Top intelligence officials in the US warm that the country faces the highest level of terrorist threats since 9/11. National Intelligence Director James Clapper warned that “unpredictable instability has become the new normal” in a briefing to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The strength of ISIS is now greater than that of Al-Qaeda, and Iran continues to pose a threat despite its nuclear deal. In addition, foreign fighters are flowing to Syria (including 6,900 from Western countries). Some of these fighters return to the West battle-hardened and able to carry out terrorist activities such as the massive attack in Paris last year.
Clapper said that the US has never had to deal with this type of threat landscape and that it struggles to continue intelligence gathering on these terror groups. As violent extremists expand their use of encrypted and secure mobile-based and internet technology, the US finds it more difficult to track their movements.
With the level of instability in the world, the situation could grow even more dire:
- 40 countries currently have violent extremists operating in them
- 7 countries have governments that are collapsing
- 59 countries face a significant risk of instability through 2016
Instability can lead countries to become terrorist safe havens such as Syria. Clapper noted that the rate of fighters flowing to Syria from other countries is “without precedent.” More than 38,000 fighters have traveled to Syria from about 120 different countries since the start of the conflict in 2012.
In addition to violent terrorist attacks, threats from pandemics such as Zika also threaten the US. Cyberattacks continue at a high rate with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran collecting sensitive data from networks in the US.
The implications of these cyberattacks not only include foreign intelligence penetration of military information, but also that of US economic, technical, and political information.
Fortunately, US intelligence agencies aggressively collaborate to fight cyber threats to the country, and the Obama administration made enhanced cybersecurity a cornerstone of the final year of his presidency.