Official: Economic crisis tops list of U.S. threats

WASHINGTON — The economic crisis has trumped bullets and bombs in the intelligence agencies’ latest assessment of threats to the United States. It’s a reflection of the depth of the unfolding recession, but also of the progress made in t

WASHINGTON — The economic crisis has trumped bullets and bombs in the intelligence agencies’ latest assessment of threats to the United States.

It’s a reflection of the depth of the unfolding recession but also of the progress made in the war against terrorists and the Obama administration’s more expansive definition of national security.

Sounding more like an economist than the warfighting Navy commander he once was, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told a Senate panel Thursday that if the crisis lasts more than two years, it could cause some nations’ governments to collapse.

And a number of allies the United States depends on might no longer be able to afford to meet their own defense and humanitarian obligations, he said.

Blair said already the financial meltdown, which started in the United States and quickly infected other countries, has eroded confidence in American economic leadership and belief in free markets.

“Time is probably our greatest threat. The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, as Congress prepares to vote Friday on a $789 billion stimulus package.

Blair’s 49-page statement opened with a detailed description of the economic crisis. It was a marked departure from threat briefings of years past, which focused first on traditional threats and battlefields like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

“The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” he said in a written statement for the committee.

One reason for the new ranking is progress made in the last year against al-Qaida. A year ago, al- Qaida was said to have reconstituted its operations in the lawless tribal area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But that has changed.

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