“go back to school.” Mr. Trump’s last director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, chose not to release a threat assessment or testify before Congress last year.

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Will Afghanistan Become a Terrorism Safe Haven Once Again?

“The terrorism threat from the Afghan region is not zero, but, at the moment, it’s less than it is in other parts of the world,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday. “So the question is, can we continue to suppress the terrorism threat” from southwest Asia “without our troops being on the ground in Afghanistan?”

If the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, it is not clear whether Al Qaeda could rebuild a base there for carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States, according to senior lawmakers with access to the classified assessments. And even if Al Qaeda could rebound, some officials have asked if the group might choose another lawless region over Afghanistan.

“What is that threat really going to be?” Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said last month during a virtual conference on Afghanistan. “This isn’t the 1990s when Al Qaeda set up camps, and they had the Taliban and no one was paying attention to them.”

But collecting intelligence will become far more difficult once U.S. troops leave, current and former officials acknowledged. While some counterterrorism operations against terrorists inside Afghanistan can be conducted from far-flung bases in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere outside the country, they are risky and difficult to pull off. Mr. Biden or future presidents may be reluctant to approve them.

And with a weakened Afghan government facing pressure from the Taliban, conditions would be ripe for Qaeda cells to grow, some counterterrorism officials said.

“Ungoverned spaces, let alone a known terrorist organization like the Taliban dominating a nation, is altogether an ideal breeding ground for disparate terrorist groups that threaten the United States to find save haven and shelter,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former C.I.A. officer who spent much of his career working on counterterrorism operations, including in Afghanistan.

Though the threat from international terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan is low, it might not stay that way, said Michael P. Mulroy, a former Pentagon official and C.I.A. officer who served in Afghanistan. U.S. counterterrorism operations have put continuous pressure on terrorist groups throughout the Afghanistan war. Once the troops leave, he said, that pressure will decline and the ability to collect intelligence in the region will suffer.

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China Poses Biggest Threat to U.S., Intelligence Report Says

This year’s report offers a far more robust discussion of the national security implications of climate change, whose threats, for the most part, are long term, but can also have short-term consequences, the report said.

“This year, we will see increasing potential for surges in migration by Central American populations, which are reeling from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather, including multiple hurricanes in 2020 and several years of recurring droughts and storms,” the report said.

It adds that the economic and political implications of the coronavirus would reverberate for years, predicting that the economic damage would worsen instability in a few countries, though it does not name them.

Combined with extreme weather caused by climate change, the report says the number of people worldwide experiencing acute hunger will rise to 330 million this year from 135 million. The report says that the pandemic has disrupted other health services, including polio vaccinations and H.I.V. treatments in Africa.

Typically, the director of national intelligence delivers the threat assessment to Congress and releases a written report alongside it. But no declassified assessment was issued last year, as the Trump administration’s intelligence agencies sought to avoid angering the White House.

In 2019, Dan Coats, then the director of national intelligence, delivered an analysis of threats from Iran, North Korea and the Islamic State that was at odds with President Donald J. Trump’s views. The testimony prompted Mr. Trump to lash out on Twitter, admonishing his intelligence chiefs to “go back to school.”

Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence; William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director; and other top intelligence officials will testify about the report on Wednesday and Thursday.

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U.S. Intelligence Report Warns of Global Consequences of Social Fragmentation

Income inequality could grow worse, the report said, tying it at times to information inequality.

The “trust gap” between an informed public that has faith in a government solution and a wider public with deep skepticism of institutions is growing, the report said.

The problem is made worse by technology. Algorithms, social media and artificial intelligence have replaced expertise in deciding what information spreads most widely, and that has made the public more vulnerable to misinformation.

Still, positive demographic changes in recent decades, with people moving out of poverty and into the middle class, had creating “rising expectations,” said Maria Langan-Riekhof, the director of the intelligence council’s strategic futures group. But fears of falling income across the globe are growing, a worrisome trend when coupled with changes in how information is shared and social divisions have deepened.

“Those concerns are leading people to look for the security of trusted voices, but also of like-minded groups within their societies,” Ms. Langan-Riekhof said. “Overlay those trends I’m describing, and you kind of see that recipe for greater divisions, increasing fracturing. We think that is likely to continue and probably worsen.”

Over time, the report said, these trends could weaken democratic governments.

“At the same time that populations are increasingly empowered and demanding more, governments are coming under greater pressure from new challenges and more limited resources,” the report said. “This widening gap portends more political volatility, erosion of democracy and expanding roles for alternative providers of governance. Over time, these dynamics might open the door to more significant shifts in how people govern.”

The global trends report has often looked at possible future situations. In the 2017 report, one example contemplated a pandemic plunging the world into economic chaos. It envisioned nationalistic politicians eroding alliances, a drop in oil prices causing calamity and more isolationist trade practices. It also forecast a pandemic (albeit in 2023, not 2020), which restricted travel, caused economic distress and exacerbated existing trends toward isolation.

The report has discussed the risk of a pandemic for nearly two decades, said Gregory F. Treverton, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council who helped lead the 2017 effort. The 2004 report said some experts believed it was “only a matter of time” before a pandemic, he said.

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He Led Hitler’s Secret Police in Austria. Then He Spied for the West.

The Nazi leaders building that force needed experienced police officers, said Michael Holzmann, the son of an Austrian Nazi who has for many years been researching the activities of the Gestapo in that country. “Huber seized this opportunity and turned from a little investigator into a most successful leader of the Gestapo terror regime in former Austria,” he said.

In March 1938, after Germany annexed Austria, Huber was made the Gestapo chief of the most important part of the country, including Vienna, the capital. Shortly after, the Gestapo began an extensive hunt for dissidents in Austria, and Huber gave orders “to arrest immediately undesirable, particularly criminally motivated Jews and transfer them to the concentration camp Dachau.” A few days later, the first two transports of Jews left Vienna for the camp, with many more to follow.

Huber remained in his post until the end of the war, being given more and more personnel and authority. During that time, 70,000 Austrian Jews who were not able to leave the country were murdered, close to 40 percent of the original community, while their property was looted by the Nazis.

Eichmann confirmed at his trial that he was involved in the deportation of Jews but refused to plead guilty to genocide, saying, “I did not have any other option than to follow the orders I got.”

Huber took a different approach. Speaking to an official of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal in 1948 — who interviewed him as a witness, not a suspect — he said he had known nothing about the extermination until the end of 1944, when his deputy told him something vague.

“But the historical evidence paints a completely different picture,” says Prof. Moshe Zimmerman, a historian and Holocaust scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Eichmann may have been a face more familiar to the Jewish community, but the one who shared responsibility for carrying out the terror against the Jews, their collection, their forced boarding on the trains and their deportation to the camps, was the police and the Gestapo under Huber.”

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Italy Expels Russian Envoys Over Accusations of Espionage

Italy expelled two Russian diplomats on accusations of espionage on Wednesday after investigators say they observed an Italian Navy official giving the envoys classified documents in exchange for money.

The Italian official, assigned to a Defense Ministry department dealing with national security and foreign relations, handed over classified documents to a Russian envoy in a Rome parking lot on Tuesday night, the carabinieri, Italy’s national military police, said in a statement. Italy’s intelligence services had raised concern over the officials, investigators said, prompting them to be placed under surveillance.

The two were charged with “serious crimes tied to spying and state security,” the carabinieri said, prompting outrage among lawmakers in Rome and leading Italy’s foreign minister to order the immediate expulsion of the Russian envoy and another diplomat, both military officials.

Investigators said that the Italian official, identified as Capt. Walter Biot, had accepted 5,000 euros, about $5,800, and handed over images of classified documents on a USB stick. Mr. Biot, a 56-year-old expert in fighter jets, had worked in the Defense Ministry’s press office in the past.

reported. But the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told journalists in a conference call that Russia hoped to maintain good relations with Italy despite the incident.

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow.

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Officials Try to Sway Biden Using Intelligence on Potential for Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — As President Biden signaled this week that he would let a May 1 deadline pass without withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, some officials are using an intelligence assessment to argue for prolonging the military mission there.

American intelligence agencies have told the Biden administration that if U.S. troops leave before a power-sharing settlement is reached between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the country could fall largely under the control of the Taliban within two or three years after the withdrawal of international forces. That could potentially open the door for Al Qaeda to rebuild its strength within the country, according to American officials.

The classified assessment, first prepared last year for the Trump administration but not previously disclosed, is the latest in a series of grim predictions of Afghanistan’s future that intelligence analysts have delivered throughout the two-decade-long war.

But the intelligence has landed in a changed political environment. While President Donald J. Trump pushed for a withdrawal of all forces even before the terms of the peace deal required it, Mr. Biden has been more cautious, saying Thursday that he does not view May 1 as a deadline he must meet, although he also said he “could not picture” troops being in the country next year.

has been said to have privately described as haunting the possibility of allowing the country to descend into collapse.

Some senior Biden administration officials have expressed skepticism of any intelligence prediction of a resurgence of a weakened Al Qaeda or of the Islamic State. Taliban commanders remain opposed to the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda, which has little current presence in the country, could regroup instead in any number of other lawless regions around the world.

Also left unanswered by the intelligence warning is the question of whether Afghanistan could really prosper if American troops remain indefinitely. Their presence would most likely prevent a collapse of the nation’s own security forces and allow the government in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to retain control of its major cities, but the Taliban are still likely to gradually expand their power in other parts of the country, including curbing the rights of women.

A Taliban spokesman said on Friday that the group was committed to last year’s peace agreement “and wants the American side to also remain firmly committed.” If troops are not withdrawn by May 1, the spokesman promised, the Taliban would “continue its jihad and armed struggle against foreign forces.”

Biden administration officials insisted no final decision had been made. Nevertheless, with the deadline looming, administration officials are jockeying to influence Mr. Biden and his top national security officials. While Lloyd J. Austin III, the secretary of defense, has not signaled what course of action he prefers, some Pentagon officials who believe American forces should stay longer have pointed to the intelligence assessment predicting a Taliban takeover of the country.

approximately 3,500 American troops who remain, whether it is May 1 or at the end of the year, will doom the mission. The only way to preserve hard-fought gains in Afghanistan, they said, is to keep the small American presence there long enough to force a lasting deal between the Taliban and Afghan government.

These officials have used the intelligence assessment to make the point that a withdrawal this year will lead to a fall of the current government, a sharp erosion of women’s rights and the return of international terrorist groups. A rush to the exit, some officials said, will only drag the United States back into Afghanistan soon after leaving — much as was the case in Iraq in 2014, three years after the Obama administration pulled troops out of that conflict.

The White House has held a series of meetings on Afghanistan, and more are to come. On Thursday, the president said he was waiting for briefings from Mr. Austin, who met recently with Afghan officials, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who conferred this week with NATO allies, for their bottom-line advice on what he should do.

For many Biden administration officials, the issue that has resonated the most clearly is the threat that a Taliban takeover could pose to Afghan women. While some former intelligence officials predict the Taliban will initially take care not to roll back women’s rights altogether — at least in major cities — if they take over the entire country, it will be difficult to guarantee protections for women, such as education for girls and access to health care.

“Any agreement must preserve their gains if Afghanistan wants to ensure the international community’s continued political and financial support,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council this week. “We will not give an inch on this point.”

The Biden administration is making a final effort before May 1 to show progress in slow-moving negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban, according to American officials, are stalling.

The administration is pushing the two sides to participate in a peace conference in Turkey to demonstrate progress. Simultaneously, the American and Taliban negotiators continue to try to cement a 90-day reduction in violence, but so far, both sides have hesitated to agree.

The classified intelligence assessment of the Taliban largely taking control assumes that the Afghan government and the Taliban fail to reach a political agreement and that a civil war would erupt after the American exit.

Administration officials warned that making any intelligence estimate is challenging, that predictions about the future are always imprecise and that various factors influence the analysis.

For example, intelligence estimates depend on whether international funding for the Afghan government remains in place. The more money the United States and its allies provide Afghanistan, the longer the government in Kabul should be able to retain control of some of the country. But some officials said that history shows that once American troops are withdrawn, Congress moves quickly to cut financial support for partner forces.

There is also a debate in Washington about the seriousness of the threat of a return of terrorist groups. For now, the number of Qaeda and Islamic State militants in Afghanistan is very small, a senior U.S. official said.

Some senior lawmakers with access to the classified assessments said that it was not certain that if the United States withdrew that Al Qaeda could rebuild a base in Afghanistan from which to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States.

“What is that threat really going to be?” Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington State and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said this week during a virtual conference on Afghanistan. “This isn’t the 1990s when Al Qaeda set up camps, and they had the Taliban and no one was paying attention to them.”

Mr. Smith said keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan actually increased the risk to Americans there, incurred greater financial costs and handed a propaganda victory and recruiting tool to the United States’ enemies.

Some counterterrorism officials believe that Al Qaeda would prefer to re-establish its headquarters in Afghanistan, should American troops withdraw. But other officials said Al Qaeda’s leadership might be just as likely to look to Africa or the Middle East.

While American intelligence officials have been mostly focused on the threat of Al Qaeda, senior military officials have also raised the prospect of a growth in the power of the Afghanistan arm of the Islamic State.

But in recent years, the Taliban have been at odds with the Islamic State. The two groups have fought, and the Taliban have for the most part pushed back Islamic State forces.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where ISIS and the Taliban would strategically cooperate or collaborate in Afghanistan,” said Lisa Maddox, a former C.I.A. analyst. “The Taliban is an ideological organization, and that ideology is Afghan-centric and not aligned with ISIS’ overarching goals.”

The intelligence estimate predicted that the Taliban would relatively swiftly expand their control over Afghanistan, suggesting that the Afghan security forces remain fragile despite years of training by the American military and billions of dollars in U.S. funding.

Offensives last year in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, two areas in the country’s south where the Taliban have long held sway, demonstrated that the police and local forces are unable to hold ground, prompting elite commando forces and regular army troops to take their place — a tactic that is likely unsustainable in the long run.

The Afghan security forces still rely heavily on U.S. air support to hold territory, which American military leaders acknowledged this week. It is unclear whether that American air power would continue if U.S. forces left Afghanistan, perhaps launched from bases in the Persian Gulf, although the Pentagon has drawn up such options for the White House.

“The capabilities that the U.S. provides for the Afghans to be able to combat the Taliban and other threats that reside in Afghanistan are critical to their success,” Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the head of Special Operations Command, told the Senate on Thursday.

Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul, Afghanistan. Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Kabul.

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Michael Kovrig, Canadian Accused of Spying, Is Tried in China

A Chinese court on Monday tried a former Canadian diplomat on accusations of spying, Canadian officials said, the second such trial in recent days and one that will most likely intensify tensions among China, Canada and the United States.

A court in Beijing presided over the trial of the former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, who was detained by the Chinese authorities in late 2018, shortly after Canada arrested a top executive at the Chinese technology firm Huawei at the request of the United States.

The trial was held in secret, according to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, with the Chinese authorities barring foreign diplomats and journalists from attending. In a show of support for Mr. Kovrig, more than two dozen diplomats representing 26 countries, including Canada and the United States, tried to gain access to the courtroom in Beijing on Monday, only to be turned away by security officials.

Mr. Kovrig’s friends, family and former co-workers have said he is innocent.

“From the moment he was detained, the political nature of his case has been clear,” said Richard Atwood, interim president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization where Mr. Kovrig worked as an adviser. “Michael should be released immediately so he can return home to his loved ones.”

appeared before a court on Friday in Dandong, a northeastern city. That verdict would be announced at a later date, the court said.

“The arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig for more than two years now is completely unacceptable,” Jim Nickel, a top official at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing who tried to gain access to the courtroom on Monday, said in a statement.

The prosecutions of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have unfolded against a backdrop of growing tensions over China’s increasingly assertive behavior on the global stage. Critics have labeled China’s action “hostage diplomacy” and have called on Canada and the United States to work to secure the two men’s release.

Canadian and American officials have described the men’s detention as arbitrary and part of China’s efforts to secure the release in Canada of the Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the founder of Huawei. Ms. Meng faces sweeping fraud charges in the United States, which is seeking her extradition.

marred by tensions, and the two sides left without any joint statement of their willingness to work together.

American officials on Monday denounced China’s decision to go forward with the trials. “The charges are a blatant attempt to use human beings as bargaining leverage,” a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said in a statement. “The practice of arbitrary detention to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable.”

China has defended its handling of the cases, saying that the Canadians broke Chinese law.

“Chinese judicial organs handle cases independently in accordance with the law and fully guarantee the lawful rights of the individuals concerned,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news briefing in Beijing on Friday.

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White House Weighs New Cybersecurity Approach After Failure to Detect Hacks

The question is how to set up such a system.

After revelations in 2013 by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden that set off a debate about government surveillance, American technology companies are wary of the appearance of sharing data with American intelligence agencies, even if that data is just warnings about malware. Google was stung by the revelation in the Snowden documents that the National Security Agency was intercepting data transmitted between its servers overseas. Several years later, under pressure from its employees, it ended its participation in Project Maven, a Pentagon effort to use artificial intelligence to make its drones more accurate.

Amazon, in contrast, has no such compunctions about sensitive government work: It runs the cloud server operations for the C.I.A. But when the Senate Intelligence Committee asked company officials to testify last month — alongside executives of FireEye, Microsoft and SolarWinds — about how the Russians exploited systems on American soil to launch their attacks, they declined to attend.

Companies say that before they share reporting on vulnerabilities, they would need strong legal liability protections.

The most politically palatable headquarters for such a clearinghouse — avoiding the legal and civil liberties concerns of using the National Security Agency — would be the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Mr. Gerstell described the idea as “automated computer sensors and artificial intelligence acting on information as it comes in and instantaneously spitting it back out.”

The department’s existing “Einstein” system, which is supposed to monitor intrusions and potential attacks on federal agencies, never saw the Russian attack underway — even though it hit nine federal departments and agencies. The F.B.I., lawmakers say, does not have broad monitoring capabilities, and its focus is divided across other forms of crime, counterterrorism and now domestic extremism threats.

“I don’t want the intelligence agencies spying on Americans, but that leaves the F.B.I. as the de facto domestic intelligence agency to deal with these kinds of attacks,” said Senator Angus King, a Maine independent, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-chairman of the cyberspace commission. “I’m just not sure they’re set up for this.”

There are other hurdles. The process of getting a search warrant is too cumbersome for tracking nation-state cyberattacks, Mr. Gerstell said. “Someone’s got to be able to take that information from the N.S.A. and instantly go take a look at that computer,” he said. “But the F.B.I. needs a warrant to do that, and that takes time by which point the adversary has escaped.”

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Remote C.I.A. Base in the Sahara Steadily Grows

The Biden administration’s review comes at a time when skyrocketing waves of terrorism and violence have seized Africa’s Sahel region, a vast sub-Saharan scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan, and is threatening to spread. The Islamic State in Libya has actively sought fresh recruits traveling north from West African nations, including Senegal and Chad.

Armed groups have attacked bridges, military convoys and government buildings. The threat is pushing south from the Sahel into areas previously untouched by extremist violence, including the Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo and Ghana, where the Pentagon has a logistics hub.

Security has worsened to the point where the Pentagon’s Africa Command told the Defense Department’s inspector general last year that it had abandoned for the moment a strategy of weakening the Islamist militants, and instead was mainly trying to contain the threat.

“Security continues to deteriorate in the Sahel as instability spreads and threatens coastal West Africa,” Colin Kahl, Mr. Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s top policy official, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written responses to questions in advance of a hearing last week. “We cannot ignore that persistent conflict in Africa will continue to generate threats to U.S. personnel, partners and interests from violent extremist organizations.”

The Pentagon’s Africa Command operates MQ-9 Reaper drones from Niamey, Niger’s capital, 800 miles southwest of Dirkou; and from a $110 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, 350 miles west of Dirkou. The military has carried out drone strikes against Qaeda and Islamic State militants in Libya, but none since September 2019.

Some security analysts question why the United States needs both military and C.I.A. drone operations in the same general vicinity to combat insurgents in Libya and the Sahel. In addition, France, which has about 5,100 troops in the Sahel region, began conducting its own Reaper drone strikes from Niamey against insurgents in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group concluded that the military-first strategy of France and its allies, including the United States, has failed. The research and advocacy organization, which focuses on conflict zones, noted in its report that focusing on local peacemaking efforts could achieve more.

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