In candid testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Clapper said he considered China the most significant threat among nation states, with Russia posing the second-greatest threat. He later clarified the comments by saying he did not assess that China or Russia had the intention to launch an attack on the United States.
The testimony contrasts with statements by Obama administration officials who have sought to highlight the dangers of Iran and North Korea while paying less attention to China and Russia.
Mr. Clapper said he does not assess that North Korea and Iran pose greater strategic threats because they lack the forces that Russia and China have that could deliver a nuclear attack on the United States.
North Korea has tested at least twice a multistaged long-range missile capable of hitting the United States. On Tuesday, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, told a conference in Washington that analysts estimate that Iran would be able to deliver a payload by missile to the U.S. East Coast by 2015.
He added, “We have a treaty, the New START treaty, with the Russians. I guess I would rank them a little lower because we don’t have such a treaty with the Chinese.”
One asymmetric strategy China is pursuing is the use of computer-based cyberprobes into U.S. classified computer networks. Mr. Clapper said the cyber-activity is a “formidable concern.”