Militants aim to strike in U.S. this year, officials say

James Clapper The director of national intelligence told lawmakers that Russia and China will continue to pose cyberthreats.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaders of the Islamic State are determined to strike targets in the United States this year, senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday, telling lawmakers that a small group of violent extremists will attempt to overcome the logistical challenges of mounting such an attack.

In testimony before congressional committees, National Intelligence Director James Clapper and other officials described the Islamic State as the "pre-eminent terrorist threat."

The militant group can "direct and inspire attacks against a wide range of targets around the world," Clapper said.

Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent

Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the Islamic State will probably conduct additional attacks in Europe and then attempt the same in the United States.

He said U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Islamic State leaders will be "increasingly involved in directing attacks rather than just encouraging lone attackers."

Clapper also said that al-Qaida, from which the Islamic State spun off, remains an enemy and that the United States will continue to see cyberthreats from China, Russia and North Korea, which also is ramping up its nuclear program.

North Korea has expanded a uranium enrichment facility and restarted a plutonium reactor that could begin recovering material for nuclear weapons in weeks or months, Clapper said in delivering the annual assessment by intelligence agencies of the top dangers facing the country.

Clapper also told the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees that North Korea has been operating its plutonium production reactor long enough that it could begin to recover plutonium "within a matter of weeks to months."

Both findings will deepen concern that North Korea is not only making technical advances in its nuclear weapons program but is also working to expand what is thought to be a small nuclear arsenal.

Clapper said that Pyongyang is also committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States, "although the system has not been flight-tested."

On the cyberthreat, Clapper said U.S. information systems, controlled by the U.S. government and American industry, are vulnerable to cyberattacks from Russia and China.

Clapper also said that Moscow's incursion in Ukraine and other "aggressive" moves around the globe are being done in part to demonstrate that it is a superpower equal to the United States.

He said he's unsure of Russia's end game but is concerned "we could be into another Cold War-like spiral."

On Afghanistan, Clapper said the country is at "serious risk of a political breakdown during 2016."

On Syria, Stewart said he does not think the Syrian government of Bashar Assad is likely to collapse or be defeated in the near term because of increased support from Iran and Russia.

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