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Intelligence director Dennis Blair says economic crisis is bigger security threat than terrorism

Intelligence director Dennis Blair speaks before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday.

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Intelligence director Dennis Blair speaks before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday.

WASHINGTON — Director of national intelligence Dennis Blair told Congress on Thursday that instability in countries around the world caused by the current global economic crisis — rather than terrorism — is the primary near-term security threat to the United States.

"Roughly a quarter of the countries in the world have already experienced low-level instability, such as government changes, because of the current slowdown," Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, delivering the first annual threat assessment in six years in which terrorism was not presented as the primary danger to the country.

Making his first appearance before the panel as President Obama's top intelligence adviser, Blair said the most immediate fallout for the United States from the worldwide economic decline will be "allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations." He also discussed the prospect of possible refugee flows from the Caribbean to the United States and a questioning of American economic and financial leadership in the world.

Blair also raised the specter of the "high levels of violent extremism" in the turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s, along with "regime-threatening instability" if the economic crisis persists over a one- to two-year period.

Blair assessments

U.S. intelligence director Dennis Blair's assessments of threats the U.S. faces:

Al-Qaida: It remains the greatest direct threat to the United States, but "because of the pressure we and our allies have put on al-Qaida's core leadership in Pakistan and the continued decline of al-Qaida's most prominent regional affiliate in Iraq, al-Qaida today is less capable and effective than it was a year ago."

Afghanistan: The situation has deteriorated, and the Taliban insurgency has expanded despite U.S. and international efforts to fight it. The government's inability to provide basic services and employment erodes its legitimacy and increases the influence of warlords and the Taliban.

Iran: "Iran is clearly developing all its components of a deliverable nuclear weapon program," but that weapon is not inevitable. It is possible the international community could put together a package of incentives and security guarantees to dissuade Iran.

Other threats

• Yemen and East Africa, particularly Somalia, are emerging as potential new bases of operations for Islamic extremists.

• Hackers threaten U.S. information networks; most attacks originate in Russia and China.

Times wires

Intelligence director Dennis Blair says economic crisis is bigger security threat than terrorism 02/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 11:23pm]

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