America and the world are facing the most complex set of challenges in at least 50 years, the director of national intelligence told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at a hearing this week.

James R. Clapper Jr., a retired Air Force lieutenant general, said capabilities, technologies, know-how, communications and environmental forces “aren’t confined by borders and can trigger transnational disruptions with astonishing speed.”

“Never before has the intelligence community been called upon to master such complexity on so many issues in such a resource- constrained environment,” he added.

CIA Director David H. Petraeus, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr. and others accompanied Clapper during his testimony on Capitol Hill. Clapper spoke for all agencies in his opening statement.

All U.S. agencies are combating the complex environment and making sense of the threats by continuing to integrate the community and “by taking advantage of new technologies, implementing new efficiencies and, as always, simply working hard,” Clapper said.

Still, he said, all agencies are confronting the difficult fiscal environment.

“Maintaining the world’s premier intelligence enterprise in the face of shrinking budgets will be difficult,” the director said. “We’ll be accepting and managing risk more so than we’ve had to do in the last decade.” Terrorism and proliferation remain the first threats the intelligence agencies must face, he said, and the next three years will be crucial. “With Osama bin Laden’s death, the global jihadist movement lost its most iconic and inspirational leader,” Clapper said. “The new al-Qaida commander is less charismatic, and the death or capture of prominent al-Qaida figures has shrunk the group’s top leadership layer.”

But while degraded, the organization remains a threat, Clapper warned. “As long as we sustain the pressure on it, we judge that core al-Qaida will be of largely symbolic importance to the global jihadist movement,” he said. “But regional affiliates … and, to a lesser extent, small cells and individuals will drive the global jihad agenda.”


North Korea continues to export ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, Clapper said, and intelligence leaders do not see a change under Kim Jong Un, the North’s new leader.

Cyber threats have risen in danger, Clapper said. “We foresee a cyber environment in which emerging technologies are developed and implemented before security responses can be put in place,” he said. “Among state actors, we’re particularly concerned about entities within China and Russia conducting intrusions into U.S. computer networks and stealing U.S. data.”

Nonstate actors also are cyber threats capable of employing disruptive, and even lethal, technology, Clapper told the panel. The two biggest challenges in the cyber world, he said, are centered on knowing who launched an attack and how to manage the enormous vulnerabilities within U.S. networks.

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