National Security Brief: The CIA’s No. 2 Says Syria Is The Top U.S. Security Threat


The Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency has said that the combination of civil war in Syria and the possibility that al Qaeda extremists could obtain dangerous weapons in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall represents the greatest security threat for the United States.

Michael Morell, CIA’s outgoing second in command, told the Wall Street Journal that the situation in Syria probably the most important issue in the world today because of where it is currently heading,” with a potential collapse of the Assad’s government:

He said there are now more foreign fighters flowing into Syria each month to take up arms with al Qaeda-affiliated groups, than there were going to Iraq to fight with al Qaeda at the height of the war there.

The Syrian government’s weapons, Mr. Morell said, “are going to be up for grabs and up for sale” as they were in Libya. The violence in Syria has the potential to spill over into Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

The Journal added that “[s]econd on his list was Iran, followed by the global al Qaeda threat, North Korea, and cyberwarfare.”

The U.S.’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, had previously supported more American military involvement in Syria but has, as recently as last April, backtracked from that position. Now, Dempsey has been cautioning that, as the New York Times reported last month, “a campaign to tilt the balance from President Bashar al-Assad to the opposition would be a vast undertaking, costing billions of dollars, and could backfire on the United States.”

McClatchy reported on Tuesday that some defense experts have wondered whether Dempsey is being too cautious. “Does every option really cost a billion dollars a month for an unknown number of months, or at least cost billions?” asked Center for Strategic and International Studies expert Anthony Cordesman. “A ‘no-fly, no-move’ zone covering limited rebel areas from allied bases – backed by clear U.S. threats to respond if Syria escalates – could be far more affordable.”

In other news:

  • The New York Times reports: In the largest study of its kind, military medical researchers have concluded that deployments to war zones and exposure to combat were not major factors behind a significant increase in suicides among military personnel from 2001 to 2008, according to a paper published on Tuesday.
  • Reuters reports: A U.S. drone killed at least six suspected al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen on Wednesday, officials said, a day after U.S. and British embassies evacuated some staff because of growing fears of attacks.
  • The Times also reports: On a visit at the request of President Obama, two Republican senators warned Egypt on Tuesday that the United States would cut off aid if the new military-appointed government failed to move rapidly toward democracy, including releasing the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, and other leaders of his Islamist party from detention.