Cyber-attacks a bigger threat than Al Qaeda, officials say

“It’s getting worse,” Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads the Pentagon’s new U.S. Cyber Command said, citing more than 140 attacks on Wall Street over the last six months. And in August, he said, a computer intrusion at Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian national oil and gas company, destroyed data on more than 30,000 computers.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, and CIA Director John Brennan prepare to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington.

Cyber-attacks and cyber-espionage pose a greater potential danger to U.S. national security than Al Qaeda and other militants that have dominated America’s global focus since Sept. 11, 2001, the nation’s top intelligence officials said Tuesday.

For the first time, the growing risk of computer-launched foreign assaults on U.S. infrastructure, including the power grid, transportation hubs and financial networks, was ranked higher in the U.S. intelligence community’s annual review of worldwide threats than worries about terrorism, transnational organized crime and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The startling reappraisal came a day after President Obama’s national security advisor, Thomas Donilon, complained of “cyber-intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale” and said China-based digital attacks on U.S. businesses and institutions had become “a key point of concern” for the White House.

“The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country,” he said in a speech at the Asia Society in New York. He urged Beijing to “take serious steps to investigate and put a stop to these activities.”

Appearing Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, said Russia and China are unlikely to launch a devastating cyber-attack against the United States outside a military conflict or crisis that they believe threatens their vital interests.


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