The Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization has the capability to stage a Paris-style attack in the US, using local cells to strike in multiple locations and inflict dozens of casualties, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned Wednesday.
“They do have that capacity,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN’s Peter Bergen in an exclusive interview on “AC 360” on terrorism, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s most virulent offshoot – ISIS.
“That’s something we worry about a lot in the United States, that they could conjure up a raid like they did in Paris or Brussels,” where Islamic terrorists in March attacked a train and an airport, leaving 35 dead and 300 people injured, Clapper said. The November Paris attacks killed at least 132.
Clapper said any attempted attack in the US would resemble these assaults in Europe and, as in those cities, ISIS would “either infiltrate people or incite people who are already here,” he said.
In a reference to the December shootings in San Bernardino by ISIS supporters, he added that, “we’ve already seen some cases of that.”
ISIS’ central command in Syria would not necessarily give directions for a specific target, Clapper added. “That’s apparently not exactly their modus operandi,” he said. “It’s more general, strategic guidance, and then let the local cell figure out how to achieve the objectives.”
“There is a very determined element of ISIS that is trying to carry out attacks abroad as they’ve done in Belgium and Paris and other areas,” said John Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The possibility of an attack on US soil means that the US should intensify its efforts against ISIS, Brennan said. “I do believe that we need to add some urgency to this destruction of ISIS,” the CIA director said, “just because it has demonstrated that it’s willing to carry out these horrific attacks against innocent civilians.”
Decades to Defeat ISIS
However, President Barack Obama and some of his other security advisors tried to downplay ISIS’ threat on US soil.
Obama told Bergen that “we, here in the United States, face less of a threat than Europe” from ISIS.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said “whether or not” ISIS can attack the US, the administration would do “our utmost to try to prevent it.”
Still, Obama said, “The Paris-style attack, the Brussels style attack is the challenge that we’re going to continue to face.”
Obama called for increased action against the group and said an effort to defeat it could take decades. “We have to remain vigilant,” Obama said.
For now, the administration has been in “relentless pursuit” of ISIS, Brennan said, and is making continued progress.
But Brennan acknowledged that “the phenomenon of ISIS is going to be with us into the next administration” and predicted that defeating it would probably be “a multi-year effort,” but ISIS was “doomed,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
ISIS’ mounting influence and terror activity in the US is keeping security and law enforcement authorities on edge as they work to prevent the next Islamic terror attack on US soil.
The US Justice Department has charged a record number of at least 60 suspects in 2015 with terrorism-related crimes.
The FBI has opened investigations in all 50 states, and the cases cross ethnic and geographic lines, officials said. In November, FBI Director James Comey said the FBI is pursuing 900 active ISIS terror-related investigations.