Intelligence Leaders Detail Global Threats to Senate Panel By
Cheryl Pellerin American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON
Intelligence Leaders Detail
Global Threats to Senate Panel
By Cheryl Pellerin, American Forces
Washington D.C. – February 11, 2014 – (AFPS)
– Global threats most critical to U.S. national security include Syria’s civil
war and its spillover, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and deep cuts to
America’s defense budget, two top intelligence leaders told a Senate panel here
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. and
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn testified
before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the contents of the Worldwide
Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, released Jan. 29 and based
on information available as of Jan. 15.
“Looking back over my more than half a century in
intelligence,” Clapper said, “I've not experienced a time when we've been beset
by more crises and threats around the globe.”
Clapper’s list of threats included “the scourge and diversification of terrorism,
loosely connected and globally dispersed, … as exemplified by the Boston
Marathon bombing and by the sectarian war in Syria [and] its attraction as a
growing center of radical extremism and the potential threat this poses to the
Despite different missions and audiences, Clapper and Flynn
described similar priorities, among them widespread dangers inherent in Syria’s
sectarian war, harm to the intelligence community and the nation of Edward
Snowden’s unauthorized release last year of classified National Security Agency
documents, and the effect on the intelligence community and military services of
deep budget cuts.
In Syria, Clapper said, the insurgency’s strength is an
estimated 75,000 to 115,000, organized into more than 1,500 groups of widely
varied political leanings.
“Three of the most effective are the Al-Nusrah Front, Ahrar
al-Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, or ISIL as it's known,
whose numbers total more than 20,000,” the director of national intelligence
At least 7,500 foreign fighters from 50 countries have
gravitated to Syria, he said, among them a small group of Afghanistan-Pakistan
al-Qaida veterans “who have aspirations for external attack in Europe if not the
homeland itself,” Clapper said.
Other related threats include the spillover of the Syrian
conflict into neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, he added, and the destabilizing
flood of nearly 2.5 million refugees into Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
For DIA, the situation in Syria ties into one of three global
threats that are of special concern to the agency, Flynn said:
-- The threat of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of nonstate
actors and proliferation of the weapons to other state actors;
-- The emergence of foreign militaries with capabilities approaching those of
the United States and its allies; and
-- Increasing tensions in the Pacific.
“The current instability in Syria presents a perfect
opportunity for al-Qaida and associated groups to acquire these weapons or their
components,” he added.
While the Bashar al-Assad regime controls Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapon
materials, moving the materials for disposal or other reasons drastically
increases the risk of such components falling into the wrong hands, Flynn
“There is also the very real possibility that extremists in
the Syrian opposition could overrun and exploit chemical and biological weapons
storage facilities before all the materials are removed,” the general said.
Outside Syria, Flynn added, proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction and associated technologies is an ongoing challenge.
On DIA’s other priorities, Flynn said the armed forces of
China and Russia are fielding new weapon systems that challenge the United
States’ conventional military superiority, and both are restructuring their
militaries and improving command and control to better operate in an
information-dominated combat environment.
These efforts are a marked departure for both countries, the
general added, “and although it will take time for each to integrate these new
capabilities and force structures into their militaries, we cannot afford to
ignore these developments.”
On the issue of increasing tensions in the Pacific region,
Flynn called Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea highly unpredictable and
possibly the region’s most destabilizing force.
“The disputed areas in the East and South China Seas also remain important flash
points [and] the announcement in November that the Chinese are establishing an
air identification zone over portions of the East China Sea raised regional
tensions, particularly with Japan,” Flynn said.
Such tensions, he added, “raise the prospect for further
incidents that could lead to an escalation involving military force.” On the
topic of last year’s theft and release of National Security Agency intelligence
documents by former contractor Edward Snowden, Clapper called the crime
potentially the most damaging in U.S. history.
Clapper, as the nation’s senior intelligence officer, noted
the profound damage the disclosures have caused and continue to cause.
“The nation is less safe and its people less secure. What Snowden has stolen and
exposed has gone way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic
surveillance programs,” Clapper said, noting that the nation has lost critical
Clapper said terrorists and other adversaries are going to
school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft.
“The insights they're gaining are making our job in the
intelligence community much harder, and this includes putting the lives of
members or assets of the intelligence community at risk as well as those of our
armed forces, diplomats and citizens.”
“We're beginning to see changes in the communications
behavior of adversaries, particularly terrorists,” he said.
Clapper and Flynn called on Snowden and his accomplices to
return the rest of the stolen documents to prevent even more damage to U.S.
“In my professional military judgment, Mr. Snowden's
disclosures have done grave damage to the Department of Defense and go far
beyond the act of a so-called whistleblower,” Flynn said.
“I have no doubt that he has placed the men and women of our
armed services at risk,” the general added, “and that his disclosures will cost
lives on our future battlefields.”
Clapper told the Senate panel that substantial U.S. budget
reductions will amplify the impact of losses caused by Snowden’s disclosures.
“The intelligence community is going to have less capacity to protect our nation
and its allies than we've had in the past,” he said, adding, “We're thus faced
collectively … with the inescapable imperative to accept more risk.”
Clapper called it “a plain hard fact and a circumstance that
the community must and will manage, together with [Congress] and those whom we
support in the executive branch.”
Flynn said that though there is increasing pressure to reduce defense spending,
“I would note that the demands on the United States intelligence system have
skyrocketed in recent years, and these demands are only expected to increase in
the years to come.”
Such reductions must occur, he added, “and we will have to
accept greater risk … [but] defense intelligence must continue to be able to
provide timely and actionable intelligence across the entire threat spectrum.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)