Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: 2012 National Security Threat Assessment, Drone Strikes, and More

by Micah Zenko
February 3, 2012

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, flanked by FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director David Petraeus as they testify before a Senate Select Intelligence hearing in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Kevin Lamarque). Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, flanked by FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director David Petraeus as they testify before a Senate Select Intelligence hearing in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Kevin Lamarque).

2012 THREAT ASSESSMENT

  • Selections from the Hearing of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, “World Wide Threats,” January 31, 2012.

Senator Fienstein: Closer to home, since our hearing last year there were at least 20 individuals arrested in the United States on terrorism-related charges in 17 different investigations, which stopped them from carrying out or assisting in attacks on the homeland.

General Petraeus: I believe [the IAEA’s] past report was a very accurate reflection of reality, of the situation on the ground. I think that is the authoritative document when it comes to informing the public of all the countries in the world of the situation there.

(3PA: For the IAEA report that Petraeus is referring to click here.)

Senator Wyden: Let me wrap up with…the question of the use of force in a speech that was given by Mr. Koh, Harold Koh, the State Department’s lawyer. And let me note at the beginning, it’s a matter of public record that the intelligence community sometimes takes direct action against terrorists, and this direct action sometimes involves the use of lethal force. And as you know, Director Koh gave a speech outlining our policy with respect to various terrorist groups. He talked about detention; he talked about the use of unmanned drones and noted that under U.S. law, the use of force against terrorist groups is permitted by congressional authorization, while under international law, it is permitted by America’s right to self-defense….I would like to know whether that speech that Mr. Koh gave contained unstated exceptions for intelligence agencies.

General Clapper: With respect to counterterrorism, it does not. So it applies to all components of the government involved in counterterrorism, be it military or nonmilitary.

Senator Wyden: So you believe that his speech — the text of the speech — because this will be important — applies to all agencies? It applies to the intelligence community — his entire speech — the overall thrust of the speech applies to all the intelligence community?

General Clapper: With respect to counterterrorism, yes.

(3PA: For Koh’s speech, including the short section that is the Obama administration’s primary legal defense of targeted killings, click here.)

Senator Snowe: I gather we agree with the fact that Iran has not made the decision to weaponize at this point. Director Clapper, do you agree on that?

General Clapper: Yes, but they are certainly moving on that path, but we don’t believe they’ve actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon.

Senator Snowe: Well, how will we decide that they have integrated all of these components in a decision to weaponize, at which point?…

General Clapper: Well, certainly a key indicator will be — without going into sensitive areas here, but a clear indicator would be enrichment of uranium to a 90 percent level would be a pretty good indicator of their seriousness. There are some other things they would need to do, which I’d rather not go into in an open session, that we would also look for, and apart from whatever we could glean from across the community on an actual decision to go forward.

Director Mueller: Yes, Senator. I think it’s wrong to say we were excited or somebody should be excited about it. I can tell you that we are exceptionally concerned about that threat. I do not think today it is necessarily number one threat, but it will be tomorrow. Counterterrorism — stopping terrorist attacks with the FBI is the present number one priority, but down the road, the cyberthreat, which cuts across all programs, will be the number one threat to the country.

Director Mueller: Most of the [terror-plot related] arrests that we’ve made over the last year, year and a half, have been lone wolves — those individuals who have been radicalized, trained on the Internet, have the capability of developing IEDs and other mechanisms on the Internet.

General Clapper: That is precisely the intelligence community view or assessment, that to this point this is — the sanctions, as imposed so far, have not caused [the government of Iran] to have changed their behavior or their policy.

General Clapper: I particularly want to single out the Muslim community for its recognizing a threat and bringing it to the authorities. And I will tell you, over a period of time, many of our cases, if not most of our cases, have come with individuals from the Muslim community or the neighborhood who have brought to our attention concerns about the potential threat which we have run and ultimately have resulted in a disruption of a plot.

 Celeste Ward Gventer [deputy assistant secretary of defense in 2006 and 2007]: The principal architect and organization responsible for the attack on the United States is gone. And what’s happening in Afghanistan now has far less to do with 9/11 than it has to do with regional rivalries being played out on the stage of Afghanistan, which has happened many times in the history of Afghanistan.

And the United States is right in the middle of it. And we need to start looking at what our fundamental strategic interests are. And if it’s to prevent a sanctuary for terrorism, there’s many ways to do that other than occupying Afghanistan in perpetuity.

There’s no real evidence that, even if the Taliban were to come back into power, that there would be nothing we could do to prevent it becoming a sanctuary again. And the 9/11 argument, I think, frankly, even with the American public is growing a bit stale, if you look at polls and the way that the American public is viewing this war now.

GATES:  Our military power has nothing comparable to it anywhere in the world or any combination of nations that come anywhere close to our military power. Our influence, I think that wanes and waxes, depending on the international environment. The one constant is that they see us, as Madeleine Albright once put it, as the indispensable nation. Nothing gets done internationally without American leadership.

GATES: If Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything in recent history, it is the unpredictability of war and that these things are easier to get into than to get out of, and, frankly, the facile way in which too many people talk about, well, let’s just go attack them. I think that the newest round of sanctions potentially do have the opportunity to get the Iranians to change their minds. But this is a very, very difficult and dangerous set of choices, frankly, before us, because those who say we shouldn’t attack I think underestimate the consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon.

And those who say we should underestimate the consequences of going to war. This is, I think, one of the toughest foreign policy problems I have ever seen since entering the government 45 years ago. And I think to talk about it loosely or as though these are easy choices in some way or sort of self-proclaimed, obvious alternatives, I just think is irresponsible.

TIME: Yet clearly there has been support within the military for the U.S. drone program, even if Parliament has been against it. Doesn’t this indicate a two-track relationship?

HRK: There is not a single military person to date that has ever accepted in front of me that they have ever been supportive of drones. There is nobody in Pakistan who has ever been supportive of this.

The study, described by Ponemon as the first to place a price tag on cybersecurity, is based on interviews with technology managers from 172 U.S. organizations in six industries and the government. Survey respondents were granted anonymity owing to the sensitivity of discussing cybersecurity weaknesses.

To achieve security capable of stopping 95 percent of attacks—considered by the Traverse City, Michigan-based Ponemon Institute to be the highest attainable level—those surveyed said they would have to boost spending to a group total of $46.6 billion from the current $5.3 billion.

Foreign commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector has also declined in recent years, limiting Iran’s ability to produce gasoline to meet demand, much less to export refined petroleum products on world markets. However, according to State and DOE officials, Iran has attempted to reduce its dependence on foreign refined petroleum products by reducing gasoline subsidies to its citizens in order to reduce demand, converting petrochemical facilities to produce gasoline, as well as expediting the construction of new refineries or the expansion of current refineries. In 2009, Iran imported approximately 130,000 barrels of gasoline per day, but, according to DOE, in 2010 the amount of gasoline shipped to Iran declined to an estimated 78,000 barrels per day, and by July 2011 it had declined to 50,000 barrels per day, according to Petroleum Intelligence Weekly.

FROM THE ARCHIVE:

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