Washington—Following are remarks from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at the committee’s public hearing on worldwide threats:
“The committee meets today in open session to hear the annual report from the U.S. intelligence community on the range of threats to the nation’s security.
Let me start by welcoming the witnesses. They are Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper; Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan; Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jim Comey; Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn; and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen.
Every year at this hearing, members and intelligence officials alike talk about how the threats to the United States are more varied and complex than ever before, and this year is no exception.
But rather than listing all the sources of instability and proliferation of weapons capable of causing physical and computer damage, I’d like to focus my opening remarks on the threat posed by terrorism.
Thanks in large part to the efforts by the women and men of the intelligence community, there have been no terrorist attacks against the United States since our last threat hearing, and numerous plots against U.S. interests overseas have been prevented.
I am concerned that this success has led to a popular misconception that the threat has diminished. It has not.
The presence of terrorist groups—including those formally affiliated with al-Qa’ida and others—has spread over the past year. While the threat emanating from Pakistan’s tribal areas has diminished due to persistent counterterrorism operations, the threat from other areas has increased.
In fact, terrorism is at an all-time high, if you include attacks by groups like the Taliban against the U.S. military and our coalition forces. According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, which is the source for the State Department’s official tallies, there were more than 8,400 terrorist attacks killing over 15,400 people in 2012.
The 2012 numbers dwarf the previous record for attacks—which was set in 2011 with more than 5,000 attacks—and for fatalities, the previous high was in 2007 with more than 12,500 deaths.
The instability that spread through North Africa and the Middle East during the Arab Spring has continued to lead to an increase in the terrorist presence and terrorism safe havens throughout the region.
Libya, Egypt, and Mali continue to see regular violence. Recent terrorist attacks in controlled parts of Western Iraq are of great concern. While governance in Yemen and Somalia have improved, two of the most dangerous terrorist groups continue to find safe havens in those countries where they remain virulent:
• al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, known as “AQAP” remains intent on attacking the U.S.; and
• al-Shabaab—which publicly merged with al-Qa’ida in February 2012—continues to plot against Western targets in East Africa.
But I think the most notable development since last year’s hearing happened in Syria. Syria has become a magnet for foreign fighters and for terrorist activity. The situation has become so dire that even al-Qa’ida’s central leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri has renounced the activities of one group as being too extreme to countenance.
Because large swaths of the country of Syria are beyond the regime’s control, or that of the moderate opposition, this leads to the major concern of safe haven and the real prospect that Syria will be a launching point or “weigh station” for terrorists seeking to attack the United States or other nations.
Not only are fighters being drawn to Syria, but so are technologies and techniques that pose particular problems to our defenses.
I think I am also concerned about Afghanistan and the drawdown of U.S. and ISAF coalition forces. The committee has heard the intelligence community’s assessment of the likely outcomes for the future of Afghanistan, especially if the bilateral security agreement is not signed and the United States is unable to commit significant personnel and resources beyond 2014.
I am particularly concerned that the Afghan government will not be able to prevent the return of al-Qa’ida elements to some parts of the country, and that the Taliban’s control over Afghan territory will grow.
The vice chairman and I were in Afghanistan in 2012 and he has just returned. I saw school girls walking home with their white head dresses and brilliant smiles on their faces on the streets of Kabul. I also met with women serving in the Afghan parliament and I saw their courage and devotion to their country.
I am deeply concerned that in the years following 2014, if President Karzai or someone else doesn’t sign the bilateral security agreement with the U.S., all the gains for democracy and for women’s rights will evaporate.
As your testimony today makes clear, there are numerous confounding and complicated threats out there that need devoted attention. The intelligence community, with sequesters and furloughs, has been through a very difficult time and I’d very much like to thank the men and women of the United States intelligence community for their service to this country. It is very much appreciated by this committee.
I’d also note to colleagues on the committee that Director Clapper came before us in closed session two weeks ago and went through a series of classified matters and we discussed what the IC is doing about them.
He and the other witnesses are available to answer classified questions in closed sessions, but the point of today’s hearing is to focus on the unclassified details of the threats we face, and to provide the American people with a better sense of how our intelligence community views them.”