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


That shift is 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 war-fighting 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.


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