The U.S. military, intelligence services, FBI and numerous other organizations exist to protect national security in America. Countless budget dollars every year are poured into this endeavor and it is the one thing that is truly a non-partisan issue in Washington. Politicians may at times disagree about the approach, but all Americans agree on the need for a sound, competent, and effective national security policy. In order to determine which policies should be implemented and how dollars and resources are best used to achieve this task, it is fundamentally important to understand what threats exist.
Detailed are the top threats to the U.S. Intelligence Community, and therefore, U.S. National Security, as detailed by James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence in his statement for the record at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in January 2014.
In the past several years, many aspects of life have migrated to the Internet and digital networks. These include essential government functions, industry and commerce, health care, social communications and personal information. Russia and China hold a divergent viewpoint on the nature of state sovereignty in the global information environment and states’ rights to control the dissemination of content online, which have long forestalled major agreements.
Computer network exploitation and disruption activities such as denial-of-service attacks will continue. Further, destructive attacks that delete information or renders systems inoperable will increase as malware and attack tradecraft proliferate. The biggest threats are posed by:
Russia – The nation seeks changes to the international system for Internet governance that would compromise U.S. interests and values.
China – In the future, the nation will revise its multi-stakeholder model Internet governance while continuing its expansive worldwide program of network exploitation and intellectual property theft.
Iran and North Korea – Their development of cyber espionage or attack capabilities might be used in an attempt to either provoke or destabilize the U.S.
Terrorist organizations – Terrorists are gearing up to develop offensive cyber capabilities.
Cyber criminal organizations – Their main motivation is profit and they will continue to pose substantial threats to the trust and integrity of global financial institutions and personal financial transactions.
Threats posed by foreign intelligence entities through 2014 will continue to evolve in terms of scope and complexity. The capabilities and activities through which foreign entities – both state and non-state actors – seek to obtain U.S. national security information are new, more diverse, and more technically sophisticated.
Insider Threat/Unauthorized Disclosures
Trusted insiders with the intent to do harm can exploit their access to compromise vast amounts of sensitive and classified information as part of a personal ideology or at the direction of a foreign government.
Priority Foreign Intelligence Threats
Attempts to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus, defense industrial base and U.S. research establishments will persist. 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. They seek information on advanced weapons systems and private data from the energy, finance, media and defense sectors.
Terrorist threats emanate from a diverse array of terrorist actors, ranging from formal groups to homegrown violent extremists and ad hoc, foreign-based actors. The threat environment continues to transition to a more diverse array of actors, reinforcing the positive development of previous years. The diffusion of past powers has led to the mergence of new power centers and an increase in threats by networks of like-minded extremists with allegiances to multiple groups. Below are some examples.
Homegrown Violent Extremists – U.S.-based extremists will continue to pose the most frequent threat to the U.S. Homeland. Insular HVEs who act alone or in small groups and mask the extent of their ideological radicalization can represent challenging and legal threats.
Al-Qa’ida – Despite sustained counterterrorism pressure and key organizational setbacks, among other things, al-Qa’ida is likely hoping for a resurgence following the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2014.
Terrorist Activities Overseas
Persistent Threats to U.S. Interests Overseas – U.S. embassies, military facilities and individuals will face persistent threats in parts of South Asian, the Middle East and Africa.
Syria – Syria has become a significant location for independent or al-Qa’ida-aligned groups to recruit, train and equip a growing number of extremists, some of whom might conduct external attacks.
Iran and Hizballa – Iran and Hizballah are committed to defending the Asad regime and have provided support by sending billions of dollars in military and economic aid, training pro-regime and Iraqi Shia militants and deploying their own personnel into the country.
Weapons of Mass Destruction & Proliferation
Nation-state efforts to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems constitute a major threat to the security of the U.S., deployed troops and allies. The U.S. is focused on the threat and destabilizing effects of nuclear proliferation, proliferation of chemical and biological warfare (CBW)-related materials and development of WMD Delivery systems.
The top threats are from:
Iran and North Korea
Iran wants to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities while avoiding severe repercussions – such as a military strike or regime-threatening sanctions. They’ve made progress in some areas, including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors and ballistic missiles, which strengthens the theory that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the U.S. and the security environment in East Asia, a region with some of the world’s largest populations, militaries and economies.
North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor illustrate the reach of its proliferation activities. The nation also recently announced its intention to expand its existing nuclear facilities to include uranium enrichment as well as develop a long-range missile technology that is capable of posing a direct threat to the U.S.
Threats to U.S. space services will increase in 2014 and beyond as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to disrupt U.S. use of space in a conflict. Chinese military writings highlight the need to interfere with, damage and destroy reconnaissance, navigation and communication satellites.
China has satellite jamming capabilities and is pursuing antisatellite systems. Russia’s doctrine emphasizes space defense as a vital component of its national defense.
Russian leaders openly maintain that the Russian armed forces have antisatellite weapons and conduct antisatellite research. Russia has satellite jammers and is also pursuing antisatellite systems.