WASHINGTON – The Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border and in Crimea could provide enough forces for a limited military incursion, the C.I.A. The director, William J. Burns, told senators on Wednesday as he and other senior officials set out a number of threats to the United States.
Russia could simply send a signal to the United States or try to intimidate the Ukrainian government, but it has the skills to do more, Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“This setup has reached the point where it could also form the basis for a limited military incursion,” said Burns. “It is something that not only the United States but our allies must take very seriously too.”
Mr Burns, along with Avril D. Haines, director of the national intelligence service, and other officials testified about a range of threats from global powers such as Russia and China, as well as challenges that have historically been less of a focus of intelligence, including domestic extremism and climate change.
In its annual threat assessment report, released the Tuesday before the hearing, the intelligence community said that China’s drive for global power posed a threat to the United States from its aggression in its region, its expansion of its surveillance capabilities, and its attempts to dominate the technology, represent progress.
Russia has also pushed for an area of influence that includes countries like Ukraine that were part of the Soviet Union, the report said.
However, both China and Russia wanted to avoid a direct confrontation with the United States, the report said.
Mr Burns said the Russian actions had sparked internal briefings as well as consultations with allies. President Biden’s appeal to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday should “make very clear the gravity of our concerns,” Burns said.
The United States has been tracking Russian forces for some time, at least since late March. American officials have said privately that the Russians have done little to hide their troop buildup, unlike in 2014 when they first attacked Ukraine. This convinced some, but not all, of the officials that the main focus of Russian activity could be on display.
“They could actually begin a series of drills that begin at any time, or perhaps they could do a limited objective attack if they wanted,” said Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “We don’t know what the intention is right now.”
Both Russia and China have been accused of conducting cyber operations that compromised large parts of the software supply chain. Lawmakers questioned Ms. Haines and General Paul M. Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency, about Russian hacking that penetrated nine federal agencies and another from China that compromised Microsoft Exchange servers. The Biden government is expected to respond to the Russian hacker attacks soon, most likely with sanctions and other measures.
Ms. Haines said Russia used hacker attacks to sow discord and threaten the United States and its allies. “Russia is becoming more adept at using its technological capabilities to develop asymmetrical options in both the military and the Internet to give itself the ability to push back and force the United States to pursue its interests,” she said.
Lawmakers also raised the subject of a series of mysterious episodes in which diplomats and C.I.A. Overseas officers. Some former officials believe Russia is behind the episodes they have labeled the attacks.
Mr Burns said he was working with his colleagues to provide better medical care for C.I.A. Officers. He also said he was working to “get to the bottom of what caused these incidents and who may be responsible”.
Questions about China dominated earlier Senate confirmation hearings for Ms. Haines and Mr. Burns, and lawmakers on Wednesday again urged assessments of China and its efforts to steal American technology. Ms. Haines explained how China is using technological power, economic influence, and other levers of power to intimidate its neighbors.
“China is taking a comprehensive approach to demonstrate its growing strength and to force its regional neighbors to go along with Beijing’s preferences,” she told the senators.
The F.B.I. Director Christopher A. Wray also highlighted the threat posed by China. “We open a new investigation in China every 10 hours,” he said from the office, “and I can assure the committee that this is not because our people have nothing to do with their time.”
Biden administration officials have said they want intelligence agencies to take a broader look at national security threats.
Ms. Haines noted that another recent intelligence report highlighted global trends how the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, along with technological change, tested society’s “resilience and adaptability”. The “impending imbalance” is forcing the secret services to expand their definition of national security.
However, at least one lawmaker, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, also asked a more practical question: How many intelligence officers have been given coronavirus vaccines?
Mr Burns said 80 percent of the C.I.A. The workforce was fully vaccinated and another 10 percent had their first shot. He said all C.I.A. Officials serving overseas “have the vaccine readily available.”
Unable to estimate how many of his agents had received a shot, Mr Wray said vaccination rates were different in field offices in different states. Ms. Haines said 86 percent of her workforce had received at least one shot, with a “reasonable percentage” being fully vaccinated. General Nakasone also had no estimate, but said a vaccination center had been set up in Fort Meade, Md., Where the headquarters of the National Security Agency is located.
Legislators have also urged the secret services to investigate the problem of domestic extremism. Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, linked the rise of domestic extremism to the same trends that fuel the disinformation created by Russia and others. And he said he wanted intelligence chiefs to explain how they could help better warn of potential violence like the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Social media has helped disinformation from extremist groups spread domestically faster and more efficiently than ever before – much like Russia and other nations have used it to spread falsehoods, Wray said.
“Social media has become the key booster for domestic violence extremism in many ways, as well as malicious foreign influence,” he said. “There are all sorts of things on the internet that are masquerading as facts and they just aren’t.”
The isolation caused by the pandemic, Wray said, has made the public more vulnerable.
The intelligence chiefs’ hearing was the first since early 2019, when they contradicted the rosier public statements made by President Donald J. Trump and led Mr Trump to publicly criticize his nominees and tell them to “go back to school.” John Ratcliffe, the last director of Trump’s National Intelligence Service, made a decision last year not to publish or testify in front of Congress.