Intelligence Chief: ‘Global Economic Crisis,' Not Iran or Al Qaeda, Is Top Security Threat to U.S.

By Pete Winn | February 25, 2009 | 5:31 PM EST

New Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair at Congress. (AP photo)

Washington ( - The number one security threat to the United States isn’t al Qaeda, nuclear terrorism, North Korea, Iran, Iraq or Eurasia. It’s the global economic crisis, according to President Obama’s new director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair
“The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair said, reading his testimony from the 45-page Annual Threat Assessment, a report to Congress from the intelligence community.
The House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee heard public testimony Wednesday from Blair on potential threats to the national security of the United States.
“Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression,” he said. “Of course, all of us recall the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability and high levels of violent extremism.”
Blair predicted the financial crisis and global recession are “likely to produce a wave of economic crises in emerging market nations over the next year.”
Since September 2008, he told the committee, 10 nations have been forced to seek economic help from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for “balance of payments support.”
“Unlike the Asian crisis of 1997-98, the globally synchronized nature of this slowdown means that countries will not be able to export their way out of this recession,” Blair added.
Blair said that while two-thirds of the world can probably weather the crisis, much of Latin America, the former Soviet states and sub-Saharan Africa “lack sufficient cash reserves, access to international aid or credit” to cope with the downturn – a situation that he said could lead to “regime-threatening instability.”
“Time is probably our greatest threat,” the retired admiral told lawmakers. "The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests."
Blair said the dramatic decline in oil prices from last summer’s high of $147 per barrel of crude, is due largely to the market betting that the global recession “is deep and protracted.”
Lower oil prices, however, not only benefit consumers -- the declining revenues may also “put the squeeze on the adventurism of Iran and Venezuela.”
While economics topped the list, the DNI did not neglect the other challenges facing the U.S., including what he called the “arc of instability” of the Middle East.
“Al Qaeda remains dangerous. Yemen is re-emerging as a jihadist battleground. The capabilities of terrorist groups in East Africa will increase in the next year and we remain concerned about the potential for homegrown American extremists inspired by al Qaeda's militant ideologies to plan attacks within the United States,” the former commander of the Navy’s Pacific Command said.
But Blair also said that he also takes seriously global climate change; resource scarcity and cyber-security. 
Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq, he noted, is the best it has been in the last few years.
“Fewer Iraqis are dying at the hands of their compatriots than at anytime over the last two years,” Blair told the committee.
Blair, meanwhile, tied the situation in Afghanistan to Pakistan, a nation that he said “has several complex problems” – including Al-Qai’da operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
“No improvement in Afghanistan is possible without Pakistan’s gaining control of its own border,” Blair said.
But al Qaeda is less of a threat to the U.S. today, he said, thanks largely to the fact that the terrorist organization has suffered the loss of key leaders.
In fact, al Qaeda is "less able to hit the United States," the intelligence chief said, because of “pressure that is being applied” against it.
But he admitted that the U.S. “lacks insight into specific details, timing, and intended targets of potential and current U.S. homeland plots.”
Under questioning by Rep. William Thornberry (R-Texas), he also said that there are “al Qaeda sympathizers” at work in the U.S. -- and the numbers are growing.
Rep. William Thornberry: What happens if there is not sustained pressure on al Qaeda -- if it is relaxed in some way?
Dennis Blair: They get stronger.
Rep. William Thornberry: And does the threat it poses to us grow?
Dennis Blair: Yes.
Blair, meanwhile, also promised committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) that the Obama administration was going to look into the increasingly deteriorating situation along the Mexican border -- where Mexican drug cartels are smuggling drugs into America, getting cash, buying guns in the U.S. and taking them back to Mexico where they are “engaging in terror.”