USA — Intelligence Chiefs Cite Greatest Security Threats

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)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter