Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned Wednesday that Al Qaeda is still as dangerous as it was in the past and the its use of splinter groups pose a significant danger to U.S. assets — both at home and overseas as their operations are difficult to detect and monitor.
Clapper, who spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee, noted that terrorist organizations "have expressed interest in developing offensive cyber capabilities." He told lawmakers that they use educated recruits who employ "cyberspace for propaganda and influence operations, financial activities and personnel recruitment."
He noted that instability the Middle East and North Africa "has accelerated the decentralization of the movement, which is increasingly influenced by local and regional issues," but the "diffusion has led to the emergence of new power centers and an increase in threats by networks of like-minded extremists with allegiances to multiple groups."
"The potential of global events to instantaneously spark grievances around the world hinders advance warning, disruption and attribution of plots," he warned in the intelligence community’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, where the intelligence community presents its analysis and assessment of threats to the U.S.
"Terrorist threats emanate from a diverse array of terrorist actors, ranging from formal groups to homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) and ad hoc, foreign-based actors," the report states. "The threat environment continues to transition to a more diverse array of actors, reinforcing the positive developments of previous years."
He said large scale Al Qaeda attacks have been significantly degraded but that the splinter groups still present direct threats to U.S. assets.
The report stated that "U.S.-based extremists will likely continue to pose the most frequent threat to the U.S. Homeland."
It noted the "tragic attack in Boston in April 2013" and said that indicates that insular 'Home Violent Extremists' who act alone or in small groups and mask the extent of their ideological radicalization can represent challenging and lethal threats."
As for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates from its safe haven in Yemen, "has attempted several times to attack the US Homeland. We judge that the group poses a significant threat and remains intent on targeting the United States and US interests overseas."
Although, core Al Qaeda had major setbacks "it probably hopes for a resurgence following the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan in 2014."
The report noted that the U.S. faces an "enduring" and persistent threat to U.S. interests overseas from extremist groups looking to attack "US embassies, military facilities and individuals will be at particular risk in parts of South Asia, the Middle East and Africa."
Syria has also become a significant location for independent or Al Qaeda "aligned groups to recruit, train, and equip a growing number of extremists, some of whom might conduct external attacks," the report said.
"Hostilities between Sunni and Shia are also intensifying in Syria and spilling into neighboring countries, which is increasing the likelihood of a protracted conflict," Clapper said in his testimony. "Iran and Hezbollah are committed to defending the (President Bashar Al)-Asad regime and have provided support toward this end, including sending billions of dollars in military and economic aid, training pro-regime and Iraqi Shia militants, and deploying their own personnel into the country."