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Federal cuts jeopardize national security, intelligence chief warns

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Sequestration – the across-the-board cuts to the federal workforce and services — jeopardizes national security, and unless remedied will lead to an intelligence failure, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned on Thursday.

Clapper made the remarks to the House Intelligence Committee as part of the intelligence community's annual worldwide threat assessment, a yearly report in which intelligence leaders discuss threats to the United States and American interests around the globe.

National Intelligence Director James Clapper discusses his assessment of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un while testifying on Capitol Hill Thursday.


“Sequestration forces the intelligence community to reduce all intelligence activities and functions without regard to impact on our mission,” Clapper said. “In my considered judgment as the nation's senior intelligence officer, sequestration jeopardizes our nation's safety and security and this jeopardy will increase over time."

Clapper was joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn, and recently confirmed CIA Director John Brennan.

Before the talk, lawmakers were reminded that the session was open to the public and that they should be careful not to discuss classified matters. A closed-door session was scheduled afterward to address sensitive matters.

“Unlike more directly observable sequestration impacts like shorter hours of public parks or longer security lines at airports, the degradation to intelligence will be insidious,” Clapper said. “It will be gradual, almost invisible, until of course, we have an intelligence failure.”

The leading threat in the assessment this year is cyber security, but Clapper made a point to say that the threats included in this year's report are particularly diverse.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, CIA Director John Brennan and National Intelligence Director James Clapper comment on the current status of Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime.

In addition to cyber threats from foreign countries, organized crime, and terrorist groups, the report also cites the threats of weapons of mass destruction proliferation, and regional instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

“In my almost 50 years in intelligence, I do not recall a period in which we've confronted a more diverse array of threats, crises and challenges around the world,” Clapper said. “To me at least, this makes sequestration even more incongruous.”

Speaking on North Korea and its young leader, Kim Jung Un, Clapper called war threats “extremely belligerent, aggressive public rhetoric toward the United States and South Korea.” Clapper said the U.S. was continuing to carefully monitor developments on the Korean peninsula.

Read James Clapper's full statement on the Worldwide Threat Assessment (PDF)

Clapper said that the bellicose rhetoric was primarily posturing on the part of the North Korean leader.

“As far as objectives of the new leader, I think his primary objective is to consolidate, affirm his power,” Clapper said. “And much of the rhetoric -- in fact all of the belligerent rhetoric of late--  I think is designed for both an internal and an external audience,” Clapper said. “But I think first and foremost it's to show that he is firmly in control in -- in North Korea.”

Rep. Peter King, R-New York, asked Clapper what Kim’s end game might be.

“I don't think really he has much of an end game other than to somehow elicit recognition from the world, and specifically, most importantly the United States, of North Korea's arrival on an international scene as a nuclear power,” Clapper said. “And that that entitles him to negotiation and to accommodation, and presumably -- for aid.

NBC's chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports on the military's latest intelligence on North Korea's possible missile strike plans, saying U.S. military officials are "concerned" about where the missiles will be aimed.

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