Spy Agencies Say Cyber Attacks Top Current Threats Against U.S. - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Spy Agencies Say Cyber Attacks Top Current Threats Against U.S.

Posted: Updated:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cyber attacks and cyber espionage have supplanted terrorism as the top threats to the United States in an annual "worldwide threat" assessment released on Tuesday by the U.S. intelligence community.

However, in testimony prepared for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, played down the likelihood of catastrophic attacks on the United States by either cyber attackers or foreign or domestic militants in the immediate future.

In what has become an annual ritual, Clapper presented to the Senate panel a 34-page paper that ran through a wide variety of threats covered by U.S. intelligence agencies.

These included high-profile issues such as North Korea's belligerence and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as regional and economic issues like continuing instability in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. Also covered was a potential transition in Cuba and what is predicted to be China's continuing domination of the world's supply of rare earth elements.

On two of the most volatile global crisis points, the U.S. spy agencies' assessment was restrained.

While Iran is improving its expertise in technologies, including uranium enrichment and ballistic missiles, that could be used in a nuclear weapons program, the intelligence community does not believe Iran's leadership has decided to build a nuclear weapon and does not know if or when it might do so.

This assessment is consistent with a controversial 2007 finding, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, which declared Tehran had "halted its nuclear weapons program" in autumn 2003 and had not restarted it as of mid-2007, although it was keeping open the option of building nuclear weapons.

SYRIA

On Syria, U.S. spy agencies assessed that the erosion of the government of President Bashar al-Assad's ability to defend itself "is accelerating."

Assad's forces have stopped insurgents from seizing cities such as Aleppo, Damascus and Homs, but the agencies say insurgents have been gaining strength in rural areas. This could ultimately lead to the establishment of a "more permanent base" for the rebels in Idlib province along the border with Turkey.

The listing of cyber-related attacks as the top item in the annual threat assessment is a departure from assessments offered in the previous two years. In both 2011 and 2012, the first threat listed in the agencies' annual assessment to Congress was "terrorism."

One factor that appeared to have boosted cyber attacks and cyber espionage to the top of the threat list is the worry that computer technology is evolving so quickly that it is hard for security experts to keep up.

"In some cases, the world is applying digital technologies faster than our ability to understand the security implications and mitigate potential risks," Clapper said.

Nonetheless, he said, U.S. agencies judge that there is only a "remote chance" over the next two years of a "major cyber attack against US critical infrastructure" such as a regional power grid. Less sophisticated attacks, such as denial-of-service attacks against bank websites, could be more likely, he said.

On terrorism, Clapper said al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), still has ambitions to launch attacks on the U.S. mainland. However, he said, the practicalities of success will be problematic and the group has a history of launching failed attacks with sophisticated devices such as underwear bombs.

While "homegrown violent extremists" will continue to be recruited and motivated by inflammatory material on the internet, Clapper said US agencies assess that such militants will "continue to be involved in fewer than 10 domestic plots per year."

Moreover, the "core al Qaeda" group founded by the late Osama bin Laden and now led by his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, has been "degraded ... to a point that the group is probably unable to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the west," Clapper said.

On Afghanistan, Clapper noted that the United States and other western partners are proceeding with plans to pull troops out of the country, the Taliban insurgency "remains resilient and capable of challenging U.S. and international goals."

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Christopher Wilson)

HD DOPPLER 6i
/
  • National NewsMore>>

  • D.C. child confuses pet store with power company, gets hamster anyway

    D.C. child confuses pet store with power company, gets hamster anyway

    Friday, September 22 2017 8:54 PM EDT2017-09-23 00:54:14 GMT
    @PepcoConnect twitter@PepcoConnect twitter

    WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a mailing mix up, a little girl in Washington, D.C. sent her letter asking pet supply store Petco asking for a hamster to Pepco, a D.C. utility company. Despite her minor mix up, her letter seemed to win over the power company.  Cynthia McCabe, Pepco's Communications Director, tweeted that customer services representatives decided to make Serenity's wish come true and gave her a hamster anyway. What a lucky 

    More >>

    WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a mailing mix up, a little girl in Washington, D.C. sent her letter asking pet supply store Petco asking for a hamster to Pepco, a D.C. utility company. Despite her minor mix up, her letter seemed to win over the power company.  Cynthia McCabe, Pepco's Communications Director, tweeted that customer services representatives decided to make Serenity's wish come true and gave her a hamster anyway. What a lucky 

    More >>
  • Colorado principal, assistant out after forced-splits video

    Colorado principal, assistant out after forced-splits video

    Friday, September 22 2017 7:57 PM EDT2017-09-22 23:57:52 GMT

    DENVER, Co. (AP) - A Colorado principal has retired and an athletic director has resigned after videos surfaced showing a high school cheerleading coach pushing cheerleaders down in splits. Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg also on Friday released a report by a law firm that the district ordered after learning about the videos in August. Officials have said the school administrators saw at least one of the videos in June and 

    More >>

    DENVER, Co. (AP) - A Colorado principal has retired and an athletic director has resigned after videos surfaced showing a high school cheerleading coach pushing cheerleaders down in splits. Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg also on Friday released a report by a law firm that the district ordered after learning about the videos in August. Officials have said the school administrators saw at least one of the videos in June and 

    More >>
  • Strahan Family opens up memorial to the public

    Strahan Family opens up memorial to the public

    Friday, September 22 2017 6:28 PM EDT2017-09-22 22:28:02 GMT

    In a media release from the Strahan family, they said: "The Strahan family invites the public to join them in a memorial service celebrating the life of their son Sam Strahan. The service starts at 2:00 pm in the University High School Gym. The family is so appreciative of the outpouring of love from so many people throughout this community. We hope everyone can join them for this celebration. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers."

    More >>

    In a media release from the Strahan family, they said: "The Strahan family invites the public to join them in a memorial service celebrating the life of their son Sam Strahan. The service starts at 2:00 pm in the University High School Gym. The family is so appreciative of the outpouring of love from so many people throughout this community. We hope everyone can join them for this celebration. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers."

    More >>