Intelligence Chief Describes Complex Challenges

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2012 — Amer­i­ca and the world are fac­ing the most com­plex set of chal­lenges in at least 50 years, the direc­tor of nation­al intel­li­gence told the Sen­ate Select Com­mit­tee on Intel­li­gence here today.

James R. Clap­per Jr., a retired Air Force lieu­tenant gen­er­al, said capa­bil­i­ties, tech­nolo­gies, know-how, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and envi­ron­men­tal forces “aren’t con­fined by bor­ders and can trig­ger transna­tion­al dis­rup­tions with aston­ish­ing speed.”

“Nev­er before has the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty been called upon to mas­ter such com­plex­i­ty on so many issues in such a resource- con­strained envi­ron­ment,” he added.

CIA Direc­tor David H. Petraeus, FBI Direc­tor Robert S. Mueller III, Defense Intel­li­gence Agency Direc­tor Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr. and oth­ers accom­pa­nied Clap­per dur­ing his tes­ti­mo­ny on Capi­tol Hill. Clap­per spoke for all agen­cies in his open­ing state­ment.

All U.S. agen­cies are com­bat­ing the com­plex envi­ron­ment and mak­ing sense of the threats by con­tin­u­ing to inte­grate the com­mu­ni­ty and “by tak­ing advan­tage of new tech­nolo­gies, imple­ment­ing new effi­cien­cies and, as always, sim­ply work­ing hard,” Clap­per said.

Still, he said, all agen­cies are con­fronting the dif­fi­cult fis­cal envi­ron­ment.

“Main­tain­ing the world’s pre­mier intel­li­gence enter­prise in the face of shrink­ing bud­gets will be dif­fi­cult,” the direc­tor said. “We’ll be accept­ing and man­ag­ing risk more so than we’ve had to do in the last decade.”

Ter­ror­ism and pro­lif­er­a­tion remain the first threats the intel­li­gence agen­cies must face, he said, and the next three years will be cru­cial. “With Osama bin Laden’s death, the glob­al jihadist move­ment lost its most icon­ic and inspi­ra­tional leader,” Clap­per said. “The new al-Qai­da com­man­der is less charis­mat­ic, and the death or cap­ture of promi­nent al-Qai­da fig­ures has shrunk the group’s top lead­er­ship lay­er.”

But while degrad­ed, the orga­ni­za­tion remains a threat, Clap­per warned. “As long as we sus­tain the pres­sure on it, we judge that core al-Qai­da will be of large­ly sym­bol­ic impor­tance to the glob­al jihadist move­ment,” he said. “But region­al affil­i­ates … and, to a less­er extent, small cells and indi­vid­u­als will dri­ve the glob­al jihad agen­da.”

Efforts to devel­op, acquire or spread weapons of mass destruc­tion, also pose a major glob­al strate­gic threat, Clap­per told the sen­a­tors. “Among nation-states, Iran’s tech­ni­cal advances, par­tic­u­lar­ly in ura­ni­um enrich­ment, strength­en our assess­ment that Iran is well-capa­ble of pro­duc­ing enough high­ly-enriched ura­ni­um for a weapon if its polit­i­cal lead­ers, specif­i­cal­ly the supreme leader him­self, choose to do so,” the direc­tor said.

North Korea con­tin­ues to export bal­lis­tic mis­siles and asso­ci­at­ed mate­ri­als to sev­er­al coun­tries, includ­ing Iran and Syr­ia, Clap­per said, and intel­li­gence lead­ers do not see a change under Kim Jong Un, the North’s new leader.

Cyber threats have risen in dan­ger, Clap­per said. “We fore­see a cyber envi­ron­ment in which emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies are devel­oped and imple­ment­ed before secu­ri­ty respons­es can be put in place,” he said. “Among state actors, we’re par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cerned about enti­ties with­in Chi­na and Rus­sia con­duct­ing intru­sions into U.S. com­put­er net­works and steal­ing U.S. data.”

Non­state actors also are cyber threats capa­ble of employ­ing dis­rup­tive, and even lethal, tech­nol­o­gy, Clap­per told the pan­el. The two biggest chal­lenges in the cyber world, he said, are cen­tered on know­ing who launched an attack and how to man­age the enor­mous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties with­in U.S. net­works.

While some troops are com­ing home, Afghanistan remains a hot spot, Clap­per said.

“Dur­ing the past year, the Tal­iban lost some ground, but that was main­ly in places where the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Forces … were con­cen­trat­ed,” the direc­tor said. “And the Taliban’s senior lead­ers con­tin­ued to enjoy safe haven in Pak­istan.”

ISAF’s efforts to part­ner with Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces are encour­ag­ing, he said, “but cor­rup­tion and gov­er­nance chal­lenges con­tin­ue to threat­en the Afghan forces’ oper­a­tional effec­tive­ness.”

To be suc­cess­ful, Afghanistan must have sup­port from ISAF and its neigh­bors — par­tic­u­lar­ly Pak­istan, Clap­per said. “And although there’s broad inter­na­tion­al polit­i­cal sup­port for the Afghan gov­ern­ment,” he added, “there are doubts in many cap­i­tals, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Europe, about how to fund Afghanistan ini­tia­tives after 2014.”

U.S. troops are out of Iraq, but U.S. inter­ests in the coun­try remain, the direc­tor said. Since the pull-out, vio­lence and spo­radic high-pro­file attacks con­tin­ue. Iraqi gov­ern­ment actions have height­ened polit­i­cal ten­sions with Sun­ni lead­ers, “but for now, the Sun­nis con­tin­ue to view the polit­i­cal proves as the best venue to pur­sue change,” Clap­per said.

Revolts and unrest have spread across the Mid­dle East and North Africa, Clap­per not­ed. Peo­ple con­fronting rul­ing elites; sec­tar­i­an, eth­nic and trib­al divi­sions; lack of expe­ri­ence with democ­ra­cy; stalled eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment; mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty force resis­tance; and region­al pow­er ini­tia­tives all have poten­tial for exploita­tion by extrem­ists.

“These are flu­id polit­i­cal envi­ron­ments that offer open­ings for extrem­ists to par­tic­i­pate much more assertive­ly in polit­i­cal life,” Clap­per said. “States where author­i­tar­i­an lead­ers have been top­pled — like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — have to recon­struct their polit­i­cal sys­tems through com­plex nego­ti­a­tions among com­pet­ing fac­tions.”

In Syr­ia, the Assad regime con­tin­ues to dig in and has ordered secu­ri­ty forces to fire on their own peo­ple. Con­tin­ued vio­lence “could poten­tial­ly turn domes­tic upheavals into region­al crises,” the direc­tor said.

In Yemen, although a polit­i­cal tran­si­tion is under way, the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues to be marred by vio­lence, and frag­men­ta­tion of the coun­try is a real pos­si­bil­i­ty, he said.

“The intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty is also pay­ing close atten­tion to the devel­op­ments across the African con­ti­nent, through­out the West­ern Hemi­sphere, Europe and across Asia,” Clap­per said. “Here, too few issues are self-con­tained. Vir­tu­al­ly every region has a bear­ing on our key con­cerns of ter­ror­ism, pro­lif­er­a­tion, cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and insta­bil­i­ty.

“And through­out the globe,” he added, “wher­ev­er there are envi­ron­men­tal stress­es on water, food and nat­ur­al resources, as well as health threats, eco­nom­ic crises and orga­nized crime, we see rip­ple effects around the world and impacts on U.S. inter­ests.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)