By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2014 – Never in his more than 50 years of intelligence experience has the nation been beset by more crises and threats from around the world than it now faces, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said today during a House hearing on worldwide threats.
The long list of global threats includes terrorism, sectarian violence and radical extremism, Clapper said.
“And there are many other crises and threats around the globe,” he added, “to include the spillover of the Syria conflict into neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, the destabilizing flood of refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon — now about 2.5 million people, essentially one of the largest humanitarian disasters in a decade.”
Adding to the list of threats, Clapper said, are the implications of the drawdown in Afghanistan, the deteriorating internal security posture in Iraq, the growth of foreign cyber capabilities, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, aggressive nation-state intelligence efforts against the United States, an assertive Russia, a competitive China, a dangerous and unpredictable North Korea, a challenging Iran, the lingering ethnic divisions in the Balkans, and perpetual conflict and extremism throughout Africa.
“I could go on with this litany, but suffice to say that we live in a complex, dangerous world,” he said.
The intelligence community also is threatened by the fallout from leaks by former contract employee Edward Snowden, Clapper said. Though he didn’t want to dwell on the debate about Snowden's motives, he added, he did want to address the damage caused by his disclosures.
“As a consequence, in my view, this nation is less safe and its people less secure,” he said. “What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs. As a result, we've lost critical foreign intelligence collections sources, including some shared with us by valued partners.”
The leaks have provided terrorists and other adversaries insight into U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft, Clapper said. “And the insights that they are gaining are making our jobs much, much harder,” he added.
“The stark consequences of this perfect storm are plainly evident,” he said. “The intelligence community is going to have less capacity to protect our nation and its allies than we've had.”
But if it’s necessary to operate with reduced capabilities to restore the faith and confidence of the American people and their elected representatives, Clapper said, “then we in the intelligence community will work as hard as we can to meet the expectations before us.”
The major lesson for the intelligence community from the revelations by Snowden and other leakers is that the community must lean in the direction of transparency wherever and whenever it can, he said. “With greater transparency about these intelligence programs, the American people may be more likely to accept them,” Clapper noted.
President Barack Obama described the way forward for the intelligence community in a speech Jan. 14, and a new presidential directive, Clapper said. The major characteristic of this new direction is transparency, he said.
Clapper and Attorney General Eric H. Holder were ordered to conduct further declassification, to develop special protections under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act governing collection of non-U.S. persons overseas, to modify how telephone metadata is collected under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, and to ensure more oversight of sensitive collection activities, he said.
“Through all of this, we must, and we will, sustain our professional tradecraft and integrity. We must continue to protect our sources and methods so that we can accomplish what we've always been chartered to do; to protect the lives of American citizens here and abroad to a myriad of threats,” Clapper said.
Clapper was joined at the hearing by Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Defense Intelligence Agency director, and Matthew G. Olsen, National Counterterrorism Center director.