Counterintelligence Now Riskier Than Terrorism, Intelligence Officials Report

National Security

During a Senate hearing yesterday, top U.S. intelligence officials released a new threat assessment report that outlines the top risks to national security. While cybersecurity remains the greatest threat for a second year, the report said dangers from foreign spies and from leakers have surpassed terrorism as threats.

This revision follows a year that illustrated just how vulnerable the United States is to counterintelligence—both foreign spying and the leaking of information. In May, the Defense Department explicitly accused the Chinese government of launching cyberattacks against the U.S. government computer systems and defense contractors “in a deliberate, government-developed strategy to steal intellectual property and gain strategic advantage.”

According to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the theft of proprietary information and technology by the Chinese constitutes “the largest transfer of wealth illegally in the world’s history” and has cost the U.S. an estimated $2 trillion. “We are in a cyber war today,” Rogers said in July. “Most Americans don’t know it. They go about their lives happily. But we are in a cyber war today.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also pointed to leaks from National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to illustrate the danger posed by the exposure of classified information. Terrorists are “going to school” on the information revealed, he claimed, calling Snowden’s act the “most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history.”

According to Clapper’s report, the top five threats from 2013 and for 2014 are:


  1. Cyber-attacks, cyber-espionage
  2. Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime
  3. WMD Proliferation
  4. Counterintelligence
  5. Counterspace (attacks on satellites, communications)


  1. Cyber-attacks, cyber-espionage
  2. Counterintelligence
  3. Terrorism
  4. WMD Proliferation
  5. Counterspace

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