The Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence took place Thursday, February 12,, giving the new Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair his first opportunity to address the committee on the “far-reaching impact of the global economic crisis.”
“The stakes in this are high,” he said. “Mexico, with its close trade links with the United States is vulnerable to a prolonged U.S. recession. Europe and the former Soviet Union have experienced anti-state demonstrations. Much of the former Soviet Union, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa lack sufficient cash reserves and access to international aid.”
This worldwide economic crisis could potentially be a serious threat to American national security. Blair continues, “Economic crises increase the risk of regime change and instability if they are prolonged for a one- or two-year period. Instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing nations have on law and order, and can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.”
The threats posed by the economic crisis go beyond the potential emergence of hostile regimes, however, and may include decreased U.S. credibility abroad. In his official statement for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Blair writes, “The widely held perception that excesses in U.S. financial markets and inadequate regulation were responsible has increased criticism about free market policies, which may make it difficult to achieve long-time U.S. objectives, such as the opening of national capital markets and increasing domestic demand in Asia. It already has increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy and the international financial structure.”
The other major concern that Director Blair discussed was security developments in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban-dominated insurgency forces have demonstrated greater aggressiveness,” he said. “Improved governance and extended developments were hampered in 2008 by a lack of security. Afghan leaders must tackle endemic corruption and an extensive drug trade.”
Pakistan is, as always, a region of concern for U.S.-Middle Eastern policy, especially in the War on Terror. Addressing the question of how best to deal with Taliban insurgents hiding in parts of Pakistan, Blair said, “We have to give it intense and persistent leadership. We have to let the Pakistanis know that we are working with them for the long haul. They need to come to the realization that the Taliban presence is as much a threat to Pakistan as they are to others and they really need to put their shoulder to the wheel in a way that benefits all of us. I’m not sure all of Pakistan is quite there yet, and that is a real challenge.”
Besides the threats posed by insurgent groups and terrorists in the Middle East, the U.S. is still engaged in operations inside of Iraq. Blair sees the possibility that “a more stable Iraq could counterbalance other negative trends in the region.” His report, which is available online, details the steps that have been taken to reduce violence in Iraq and outlines areas for improvement in the coming years.
Other major areas of concern, according to the new Director, include escalating dangers in Africa, increased Russian aggression, the ongoing standoff between China and Taiwan and global climate change.
He said that the United States is “in a strong position to shape a world reflecting universal aspirations and values that have motivated Americans since 1776: human rights; the rule of law; liberal market economics and social justice. Whether we can succeed will all depend on actions we take here at home—restoring strong economic growth and maintaining our scientific and technological edge and defending ourselves at reasonable cost in dollars without violating our civil liberties.”