Intel cuts, cyberattacks 'insidious' national security threats

Dollar Signs

Making "incongruous" budget cuts to intelligence spending under sequestration puts the country at increased risk of attack, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Testifying April 18 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clapper expressed concern about the implications of reducing spending on intelligence, particularly in an era when intertwined global threats compound the risks.

"Sequestration forces the intelligence community to reduce all intelligence activities and functions without regard to impact on our mission," Clapper said. "Unlike more directly observable sequestration impacts like shorter hours at the parks or longer security lines at airports, the degradation to intelligence will be insidious. It will be gradual and almost invisible until, of course, we have an intelligence failure."

In his testimony, Clapper highlighted concerns about threats to critical infrastructure as less sophisticated adversaries potentially take aim at systems that control utilities such as power and water, which remain inadequately secured. Although he said it was unlikely that such an attack would cause far-reaching systemic destruction, the country could be caught off-guard.

"There is a risk that unsophisticated attacks would have significant outcomes due to unexpected system configurations and mistakes, or that vulnerability at one node might spill over and contaminate other parts of a networked system," he said in his testimony.

In separate testimony April 18 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also underscored threats to critical infrastructure and stressed the importance of funding cybersecurity efforts in fiscal 2014.

"Our nation's critical infrastructure is crucial to our economy and security," Napolitano said. "In 2012, [the Department of Homeland Security] issued warnings and responded to an average of 70 incidents per month arising from more than 10,000 daily alerts" related to critical infrastructure security.

Clapper told lawmakers that the cyber threats cannot be overstated given the wide spectrum of potential actors and interdependent systems.

"Threats are more interconnected and viral," he said. "Events which, at first blush, seem local and irrelevant can quickly set off transnational disruptions that affect U.S. national interests."

Clapper also said he believes cyber espionage is costing the U.S. economically and in terms of security.

"We assess that highly networked business practices and information technology are providing opportunities for foreign intelligence and security services, trusted insiders, hackers, and others to target and collect sensitive U.S. national security and economic data," Clapper said in his testimony. "This is almost certainly allowing our adversaries to close the technological gap between our respective militaries, slowly neutralizing one of our key advantages in the international arena."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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