- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2015

Breaking sharply with Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s far sunnier assessment just a day before, the Obama administration’s intelligence czar told Congress on Thursday that political instability and state-sponsored mass killing are at their “highest rate” in decades, and the U.S. still faces ominous challenges from China, Russia, cyberterrorists and the continuing turmoil in the Middle East.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that more refugees were spawned by conflict and other crises around the world in 2014 than at any time since World War II, and asserted that “roughly half of the world’s currently stable countries are at some risk of instability over the next two years.”

“When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years [since] such data has been compiled,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The testimony was in stark contrast to Mr. Kerry’s testimony to Congress just a day earlier, in which the nation’s top diplomat argued that, despite the challenge of Islamic State and jihadi violence, the world is actually seeing “a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally — less deaths, less violent deaths today, than through the last century.”

Mr. Clapper, by contrast, outlined a host of threats facing America — from the Islamic State surge in the Middle East and North Africa to the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran and North Korea, as well as the push by Russian and Chinese hackers to penetrate sensitive U.S. and Western government networks.

Mr. Clapper said the prospects for cyberwarfare were particularly worrisome to U.S. analysts.

“Cyberthreats to U.S. national and economic security are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication and severity of impact; [and] the ranges of cyberthreat actors, methods of attack, targeted systems and victims are also expanding,” he told the Senate panel.

While the threat is complex, however, Mr. Clapper downplayed the idea America is at a high risk of having its infrastructure crippled by a major doomsday-like “cyber Armageddon” scenario.

“The likelihood of a catastrophic attack from any particular actor is remote at this time,” he said. “We envision something different: We foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyberattacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.”

Mr. Clapper’s testimony pointed to new dangers stemming from a variety of other developments, including Russia’s military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, China’s upgraded nuclear capabilities and the spread of Boko Haram Islamic extremist attacks beyond Nigeria’s borders into Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

In the Middle East Mr. Clapper testified that “Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum, and the number of Sunni violent extremist groups, members and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history.”

While he said “the threat to key U.S. allies and partners will probably increase,” the intelligence director added that the growing number of the extremist groups is likely to be “balanced by a lack of cohesion and authoritative leadership.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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