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Intelligence future-gazers look at 2020
Updated: 2005-01-14 16:09

And now, a look into the future: al-Qaida, out; murky and scattered new terror cells, in. Hollywood, out; India's "Bollywood" in. America as sole superpower, out; China and India as world players, in.

At least, that's what U.S. intelligence future-gazers predicted Thursday.

"How we mentally map the world of 2020 will change radically," said the National Intelligence Council Chairman Robert Hutchings at the release of his panel's new report, Project 2020. Newly arriving powers "have the potential to render obsolete the old categories of East and West, North and South."

The unclassified forecasts offer a range of scenarios about the world 15 years out. Officials caution they are not meant to be predictions certain to come true but rather long-term outlooks designed to stimulate debate at the start of a new administration, in the works months before US President Bush won.

The council predicts an emergence of new global players — almost certainly China and India — but whether these new players fit into the world cooperatively or competitively remains an important uncertainty for the United States.

Council Vice Chairman David Gordon said the changes ahead could be "a very bumpy ride." Among them, he said, the integration of 1 billion low-paid workers will cause global shifts in rich and poor countries alike. Changes will be experienced politically, economically and even culturally, as Korean pop singers gain international popularity and India's Bollywood movie industry outshines Hollywood.

"Of course, the United States is in good shape to participate in this world, but it will be a world that will be much more competitive for us," Gordon said.

Hutchings said this new order will raise the stakes for Arab countries, which may join in globalization trends or experience further alienation and humiliation. Terror threats, too, will change.

While radical extremism will continue to grow, the report says al-Qaida is expected to be superseded by similarly inspired, decentralized groups. Hutchings said he expects the innovation in terror attacks to come from new elements of surprise, rather than unconventional weapons.

The groups' members will be tapping technology that provides instant connections for communications and training, posing a significant intelligence challenge to organizations including the CIA.

"Our greatest concern is that terrorists might acquire biological agents or, less likely, a nuclear device, either of which could cause mass causalities," the report said.

The council treads carefully on the success of democratization — an issue Bush has made the cornerstone of his foreign policy. It predicts democratic progress in key Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, which may be an example for Muslim and Arab states still ruled by repressive regimes.

However, Russian and Central Asian countries could slip backward, according to the report.

The National Intelligence Council reports directly to CIA Director Porter Goss but remains separate from the agency. It is responsible for preparing National Intelligence Estimates for policy-makers. Although its products are generally highly classified, significant details have emerged on its overblown estimate of Iraq's weapons capability.

A team of analysts, consulting with over 1,000 international experts over the last year, assembled Project 2020, which follows projects 2010 and 2015.

In a 120-page glossy book, the council also offers four fictional, but possible, scenarios to illustrate points:

-- In a letter, the head of the World Economic Forum explains to a former Federal Reserve chairman how China and India are reshaping globalization trends. A sign of shifting power centers, the once Western-dominated club, which meets annually in Davos, Switzerland, has ceded to demands that the meeting be held in Asia every other year. "To be frank, America is no longer quite the engine it used to be," the forum's head writes. "Instead, the markets are now oriented eastwards."

-- In a private diary entry, the U.N. secretary-general writes of how U.S. dominance has survived radical global change and remains "the bedrock of the world order." But the scenario suggests that international organizations largely are not sharing the burden. "I get the feeling that a lot of Americans are getting tired of playing the world's policeman," she writes.

-- The grandson of Osama bin Laden writes a letter to another relative about his frustrations with an Islamic leader who has taken over an unnamed Middle Eastern country. While the core of al-Qaida is out of business, its remnants are tapping confusion and turmoil in the Middle East, cutting deals with local warlords who are leaving al-Qaida free to operate as it sees fit. "I'm hopeful," the grandson writes.

-- In a series of text messages, illegal arms dealers reveal their worries about an increasingly Orwellian world, with heightened intrusiveness and monitoring by countries spooked by terror attacks. "I worry about the chip," one dealer says.

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Intelligence future-gazers look at 2020


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