US spy agency leaders warned on Wednesday of the "unparalleled threat" posted by China, citing Beijing's regional aggression, cyber capabilities and economic clout as they testified at a public congressional "Worldwide Threats" hearing for the first time in more than two years.
"China increasingly is a near-peer competitor challenging the United States in multiple arenas, while pushing to revise global norms in ways that favor the authoritarian Chinese system," Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"(China) also has substantial cyber capabilities that if deployed, at a minimum, can cause localized, temporary disruptions to critical infrastructure inside the United States," Haines said.
Haines' opening statement also cited Russian efforts to undermine US influence, Iran's contribution to instability in the Middle East, global terrorism and potential North Korean efforts to "drive wedges" between Washington and its allies as significant threats.
The appearance by Haines and the other intelligence agency directors was the first public "Worldwide Threats" hearing on global threats to the United States since January 2019. They were not held during the last two years of the administration of former President Donald Trump, who often clashed with the nation's security agencies.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the committee's chairman, said he had been "dismayed" that there had been no hearing last year. The panel's top Republican, Senator Marco Rubio, also cited the importance of the hearing.
Warner noted the effort Beijing had put into making the Chinese technology firm Huawei a leader of advanced 5G systems, and said he was concerned it might make similar efforts in other emerging technologies.
Noting the dangers of international computer hacking like the recent SolarWinds attack, Warner said: "We may also want to develop new international norms where certain types of attacks are prohibited, just as the use of chemical or bio-weapons is banned."
"Today's technology environment allows adversaries to wreak havoc,' Rubio said.
Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency Director General Paul Nakasone and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Scott Berrier also testified.
The hearing took place a day after US intelligence agencies released a sweeping report on global threats. Disease, the rich-poor gap, climate change and conflicts within and among nations will pose greater challenges in coming decades, with the Covid-19 pandemic already worsening some of those problems, the report by the National Intelligence Council said. [L1N2M12VM]