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U.S. Intelligence Leaders Outline Security Threats
February 13, 2014

By Sonya Weakley
IIP Staff Writer
12 February 2014

Cyber attacks, isolated ground attacks, ongoing regional conflicts and organized crime are among the major threats to the long- and short-term security of the United States and the rest of the world.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on February 11, James Clapper, U.S. national intelligence director, and Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said increasingly diverse formal and informal terrorist networks constitute major sources of foreign and domestic destabilization.

Such groups — numbering in the thousands — have taken advantage of the unprecedented violence in Syria, constituting a threat to both the United States and Europe. Both men indicated the spread of violence into neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, threatens to prolong the conflict.

Calling the humanitarian situation in Syria an “apocalyptic disaster,” Clapper added that the estimated 7,500 foreign fighters in Syria, from as many as 50 countries, pose a significant security challenge.

He said the capability of established terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, to conduct large-scale U.S. attacks has been significantly degraded, but the group remains a threat, particularly as it reorganizes in other areas, including North Africa.

While Iran’s foreign policies contribute to regional destabilization, Clapper and Flynn agreed that long-standing sanctions, resulting in major economic consequences, have motivated the country’s leaders to make concessions. Clapper said U.S. intelligence organizations have the capability to monitor compliance.

He said new sanctions against Iran would be “counterproductive” to ongoing multilateral talks aimed at convincing Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Flynn said uncertainty over Afghanistan’s post-2014 security environment will likely drive decisions at all levels next year, while the country’s security forces work to improve their already noted progress in conducting and sustaining security operations.

The United States has been urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement overwhelmingly approved by an Afghan Loya Jira in November 2013 to allow a small number of U.S. troops to remain in support roles after 2014. Clapper said he now expects the agreement will not be signed prior to the April presidential election. “The effect already of the delay has been negative in terms of the impact on the economy, not to mention, I think, the psychological impact,” he said.

Under intensive questioning regarding internal and external threats to U.S. domestic and foreign intelligence operations, Flynn said major revisions to internal data-access processes are being instituted across all U.S. intelligence agencies. At the same time, efforts are being made to increase the transparency of intelligence-gathering objectives to allay privacy concerns.

Both men outlined major security concerns from all parts of the world. Combining the efforts of civilian and defense intelligence are key to maintaining national and international security.

“Our assessments are based upon … worldwide human intelligence, technical intelligence, counterintelligence, and document and media exploitation capabilities, along with information from partners in the [intelligence community] and the entire … intelligence enterprise, international allies and open sources,” Flynn said.