Top IC leaders unveil their ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment’

DNI James Clapper
DNI James Clapper

At the first of three scheduled public hearings on the Intelligence Community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” the Director of National Security James Clapper, and leaders of other intelligence agencies, provided on January 29 a grim portrait of the current global threat landscape.

In his 27-page prepared testimony, Clapper offered a wide ranging assessment of current threats, by topic and geography, including:

Cyber – “We assess that computer network exploitation and disruption activities such as denial-of-service attacks will continue,” said Clapper. “Further, we assess that the likelihood of a destructive attack that deletes information or renders systems inoperable will increase as malware and attack tradecraft proliferate.”

He specifically cited Russia and China as representing two of the most worrisome cyber threats.

“Russian intelligence services continue to target U.S. and allied personnel with access to sensitive computer network information,” said the DNI. Likewise, China sees offensive cyber activities as important elements of its national strategy. “China’s cyber operations reflect its leadership’s priorities of economic growth, domestic political stability, and military preparedness,” Clapper noted.

Counterintelligence – Again, Russia and China topped the list of threats posed by foreign intelligence agencies, said Clapper’s prepared testimony.

“We assess that the leading state intelligence threats to U.S. interests in 2014 will continue to be Russia and China, based on their capabilities, intent, and broad operational scope,” the DNI continued. “Sophisticated foreign intelligence entities will continue to employ human and cyber means to collect national security information.”

IC's leadership
IC’s leadership

Clapper was joined at the witness table by CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey, DIA Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Director of the National Counterterorrism Center Matthew Olsen. They fielded numerous questions about cybersecurity and unauthorized disclosures.

In their opening statements, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and vice chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), both expressed their appreciation for the men and women serving in the IC for their dedication and service, a sentiment shared by every senator who spoke. The panel fielded questions about Syria, terrorist threats (including any aimed at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi), cybersecurity and resource constraints on the Intelligence Community.

For a video of the complete hearing, click here.

One senator, Ron Wyden (D-OR), was particularly aggressive in insisting that several of the witnesses cough up specific information that they seemed very reluctant to provide. Here is an excerpt of Senator Wyden’s dogged questioning: