How secure is the United States? Who and what threaten Americans, their allies and interests? These and other security-related questions were the subject of the Senate Armed Services committee hearing in Congress, which included testimony by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte. VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports that weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles were a major topic at the hearing.
John Negroponte told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that threats to America include hostile nation states, proliferation networks, alienated communities, charismatic individuals and microscopic influenza.
He said that the preeminent threat to homeland security remains terrorism and warned that Al-Qaida could launch another large-scale attack on the United States.
"Although an attack using conventional explosives continues to be the most probable scenario, al-Qaida remains interested in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials or weapons."
Intelligence Director Negroponte said that the ongoing development of dangerous weapons and delivery systems constitutes the second major threat to the safety of Americans and their allies. He said Iran has the largest missile arsenal in the Middle East and is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. He said North Korea's claim to already possess such weapons is probably true.
During the Committee's question and answer session, opposition Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized the current U.S. multilateral approach to convince Pyongyang to relinquish its weapons. "It's been disappointing, certainly, to me -- I assume to others, as well -- that we have outsourced our policy with respect to North Korea, to the six-party talks, which really means outsourcing it to China. I don't think that's a wise decision."
Also testifying was the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, who warned that numerous countries, including China, are seeking to improve their ballistic missile forces.
"China continues to expand and modernize all categories of its ballistic missile forces, to increase survivability and war-fighting capabilities, to enhance their deterrence value and to overcome ballistic missile defenses."
In the Western Hemisphere, John Negroponte said, a gradual consolidation of democratic institutions is the dominant positive trend in most of Latin America. Nonetheless, he singled out Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez as one of several radical populist figures in some Latin American countries who, as he put it, have little respect for democratic institutions and appeal to their constituencies with anti-U.S. rhetoric.
The Armed Services Committee continued hearing testimony about national security in another hearing on Tuesday that was closed to the public.