WASHINGTON (Agencies) - US intelligence officials are concerned the current financial crisis could weaken pro-Western governments around the world and diminish the US government's ability to respond to new security threats, The Washington Post reported Saturday. US government officials and private analysts say the economic turmoil has heightened the short-term risk of a terrorist attack, as radical groups probe for weakening border protections and new gaps in defences. A protracted financial crisis could threaten the survival of friendly regimes from Pakistan to the Middle East while forcing Western nations to cut spending on defence, intelligence and foreign aid, the sources said.The crisis could also accelerate the shift to a more Asia-centric globe, as rising powers such as China gain more leverage over international financial institutions and greater influence in world capitals. Some of the more troubling and immediate scenarios analysts are weighing involve nuclear-armed Pakistan, which already was being battered by inflation and unemployment before the global financial tsunami hit. Since September, Pakistan has seen its national currency devalued and its hard-currency reserves nearly wiped out. Analysts also worry about the impact of plummeting crude prices on oil-dependent nations such as Yemen, which has a large population of unemployed youths and a history of support for militant Islamic groups. The underlying problems and trends - especially regional instability and the waning influence of the West - were already well established, but they are now "being accelerated by the current global financial crisis," the nation's top intelligence official, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, said in a recent speech. McConnell is among several top US intelligence officials warning that deep cuts in military and intelligence budgets could undermine the country's ability to anticipate and defend against new threats. Intelligence officials say they have no hard evidence of a pending terrorist attack, and CIA Director Michael V Hayden said in a news conference Thursday that his agency has not detected increased al-Qaeda communications or other signs of an imminent strike. But many government and private terrorism experts say the financial crisis has given al-Qaeda an opening, and judging from public statements and intercepted communications, senior al-Qaeda leaders are elated by the West's economic troubles, which they regard as a vindication of their efforts and a sign of the superpower's weakness. "Al-Qaeda's propaganda arm is constantly banging the drum saying that the US economy is on the precipice - and it's the force of the jihadists that's going to push us over the edge," said Bruce Hoffman, a former scholar-in-residence at the CIA and now a professor at Georgetown University. Whether terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is technically capable of another Sept 11-style attack is unclear, but US officials say he has traditionally picked times of transition to launch major strikes. The two major al-Qaeda-linked attacks on US soil" the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the 2001 hijackings - occurred in the early months of new administrations. This year, the presidential transition is occurring as American households and financial institutions are under severe economic strain, and political leaders are devoting great time and effort to that crisis. Frances Fragos Townsend, who previously served as Bush's homeland security adviser, told a gathering of terrorism experts last month that the confluence of events is "not lost" on bin Laden. "We know from prior actions that this is a period of vulnerability," Townsend said. As bad as economic conditions are in the United States and Europe, where outright recessions are expected next year, they are worse in developing countries such as Pakistan, a state that was already struggling with violent insurgencies and widespread poverty. Some analysts warn that a prolonged economic crisis could trigger a period of widespread unrest that could strengthen the hand of extremists and threaten Pakistan's democratically elected government - with potentially grave consequences for the region and perhaps the planet. Pakistanis were hit by soaring food and energy prices earlier in the year, and the country's financial problems have multiplied since late summer. Islamabad's currency reserves have nearly evaporated, forcing the new government to seek new foreign loans or risk defaulting on the country's debt. The rupee has been devalued, and inflation is squeezing Pakistan's poor and middle class alike. Shahid Javed Burki, a native Pakistani and former World Bank official, said job cuts and higher food costs are behind much of the anger and desperation he witnessed during a recent trip. "I'm especially worried about the large urban centres," said Burki, author of several books on Pakistan's economy. "If they are badly hurt, it creates incentives for people to look to the extremists to make things better. It's a very dicey situation." US officials are following developments with particular concern because of Pakistan's critical role in the campaign against terrorism, as well as the country's arsenal of dozens of nuclear weapons. Al-Qaeda has appealed directly to Pakistanis to overthrow their government, and its Taliban allies have launched multiple suicide bombings, some aimed at economic targets such as the posh Marriott hotel in Islamabad, hit in September. Economic and social unrest has helped drive recruiting for militant groups that cross into Afghanistan to attack US troops.