The threat of terrorism looms, the country's director of national intelligence told an audience at Harvard University Tuesday.
With weapons of mass destruction that could result in the death of many, many people chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons we assess the likelihood of each, said Mike McConnell, who became the second director of national intelligence in 2007. The likelihood of nuclear attack is less but is not eliminated.
Cyberterrorism is yet another rising danger, McConnell said. The cyber threat is the soft underbelly of the United States, McConnell said. The United States depends on the cyber infrastructure more than any other on Earth.
He said that the American financial system is especially vulnerable to a type of cyber-terrorism he referred to as data destruction.
Part of the governments plan to meet growing security challenges must include increased cooperation between different agencies that collect intelligence, McConnell said.
It is large: we are 100,000 people. It is global: we spend in the neighborhood of $48 billion a year, McConnell said of the intelligence community, which includes entities like the intelligence-gathering agencies of the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Thats a very complex enterprise to operate my job is to make sure its integrated.
McConnell said that the lack of communication among these separate agencies has been a major weakness in American intelligence since well before 2001, adding that we designed our own system to make the attacks of 9/11 successful. Still, he added that in recent years, the intelligence community has taken steps to make itself more effective.
The idea is always being willing to make yourself more agile, because you have to be ready to make decisions, and todays decisions happen at the speed of light, McConnell said.
McConnell also noted that the intelligence agencies have shifted their focus so that terrorism is now considered a legitimate threat. He noted that the FBI which is considered both an investigative and domestic intelligence agency has made the prevention of terrorist attacks its primary focus.
As director of the nations intelligence-gathering agencies, McConnell, a former Navy admiral, is charged with presenting the president with his daily intelligence briefing. He was also involved in this summer's publication of Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, a projection of the threats that the United States is likely to face over the next 17 years.
This most recent version of the report, which is produced every four years to aid the incoming presidential administration, warns of rising food prices, increased competition for energy sources, scarce water resources and biological weapons as emerging national security threats.