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Iran 'more willing' to attack on US soil, American intelligence chief says

Iran is newly willing to launch terrorist attacks on American soil, according to the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

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Iranian women hold pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei outside the former US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 2011, during a rally to mark the storming of the American embassy by Iranian students 32 years ago. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

US intelligence agencies believe that Iran would be willing to launch terrorist attacks within America if threatened, the Washington Post reported.

The Post cited testimony from the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee today that the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington last year was evidence of a new strategy in Tehran.

The Post reported:

That plot "shows that some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived US actions that threaten the regime," Clapper said [...].

"We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against US or allied interests overseas."

According to the Post, it is the first time a US official has implicated Iran's supreme leader in the suspected assassination plot, "signaling new belief that the alleged willingness to authorize such attacks comes directly from the top."

Clapper also said that Iran's spying operations against the US, including cyber-based, had "dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity," Reuters reported.

It is not yet known if Iran has decided to pursue nuclear weapons, Clapper said, though Tehran is believed to be "technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, if it so chooses."

Recent economic sanctions will do little to change the balance of power, intelligence agencies believe. "Iran's economic difficulties probably will not jeopardize the regime, absent a sudden and sustained fall in oil prices or a sudden domestic crisis that disrupts oil exports," Clapper is quoted as saying.

More from GlobalPost: Iran intelligence source promises retaliation "beyond Iran"

Clapper was speaking at an annual hearing to review global threats to the US. According to CNN, he listed "counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cyber security and counter-intelligence" as the top security concerns.

In addition to Iran, China and Russia are believed to have conducted "aggresive and successful economic espionage" against the US, Reuters said. "Many intrusions" by foreign intelligence services into the computer networks of US government agencies, businesses and universities go undetected, according to Clapper.

The Al Qaeda terrorist network, however, is said to have "weakened significantly" due to Western counterterrorism strategies and the death of Osama Bin Laden. It is forecast to continuing doing so, until the centralized movement is replaced by a series of small regional cells.

However, the New York Times reported, homegrown extremists within the US who are inspired by, but not necessarily under the direction of Al Qaeda "are capable of conducting at least limited attacks in the next year," Clapper said.

More from GlobalPost: In Pakistan, enemies of US are getting organized

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120131/iran-willing-attack-us-james-clapper