Senator Richard Burr, the Chairman of the Intelligence committee, opened the hearing and noted that the threats faced by the United States are no longer limited to just nations, but now include groups that can strike through cyberspace without leaving their homes or their region of the world. He praised the efforts of the intelligence community to adapt to the new threats and their tireless efforts on behalf of national security.
Burr also noted that this hearing allowed the American people to learn about what the intelligence community really does. He encouraged the witnesses to not only give their testimony, but to also speak about what their departments do, to the extent possible in a public setting.
The committee also discussed specific threats, particularly Iran and North Korea. Both of these countries have an impact on their local regions, which can ripple out to the international community. The Trump administration’s national intelligence director, Dan Coats, indicated that the U.S. sees Iran working to maintain last year’s nuclear agreement.
Coats noted that Syria’s regime will likely retain its momentum on the battlefield, provided it continues to receive support from Russia and Iran. “The continuation of the Syrian conflict will worsen already disastrous conditions for Syrians and regional states,” said Coats.
According to Coats, the deal extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon. He also noted that by sticking to the deal, Tehran’s rationale seems to be that it gets relief from sanctions and still preserves some nuclear capabilities. He also noted that the deal makes Iran’s nuclear activities more transparent, although it does not end the possibility that Iran could build a nuclear weapon in the future.
Coats also noted that countries, such as Russia, Iran, North Korea and China, are using cyberspace to target the U.S. and its allies and these actions will remain an outgoing threat. Iran, in particular, is making use of its high-tech capabilities. In 2013, an Iranian hacker intruded into the industrial control system of an American dam. In 2014, it was a data-deletion attack on a U.S.-based casino. The concern is that the U.S. is sufficiently prepared to counter these types of attacks from abroad and from groups within the U.S.