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01 November

Obama Leads, As McCain Gets Desperate

Republicans on Friday ramped up their strategies to upset high-riding Democratic Candidate, Barack Obama, with the head of the America's intelligence body issuing threats which analysts interprets as attempt to cause jitters on national security.

United States' head of national intelligence, Mike McConnell warned that the next president would grapple with "risk of terrorist attacks and increasing international instability"-areas analysts believe John McCain, an acknowledged Vietnam war prisoner, has an edge over Obama.

McConnell spoke on a day McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, told reporters during a conference that: "We are still fighting; we are still behind; we still think we have got plenty of time to close the gap enough to make this election competitive and win it."

The McCain team drew comfort from some polls showing Obama's lead over the last month had started to shrink, albeit marginally. "There's no question there's a closing in this campaign," Davis said.

McConnell predicted that the next U.S. president will govern in an era of increasing international instability, including a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in the near future, long-term prospects of regional conflicts and diminished U.S. dominance across the globe.

Competition for energy, water and food will drive conflicts between nations to a degree not seen in decades, and climate change and global economic upheaval will amplify the effects, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, said in a speech in Nashville.

McConnell, who has given security briefings to both major-party presidential candidates, said the list of worries will soon drown out the euphoria as the next occupant of the White House settles into the job.

"After the new president-elect's excitement subsides after winning the election, it is going to be dampened somewhat when he begins to focus on the realities of the myriad of changes and challenges," he said.

He added that, besides the predictable conflicts and threats, "there is always surprise." McConnell said that the first months of a new presidency are a "period of most vulnerability," noting that major terrorist attacks occurred during the first year of the administrations of George Bush and Bill Clinton.

With the polls just three days away, it is unclear to what extent McConnell's speech could favour McCain in an election year in which the voters are bothered about the prospect of an economy heading for depression and are more in tune with Obama's solution. The sobering assessment was in part a reflection of a months-long analysis McConnell's agency is preparing for the next administration, highlighting security challenges the country will face in the next two decades. Elements of that forecast have been described by intelligence officials in recent weeks, and some highlights have been shared with the presidential candidates in briefings that have occurred since the August conventions.

In the near term, the focus remains largely on al-Qaeda and its global network, which remains "very lethal" despite dramatic setbacks in Iraq and elsewhere, McConnell said. But in spite of progress against Osama bin Laden and his followers, the terrorist threat is not likely to disappear in the next 20 years. Instead, absent major economic and political improvements in the Middle East, "conditions will be right for growing radicalism and recruitment of youths into terrorist groups," many of which will be descendants of established movements such as al-Qaeda, he said.

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