Friday, February 11, 2011
Intelligence Chief Says al-Qaida Still Greatest Threat
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
“Counterterrorism is our top priority, because Job One for the intelligence community, mind you, is to keep Americans safe and the homeland secure,” James R. Clapper Jr. told the House Select Committee on Intelligence. “The intelligence community has helped thwart many potentially devastating attacks.”
has made progress against the organization that carried out the United States Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the , Clapper said. “We’ve apprehended numerous dangerous actors throughout the world and weakened much of al-Qaida’s core capabilities,” he added, “including its operations, training and its propaganda.” United States
“We’re especially focused on al-Qaida’s resolve to target Americans for recruitment and to spawn affiliate groups around the world,” the director said. “We also see disturbing instances of self-radicalization among our own citizens.”
In 2010, intelligence experts disrupted plots and provided information that led to the arrest of homegrown violent extremists, Clapper said. The numbers of American terrorists is small, he added, but he noted that they have disproportionate impact because “they understand our homeland, have connections here, and have easier access to
Counterterrorism is central to the intelligence community’s overseas operations, notably in
, Clapper said. Although there has been great work against al-Qaida in Afghanistan , he told the House panel, there is no question that the people of Afghanistan are up against a determined insurgency. Afghanistan
“There’s troubling attrition within [
’s] security forces, and corruption -– including extortion, land seizures and drug trafficking –- feed the insurgency,” he said. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has made real progress in confronting al-Qaida and its allies, Clapper added. Pakistan
The intelligence community also is concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Clapper said.
“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,” the director said. “While this environment is critical for peaceful scientific and economic advances, it also allows the materials, technologies and know-how related to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, as well as missile delivery systems, to be shared with ease and speed.”
“In the months following the 2009 Iranian elections, we saw a popular movement challenge the authority of its government,” Clapper said. “We also saw the Iranian government crack down with harsher authoritarian control. We see a disturbing confluence of events: an Iran that is increasingly rigid, autocratic, dependent on coercion to maintain control, and defiant towards the West, and an Iran that continues to advance its uranium-enrichment capabilities -- along with what appears to be the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if its leaders choose to do so.”
North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs also pose a serious threat, both regionally and beyond, Clapper said. “
has signaled a willingness to re-engage in dialogue, but it also craves international recognition as a nuclear-weapons power,” he told the panel. Pyongyang
, Tunisia , Egypt and other countries demonstrate the reality that in an interconnected, interdependent world, instability can arise and spread quickly beyond borders, he said, noting tensions and instability intelligence professionals have reported in the Yemen Middle East and North Africa. “Specific triggers for how and when instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known or predicted,” Clapper said.
The intelligence director stressed that intelligence can reduce uncertainty for decision makers, but can’t eliminate it. “We are not clairvoyant,” he said.
The intelligence community has provided critical intelligence throughout the crisis in
North Africa and has been reporting on unrest, demographic changes, economic uncertainty and the lack of political expression for these frustrations for decades, Clapper said. “Economic challenges have become paramount and cannot be underestimated -- from increasing debt to fluctuating growth, to 's economic and military rise,” he said. China
The intelligence community is extremely focused on cyber threats, Clapper said, and their potential effects on national security and economic prosperity.
“This threat is increasing in scope and scale, and its impact is difficult to overstate,” the director said. “Industry estimates the production of malicious software has reached its highest level yet, with an average of 60,000 new programs or variations identified each day. Some of these are what we define as advanced persistent threats, which are difficult to detect and counter.”
“Perhaps the most blatant example, of course, is the unauthorized downloading of classified documents subsequently released by WikiLeaks,” he said. “From an intelligence perspective, these disclosures have clearly been very damaging.”
An interconnected intelligence team is confronting the threats of an interconnected world, Clapper told the panel.
“The intelligence community is better able to understand the vast array of interlocking concerns and trends, anticipate developments to stay ahead of adversaries precisely because we operate as an integrated community,” he said.
This book was sponsored by Military Books.