Press Releases

Washington—Following are the prepared remarks from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at the March 12, 2013, Senate Intelligence Committee public hearing on worldwide threats:

“The Committee meets today in open session, as we have done since 1994, to hear an unclassified description from our intelligence leaders of the threats that face our nation.

As Members know, we will immediately follow this session with a closed session, and I will ask that Members refrain from asking questions here that require classified answers. This hearing is a unique opportunity to inform the American public – to the extent we can – the threats we face as a nation.

Let me begin by welcoming our witnesses and thanking them for being here. They are:

  • The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who will provide an opening statement on behalf of the Intelligence Community,
  • The Director of the CIA, John Brennan, now on his fifth full day on the job,
  • The Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, now nearly 12 years on the job, and who, barring another unforeseen intervention by the Congress, is appearing in his last worldwide threat hearing before this Committee,
  • The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn,
  • The Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, and
  • The Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

DNI Clapper, thank you for your statement for the record, submitted in both classified and unclassified form.

It is clear that the threats to the United States are many, they are diffuse, and they are complex.

We face a continuing threat at home from terrorist attack, most notably from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) but also from homegrown extremists, such as Nidal Hasan – the Ft. Hood shooter, Najibullah Zazi – who attempted to blow up the New York subway, and Faisal Shahzad – the attempted Times Square bomber.

It is notable that the statement for the record includes an assessment that due to recent losses, the core of al-Qa’ida in Pakistan “is probably unable to carry out complex, large-scale attacks in the West” although its desire to do so hasn’t changed. This appears to be a stronger statement than in the past about the effect of counterterrorism operations against al-Qa’ida.

Since last year’s threat hearing, my staff has been keeping a tally of terrorism-related arrests in the United States. With the arrest on March 5th of Reaz Khan for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists in connection with the suicide bombing of ISI headquarters in Pakistan, there have now been 105 terrorism-related arrests in the United States in the past four years. In our federal criminal court system, those arrests will most likely lead to a conviction or a guilty plea. If those arrests have not resulted in convictions or guilty pleas, it is only because the case is still ongoing.

Another indicator of the success of our criminal justice system in prosecuting terrorists is that in 2011, the Department of Justice released a list of terrorism trials conducted since 2001, and reported a total of 438 convictions from September 11, 2001, to December 31, 2010.

We have also been briefed recently on the detention and arrest of Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and al-Qa’ida spokesman, and I commend the witnesses for your agencies’ work in bringing him to the U.S. to be prosecuted in federal criminal court where he faces a life sentence.

Of course, as the terrorist threat has receded, the threat from cyber attack and cyber espionage has grown. We have seen large-scale denial of service attacks against U.S. banks and recent public reports, including by the computer security firm Mandiant, about massive cyber penetrations and loss of intellectual property from U.S. businesses.

I am very concerned that instability will continue to fester across northern Africa, from Mali to Libya to Egypt and beyond, breeding and harboring a new generation of extremist. Some of the governments in the region are unable or unwilling to take action against these terrorist groups, meaning that the rest of the world will need to focus energy and attention to preventing a safehaven and launching pad for future attacks.

In Syria, there is a massive and still-growing humanitarian disaster underway, with no end in sight as the regime and the opposition appear nearly at a stalemate. This Committee has been very concerned about the possibility that President Bashar Assad would become sufficiently desperate to use its chemical weapons stockpile, and I note that the DNI’s statement includes exactly that warning. I know the President has expressed that the use of chemical weapons would be a redline for the United States, and I would predict that the U.S. Senate would demand a strong and swift response should the use of such weapons occur.

Of course, Syria is not the only WMD-state to be making headlines. North Korea has claimed a third nuclear weapons test and has displayed a road-mobile ballistic missile and demonstrated the capability of its Taepo Dong-2 missile. The regime is now disavowing the 1953 armistice with the South. There is perhaps nowhere else on earth where the capacity to wreak enormous damage is matched by the possibility of North Korea using their nuclear weapons.

Both the Syria and the North Korea example demonstrate the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, yet its work at Natanz and Fordow continue, and Revolutionary Guard and Hizballah proxies are growing bolder and more capable in their terrorist attack plotting around the world.

In these and many other threats and challenges, the Intelligence Community plays a critical role in providing warning to U.S. policymakers, and to providing insights to shape their policy decisions.

Unfortunately, the IC is being asked to do this work under the self-inflicted damage of sequestration. I know, Director Clapper, that you have been planning for sequestration and would like to speak to its effects. I have an amendment to the appropriations legislation currently on the Senate Floor that will provide the Community with as much flexibility as possible to implement the cuts made by sequestration – in the same way as the rest of the Department of Defense – to make sure that intelligence efforts, and therefore our national security, can proceed as much the same as possible.”