SASC Hearing on Current and Future Worldwide Threats

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I would like to welcome our witnesses for today’s hearing on current and longer-term threats and challenges around the world.  We are glad to have the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and DIA Director General Ron Burgess as our witnesses today.  We thank you for your long and continued service to the nation on behalf of our troops to whom we owe so much.  

This Committee has a special responsibility to the men and women of our Armed Forces to be vigilant about intelligence programs because the safety of our troops, decisions on whether or not to use military force, and the planning for military operations depend so heavily on intelligence.

The security situation in Afghanistan remains one of the highest priority threats for our intelligence community.  In the last year, there are clear signs of progress. Afghan security forces are in the lead in providing security in Kabul, including during the gathering of over 2,000 Afghan leaders for the recent Loya Jirga last November.  The Afghan Army and police are in charge of security in former Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan.  In addition, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense planners have developed a plan for the ministries’ combined team operations for 2012 and 2013.  The Afghan Army is widely respected, and even the Afghan police, traditionally lagging far behind in that virtue, are gaining increasing respect among the Afghan people.  According to a United Nations survey last month, the number of Afghans who expressed personal respect for the Afghan police has increased to 81%, up 8% from the year before.  Nonetheless, security remains fragile.  

A key to progress on security in Afghanistan is the process of transitioning the lead for securing the Afghan people from coalition forces to the Afghan security forces.  The transition process is underway and continues apace, with the Afghan Army and police assuming the security lead in more and more areas throughout the country.  By later this year, approximately 50 percent of the Afghan population will live in areas where Afghan security forces have assumed the lead for providing security, supported by coalition forces.  We heard on Tuesday from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey that the transition process is on track to meet the goal, agreed by Presidents Obama and Karzai and endorsed at the NATO Lisbon Summit, to have Afghan security forces in the lead for security throughout all Afghanistan by 2014.  

Successful transition will depend on a number of factors, including: the growth in the capabilities of the Afghan Army and police and their readiness to take the security lead; the nature of the insurgency; and progress on reconciliation talks.  We would be interested in hearing our witnesses’ assessment of the current security situation in Afghanistan and their views on the progress both in terms of providing security and of transition, and the possibilities for reconciliation with the Taliban.  

I am concerned by recent news reports that the latest National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, reflects a difference of views between the intelligence community and our military commanders over the security situation in Afghanistan, particularly in the south.  According to these reports, the NIE contains a set of additional comments endorsed by Coalition Commander General John Allen,  Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Central Command Commander General Mattis and European Command Commander Admiral Stavridis, disagreeing with the NIE’s assessment of the sustainability of security gains in the south.  I hope that our witnesses will address this alleged difference of views in the recent NIE.

Security in Afghanistan will remain in jeopardy so long as there continues to be sanctuary in Pakistan for insurgents conducting cross-border attacks against U.S., coalition, and Afghan forces and the Afghan people.  Pakistan’s refusal to go after the safe havens of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan and of the Afghan Taliban Shura in Quetta belies Pakistan’s assertions that it is committed to peace and security in the region.  Pakistan’s support to the Haqqani network, which former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen called a “veritable arm” of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is a major cause for U.S.-Pakistan relations reaching a low point, where they will remain until the Pakistan military ends its ties to these militant extremists carrying out cross-border attacks.  

We need to understand the intelligence community’s assessment of Pakistan’s strategy with respect to these insurgent groups and the reconciliation process, and as to Pakistan’s power to determine outcomes.
Terrorism Threats
The U.S. campaign against the global jihadist movement – as Director Clapper’s opening statement calls it – had a number of significant successes in the last year – most notably operations against Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.  These successes struck major blows to al Qaeda’s senior leadership and one of its most active affiliates, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.   As a result of these operations and sustained pressure in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa, al Qaeda and its affiliates are showing strain.  The committee is also interested in the Intelligence Community’s assessment of last week’s announcement of a merger between al Qaeda and al Shabab and whether it signals an increased threat to the United States and our interests from Somalia.

Mass Atrocities
Last August, the President issued Presidential Study Directive-10 which identifies the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide as a core national security interest and moral responsibility of the United States.  I am pleased to see that Director Clapper has included in his testimony a discussion of the importance of the prevention of mass atrocities, and the need for the intelligence community to report on these incidents rapidly so as to inform policymakers of these deeply concerning events.  

Over the past year, the international community has acted to prevent a mass atrocity in Libya and is currently witnessing a mass atrocity in Syria.  These tragedies have resulted in the deaths of many civilians seeking their universal freedoms and destabilized a sensitive region that is critical to the United States and our allies.  
There is a strong bipartisan determination on this committee and in this Congress to do all we can to counter the threat posed by Iran and, in particular, to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  In the most recent Defense Authorization Act, we made a real breakthrough with respect to Iran sanctions by requiring foreign financial institutions to choose between maintaining ties with the U.S. financial system or doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, especially relative to the purchase of Iranian petroleum and related products.   President Obama has appropriately focused considerable and determined diplomatic effort “to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” and he has repeatedly said there are “no options off the table to achieve that goal.”

The American people are entitled to a clear intelligence community estimate about the length of time it would take Iran to construct a usable nuclear weapon if or when they decide to produce one and how likely it is that they will decide to do so.

An additional matter of concern with regard to Iran was raised in a recent report discussing Iran’s apparent willingness to host and support senior al Qaeda leaders and facilitators.  This is a matter that has not received a great deal of attention in recent years.  However, if true, Iran’s sanctuary of al Qaeda could preserve some of the group’s most senior leaders and – potentially – provide Iran with a dangerous proxy.  In recent Congressional testimony, Director Clapper indicated that sustained pressure on al Qaeda has the potential to reduce the group to roaming criminal bands, but Iran’s continued support could contribute to a future resurgence.  The committee looks forward to the Director’s testimony on these matters.

Arab Spring/Egypt/Syria
The upheavals of the Arab Spring have had significant implications for security and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.  In Egypt, the first democratically elected incoming government in more than three decades, which is comprised of the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative religious parties, is an unknown entity.  The disposition of the Americans charged in the ongoing probe against organizations building the capacity of Egypt’s civil society is also of great concern to many members of this committee.  The committee looks forward to Director Clapper’s assessment of the new Government’s intentions relative to these matters.  

On Syria, the recent veto by Russia and China of the Arab League-drafted resolution at the United Nations Security Council has bolstered the Assad regime and has regrettably demonstrated the willingness of Russia and China to support regimes seeking to crush individuals seeking a better and freer life.  I hope Director Clapper will share with the committee what we know about the individuals seeking to overthrow the Assad regime, what we know about who is supplying the Assad regime with weapons, what the regime’s intentions are, and what we know about the willingness of the Syrian military to continue to kill and maim their own countrymen.

Despite the political, economic, and security challenges that confront Iraq the government’s leaders appear to be willing to work generally together to resolve issues politically rather than through violence.  While there is much this new democracy needs to do to build a truly pluralistic, stable, and sovereign nation, we would like to hear the witnesses’ views on the Iraqis progress to date and outlook for stability and political compromise.  We also look forward to the witnesses’ assessment of the security situation in Iraq, the risk of unchecked Iranian influence, and the Iraqi government’s commitment and capability to improve political and economic conditions.

Asia Pacific
One of the main components of the President’s recently announced Defense Strategic Guidance is to rebalance force structure and investments toward the Asia-Pacific and this strategic focus is most appropriate and timely.  

The recent death of long-time North Korean dictator Kim Jong il has resulted in an abrupt, uncertain leadership change for a rogue nation with ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities.

The lack of transparency associated with China’s rapid military growth, coupled with China’s assertiveness, particularly in the South and East China Seas, increases the potential for instability and miscalculation.  

These and other challenges underscore the need to continue and enhance the U.S. military’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific and to develop and strengthen alliances and partnerships in the region.

Director Clapper’s prepared statement attributes China’s recent crackdown on internal dissension to concern among Chinese leaders about contagious effects of the Arab Spring.  We would like to hear from Director Clapper whether there are, in fact, any reverberations in China from the uprisings in the Middle East, as well as the intelligence community’s expectations regarding China’s reaction to the President’s strategic emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region.

Director Clapper’s prepared statement indicates that the intelligence community places the cybersecurity threat to our country and our economy in the top tier of threats, alongside terrorism and proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.  That’s surely where it belongs.  A recent report from the National Counterintelligence Executive stated that entities operating from within China and Russia are responsible for the massive routine theft of U.S. commercial and military technology that could threaten national security and prosperity.  It is important to know whether Director Clapper regards this economic espionage as a significant national security threat and whether that view is shared by policymakers, and whether China would believe we are just bluffing if we talk about ending normal trade relations if the economic espionage and counterfeiting and theft of our intellectual property do not end.

Before turning to Senator McCain for his opening remarks, and our witnesses for their testimony, I would remind everyone that we have arranged for a closed session in room SVC-217, the Office of Senate Security, following this open session, if that is necessary.