North Korea poses 'existential' threat, US intel chief warns

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US National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said on Thursday that even if the US and its allies increase their military aid to the war-torn country, the security situation there is still likely to deteriorate.

"In 2017, Russian Federation is likely to be more assertive in global affairs, more unpredictable in its approach to the United States, and more authoritarian in its approach to domestic politics", Coats said in the statement summarizing the yearly joint report to Congress by the nation's intelligence agencies. "The threat of HVE attacks will persist, and some attacks will probably occur with little or no warning".

"This aggressiveness was evident in Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 USA election and we assess that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 USA election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets", Coats wrote in his statement.

"Outside Iraq and Syria ISIS is seeks to foster interconnectedness among its global branches and networks, align their efforts to a strategy and withstand counter-ISIS efforts".

He said that al-Qaeda and its network continue to pose a "significant terrorist threat overseas, as they remain primarily focused on local and regional conflicts". Coats declined to provide such details in an open hearing.

"The intelligence suggests we're going to need more to shake free this terribly challenging problem". He said that as ISIS is pushed from its stronghold of Mosul, it is preparing to regroup and continue an insurgency.

But, Coats said also that there is a possibility that chemical weapons could be used again on the Syrian people by the Syrian government and on other countries, too.

His comments came as Trump is set to receive Pentagon reccomendations this week on potential options in Afghanistan.

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Iran continues to perform key research and development on nuclear missile capabilities despite the landmark nuclear agreement with Western powers, according to the last US intelligence assessments. "The Taliban are likely to continue to make gains, especially in rural areas", said the United States spy chief, adding that efforts to bolster local military have been less fruitful than hoped.

The Trump administration is considering sending 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to help train Afghan security forces.

According to Defense One, Coats spoke to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and talked about the growing number of threats facing the homeland and potentially shrinking the agencies that handle them. Stewart noted that North Korea has expressed the goal of creating an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tipped with a miniaturized nuclear weapon, and each test comes with progress towards that explicit goal.

Iran is working on development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry nuclear weapons. "... But they're on that path and they're committed to doing that".

The DPRK said early this month that the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula is the most unsafe in half a century since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The deal has enhanced transparency of Iran's nuclear activities, Coats said, and he cited Obama administration estimates that the time it would take Iran to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon has been extended from a few months to about a year.

Coats said Iran was also making use of its high-tech capabilities.