Intelligence advice for next U.S. president: Rocky road ahead


To: The next president of the United States.

From: U.S. intelligence officials.

Welcome to the White House. Now read our take on global political landscape and trends for the next five years and beyond. Bottom line: Get ready for a rocky road.

The forecast calls for a slowing global economy dragged down by sluggish growth in China, and political volatility across the world, spurred by disillusionment with the status quo. Insecurity will deepen rifts among social classes and religious groups. Extremists will consolidate into large-scale networks across Africa, the Arab world and parts of Asia.

Competition among the U.S., China and Russia will heat up, raising the risk of future confrontations. Climate change is a problem now. And technological advances will force governments and their citizens to wrestle with securing data, privacy, intellectual property and jobs lost to high-tech innovations.

The National Intelligence Council, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, serves as a bridge between intelligence agencies and policymakers. Its global trends report is compiled every four years so it can be handed to an incoming president or the incumbent. A summary of a draft of its latest findings was to be released Monday at a conference in Austin, Texas.

These trends follow 20 years of unprecedented reductions in poverty and increased access to education and information, which have empowered citizens around the world.

Suzanne Fry, director of the council’s Strategic Future Group, and about 10 of her colleagues visited 30 countries since September 2014 to talk about the future with an estimated 1,800 people from all walks of life.

“Really for the first time in human history, people as individuals, really, really matter,” Fry said in an interview.

She recalled Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit seller who killed himself in 2010 to protest police actions in Tunisia. His death sparked an uprising that led to the ouster of Tunisia’s dictator and inspired Arab Spring protests against authoritarian rule across the region.

In America, public discontent is evidenced by the rise of two presidential candidates — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders — whose anti-establishment messages appeal to anger among the general electorate, Fry said.

“They’re channeling something that we’re observing in a lot of countries, not just the United States, which is this real dissatisfaction with the existing social bargains or compacts in societies,” Fry said.

The report suggests that this type of populism being seen in industrial nations will percolate in the developing world as those affected by a slow-to-zero rise in wages and a hollowing out of the middle class start questioning the effectiveness of traditional policies.

The council’s final report is expected to be released between Election Day, Nov. 1, and the inauguration of the next president, on Jan. 20, 2017. The aim is to provide information about emerging trends to guide decisions that could alter the way the world is expected to evolve during the next 20 years.

A significant trend cited in the report is a slowdown of China’s economy, which has reduced demand for commodities, especially in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. Also on the economic front, the report highlights a concern about increased concentration of wealth among a small number of people.

“We have seen lots of poverty reduction in recent years and people flowing into the middle class, but how do you keep this movie going? It’s not clear that the political and economic reforms can keep it going,” Fry said. “We’ve got brand new entrances to the middle class in the developing world. Their expectations are enormous and they are about to be crushed.”

The report predicts increased competition and a “desire for status” by emerging and fading powers. This will play out as transnational terrorism, conducted by groups such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida and Boko Haram, and sectarian violence continue to threaten stability in the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa.

“Multiple power centers are possible if regional aggression and flouting of international norms go unchecked,” the report says.