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Senior U.S. spies warn of future security threats

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A senior American spy chief has released his assessment of the most troubling threats facing the US — a list that includes terrorism, hackers, WMD proliferation, pandemics, extreme weather events — and the militarization of space.

The report, titled "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community," was presented by James Clapper on Wednesday to the US Senate intelligence committee. He listed ten areas of primary concern:

  1. Cyber: Citing attacks on South Korea and the US financial sector, the report expressed concerns over emerging cyber threats to government functions, industry and commerce, health care, social communication, and personal information. There's also growing concern of threats to critical infrastructure, particularly systems used in water management, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power distribution, and mass transit. Not to mention hacking into "smart objects."
  2. Counterintelligence: Including insider threats, unauthorized disclosures (i.e. the Ed Snowdens and Wikileaks of the world), and various foreign intelligence threats.
  3. Terrorism: Among the various threats listed, the report described ongoing concerns with Al-Qa'ida and homegrown violent extremists. "As the tragic attack in Boston in April 2013 indicates, insular HVEs who act alone or in small groups and mask the extent of their ideological radicalization can represent challenging and lethal threats," states the report.
  4. Weapons of Mass Destruction and Proliferation: Namely Iran and North Korea. Also WMD security in Syria.
  5. Counterspace: There's growing concern over the development of capabilities that can disrupt US use of space in a conflict, things like anti-satellite technologies. No doubt — back in 2007 China conducted a destructive anti-satellite test against its own satellite.
  6. Transnational Organized Crime: This is a huge problem involving such things as drug and person trafficking, money laundering, and illicit trade in wildlife, timber, and marine resources.
  7. Economic Trends: From the report: "Global economic growth rates entered a marked slowdown with the global financial crisis that began in 2008. From 2008 to 2013, the global growth rate averaged less than 3.0 percent, well below its 30-year average of 3.6 percent. The lengthy global slowdown has meant lower job creation, income growth, and standards of living that many came to expect before 2008. Although worldwide economic growth will likely strengthen in 2014 to 3.7 percent, it will fall well short of its 2004-2007 peak when it averaged 5.1 percent."
  8. Natural Resources: Which was broken down to food, water, energy, extreme weather events, and the Arctic.
  9. Health Risks: Including the emergence and spread of new or reemerging microbes, the globalization of travel and the food supply, the rise of drug-resistant pathogens (and the so-called post-antibiotic world), the acceleration of biological science capabilities and the risk that these capabilities might cause inadvertent or intentional release of pathogens, and adversaries' acquisition, development, and use of weaponized agents.
  10. Mass Atrocities: America's senior spies are worried about disruptive social environments caused by increased social mobilization, violent conflict (including communal violence), and "other forms of instability that spill over borders and exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions; diminished or stagnant quality of governance; and widespread impunity for past abuses."

Scary stuff, but as the BBC's Tara McKelvey notes, "Scaring senators is a good way intelligence agencies can keep up their budgets."

Top image: Jeremy Cook/Popular Mechanics.