CIA’s Brennan: Islamic State Most Likely Plotting Attacks Against U.S. Homeland

By Kristen Torres
CIA Director John Brennan speaks with PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff June 29.

As Islamic State-backed attacks continue abroad, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency said he would “not be surprised” if the terrorist group was plotting to hit the U.S. homeland.

“We’ve seen ISIL carry out and incite an array of terrorist attacks in the [U.S.] region [and] beyond — directly and indirectly,” John Brennan said in a wide-ranging interview June 29 at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. “If anyone believes that the U.S. homeland is hermetically sealed and ISIL would not consider that, I would guard against it.”

The United States is leading the coalition to try and destroy the extremist group inside Syria and Iraq, which means that U.S. interests and its allies abroad are also at risk for future attacks, according to Brennan.

“We’re less vulnerable to physical penetration since 9/11,” he added. “But as we’ve seen with the internet, ISIL taking advantage of technology is very worrisome.”

Instability is one of the most defining issues facing the world today, as ungoverned spaces provide a safe haven for extremists looking to operate in East Asia, the Middle East and West Africa, Brennan said.

“Too many governments are resorting to authoritarianism in expense of democratic principals and human rights,” he said. “More and more people are shifting allegiances away from the nation state and toward subnational groups and identities and along ethnic lines.”

The use of cyberterrorism by terrorists, gangs and other criminals also poses a threat to U.S. security, Brennan said. The lack of legislation coming from Congress to adapt to the emergence of this new digital frontier has also created confusion about the best way to fight web-based attacks.

“The range of human activity in cyberspace is constantly on my mind,” Brennan said. “Most worrisome is that there is still no political or national consensus on the appropriate role of the government in safeguarding the security, reliability, resiliency and prosperity of the digital domain.”

Russia’s involvement in Syria continues to play a dynamic role in the way that international powers approach the unrest under Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The United States will make little headway dealing with the political front in Syria without Russia’s help, he said.

“We need active cooperation and genuine interest from Russia if we’re going to find a political path to defeating ISIS, because it won’t be solved on the battlefield,” he said. “I don’t believe they [Russia] have lived up to their commitment as far as getting the trajectory of the Syrian conflict on a better course.”
A nuclear North Korea continues to cause concern among U.S. officials, and Kim Jong-un remains unresponsive to international pressure to halt its nuclear weapons program.

“Kim Jong-un continues to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities irrespective of what his people need right now,” Brennan said. “He yet has come to realize that the international community will remain united against nuclear proliferation of the Korean peninsula and we will not accept a nuclear state.”

The United States wants to bring North Korea out of international isolation and help its people, but Jong-un will first have to understand that his pursuit of nuclear capabilities will only undermine his political power, Brennan added.

As for the Brexit vote, Brennan does not see an adverse effect on the intelligence partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom.

“My intelligence counterpart in the U.K. and I have reaffirmed to each other that our bonds of friendship and cooperation are only destined to grow strong in the years ahead,” Brennan said. “These ties are and always will be essential to our collective security.”

Photo: Council on Foreign Relations

Topics: Counterinsurgency, Homeland Security

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