updated 9/15/2009 4:02:13 PM ET 2009-09-15T20:02:13

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, the top American intelligence official said Tuesday.

"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," National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said. "We can be more aggressive because we are gaining more and more knowledge."

But in a conference call with reporters, Blair added that the intelligence agencies' worries are the same as they were eight years ago after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks: Terror groups seeking nuclear weapons; militants and insurgents exploiting failed states; and Iran and North Korea growing nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Those concerns are outlined 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.

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.

China, Russia cited
The document also 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.

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.

More on: Dennis Blair

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