U.S. Official: N. Korea Continues To Export Weapons - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

U.S. Official: N. Korea Continues To Export Weapons

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. intelligence expects North Korea's new young leader Kim Jong Un to continue Pyongyang's policy of attempting to export its weapon systems.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday that the North's export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to countries including Iran and Syria illustrated the reach of its proliferation activities.

He also cited North Korea's assistance to Syria in building a nuclear reactor, destroyed by Israel in 2007.

Clapper said it was too early to assess the extent of Kim's authority. Kim took power after his father died in December.

But Clapper said senior regime leaders would probably remain unified for now to prevent instability.

Earlier, Clapper said al-Qaeda is in decline around the world but is still a leading threat to the United States.

He also told the committee that Iran's leaders seem prepared to attack U.S. interests overseas, particularly if they feel threatened by possible U.S. action.

The U.S. now faces many interconnected enemies, including terrorists, criminals and foreign powers, who may try to strike via nuclear weapons or cyberspace, with the movement's Yemeni offshoot and "lone wolf" terror attacks posing key threats, he said.

But while al-Qaeda still aspires to strike the U.S., it will likely have to go for "smaller, simpler attacks" as its ranks are thinned by continued pressure from U.S. drone strikes and special operations raids since Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of Navy commandos in Pakistan last year.

Citing last year's thwarted Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the U.S., "some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei … are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime," Clapper said.

China and Russia remain the key threats to the U.S. in cyberspace, with "entities" in both countries "responsible for extensive illicit intrusions into U.S. computer networks and theft of U.S. intellectual property," though Iran is also a player, Clapper said.

He warned of growing cyber-espionage by foreign governments against U.S. government and businesses, and said many such intrusions are not being detected.

Insider threats are another category of risk, in which disgruntled employees like accused Army soldier Bradley Manning allegedly leak information to the public or sell it to competing corporations or nations.

The annual threat assessment looked further afield to places like Afghanistan, where it assessed the Afghan government's progress as fragile, and the Taliban as "resilient." The group is less able to intimidate the Afghan population that last year, especially in areas where NATO forces are concentrated, but its leaders continue to direct the insurgency from their safe haven in Pakistan, the report said.

The continent of Africa got one of the grimmest reviews. Africa remains "vulnerable to political crises, democratic backsliding, and natural disasters." Violence, corruption and terrorism are likely to plague Africa in areas key to U.S. interests, the review said, with unresolved discord between Sudan and South Sudan, continued fighting in Somalia, and extremist attacks in Nigeria.

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