- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Democratic critics of the Bush administration howled for years about the alleged “politicization” of the intelligence community. Behold the Obama administration´s first major IC product, where politics seems to have played a visible role.

In a statement that dovetails nicely with the Obama administration’s hurry-up offense on the stimulus bill, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair highlighted the global economic crisis as leading national security challenge in introducing the Intelligence Community Annual Threat Assessment to the Senate’s intelligence committee. “The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” Director Blair said. He also stated that there is a “widely held perception that excesses in U.S. financial markets and inadequate regulation” were responsible for the crisis, which frames the argument in a way favorable to those seeking to impose stringent controls on markets.

While it is true that the downturn in the global economy will have an impact on national security for the United States (and most other countries), it will present as many opportunities as challenges. The report itself acknowledges that the decline in oil prices “may put the squeeze on the adventurism of producers like Iran and Venezuela,” not to mention Russia. Also it states that the crisis gives the U.S. “the opportunity to fashion new international global structures that can benefit all.”

Also worthy of note is that the news release that accompanied Blair’s testimony highlighted four primary emerging areas of concern: the global economic crisis; global climate change; resource scarcity; and cyber security. But it is unclear why these areas were given special emphasis.

In the forty-five page statement, the economic crisis is covered in the first two pages, and the latter three issues appear briefly in the back. Blair admitted in his statement that most of these are “not traditionally viewed as ‘threats’ to U.S. national security.” They are more properly viewed as strategic conditioning factors. Furthermore these sections largely discuss potentials – things that could happen, might happen, or may happen – rather that things that are happening.

Actual, ongoing threats – grouped down in the “also” section of the press release - such as the continuing war against violent extremism and the arc of instability in the Middle East (including the Iranian nuclear and missile programs), take up 18 pages in the front of the report. The 17 pages that follow deal with regional issues requiring immediate action, such as social meltdown in Mexico, high seas piracy, and other specific challenges. These are well-defined threats the intelligence community can play a role in combating. They are challenges that fall more naturally under the rubric of national security. They comprised the majority of the report. But they were not part of the Obama administration’s legislative agenda last week. The administration may want us to ignore the elephant in the room, but they need to remember that he is armed and dangerous.

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