WASHINGTON, March 11, 2011 — Two high-level intelligence chiefs described their top concerns for U.S. national security during their testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, Defense Intelligence Agency director, and James R. Clapper Jr., National Intelligence director, cited dangers ranging from terrorism, cyber-threats, weapons of mass destruction, and the release of sensitive data by sources such as WikiLeaks.
Clapper told the committee that covering the scope of such threats couldn’t be presented in a brief manner, so he presented four categories of great concern to the intelligence community.
Terrorism, Clapper said, is the first and foremost threat.
“Counterterrorism is our top priority because for the intelligence community is to keep Americans safe and the homeland secure,” he said. The intelligence community has helped thwart many potentially devastating attacks, Clapper said, apprehending numerous “bad actors” throughout the world and “greatly” weakening much of al-Qaida’s operations, training and propaganda.
Al-Qaida’s resolve to recruit Americans and to spawn affiliate groups is concerning, Clapper said, most notably on the Arabian Peninsula. “We also see disturbing instances of self-radicalization among our own citizens,” he added.
Homegrown terrorists might comprise a small portion of the global threat, Clapper said, but such activity can have a “disproportionate impact” because such terrorists understand the United States and have easier access to U.S. facilities.
Overseas counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere continue to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, Clapper said.
Also “we have seen and will continue to see success in governance, security and economic development that will erode the willingness of the Afghan people to support the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies,” he added.
Though U.S. combat operations are over in Iraq, terrorist bombings -– some al-Qaida engineered — continue there, Clapper said.
“[That] means that our work to help solidify the security gains we’ve made thus far remains a high priority,” he said.
Clapper told the committee he’s also concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“The proliferation threat environment is a fluid, borderless arena that reflects the broader global reality of an increasingly free movement of people, goods and information,” he said. “While this environment is critical for peaceful scientific and economic advances, it allows the materials, technologies and know-how related to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons … and missile delivery systems, to be shared with ease and speed.”
Iran’s nuclear program poses a threat, Clapper said, as do North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
Another challenge for the intelligence community “is that we are in an interconnected, interdependent world and instability can arise and spread quickly beyond borders,” Clapper said, citing the recent civil unrest that erupted in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other Middle East and North Africa countries.
Another threat to U.S. national security is foreign counterintelligence activity, Clapper said, where the United States faces a wide range of threats to its economic, political and military interests at home and abroad.
And, the unauthorized disclosures of classified documents through sources such as WikiLeaks also poses “substantial challenges” to national security, Clapper said.
“From an intelligence perspective, these disclosures have been very damaging,” he said, noting the intelligence community is working to better protect its information networks. “We can and will respond to the problems of intrusions and leaks,” Clapper added, “but we must do so without degrading essential intelligence integration and information sharing.” Burgess then addressed specific threats and challenges as viewed by defense intelligence, starting with trans-national terrorism.
“The [Defense Intelligence Agency] assesses that al-Qaida continues to adapt in response to our counterterrorism efforts,” Burgess said. “While core al-Qaida is forced to focus more on survivability, it remains resilient, continues attack planning, and provides operational guidance to regional affiliates.”
In Afghanistan, Burgess said, higher levels of violence could occur through the year, partly because of increased International Security Assistance Force presence and operations. “ISAF has constrained insurgents in some areas,” he said. “The Taliban in the south have shown resilience and still influence much of the population … in the east, the Taliban and Haqqani network have suffered numerous tactical and leadership losses with no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight.”
In North Korea, Burgess said decision making could be critical as it relates to “the apparent leadership succession under way” and its “implications for additional deliberate provocations against the south. Miscalculation could lead to escalation.”
China seems intent on expanding the capabilities of its military, Burgess said, as its leaders apparently are “allocating resources to pursue broad-based military transformation.
“While remaining focused on Taiwan as a primary mission, China will, by 2020, [have laid] the foundation for a force able to accomplish broader and regional global objectives,” he said.
Yet, China’s People’s Liberation Army continues to face deficiencies in interservice cooperation and actual experience in joint exercises, Burgess said, adding because of the shortcomings, China’s leaders “continue to stress asymmetric strategies to leverage its advantage while exploiting potential opponents’ perceived vulnerabilities.”
Turning back to Iran, Burgess told the committee that while Iran probably would not launch a pre-emptive attack, in the event of hostilities it could try to block the Strait of Hormuz temporarily, threaten U.S. forces and regional allies with missiles, and employ terrorist surrogates worldwide.
Iran’s space launch missile program, he noted, demonstrates progress toward technology that could eventually be used for an intercontinental ballistic missile.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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