The new director of national intelligence told Congress on Thursday that global economic turmoil and the instability it could ignite had outpaced terrorism as the most urgent threat facing the United States.
The assessment underscored concern inside America’s intelligence agencies not only about the fallout from the economic crisis around the globe, but also about long-term harm to America’s reputation. The crisis that began in American markets has already “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy,” the intelligence chief, Dennis C. Blair, said.
Mr. Blair’s comments were particularly striking because they were delivered as part of a threat assessment to Congress that has customarily focused on issues like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Mr. Blair singled out the economic downturn as “the primary near-term security concern” for the country, and he warned that if it continued to spread and deepen, it would contribute to unrest and imperil some governments.
“The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he said.Mr. Blair also used his testimony to deliver a withering critique of the Afghan government’s inability to halt the spread of the Taliban, and he said corruption in Kabul and throughout the country had bolstered support for the Taliban and warlords.
The stark assessment of the security picture in Afghanistan laid bare the obstacles facing the Obama administration as it aims to direct more American troops and attention toward quelling the violence in the country.