MANHATTAN — The nation's security services are doing a better job of sharing information with one another, but they need to get intelligence into the hands of those who can act so that the country can react more quickly to threats, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said Monday.
Blair, delivering the Landon Lecture to students and faculty at Kansas State University, said the 16 agencies he oversees have learned from the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
But he said incidents like the failed Christmas Eve attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner — when, he said, the agencies knew about the threat but did not issue a warning — show that there's room for improvement.
"Perhaps we can't quite look five cars ahead in the road, but we can one or two," he said.
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Blair spoke about how the U.S. has had to change the way it gathers intelligence since the end of the Cold War. No longer are the threats just nations intent on bringing down America, but individuals and extremists groups, he said.
"China and Russia are not the enemies that they once were, but we still need to know what they say about us in secret," Blair said.
One of the growing challenges facing the United States and the world is cybersecurity. Blair said the United States can learn a great deal by trying to pry secrets from other nations and groups linked by networks instead of chasing pieces of paper like days of old.
Conversely, he said, all Americans can help with security by learning to protect their computers from being hijacked by one individual or organization bent on doing harm.
"One person acting alone can change the nation's policy," Blair said.
He used the example of Richard Reid, a self-proclaimed al-Qaida operative who tried to blow up a jet in 2001 by igniting explosives hidden in his shoes. Now all airline passengers have their shoes checked at security.
Blair's lecture, named for 1936 presidential hopeful and Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, was delayed by about 45 minutes after a bomb threat forced a change of venue. The event was moved to an adjacent student union auditorium.
Law enforcement officials said no one was in the original site when the threat was called in 30 minutes before the lecture. A sweep of the building yielded no explosives and it was reopened for use.
"I was told bomb threats were an exam week phenomena," Blair joked. "I thought I was safe."