February 4, 2012

America’s 2012 Global Threat Assessment

February 4, 2012. Washington. Earlier this week, the National Director of US Intelligence, the number one spy chief in the country, testified before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Director James Clapper delivered the agency’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. Among the subjects addressed were Iran, North Korea, the Arab Spring, al Qaeda, the Taliban, Anonymous and surprisingly, global water shortages.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.

Iran

The Director’s biggest threat was seen coming from Iran, mostly due to the possibility of the country developing nuclear weapons someday. For the short term, the assessment confirms that the US doesn’t believe the country is actively developing nuclear arms, yet. His testimony included, “Iran's technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so. These advancements contribute to our judgment that Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, if it so chooses. We judge Iran would likely choose missile delivery as its preferred method of delivering a nuclear weapon.”

The Intelligence Director went on to inform the Senate Committee that there was behind the scenes infighting in Iran among its most powerful leaders. Clapper explained the rivalry goes to the top and is ultimately, “between Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad."



Al Qaeda                                                               

With the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the US Intelligence agency believes the next two to three years will be critical for Al Qaeda. Director Clapper believes that the central al Qaeda organization in Pakistan, formerly led by bin Laden, will continue to become less important and involved in global threats. Instead, the agency believes the formerly centralized group will become more scattered, with numerous major centers and charismatic leaders.

The main reason for the loss of stature for the Pakistani segment of al Qaeda, according to the assessment, has been the overwhelming pressure and force place on the group on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The testimony states, “We judge that al Qaeda's losses are so substantial and its operating environment so restricted that a new group of leaders, even if they could be found, would have difficulty integrating into the organization and compensating for mounting losses."

The segment of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is considered to be the most likely perpetrator of any future global terrorist attacks. The Threat Assessment states, “We judge AQAP remains the node most likely to attempt transnational attacks. [Awlaki's] death probably reduces, at least temporarily, AQAP's ability to plan transnational attacks, but many of those responsible for implementing plots, including bomb makers, financiers, and facilitators, remain and could advance plots."

The US assessment of al Qaeda in Iraq reveals little concern to the US, except for American interests in Iraq. The report explains the belief that al Qaeda in Iraq will concentrate all its energy on overthrowing the majority Shiite Iraqi government and replacing it with a minority-led Sunni government as was in place under Saddam Hussein.

US Passport Holding Terrorists

Also attached to the al Qaeda section was a brief mention of US citizens who have left the country, and returned in many cases, to train with the al Qaeda linked group al Shabaab in east Africa. The Threat Assessment specifically states that the intelligence agency is blind to or unaware of any other instances outside eastern Africa, “Members of the group -- particularly a foreign fighter cadre that includes U.S. passport holders -- may also have aspirations to attack inside the United States. However, we lack insight into concrete operational plans outside the Horn of Africa."



North Korea

Aside from reporting the two recent nuclear weapons tests in North Korea, the agency said it was too early to tell what trajectory the country’s new leader Kim Jong Un would take. The most eye-catching statement was the confirmation that North Korea had previously been supplying Iran and Syria with ballistic missiles and other technology. The section concluded by assuring, “We remain alert to the possibility that North Korea might again export nuclear technology."

Arab Spring

The agency’s threat assessment included a gloomy scenario for countries in the Middle East and North Africa experiencing democracy for the first time in generations. Citing the US government’s support of the various overthrown dictators, the report concedes that the United States will not have as much influence over the countries involved as it previously did. Making matters worse, the revolutionary environment that toppled so many long standing regimes has created an almost chaotic security situation. The statement explains, “The unrest potentially provides terrorists inspired by the global jihadist movement more operating space, as security services focus more on internal security and, in some cases, undergo transformations in make-up and orientation.”

The agency believes most US allies in the Middle East will continue their friendly relationship, if for no other reason than for financial aid and security against Iran.

Emergency Censorship

A statement in the 2012 US Intelligence Threat Assessment appears to place the US government on the opposite side of freedom of speech and the unhindered distribution of ideas. The report calls the inability of Middle Eastern dictators to shut down social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, a “failure” and a threat to the future security of the US.

Receiving partial credit for the failure of governments to shut down social media sites during national unrest were the groups Anonymous and LulzSec. They’ve also been credited with breaking into some of the most secure networks in the world. The analysis provided to the Senate Committee includes, “Hacker groups, such as Anonymous and Lulz Security (LulzSec), have conducted distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and website defacements against government and corporate interests they oppose. The well publicized intrusions into NASDAQ and International Monetary Fund (IMF) networks underscore the vulnerability of key sectors of the U.S. and global economy."



Drinking water

How can the world’s most abundant substance suddenly become the world’s most valuable and scarce? The answer – multinational corporations.

Looking back into the past, there are a number of reasons for the globe’s water shortage. Some include poisoning from pesticides and chemicals. Others include flooding and draught. Looking forward however, the biggest reason for millions dieing of thirst throughout Africa and Asia may be corporate monopolies on water rights. For the past few years, investors from China, Russia, Europe and the US have held bidding wars, and some military wars, for the rights to water in the draught stricken continent. In some instances, rivers have been damned or diverted, taking away the drinking water of entire nations.

For a decade, the world’s venture capitalists have known that water would soon be the most valuable commodity on Earth. They’ve spent that time positioning themselves to own every drop of it. Going forward, the price for drinking water, even in places like the United States, will come at an ever higher price tag. That price is so high already that the US Intelligence Threat Assessment warns, “Now and for the foreseeable future, water shortages and pollution probably will negatively affect the economic performance of important U.S. trading partners” and thus, negatively affecting the U.S.

Excerpts of the 2012 US Intelligence Threat Assessment provided by ABC News.

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