* Republicans keen to cut spending, debt a "security risk"
* Yemen, Somalia seen as growing terrorism threat
* China is a focus for cyber security
(Adds comments on debt, Egypt)
By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON, Feb 10 The United States faces cuts
in intelligence spending despite threats ranging from al Qaeda
in Yemen and Somalia to nuclear programs in Iran and North
Korea, the top U.S. intelligence official said on Thursday.
With newly powerful Republicans in Congress eager to slash
spending on many fronts, senior intelligence officials faced
questions about the future of U.S. spycraft even as Washington
tries to gauge the impact of turmoil in the Middle East.
"We all understand that we're going to be in for some belt
tightening," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
told a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee
Last year, the U.S. government disclosed it spent just more
than $80 billion on intelligence in fiscal year 2010, double
the amount in 2001 -- the year of the Sept. 11 attacks on the
United States by al Qaeda militants.
Much of the increase came during the eight-year presidency
of Republican George W. Bush as the United States went to war
in Afghanistan and Iraq and stepped up security at home.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, took office in 2009.
"We must see greater efficiencies in your existing budgets
to either fund new or expanded intelligence programs or return
those savings to the American people," Representative Mike
Rogers, the new Republican chairman of the intelligence
committee, said in his opening statement.
Clapper, repeating warnings made by Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, said the massive U.S. deficit was weakening
the U.S. position against potential rivals including China,
which owns about $900 billion in U.S. Treasury debt.
"The debt does pose a potential threat to our national
security ... The financial relationship we have with China is
illustrative of that," he said.
NUCLEAR AND CYBER SECURITY
Clapper, in his written statement, said al Qaeda, under
heavy U.S. pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was shifting
more focus to affiliates in Yemen and Somalia that could grow
stronger without a more sustained effort to disrupt them.
"The result may be that regional affiliates conducting most
of the terrorist attacks and multiple voices will provide
inspiration for the global jihadist movement," he said.
Clapper said the threat of cyber warfare was increasing and
that its impact was difficult to overstate, while CIA chief
Leon Panetta said the Internet was "the battleground of the
future" that the United States must be prepared to win.
Underscoring the threat, hackers in China broke into the
computer systems of five multinational energy companies to
steal bidding plans and other critical information, computer
security firm McAfee said. [ID:nTOE71905Z]
Nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran remain a serious
concern despite global efforts to halt them. Tehran is keeping
the option open to build a nuclear weapon, while Pyongyang is
already capable of building one, Clapper told the panel.
"North Korea would consider using nuclear weapons only
under certain narrow circumstances," he said. "We also assess,
albeit with low confidence, Pyongyang probably would not
attempt to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces or territory
unless it perceived its regime to be on the verge of military
defeat and risked an irretrievable loss of control."
North Korea probably had additional uranium enrichment
facilities beyond the known Yongbyon nuclear complex, Clapper
(Writing by Andrew Quinn; Editing by John O'Callaghan and