U.S. Officials Point To Iran As Growing Threat

Play associated audio

Iran is moving toward a nuclear capability, but its intentions are unclear. Al-Qaida is weakened but remains dangerous. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are a determined adversary, but it may make sense to negotiate with them.

These were the highlights of the annual assessment of threats to U.S. security, delivered Tuesday on Capitol Hill by the nation's intelligence agencies.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, was also able list some accomplishments, beginning with the big triumph — tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden.

"With Osama bin Laden's death, the global jihadist movement lost its most iconic and inspirational leader," Clapper said before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The new al-Qaida commander is less charismatic, and the death or capture of prominent al-Qaida figures has shrunk the group's top leadership layer."

Al-Qaida affiliate groups in Yemen and Africa, however, have become more dangerous.

A big concern this time is Iran. This past year saw the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. The intelligence agencies also reported that Iranian leaders are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States if they feel U.S. actions are threatening their regime; and Clapper followed up, saying there is more to unfold.

"Consistent with their outreach elsewhere, they're trying as well to penetrate and engage in this hemisphere," he said.

A Nuclear Iran

As for possible nuclear plans, the spy agencies told the Senate committee — as they have before — that Iran is keeping open the option to develop a nuclear weapon. Clapper said, for example, that Iran is developing the capabilities it would need to produce a nuclear bomb.

"They are certainly moving on that path, but we don't believe they've actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon," he said.

The prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power, and how the U.S. and Israel should deal with that danger, was clearly the top concern of the senators who heard Tuesday's testimony.

Several asked what might actually persuade Iran's leaders that developing a nuclear weapon might not be in Iran's interest. The only answer the intelligence officials could offer was that economic pressure might work, prompted by tougher sanctions.

"Sanctions have been biting much more, literally, in recent weeks than they have until this time," said CIA Director David Petraeus. "So I think what we have to see now is how does that play out. What is the level of popular discontent inside Iran, [and] does that influence the strategic decision-making of the supreme leader and the regime."

Afghanistan And Syria

On Afghanistan, the intelligence agencies gave a guarded assessment: The Taliban have been set back in some places, but mostly where U.S. and allied forces are well-positioned. The Taliban remain, in Clapper's words, a "determined adversary," but some diplomatic outreach to them, he said, could soon make sense.

"I don't think anyone harbors any illusions about it, but I think the position is to at least explore the potential for negotiating with them as a part of this overall resolution of the situation in Afghanistan," Clapper said.

Clapper found little good news to report in Syria, where the regime of Bashar Assad has been waging a bloody fight against its opposition for months now. Clapper did say he thinks it's just a question of time before Assad falls, though it could be a long time.

"The opposition continues to be fragmented, but I do not see how he can sustain his rule of Syria," he said.

Of course, there's still the question of who would follow Assad. Clapper could not promise that the successor regime would be any better, one more indication of the uncertainty characterizing the threat landscape these days.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Lawsuit Will Decide Who Owns 'Star Trek' Language Klingon

Paramount Pictures holds the copyright to Klingon, spoken by some characters in "Star Trek." The Language Creation Society is arguing Klingon is a real language, and is therefore not copyrightable.
NPR

Germany's Beer Purity Law Is 500 Years Old. Is It Past Its Sell-By Date?

For centuries, German law has stipulated that beer can only be made from four ingredients. But as Germany embraces craft beer, some believe the law impedes good brewing.
WAMU 88.5

The Politics Hour - April 29, 2016

Kojo reviews Maryland's primary results and what they mean for the region and November's elections. The Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of Virginia's former governor. And a major funder of youth programs in the District is bankrupt.

NPR

Weighing The Good And The Bad Of Autonomous Killer Robots In Battle

It sounds like science fiction, but it's a very real and contentious debate that is making its way through the U.N. Advocates of a ban want all military weapons to be under "meaningful human control."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.