No. 1 priority for US security: domestic terrorism, threat report says
America's intelligence-agency chiefs unveil the annual National Threat Assessment, saying that success against Al Qaeda means that domestic terrorism is now 'priority No. 1.' They also say they knew Egypt unrest was 'close,' but couldn't foresee when it would ignite.
The heads of America’s intelligence agencies rolled out their annual National Threat Assessment Thursday, warning members of Congress about the increasing danger that homegrown terrorists pose to the country.Skip to next paragraph
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"Absolutely our No. 1 priority” is identifying Americans intent on doing harm to their own country, Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the House Intelligence Committee.
The panel of intelligence officials also cited the devastating potential for cyberattacks and defended the performance of US intelligence-gatherers in the Middle East, who have been widely criticized for failing to predict the current showdown on streets of Egypt.
While homegrown actors represent a “numerically small” segment of the terrorist threat, they have disproportionate access to US facilities, noted Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He said that he remains “especially focused on Al Qaeda’s resolve to target Americans for recruitment.”
This focus is the result of the damage that US forces have done to Al Qaeda in places like Pakistan, officials argue. US success in targeting insurgent operatives has in turn encouraged Al Qaeda to look for other ways to harm America – specifically, recruiting Americans to take part in terrorist attacks on their home soil, they say.
“They are now resorting to other ways to go after this country,” said CIA Director Leon Panetta. “That’s the nature of the kind of threats that we are now dealing with.” While these potential attacks are likely to be less sophisticated, he added, Americans who might take part in them are “tougher to find.”
Mr. Leiter of the National Counterterrorism Center warned that these Americans are also increasingly linking up with each other through internet forums like Facebook. The challenge, he added, is identifying these people while still protecting US civil liberties.
60,000 malicious programs and viruses ID'ed each day
At the same time, the nation’s intelligence agencies are grappling mightily with cyberattacks, which are growing in frequency and in effectiveness. Mr. Clapper estimates that there are some 60,000 new malicious programs and viruses “identified each day.” The loss of intellectual property to cybercrime has cost businesses worldwide “approximately $1 trillion,” he added.