What are the greatest security threats facing the US?

The US National Intelligence director outlines key threats to US security. 

Carlos Barria/Reuters
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Worldwide threats to America and our allies' in Capitol Hill, Washington February 9.

The United States’ director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, gave testimony before Congress Tuesday on the biggest national security issues the US is currently facing in the new year.

Although Mr. Clapper identified a number of different threats and threat origins, he highlighted Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and cyber threats as some of the top issues the country will face in the coming year. “Unpredictable instability,” said Clapper, “has become the ‘new normal’ and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.”

Yet, there is a very potent reason not to let fear win, according to some national security experts.

According to Clapper, the refugee crisis and climate change contribute to a sense of instability that can lead to violent extremism.

Clapper confirmed that Islamic State will be one of the greatest domestic security concerns for the United States in 2016, and that the threat will be a “key factor” in American security assessments.

Clapper also warned that the success of 2015 terrorist attacks, both at home and abroad, could stimulate terrorist activity in the United States.

Attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., says Clapper, “might motivate others to replicate opportunistic attacks with little or no warning, diminishing our ability to detect terrorist operational planning and readiness.”

Clapper identified insecurity and instability as two of the biggest factors that lead to security threats against the United States.

Just days after North Korea announced that it would move forward with plans to launch a long range rocket this month, Clapper told the committee that the country has restarted a plutonium production reactor.

The security chief told committee members that cyber security and the spread of technology not only enables terrorist groups to “go dark” and coordinate effectively underground, but it is also used by several state actors, including Russia and China, to hack and spy on the United States.

Will Clapper’s testimony impact the already charged primary season?

Several candidates have staked out positions on the nature of terrorism and how to confront it. Chief among them are GOP hopefuls Sen. Ted Cruz and New York businessman Donald Trump.

In early December, Senator Cruz remarked that if he becomes president, “We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”

More recently, Mr. Trump spoke in defense of waterboarding and torturing terrorists during a campaign event in New Hampshire. At other times, he has suggested preventing all Muslims from entering the country.

Although Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton exercised more restraint in her rhetoric after terrorist attacks in Paris last November, she also advocated for surveillance and caution at home.

In a Quinnipiac poll conducted in November last year, 83 percent of respondents feared that a terrorist attack on American soil would likely occur in the near future.

Yet, there is a very potent reason not to let fear win, according to some national security experts.

Others strike a more reserved tone.

“If we look like we're applying religious tests to who comes into this country, we're sending a message,” said Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, “essentially we're embracing that frame and that is going to make it very difficult to partner with Muslim communities here in the United States and around the world to prevent the scourge of radicalization that we should be focused on."

As the results roll in from New Hampshire’s Tuesday presidential primary, candidates could be contemplating how to best respond to the threats Clapper identified.

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