By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2015 – “Unpredictable instability” is
the new normal, the director of National Intelligence told the Senate Armed
Services Committee here yesterday.
James R. Clapper testified on worldwide threats facing the
United States and gave his best advice on what he considers to be the dangers
Americans need to be aware of.
He said 2014 had the highest rate of political instability
since 1992, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Last year also saw the most deaths
as a result of state-sponsored mass killing and the highest number of refugees
and internally displaced persons since World War II.
“This pervasive uncertainty makes it all the harder to
predict the future,” he said.
The North Korean cyberattack on Sony, the Ebola epidemic,
and dramatic terrorist attacks in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France
and the United States mean 2015 promises to be as unstable as 2014, Clapper
Cyber, Terror Concerns
Cyberattacks are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication
and severity of impact, he said. The U.S. government must be prepared for a
massive cyberattack, he added, but the truth is the nation is already living
with a constant and expanding barrage of cyberattacks.
Nations, criminal networks, terror groups and even
individuals can launch these attacks, Clapper said. He highlighted the actions
of North Korea, Iran, Russia and China in the cyber realm.
The terrorist threat grew last year, also, the director
“In 2013, just over 11,500 terrorist attacks worldwide
killed approximately 22,000 people,” he said. “Preliminary data for the first
nine months of 2014 reflects nearly 13,000 attacks, which killed 31,000
About half of all attacks, as well as fatalities occurred in
just three countries: Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Clapper said. The Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant conducted more terror attacks than any other
entity in the first nine months of 2014.
A new terror threat comes from “radicalized” individuals who
travel to fight with ISIL in Syria or Iraq and then return to their home
countries and launch attacks there, Clapper said. He estimates more than 20,000
Sunni foreign fighters have traveled to Syria from more than 90 countries to
fight the Assad regime. Of that number, at least 13,600 have extremist ties, he
“About 180 Americans or so have been involved in various
stages of travel to Syria,” Clapper said.
Rise of ISIL
ISIL is increasing its influence outside of Iraq and Syria,
seeking to expand its self-declared caliphate into the Arabian Peninsula, North
Africa and South Asia and planning terrorist attacks against Western and Shia
interests, Clapper said.
“ISIL’s rise represents the greatest shift in the Sunni
violent extremist landscape since al-Qaida affiliates first began forming, and
it is the first to assume at least some characteristics of a nation state,” the
Iran is exerting its influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, he
said. Iranian leaders have provided robust military support to Syrian leader
Bashir al-Assad and to the Iraqi government. This includes arms, advisers,
funding, intelligence collection, electronic warfare and cyber support and combat
support, Clapper explained.
“More broadly, Iran will face many of the same decision
points in 2015 as it did in 2014,” Clapper said. “Foremost is whether the
supreme leader will agree to a nuclear deal. He wants sanctions relief but, at
the same time, to preserve his options on nuclear capabilities.”
Yemen’s political future and stability are, at best,
uncertain. Iran has provided support to the Houthis -- a group that now
controls the government -- for years,” Clapper said. “Their ascendancy is
increasing Iran’s influence.”
Russia’s Intentions in Eastern Europe
Clapper discussed problematic relations with Russia, as the
country seems intent on a revanchist strategy with Ukraine squarely in the
“Moscow sees itself in direct confrontation with the West
over Ukraine and will be very prone to overreact to U.S. actions,” he said.
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin's goals are to keep Ukraine out of NATO and
to ensure separatist control of an autonomous entity within Ukraine. He wants
Moscow to retain leverage over Kiev, and Crimea, in his view, is simply not
China Modernizes its Military
China is an emerging power and China’s leaders are primarily
concerned with domestic issues, the Communist Party’s hold on power, internal
stability and economic growth, Clapper said.
“Although China is looking for stable ties with the United
States,” he said, “it is more willing to accept bilateral and regional tensions
in pursuit of its interest, especially on maritime-sovereignty issues.”
The Chinese government continues a robust military
modernization program directly aimed at what they consider to be U.S.
strengths, Clapper said.
“Their military training program last year included
exercises unprecedented in scope, scale and complexity to both test
modernization progress and to improve their theater warfare capabilities,” he