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US spy chief offers to deliver limited public threat assessment to Congress

Posted July 21, 2020 8:47 p.m. EDT

— Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe sent a letter to the top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday offering to appear publicly before the panel and discuss the annual World Wide Threats Assessment.

But unlike in past years, Ratcliffe proposed that he and the other agency chiefs would only provide an unclassified statement for the record before moving to a closed session for a "more thorough exchange of classified questions and answers."

However, a spokesperson for committee's top Republican and acting chairman, Sen. Marco Rubio, indicated Tuesday in a statement to CNN that Ratcliffe's offer is not sufficient.

"Acting Chairman Rubio and Vice Chairman Warner spoke today about the Committee holding a hearing on worldwide threats. They will continue to work with DNI Ratcliffe and are hopeful that the Committee will hold a hearing on this important topic soon," the spokesperson said.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees have been pushing for the top US intelligence officials to appear for a public hearing on the annual World Wide Threats Assessment for months but have been unable to reach an agreement with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on scheduling, in part, because of the recent turnover at the director position.

CNN reported in June that Ratcliffe was resisting attempts by both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to schedule a World Wide Threats hearing before the looming August recess despite committing to appear before the panel during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, according to two committee officials.

At the time, an intelligence official said that the director's office had not communicated any refusal to appear before a committee.

"ODNI continues to work with both committees regarding the timing of the worldwide threat assessment hearings. Several challenges have impacted timing, including the DNI leadership transition, fulfilling mission priorities during the pandemic, and the upcoming congressional recess. We have and will continue to hold both in-person and virtual briefings for committee members and their staffs on a variety of subjects," ODNI spokesperson Susan Meisner also said at the time.

CNN also reported earlier this year that US intelligence officials had quietly asked the Senate and House Intelligence committees not to hold public hearings on this year's Worldwide Threat Assessment after testimony from agency chiefs last year prompted an angry response from President Donald Trump, according to a source familiar with the talks.

When pressed by Senate lawmakers during last year's hearing, Trump's intelligence chiefs, including then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, appeared to contradict several claims made by the President to justify core tenets of his foreign policy.

"The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran," Trump tweeted at the time. "They are wrong!"

Still, the hearing offers a unique platform for agency leaders to highlight key areas of concern in front of lawmakers.

The previous two World Wide Threats Assessments, for example, warned that the US isn't prepared for a global health pandemic before the coronavirus outbreak surged in the US and in countries around the world.

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