and Z”, or, “We need a port in your backyard, and we need this access to rare Earth minerals or mining capabilities in the state.”

There are COVID-19 and others, I think some flashbacks due to frustrations with Chinese willingness to work with international bodies or the United States on any kind of investigation of the origins of it, and also just frustrations, in general, have kind of seen a counter-reaction in the last couple of years as it relates to the BRI, I think, in a lot of countries.

But again, it shows you the danger, though, because for a lot of countries are economically challenged when these telecommunications type of companies come in. And not just with telecommunications; this goes into other technologies that the country wants to surpass and move into people’s hands that can be for data collection purposes, drone capabilities, or understanding where people’s critical infrastructure is. Again, they’re just almost mining the globe for data, and I don’t have good faith that it’s for good purposes.

Interviewer: Then I’d like to ask you about the election in 2020. Mr. Ratcliffe concluded China sought to affect and also accused career analysts of underplaying Chinese influence in the election. Can you tell us how complicated the situation was? It is said anti-Trump powers in the intelligence committees tried to prevent Mr. Ratcliffe from publishing his report, which raised the alarm about Chinese meddling. What do you think?

Mr. Carmack: Well, the former DNI put out an unclassified letter when he submitted the classified version, which also eventually came out in an unclassified version of a review of possible election interference as they’re related to the election. I think what the DNI was trying to focus on and pressed the community at large.

The other thing, you’re talking about concerns 18 varying elements that all have different collection capabilities, signals intelligence, and human intelligence. There are a lot of great analysts and workers that are trying to kind of come to the right answer. I think what he wanted to say was China operates at such a different technological and overall societal level when it comes to its intelligence services, its capabilities, its economic influence. So a lot of people kind of view only election interference through the lens of what happened in 2016 or 2018, and some of the conventional wisdom of how Russia has acted in previous cases or others. The Iranian campaigns were also noted. DNI did a press conference with the FBI director a few days before the election. There were Iranian campaigns trying to stoke different tensions throughout the electorate.

But China is different. It’s not an-every two-year exercise. It’s not an election. It’s not only that. We tried to make the case that they are doing influence operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and they’re not just trying to be worried about the presidential election in the United States. It’s deeper. It’s more insidious than that.

So I think for him, the challenge was trying to challenge both lawmakers on the Hill and others in the media apparatus to say, “You have to think outside the box. This is a problem that is trying to emanate all the way down to your local city council elections or who gets on the board of certain companies.” And these people all can move through the ranks of society. That could be a net benefit to China, not only in the near term, but in the long term. And so, when you think about that from an insidious standpoint, it’s really hard to grade. It’s really hard to evaluate. And if we only treat foreign election interference as literally a mechanism of the presidential election, for example, which is really important to be able to understand that, by all means, we’re kind of missing half the story. We’re missing the forest for the trees. And so, when it came to that, there were challenges by some in the community that were really grappling with this definition, in many ways, of what is election interference and what is influence. It’s a challenging landscape.

So one of the things that he wanted to really make sure of was one of the most important parts of the analytic community, and really part of the guidance, and how analysts are trained and how they come to analysis and try to come to consensus is the ability to dissent with a backup of their facts and noting it.

And I think the community always tries to come to a full consensus on something. But again, as I said earlier, getting 18 people to agree upon one thing is really difficult, and some of them come from very different means. So I think he tried to make note of this, that there are elements, say, of the agency and other places that have understood and done Russia-related influence and election interference and understanding, both from the Soviet Union days to the current day to Vladimir Putin, and now have a long institutional history of understanding what that looks like and feel very strongly and rightfully so, of the capabilities and what we need to watch out for.

Separately, I think China offers a case study in a very different animal, and that’s the issue that he wanted to make sure be highlighted by analysts in the community who are doing that work. I think he was trying to also push the community to get better at both understanding dissent and also making sure that different people that work in different buckets of different threats have a full understanding of the ramifications of China. And I think you’ve seen proactive action by this (the Biden) administration to its credit, and the proof will be in the pudding. The CIA director, William Burns, started a China mission center, very focused on trying to pull in these disparate elements that work on China in different fashions, very much like the way that Russia had been a focus, and it continues to be a focus. But I think he really said that the two main threats for us in our lifetime are China and technology.

A lot of those intersect with each other, and that’s where we need to make sure of as a whole government exercise. And people use that term (Chinese threat) probably too often without actually doing anything, that we’re breaking down these bureaucratic barriers to do everything we can in the United States in our government and our allies abroad, to work against that. Because together, that’s one thing that is nice, is that the US and our friends are friends. And I think China and Russia and others have tried to kind of play by their own rules for a long time and not have to worry about friendships.

So it really behooves us to continue to make sure that our foreign partners understand the dangers. I think Japan is a great example of somebody who very much understands their backyard and the challenges there. I think it behooves us and those that are in the direct vicinity of China that will be under threat to let the rest of the world know and continue to push them in a fashion that they’ve got to challenge the conventional order on this.

Interviewer: It seems there are also bureaucratic problems in intelligence committees.

Mr. Carmack: Yeah. It’s a great community, and there are people doing really amazing work in a very challenging time, especially with the technical problems that come with a world that is changing with AI and surveillance. This is a good example. 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, the United States, the world leader likely, producing the state of the art satellites, very expensive systems, and long-term development that have all kinds of range of capabilities for intelligence collection purposes. But now you’re seeing these big long-range expensive systems that also could be under threat by a lot of anti-satellite technologies, either by jamming or in the case of the Russians and the Chinese, the ability to actually just intercept either in space or from the ground via satellite.

You’ve got to build resiliency in your networks because they’re always trying to challenge that status quo. Look what the commercial sector has done. I mean, building smaller level satellites that are more efficient, so you’re not relying on one piece of machinery in orbit. So it’s a good example where the commercial industry and what Elon Musk and others are doing with SpaceX or with Starlink and other things is probably really where the US has to understand and build this collaboration with the private sector and integrate this type of commercial technology and allow it to flourish.

And right now, it’s a really broken system. I think the Pentagon bureaucracy, as many times they change the names on things out there, makes it very difficult to use taxpayer dollars in an efficient fashion to tackle the China challenge.

Interviewer: I see. I think you had been engaged in such a difficult task to unite 18 intelligence committees. It sounds almost impossible.

Mr. Carmack: It’s also a differing function because the DNI and the creation of the ODNI were made after 9/11, and trying to understand intelligence gaps that occurred on 9/11.

It’s a problem in some ways because you’ve also got these disparate functions that also sit inside other agencies. That’s not a bad thing. But in terms of really trying to drive outcomes, ODNI’s got to have the tools to kind of go in and, I feel like, break some things to make sure that the community is working well and working with each other. I think it’s natural for many agencies to kind of have internal tensions with others. And overall, everybody works really well together.

But again, when you’re herding 18 cats, it can be challenging. And then some of them are very different breeds. I mean, you’ve got a large amount of the elements, both personnel and money, revolving underneath the Department of Defense and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

All the service branches have individual intelligence units that sit alongside the broader defense apparatus. You see the interceding of signals intelligence, especially with NSA. I think NSA does an amazing job, works in conjunction with Cyber Command to both get information to our warfighters, get information to allies, and that’s a really important operation.

And then you move into other elements, you’ve got human intelligence, you’ve got kind of people that have been around since the late ’40s and early ’50s. And then you’ve got the new kids on the block, like Space Force. And so they’ve got to find ways to work together, and on net, they really strive to do a good job. I do think China has served as a good challenge that I hope they’re taking lessons from to kind of break the conventional wisdom of how to think about the dangers of the world.

Interviewer: The last question is sort of a subtle question. After January 6th, most of the media ignored the fact that China potentially meddled in the election. Can you share your view on this point?

Mr. Carmack: Yeah, I’m not surprised, with today’s media environment. I found it unfortunate that the director of the DNI’s statements, and what he’s talked about related to our work to highlight these issues, haven’t been talked about enough. It gets buried really quickly in the midst of all the other different controversies that creep up, and what drives the Hill’s interest and different congressional committees.

I do think that some of the committees very much took notice. The intelligence committees, especially in the Senate and others, took notice and understood. They had put the request in, for example, of the ombudsmen to do a review of how the community was handling the intelligence and possible politicization in the community and other things. So the director welcomed that with face value and said, “Come in here.” But he also didn’t want to shy away from the fact that you can’t cower down on these types of fights, but you’ve got to be able to show your cards and say, “This is what’s going on, and I’m not scared to let people know.”

If you talk to a lot of folks there in the community, they feel like they have been really challenged publicly more than they’d like. I mean, they work in the shadows, and they like to work in the shadows. And I think what happened in 2016 and everything that kind of brewed out of that from the different nefarious things that were done in other areas, that they found themselves in a challenging landscape where they were kind of beat up on all sides and didn’t want to be in a public spotlight.

I think one of our goals was to try to take any kind of criticisms on the chin and let them go do their work. And that’s kind of a really tough challenge for any kind of DNI and head of the intelligence community. But at the same time, you have to provide that accountability, and it’s frustrating that the media really makes it a challenging environment to talk about these issues. It’s really hard. I mean, we talk about China and other things. I think there have been more media here in the last couple of years, but I think it’s really hard for people to kind of evaluate the threat.

And I think it’s even kind of conflating what we started off with, is people care more about Russia and Ukraine than they do about China. I don’t know if that’s exactly the case. I think when you see missiles flying on the largest land scale war we’ve seen in a long time, people are going to pay attention. But I hope the lessons we’re learning here, and something I’ve written about, the lessons we’re seeing on hybrid warfare, on intelligence, on space, on cyber, on other things, that we learn lessons from this to apply to the China challenge sooner rather than later because we have our own cybersecurity problems in the United States.

We’ve got our own intelligence community problems. All these things are not insurmountable, but they cannot wait for a two-year report to be done on what the problem is. We know what the problems are. I think the Pentagon knows where a lot of its pressure points are and where bottlenecks are, and we’re not doing enough to break those.

Interviewer: I have been wondering why the mainstream media has so much leaning liberal thinking. That’s the reason why President Trump always had to fight against the media. What happened to the media?

Mr. Carmack: It’s kind of a wild uphill challenge. I think COVID-19 in addition kind of broke people’s brains. I look at what my former boss, Governor DeSantis did down in Florida. I mean, if you look at what happened, 60 Minutes, it’s kind of where you grew up, shows like Tim Russell on Meet the Press on NBC or 60 Minutes, kind of the cream of the crop of journalism. Now, the hit piece they did on DeSantis was a disservice.

In many ways, if people were like, “Oh, there they go again”, I think it’s really important to have a very strong independent journalistic body. And I think the problem is a lot of these journalists live in echo chambers on Twitter where they try to out snark each other versus taking the time to go do investigative reporting. This sometimes takes long periods of time or it takes a long time to run a story and articulate the detail involved. I think it’s more interesting for them to get on the TV networks where they speak in bubbles of the people that they want to appeal to. And that’s really the dangerous divide for the United States, and I think something that our foreign adversaries seek to try to take advantage of is getting us further separated, further conflicted with each other.

That’s really what I worry about, that media component. The social media component is a very strong element of that. And I think some of the things that Elon Musk and others are talking about in terms of free speech and the social media atmosphere and these things, we’ve really kind of gone down this weird dangerous trend of suppressing, questioning information. I like to take information from a wide level of sources, and then I like to sift it through general news outlets to understand the truth somewhere in between. I don’t think people spend enough time trying to analytically and critically think about the news sources and things that they’re receiving. And it’s just clickbait in a lot of ways, which is sad because I think a lot of Americans need better news.

As I mentioned, there should have been more reporting on what the DNI discussed and some of the issues. And I think it leads to a lot of good follow-up questions for people on the Hill or people in the community now, what they’re doing to change those paradigms.

Interviewer: Did you mention Ratcliffe’s classified letter, other than the unclassified letter?

Mr. Carmack: He did an unclassified letter that he put on as a cover letter to an unclassified ombudsman’s report, which is on top of the classified. It was a classified report that was presented to Congress in January of 2021. And then I believe the current DNI, Avril Haines, put out the unclassified version of that, I think in late March or early April last year.

Interviewer: So the classified report is not possible to see.

Mr. Carmack: No. It’s the same as when they do the worldwide threat or annual threat assessment hearings. There’s usually an unclassified version or classified version. But members of Congress have access to those. That’s the goal of these, is that those in Congress that are directed to good oversight and accountability for the executive agencies understand the problems and ramifications of them.

Interviewer: Do you think it will be unclassified in the future?

Mr. Carmack: Yeah, it’s an interesting question for the current DNI who retains authority to declassify. I would say this, though, it’s been surprising, watching a lot of the hoopla and support of possibly releasing classified information as part of Russia’s campaign into Ukraine. I saw the opposite type of warranted want and need of that type of accountability and interest in declassification when DNI Ratcliffe was in office, which is unfortunate, and I think I’ve been particularly irked here lately about some in the administration leaking, which I can’t speak to if it’s accuracy or not.

Some of the intelligence related to what we’re sharing with Ukraine, I don’t think that needs to be publicly discussed at all. I’ve advocated for them to be shared as much as feasibly possible, but I do recognize there are challenges, because you do want to protect sources and methods, and those really are tough because when you think about the 18 US intelligence agencies that are involved, sometimes they may have equities or worries about their collection apparatus, the ability to continue to get information.

Well, how do these involve foreign partners that you really want to maintain a very solid relationship with and an element of trust, by all means? If information is protected, that information can be shared, and what needs to be seen and what can be seen. So it’s a very sensitive issue of intelligence sharing. Also, discussion in the public realm is a very constant pressure exercise because you’re balancing the DNI, in terms of the statute. They can make a declassification in the case of the public interest, and that’s been used before.

Interviewer: Thank you for the very informative and intriguing information.

Former ODNI Official Speaks Out on the National Threat: China
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