Friday, February 11, 2011

US intel director calls al-Qaida top threat

WASHINGTON -- Amid criticism that U.S. intelligence services missed the signs of an Arab revolt in Tunisia and Egypt, the U.S. nation's top intelligence official will tell Congress that the threat from al-Qaida and its affiliates remains his No. 1 priority, U.S. officials said.

In testimony scheduled Thursday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, will stress that counterterrorism to keep Americans safe is the focus of the intelligence community, according to one of those officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

Clapper is expected defend how the U.S. intelligence community tracked the revolts that have swept through two major American allies in the Arab world, toppling the leader of Tunisia and threatening the regime in Egypt, the officials said.
U.S. lawmakers have questioned whether the focus on al-Qaida and its militant offshoots has weakened the U.S. intelligence community's attention toward other parts of the world.
The threat assessment hearing is often described as the most important of the year because the director of intelligence lays out the 16 major U.S. intelligence agencies' priorities. It drives the agenda for the U.S. intelligence community and the congressional committees that must decide what issues to tackle and what programs to fund.
For the past two years, Clapper's predecessor, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, faced the lawmakers alone. But Clapper has reverted to the previous practice of bringing other top U.S. agency chiefs with him. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Clapper will be CIA Director Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter, the directors of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. National Security Agency.
In Blair's last such hearing, he trumpeted cyber terrorism as the top challenge for the U.S. intelligence community to tackle.
Clapper will revisit cyber terror, as well as stressing the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, one official said. But Clapper will focus on the militant threat, just a day after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the House Homeland Security Committee that the terrorist threat to the United States is at its highest level since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. During the same hearing, Leiter said al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen is “the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.”
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