Start of Main Content

Annual Threat Assessment Highlights Mass Atrocity Prevention

Today, the President's Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence his annual threat assessment (PDF; external link). As has been the case since 2009, today's briefing included a section specifically devoted to mass atrocities, whose prevention the President has determined is in the national security interest of the United States. Director Clapper's testimony reiterates the previously announced creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate government-wide efforts to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities. More notable, however, is the new assertion that as part of that process the intelligence community will be increasing and expanding its collection and analysis of intelligence related to this kind of violence and its antecedents. As noted in the 2008 Genocide Prevention Task Force report, this is an important step forward as part of any effective early warning mechanism, and represents a clear departure for US intelligence communities. From the testimony: Presidential Study Directive-10, issued in August 2011, identifies the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide as a core national security interest and moral responsibility of the United States. Mass atrocities generally involve large-scale and deliberate attacks on civilians, and can include genocide. The Presidential Directive establishes an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board that will coordinate a US Government-wide effort to prevent or mitigate such violence. The Intelligence Community will play a significant role in this effort, and we have been asked to expand collection and analysis and to encourage partner governments to collect and share intelligence on this issue. Unfortunately, mass atrocities have been a recurring feature of the global landscape. Since the turn of century, hundreds of thousands of civilians have lost their lives during conflicts in the Darfur region of Sudan and in the eastern Congo (Kinshasa). Recently, atrocities in Libya and Syria have occurred against the backdrop of major political upheavals. Mass atrocities usually occur in the context of other instability events and often result from calculated strategies by new or threatened ruling elites to assert or retain control, regardless of the cost. Violence against civilians also emerges in places where poorly institutionalized governments discriminate against minorities, socioeconomic conditions are poor, or local powerbrokers operate with impunity, as in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. In addition, terrorists and insurgents may exploit similar conditions to conduct attacks against civilians, as in Boko Haram‟s recent attacks on churches in Nigeria. We welcome this development and anticipate further positive momentum as the Administration unveils the final recommendations from its Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocity Prevention (external link) in the coming weeks.