WASHINGTON - The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would not have happened had U.S. intelligence agencies been organized then the way they are now, the top U.S. intelligence official said Tuesday.
"Had we been in business back then we would have stopped it," National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Blair outlined post-9/11 intelligence concerns in a new four-year strategy released Tuesday that will be used to guide the 16 agencies that conduct intelligence for the U.S. government.
For the first time ever, the government disclosed the full size of U.S. spy efforts. The Wall Street Journal:
[Blair] described the spy world as a 200,000-person $75 billion enterprise, marking the first time the full size of the U.S. intelligence apparatus--including military and national spy agencies and contractors-was disclosed.
The plan sets out six objectives for the agencies under Blair's leadership: combating violent extremism, countering the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, providing warning about impending crises and intelligence insight to guide policy; improving counterintelligence; protecting computer networks from cyber threats; and providing intelligence to support current operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico and elsewhere.
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder analyzed the report and the Obama administration's effect on the country's intelligence strategy:
There is a large classified annex to the NIS, but the public version tells us a lot about the Obama administration's national security strategy. There are six mission objectives. The first is to "combat violent extremism." Note the verbiage; the mission is not to combat "Islamic extremism" or "radical jihad." The change is critical - it's been endorsed by everyone up to the President himself, who has been influenced heavily by the conviction of his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that the way we label our priorities has an enormous effect on how we fight them.
As director, Blair is in charge of directing and coordinating those efforts. His office was created by Congress in 2004 on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.
Blair told reporters earlier Tuesday that the United States is safer from al-Qaida and is able to launch more aggressive attacks against the terrorist organization because it has developed a more sophisticated understanding of the group.
He said the government's agencies are foiling planned terror attacks now with less information than they had at their disposal before 9/11. The difference is the offices now cooperate and share information more readily, he said.
"What has really made all the nations safer has been the accumulation of knowledge about al-Qaida and its affiliate groups which enables us to ... stop things before they happen," he said. "We can be more aggressive because we are gaining more and more knowledge."
The intelligence agencies' worries are largely the same as they were eight years ago after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: terror groups seeking nuclear weapons; militants and insurgents exploiting failed states, and Iran and North Korea growing nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Blair added a few new concerns to the list: the global economic crisis, a potential global pandemic; and climate change that could lead to nations competing over energy and water resources.
The document raises concern about China's aggressive pursuit of natural resources around the world and its work to modernize its military. And Russia, a partner in securing nuclear materials and combating nuclear terrorism, may also try to reassert itself as a regional or global power, the document said.
The strategy urges an emphasis on counterintelligence against spies and criminals targeting U.S. computer networks for exploitation and theft. Intelligence officials believe adversaries are more interested than ever in stealing those secrets.