Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair traveled to Capitol Hill this week to deliver the U.S. Intelligence Community's annual threat assessment.
Most of the resulting news coverage focused on what the assessment had to say about al Qaida. Not so surprising, they still want to attack inside the United States.
The assessment, however, covers much more than that, from cybersecurity to nuclear proliferation to concerns about global warming. Here's Blair's unclassified testimony prepared for today's appearance before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Some of the more interesting observations:
"[A]cting independently, neither the US government nor the private sector can fully control or protect the country's information infrastructure . . . [T]he existing balance in network technology favors malicious actors and is likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future."
"Exit strategy missteps could set back the recovery, particularly if inflation or political pressures to consolidate budgets emerge before household consumption and private investment have begun to play a larger role in the recovery. From a geographic perspective, this risk is greatest in Europe, where the recovery is anemic, and some governments are likely to begin consoldiating their budgets despite weak economic conditions." Other problem countries: Pakistan, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. (Blair didn't mention what the threat level for inopportune budget cuts might be in the United States. See today's story on Obama's talk to Democrats).
"Sufficient OPEC spare production capacity exists . . . to meet oil demand growth in 2010. . . . [M]ost market observers expect the combination of high inventory levels and excess production capacity will limit upward movements in oil prices for the next year."
AL QAIDA -- "The most recent [disrupted] plot for which we knew the target was the London-based aviation plot in 2006 . . .The ongoing investigation into the case of Najibullah Zazi has not yet revealed the intended target(s) of this alleged plot."
BIN LADEN -- "We assess that at least until Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri are dead or captured, al Qaida will retain its resolute intent to strike the Homeland."
AL QAIDA AFFILIATES -- "We are concerned that [al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula] will continue to try [to attack inside the United States] but we do not know to what extent they are willing to direct core cadre to that effort given the group's prior focus on regional operation. . . . We judge most al Shabaab [Somalia] and East Africa-based al Qaida members will remain focused on regional objectives in the near term."
DOMESTIC THREATS -- "The tragic violence at Fort Hood underscores our concerns about the damage an individual or small number of homegrown extremists can do . . . It is clear, however, that a sophisticated, organized threat from radicalized individuals and groups in the United States . . . has not emerged. Indeed, the elements most conducive to the development of an entrenched terrorist presence -- leadership, a secure operating environment, trained operatives and well developed support base -- have been lacking to date in the United States or, where they have been nascent, have been interrupted by law enforcement authorities."
HEZBOLLAH -- "Hezbollah, which has not directly attacked US interests overseas over the past 13 years, is not now actively plotting to strike the Homeland."
CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, RADIOCATIVE AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS
"We do not know of any state deliberately providing CBRN assistance to terrorist groups. Although terrorist groups and individuals have sought out scientists with applicable expertise, we have no corroborated reporting that indicates such experts have advanced terrorist CBRN capability with the permission of any government."
NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM AND ITS CONVENTIONAL ARMY
The Korean People's Army's "capabilities are limited by an aging weapons inventory, low production of military combat systems, deteriorating physical condition of soldiers, reduced training, and increasing diversion of the military to infrasutrcutre support. . . Because the conventional military capabilities gap between North and South Korea has become so overwhelmingly great and prospects for reversal of this gap so remote, [North Korea] relies on its nuclear program to deter external attacks . . . Although there are other reasons for the North to pursue its nuclear program, redressing conventional weaknesses is a major factor . . . that Kim and his likely successor will not easily dismiss."
AFGHANISTAN'S DRUG TRADE
"High wheat prices and low opium prices during the planting season in the fall of 2008 encouraged farmers to grow more wheat at the expense of poppy. . . . Recent price trends may lead to a larger poppy crop this year. Wheat prices have dropped by half . . . in response to an abundant Afghan wheat harvest last year and global price declines, reducing the profitability of wheat and probably making the crop less desirable than poppy to farmers."
CENTRAL AMERICA CRIME
"According to the United Nations Development program, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have homicide rates five to seven times higher than the world average of nine per 100,000 people. El Salvador last year had a homcide rate of 71 per 100,000, the highest rate in Latin America."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's "regional influence may have peaked, but he is likely to continue to support likeminded political allies and movements . . . and seek to undermine pro-U.S. governments. . . .He has developed a close personal relationship with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and they have signed numerous agreements. . . . Following Chavez's lead, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have increased their ties to Iran."
"The mass killing of civilians -- defined as the deliberate killing of at least 1000 unarmed civilians of a particualr political identity by state or state-sponsored actors in a single event or over a sustained period -- is a persistent feature of the global landscape . . . Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing. . . . Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan."