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Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today presided over the committee’s hearing into current and projected threats facing the United States.

Following are Senator Feinstein’s remarks prepared for delivery:

“The Committee meets today in open session to receive the coordinated analytic assessment of the Intelligence Community of the threats to the United States.  We welcome our witnesses:

  • Admiral Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, who will provide a summary of the written statement on behalf of the Intelligence Community;
  • The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta;
  • The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mueller;
  • The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Ron Burgess; and
  • The Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Ambassador John Dinger.

This hearing presents an annual opportunity to focus on the threats our nation faces and provides a rare forum for the public to receive strategic intelligence analysis.

I think that right now, the top threat on everyone’s mind is the heightened terrorism threat, especially against the U.S. Homeland.

The Committee has held hearings in the past two weeks to review the Christmas Day attempted attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the Ft. Hood shootings by U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan. We have also reviewed the attack on CIA’s Khowst Base in eastern Afghanistan on December 30, the most deadly attack against CIA personnel in decades.

These three events are reminders of the ongoing threats the nation faces from within and without, and the challenges and dangers with which the Intelligence Community must deal on a daily basis.

We have been briefed on the continuing terrorist threat, and I want to thank Director Mueller for our discussion yesterday.  I received a lengthy follow-up briefing on the status of ongoing terrorism investigations and intelligence we’ve received as part of those investigations. 

I know this is a very sensitive matter and will ask that if Members have questions relating to counterterrorism operations, please hold them and we can go into a classified session at the end.

The written testimony provides an important reminder, stating that ‘the recent successful and attempted attacks represent an evolving threat in which it is even more difficult to identify and track small numbers of terrorists recently recruited and trained and short-term plots than to find and follow terrorist cells engaged in plots that have been ongoing for years.’ 

Our Committee stands ready and willing to provide the tools you need to make sure our counterterrorism efforts are the best they can be.

Despite the Christmas Day and Ft. Hood failures, the Intelligence Community has thwarted numerous terrorist plots and apprehended several suspects in 2009:

  • Al-Qa’ida operative Najibullah Zazi – living outside Denver – was identified through good intelligence work as having trained in Pakistan and conspiring with others to detonate a bomb in the United States.  Two of Zazi’s associates were arraigned in January, and his father has also been charged.
  • Chicago-based David Headley was identified for his involvement in the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba attacks on Mumbai in 2008 and for his connection to a plot to bomb a Danish newspaper.
  • Fourteen people were charged in Minnesota this year for recruiting Somali-American youth to travel to Somalia, train, and fight alongside terrorist groups.
  • In October, Tarek Mehanna was arrested in Boston and charged with plotting to attack shopping malls and seeking out terrorist training.
  • In September, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was arrested for plotting to bomb a Dallas skyscraper.
  • And earlier in the year, Daniel Boyd was identified as having traveled to terrorist training camps and plotting an attack on U.S. military personnel at the Quantico Marine Base.  He was charged, along with six others, on charges that included conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. 

So clearly, there have been both counterterrorism successes and failures.  Also clear is that the threat to the Homeland is high, and that terrorist groups have identified ways of getting operators and facilitators into the country without raising suspicion. 

Let me shift from terrorism to the topic that DNI Blair highlights in his written testimony – the threat to our government, public, and private sector from cyber espionage, crime, and attack.  Your description of the problem is very blunt, and I believe it to be accurate.

The need to develop an overall cybersecurity strategy is very clear.  This Committee has carefully examined cybersecurity through five hearings in the past year; carefully reviewed various cyber attacks and penetrations from foreign actors; and appointed a cyber task force of three Members – Senators Whitehouse, Mikulski, and Snowe – to conduct a six-month analysis of the government’s current plans.  That task force will be reporting to the full Committee shortly.

It is my belief that certain nations represent serious cyber attack potential to our country.  I believe that robust diplomatic efforts should be made with the goal of effecting international agreements among key actors regarding cyber behavior.  The time has come to look at the value of a cyber treaty with built-in mutual assurances of behavior.

It is noteworthy and commendable that the State Department has, for the first time, demarched another country for its cyber activity.  It is also worth noting that this country has stated its willingness to ‘cooperate internationally’ on these matters.

There are far more developments around the world that threaten the national security interests of the United States.  The past year saw a Taliban surge in Afghanistan that led to the President’s decision to shift strategy and increase troop levels.  Pakistan continues to be an uneven partner in our counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts.  Somalia and Yemen are failed and failing states that require enormous attention. 

These and many other threats are outlined in the DNI’s testimony, so I let me turn now to Vice Chairman Bond for his opening statement.”