15th Nov 2019

Economic crisis bigger threat than Al Qaeda, US says

The economic crisis has topped Al Qaeda as the US' number one security risk, with social unrest in Europe already highlighting the security implications of the downturn, US national intelligence chief Dennis Blair has said.

"The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications," Mr Blair said on Thursday (12 February) in a testimony to the US Senate's committee on intelligence.

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If the crisis lasts longer than two years, it could cause the collapse of some nations' governments, Mr Blair warned in presenting the US intelligence community annual risk assessment.

Mr Blair said about a quarter of the world's countries, notably in Europe and the former Soviet Union, had already experienced "low-level instability" including government changes.

He also raised the spectre of "high levels of violent extremism" as seen during the downturn in the 1920s and 1930s along with "regime-threatening instability."

"Besides increased economic nationalism, the most likely political fallout for US interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defence and humanitarian obligations," he explained.

Mr Blair also mentioned Europe's anger over the "Buy American" provision in a stimulus bill, as an example of US leadership of the global economy and international financial structure being increasingly questioned.

One beneficiary of the crisis could be China, he said, if the country's communist leadership was able to "exert a stabilizing influence by maintaining strong import growth and not letting its currency slide."

Global coordination was essential to rebuild trust in the financial system and to ensure that the crisis does "not spiral into broader geopolitical tensions", Mr Blair argued.

Al Qaeda threat in Europe

Al-Qaeda was "less capable and effective" than a year ago after a series of damaging blows that had killed key leaders in Pakistan's tribal areas, the new US intelligence chief said.

Nevertheless, he warned that the terrorist organisation was still planning attacks on the West and was believed to view Europe as a "viable launching point."

His report also noted the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and other Sunni affiliates returning to Europe from training in Pakistan.

"We have had limited visibility into European plotting, but we assess that Al-Qaeda is continuing to plan attacks in Europe and the West," it said.

It said Denmark and Britain remained "viable targets" of Al-Qaeda attacks, as well as France, mentioned by Al-Qaeda leaders after a 2004 ban on headscarves.


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