Cyber-Armageddon Less Likely Than Predicted, Clapper SaysTony Capaccio
A single cyber-attack that cripples U.S. infrastructure is less likely than a succession of costly computer attacks, according to the nation’s top intelligence official.
“Rather than a ‘cyber-Armageddon’ scenario that debilitates the entire U.S. infrastructure, we envision something different,” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a report on global threats. “We foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyber-attacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.”
Clapper’s report, submitted to a Senate committee, marks a significant departure from past U.S. warnings about the type of Internet attacks that the country will face. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in 2012 of a “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could paralyze the country.
The intelligence chief’s report was obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of his testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Attacks may include not only hacking but “supply-chain operations to insert compromised hardware or software,” Clapper said. At the same time, detection has improved so that attackers can no longer assume that their identities will stay concealed, he said.
Other findings in Clapper’s wide-ranging summary of a “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community” were less optimistic than positions taken by other Obama administration officials.
On Iraq, where officials have said the U.S. has stopped the momentum of Islamic State extremists, Clapper described a stalemate.
Six months of air strikes by the U.S. and allies and limited ground operations have “largely stabilized” Iraq, with no side “able to muster the resources necessary” to meet its objectives, Clapper said.
Growing sectarian conflict in mixed Sunni-Shia areas in and around Baghdad, including a campaign of retribution killings, threatens to undermine the coalition’s efforts, he said.
On terrorism more broadly, Clapper said that “Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum” and the number of groups “and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history.”
The threat to U.S. allies and partners will probably increase depending on extremists’ success in seizing and holding territory, he said.
Most groups “place a higher priority on local concerns than on attacking the so-called far enemy -- the United States and the West,” Clapper said.
If Islamic State’s priority were to change, “radicalized Westerners who have fought in Syria and Iraq would provide a pool of operatives who potentially have access to the United States and other Western countries.”
As the U.S. seeks to negotiate an accord to halt Iran’s nuclear program, Clapper said Iran remains “an ongoing threat to U.S. national interests because of its support to the Assad regime in Syria, promulgation of anti-Israeli policies, development of advanced military capabilities and pursuit of its nuclear program.”
While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been described as relatively moderate, Clapper said he is “a longstanding member of the regime establishment” who “will not depart from Iran’s national security objectives.”
In recounting cybersecurity threats from countries including China, Iran and North Korea, Clapper said that Russia’s defense ministry “is establishing its own cyber command.”
According to senior Russian military officials, the command “will be responsible for conducting offensive cyber activities, including propaganda operations and inserting malware into enemy command and control systems,” Clapper said.
U.S. companies have called for a more aggressive response to cyber-attacks on companies by China, Iran, North Korea and other nation states. Financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., have repeatedly asked U.S. officials to do more to halt the attacks rather than expect banks to fight them off.
North Korea, China
On North Korea and China, Clapper said both nations are making strides in nuclear weapons delivery systems
North Korea “launched an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles” in tests last year and remains “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States,” he said.
The regime has twice publicly displayed its road-mobile KN08 intercontinental ballistic missile and “has already taken the initial steps” to field the system, although it hasn’t been flight-tested, Clapper said.
China is expanding its nuclear force “by adding more survivable road-mobile systems and enhancing its silo-based systems” to provide a second-strike capability, Clapper said.
The U.S. intelligence community also assesses that China “will soon conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrols” with its JIN-class submarines armed with JL-2 sea-launched ballistic missiles, Clapper said.
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