03 February 2012

Quick Rundown on the Worldwide Threat Assessment

The U.S. Intelligence/Security Chiefs have now offered Congress their agency's and Community's annual view on the state of the world.

 The US Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) delivered his "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the United States Intelligence Community." He began with the usual acknowledgement that we live in complicated and volatile times, and that fiscal constraints don't make matters any easier. Here are a couple of excerpts on top-tier, overarching issues:


...it is the multiplicity and interconnectedness of potential threats—and the actors behind them—that constitute our biggest challenge. 


  •  The next two to three years will be a critical transition phase for the terrorist threat facing the United States, particularly from al-Qa‟ida and like-minded groups, which we often refer to as the “global jihadist movement.” 
    • - AQ leadership will become increasingly decentralized, and the organization is likely to become more fragmented. 
    •  - AQ's role will become increasingly symbolic, and will probabaly seek to execute smaller, simpler plots to demonstrate relevance to the global jihad AQ's regional affiliates
    • —al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and al-Shabaab—will remain committed to the group's ideology, and in terms of threats to US interests will surpass the remnants of core al-Qa'ida in Pakistan
  • . ...a mass attack by foreign terrorist groups involving a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapon in the United States is unlikely in the next year, (although they) worry about a more limited Chemical, Biological or Radiological attack, particularly by lone actors. 
  •  in the near term the threat in the United States from homegrown violent extremists (HVE) will be characterized by lone actors or small groups inspired by al-Qa'ida's ideology but not formally affiliated with it or other related groups.


  • The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime. 
  • Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities (expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities) that better position it to produce such weapons. 
  • Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, if it so chooses. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons. 

North Korea: 

  • North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the security environment in East Asia. We remain alert to the possibility that North Korea might again export nuclear technology.  

Cyber Threats: 

  •  Cyber threats pose a critical national and economic security concern due to the continued advances in—and growing dependency on—the information technology (IT) that underpins nearly all aspects of modern society. 
  • Among state actors, China and Russia are of particular concern ... entities within these countries are responsible for extensive illicit intrusions into US computer networks and theft of US intellectual property. 
  • Nonstate actors are also playing an increasing role in international and domestic politics through the use of social media technologies. 

Foreign Intelligence Threats (next 2-3 years): 

  • Cyber-Enabled Espionage. FIS have launched numerous computer network operations targeting US Government agencies, businesses, and universities. We assess that many intrusions into US networks are not being detected. Although most activity detected to date has been targeted against unclassified networks connected to the Internet, foreign cyber actors have also begun targeting classified networks. 
  • Insider Threats. Insiders have caused significant damage to US interests from the theft and unauthorized disclosure of classified, economic, and proprietary information and other acts of espionage. We assess that trusted insiders using their access for malicious intent represent one of today‟s primary threats to US classified networks. 
  • Espionage by China, Russia, and Iran. Russia and China are aggressive and successful purveyors of economic espionage against the United States. Iran‟s intelligence operations against the United States, including cyber capabilities, have dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity. We assess that FIS from these three countries will remain the top threats to the United States in the coming years.

You can read about the array of Global Challenges and the entirety of Director Clapper's entire testimony HERE.