Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper said on Tuesday that the nation has never been beset by more crises and threats from around the world than it now faces.
The long list of global threats included terrorism, sectarian violence and radical extremism, Clapper said during a House hearing on worldwide threats.
"And there are many other crises and threats around the globe to include the spillover of the Syria conflict into neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, the destabilizing flood of refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon - now about 2.5 million people, essentially one of the largest humanitarian disasters in a decade," he said.
Clapper also mentioned the implications of the drawdown in Afghanistan, the deteriorating internal security posture in Iraq, the growth of foreign cyber capabilities, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and aggressive nation-state intelligence efforts against the United States.
The intelligence community was also threatened by the fallout from leaks by former contract employee Edward Snowden, Clapper said. Though he did not want to dwell on the debate about Snowden's motives, the U.S. intelligence chief said he did want to address the damage caused by his disclosures.
"As a consequence, in my view, this nation is less safe and its people less secure," he said. "What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs. As a result, we've lost critical foreign intelligence collections sources, including some shared with us by valued partners."
Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, is living in Russia under temporary asylum and facing espionage charge for his revelations of the NSA secret intelligence surveillance programs.
The leaks had provided terrorists and other adversaries insight into U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft, Clapper said. "And the insights that they are gaining are making our jobs much, much harder."
But if it's necessary to operate with reduced capabilities to restore the faith and confidence of the American people and their elected representatives, Clapper said, "then we in the intelligence community will work as hard as we can to meet the expectations before us."
The major lesson for the intelligence community from the revelations by Snowden and other leakers was that the community must lean in the direction of transparency wherever and whenever it can, Clapper said. "With greater transparency about these intelligence programs, the American people may be more likely to accept them," he added.