In his 60 Minutes interview last Sunday, CIA Director John Brennan warned that Islamic State attacks (ISIS/ISIL) on U.S. soil are “inevitable.” He came close to blaming political correctness for interfering with efforts to detect and thwart terror plots.
When interviewer Scott Pelley asked if Brennan expects an Islamic State attack in the United States, the CIA director replied, “I’m expecting them to try to put in place the operatives, the material or whatever else that they need to do or to incite people to carry out these attacks, clearly. So I believe that their attempts are inevitable. I don’t think their successes necessarily are.”
Pelley asked Brennan to describe to the audience ISIS’ motivations for killing Americans. His answer was brief, but not inconsistent with the controversial warning from presidential candidate Ben Carson about “civilizational jihad.”
The difference is that Brennan sees ISIS, and presumably other organized extremists groups like al-Qaeda, as outside agents trying to “provoke a clash between the West and the Muslim world,” recruiting supporters with false claims that “the United States is trying to take over their countries.”
Brennan credited U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies with doing excellent work to prevent terrorist attacks, but he said that “we have to work harder.” His call for giving the intelligence community greater “technical capabilities” included a call for backdoor access to encrypted online communications.
The most interesting exchange in the interview came when Brennan vowed that the U.S. government would become “even more forceful in terms of what we need to do” if an attack on the scale of the Paris massacre were perpetrated here.
This prompted Pelley to ask, “If our policy after an attack in the United States would be to be more forceful, why isn’t that our policy now before an attack?”
“Well, I think we’re being as forceful as we can be in making sure that we’re being surgical though as well,” Brennan replied. “What we don’t want to do is to alienate others within that region and have any type of indiscriminate actions that are going to lead to deaths of additional civilians.”
Here the CIA director put his finger on the point of contention between those who believe all measures necessary to thwart ISIS and other Islamic extremists must be taken at once and those who demand a lighter touch to avoid offending current and potential Muslim allies.
Brennan spoke of “alienating” Muslim populations in the Middle East with “indiscriminate” military actions that could inflict major civilian casualties. That is a big part of the reason President Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy was so agonizingly ineffective for so long. As Brennan said, it took a “major event”–the Paris attack–to focus that strategy into something more aggressive.
At some point, if Brennan’s prediction is correct, ISIS will pull off an attack far beyond the San Bernardino jihad or various other “lone wolf” murders, and the gloves will come off, leaving us to wonder why the gloves were kept on for so long.