Inside Story Americas

What are the major threats facing the US?

As cyber attacks have replaced terrorism as top threat to the US, we discuss the country's main security challenges.
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2013 12:38

James Clapper is the US president's most senior intelligence advisor and he leads a combined federation of 16 separate US 16 intelligence agencies.

On Tuesday, he presented the 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the sum of their knowledge, to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Clapper stated that the US has never faced a more diverse set of challenges.

"We have been hearing for the last year about how cyber attacks are imminent and we really need to pass some sort of sweeping law to protect us against this, but then when you actually read the report closely ... it's clear that these type of attacks are a very remote possibility, and the only countries that would potentially be able to launch them, wouldn't because they just don't have the motivation."

 -Trevor Timm, the policy director at Electronic Frontier Foundation

And although the usual suspects were cited, he said that cyber attacks and cyber espionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States.

He emphasised the extent to which foreign intelligence agencies have penetrated US computer networks, but he concluded that there is only a small chance that a foreign power would launch an attack that would cause any severe disruption.

On Iran, Clapper stated clearly that the US simply does not know if the government will eventually decide to develop nuclear weapons. This was in line with previous judgements from the US intelligence community that Iran was not building a nuclear weapon.

He said that the tumult in the Arab, world which has seen new governments in countries like Libya and Egypt, as well as the conflict in Syria, has provided opportunities for "extremist groups to prepare attacks against Western interests."

He also emphasised the growing threat posed by climate change and extreme weather which he said will disrupt food and energy markets, and trigger conflict.

So, what are the major threats facing the US?

Joining Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, are guests: Trevor Timm, the policy director at Electronic Frontier Foundation; Phyllis Bennis, the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies; Robert Grenier, the former director of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center; and Jamal Abdi, the policy director for the National Iranian American Council.

"As an American living in this country, reading the report you should feel really quite reassured. All of the allegations about the list of potential threats, when you read the text, are said to be not really so much."

- Phyllis Bennis, the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies


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