"Iran's leaders have "changed their calculus" and now appear willing to conduct an attack within the U.S."
"Cyber threats [...] Among state actors, China and Russia are of particular concern."
A very interesting article from last Wednesday's WSJ, FYI,
FEBRUARY 1, 2012
Spy Chief Sees Iran Threats in U.S.
Director of National Intelligence Delivers Annual Summary of Findings, and Senators Focus on Perceived Dangers From Tehran
By SIOBHAN GORMAN
WASHINGTON—Iran's leaders have "changed their calculus" and now appear willing to conduct an attack within the U.S., spy chief James Clapper said, as senators zeroed in on concerns about conflict with Iran in a hearing Tuesday on threats to the U.S.
The U.S. has concluded that some Iranian officials, probably including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States as a response to real or perceived actions that threaten the regime," according to an assessment provided by Mr. Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence.
From left, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA chief David Petraeus appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper presented the Senate Intelligence Committee with an annual report on global threats.
"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. We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against US or allied interests overseas."
"We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." (Emphasis in the document)
On al Qaeda:
"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… We assess that with continued robust counterterrorism (CT) efforts and extensive cooperation with our allies and partners, there is a better-than-even chance that decentralization will lead to fragmentation of the movement within a few years."
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."
"The Afghan Government will continue to make incremental, fragile progress in governance, security, and development in 2012. Progress will depend on capable Afghan partners and require substantial international support, particularly to fight the still resilient, Taliban-led insurgency. … We judge that, although there is broad international political support for the Afghan Government, many European governments harbor doubts about funding for Afghanistan initiatives post-2014."
"We judge al-Qa'ida operatives are balancing support for attacks in Pakistan with guidance to refocus the global jihad externally, against US targets. Al-Qa'ida also will increasingly rely on ideological and operational alliances with Pakistani militant factions to accomplish its goals within Pakistan and to conduct transnational attacks… Meanwhile, the country's economic recovery is at risk."
On the Arab Spring:
"The unrest potentially provides terrorists inspired by the global jihadist movement more operating space, as security services focus more on internal security and, in some cases, undergo transformations in make-up and orientation."
In an annual summary of assessments by 16 intelligence agencies of global threats to the U.S., Mr. Clapper, also said al Qaeda is in "decline," but that the next three years will be a critical transition phase for the group as its offshoots step in to drive its global agenda.
Threats also could arise from unrest in the Arab world, where the Arab Spring democracy uprisings potentially provide Islamist militants more freedom to operate, according to Mr. Clapper's assessment provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And the threat of cyberattacks, especially from China and Russia, "is one of the most challenging ones we face," Mr. Clapper said. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller said cyberattacks would become the top threat to the U.S. in the future.
But it was the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran, and growing concern that Israel could launch an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities that dominated much of the discussion on Capitol Hill.
"I think 2012 will be a critical year for convincing or preventing Iran's development of a nuclear weapon," said committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif). Iran denies it is pursuing a nuclear weapon.
Ms. Feinstein and Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus said they had met with Tamir Pardo, the head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence and special operations agency,
Mr. Clapper pointed to recent developments, including last year's alleged Iran-backed plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, to support his warnings about the threat from Tehran. Intelligence officials also said they were concerned about Iranian plotting overseas against the U.S. or allied interests. Iran has rejected U.S. accusations that it was behind such a plot. Some Iran specialists looked skeptically upon the U.S. conclusion. There is still widespread doubt that an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was authorized at the highest levels in Tehran, said Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Iran's leaders have "changed their calculus" and now appear willing to conduct an attack within the U.S., Siobhan Gorman reports on the News Hub. Photo: Reuters.
"If that's the only data point, I think it's a stretch to conclude that the regime is now looking to commit acts of terror on U.S. soil," he said. "Ayatollah Khamenei is a ruthless despot, but he's not Osama bin Laden."
Mr. Clapper warned in testimony on Tuesday that "there is more to unfold here," when he was asked about Iranian activities in the West. "They're trying as well to penetrate and engage in this hemisphere," he said, without elaborating.
Mr. Clapper's spokesman, Shawn Turner, said he wouldn't discuss "other intelligence related to the change in their calculus," but added, "suffice to say, that they are more willing to act in response to a perceived threat."
To some independent experts, Mr. Clapper's assessment suggested that Iran may have the capability to retaliate for a possible U.S. strike. "What he's basically saying is all options are on the table, but we have to be prepared for a blowback effect from exercising them," said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official and an Iran specialist at Tufts University. "We have to be prepared for an escalation scenario here."
The U.S. and European Union have ramped up sanctions to press Iran to return to negotiations on its nuclear program. On Tuesday, Canada said it, too, was adding new sanctions.
Iran, in an apparent effort to ease tensions, is hosting a delegation this week of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency hasn't released its findings.
Intelligence officials said sanctions have had little impact on Iran's nuclear program to date. "To this point, the sanctions as imposed so far have not caused them to change their behavior or their policy," Mr. Clapper said. "As pressure ratchets up, there is the prospect that could change."
On al Qaeda, Mr. Clapper warned that the threat is morphing, but danger remains. "Even with its degraded capabilities and its focus on smaller, simpler plots, al Qaeda remains a threat," Mr. Clapper said.
Regional affiliates and smaller cells will drive the group's agenda, he said. The challenge for the U.S., he said, would be to continue aggressive counterterrorism operations, while not inspiring new al Qaeda followers.
—Alistair MacDonald in Toronto contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Gorman at email@example.com