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China, Russia named as challengers in U.S. intel listing

WASHINGTON -- The United States fingered emerging superpower China and resurgent Russia as its main challengers on Tuesday in new intelligence guidelines that highlighted the rising scourge of cyber-war.

“A number of nation-states have the ability to challenge U.S. interests in traditional and emerging ways,” said the 2009 National Intelligence Strategy (NIS) document.

“China shares many interests with the United States, but its increasing natural resource-focused diplomacy and military modernization are among the factors making it a complex global challenge.”

Intelligence director Dennis Blair said his guidelines for the next four years elevate “the importance of the challenges we face in the cyber domain,” and singled out China as “very aggressive in the cyberworld.”

His strategy review, the first since 2005, warned the Internet was “neither secure nor resilient” and recommended measures “across the cyber domain to protect critical infrastructure.”

The Russians also came in for criticism on the cyber threat issue and the intelligence document noted that Moscow's intentions on the world stage remained unclear.

“Russia is a U.S. partner in important initiatives such as securing fissile material and combating nuclear terrorism, but it may continue to seek avenues for reasserting power and influence in ways that complicate U.S. interests,” it said.

The strategy document said combating violent extremism and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were the top two priorities for the U.S. intelligence community.

Blair, a former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 1999 to 2002, said the U.S. was now able to target al-Qaida more aggressively thanks to years of hard intelligence graft.

“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 be more aggressive in expanding that knowledge and stopping things before they happen.”

He made no allusion to recent U.S. military strikes but his remarks came the day after a lightning U.S. military operation on Somali territory killed top al-Qaida fugitive Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.

Last month Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone attack, reportedly as he was getting a leg massage on the roof of his father-in-law's house.

“I say we are more aggressive and the ability to be more aggressive is founded on the much larger and more sophisticated understanding of the adversary we have gained across various administrations in recent years,” Blair said.

The NIS strategy review also dished out harsh criticism on Iran and North Korea, where rulers are defying Western attempts to force them to abandon proscribed nuclear activities.

“Iran poses an array of challenges to U.S. security objectives in the Middle East and beyond because of its nuclear and missile programs, support of terrorism, and provision of lethal aid to U.S. and coalition adversaries.

“North Korea continues to threaten peace and security in East Asia because of its sustained pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, its transfer of these capabilities to third parties, its erratic behavior, and its large conventional military capability,” it said.

Blair, only the third director of U.S. national intelligence, also revealed for the first time the overall cost of intelligence activities, putting the annual figure including military-related intel at 75 billion dollars.

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