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715 words - March 15, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
"I could not be more delighted and more proud to have John O. Brennan confirmed and installed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It's my view that John will go down as one of the distinguished directors of CIA," James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), said while introducing the United States Intelligence Community (IC)'s Worldwide Threat Assessment 2013.
Underlining the need for increased intelligence capabilities, Mr. Clapper feared that the ongoing sequester will "reduce human, technical and counterintelligence operations, resulting in fewer collection opportunities while increasing a risk of strategic surprise," And the analytic means will be the most impacted, he said. "Critical analysis and tools will be cut back, so we'll reduce global coverage and may risk missing the early signs of a threat. Our response to customers will suffer as well. We'll let go over 5,000 contractors, and that number may grow, who are an integral part of the intelligence community," Mr. Clapper explained. Reminding that the IC's size has been reduced by 23 percent since the Cold War, the DNI yet does "not recall a period in which we confronted a more diverse array of threats, crises and challenges around the world."
According to Mr. Clapper, "this year's threat assessment illustrates how dramatically the world and our threat environment are changing." He cited cyber and financial attacks as the deadly two weapons on the rise, chiefly because "such attacks can be deniable and non-attributable," As state and non-state actors are gaining and using cyber expertise, all sectors of the United States are at risk, from government and private networks to critical infrastructures. Now the worst of it is that "some terrorist organizations are interested in developing offensive cyber capabilities and those cyber criminals are using a growing black market to sell cyber tools that fall into the hands of both state and non-state actors," Mr. Clapper warned.
Food insecurity has also become a weapon of choice, to the point that, Mr. Clapper said, "many countries (…) which sit in already volatile areas of the world, are living with extreme water and food stress that can destabilize governments." On the issue of terrorism, "the threat from core Al-Qaeda and the potential for a massive coordinated attack on the United States is diminished, but the global jihadist movement is a more diversified, decentralized and persistent threat. Lone wolves, domestic extremists and jihadist-inspired groups remain determined to attack western interests, as they have done most recently in Libya and Algeria," Mr. Clapper said.
"The turmoil in the Arab world has brought a spike in threats to United States interests, and provides openings for opportunistic individuals and groups," Mr. Clapper explained. Meanwhile, "Weapons of mass destruction development and proliferation are another major threat," Mr. Clapper reminded, noting that countries like North Korea and Iran continue to develop technical expertise in a number of ballistic and nuclear-related areas.
On the strategic level, Mr. Clapper pointed out two countries in particular: China and Russia. "China is supplementing its more advanced military capabilities by bolstering maritime law enforcement to support its claims in the South and East China Seas. It continues its military buildup and its aggressive information-stealing campaigns," Mr. Clapper said. "Russia will continue to resist putting more international pressure on Syria or Iran and will continue to display its great sensitivity to missile defense," the DNI further said. "Closer to home, Mr. Clapper concluded, and despite positive trends toward democracy and economic development, Latin America and the Caribbean contend with weak institutions, slow recovery from devastating natural disasters, and drug-related violence and trafficking, which, of course, is a major threat to the United States."
Summing up Mr. Clapper's assessment: the sequester likely to deprive the IC of essential assets and manpower, the terrorist groups and their destabilizing inventiveness, cyber-security and its easy-to-deny origin, the growing ambition of China, the sensitivity of Russia and the weak governments of Latin America plagued by drug-related violence make the world a growingly dangerous place where intelligence has never been so essential. Mr. Clapper's assessment sounds darker than Mr. Brennan's, though the two officials agree on the variety and the increasing complexity of the challenges the IC will have to address in 2013 and the coming years.
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