John Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations that terror attacks in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia show the terror threat is changing. The CIA working with foreign partners is key to defeating the terror threat, he added.
“These attacks underscore a disturbing trend that we have been monitoring for some time — the emergence of a terrorist threat that is increasingly decentralized, difficult to track and even more difficult to thwart,” Brennan said.
Though the United States and its partners have had considerable success in attacking core al-Qaida, affiliates have risen, said Brennan, pointing to al-Qaida groups in Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Nigeria “and especially Yemen where al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has demonstrated a capability to plot attacks well beyond Yemen’s borders, including in our homeland.”
ISIL a ‘Serious Danger’ Beyond Region
But the heartland of terror, the director said, now operates in Syria and Iraq where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is waging a campaign of unspeakable brutality against the local population and anyone who does not share its ideology.
Left unchecked, ISIL poses a serious danger not only to Syria and Iraq, but to the wider region and beyond, including the threat of attacks on the U.S. homeland and the homelands of its partners, Brennan said.
The intelligence chief echoed DoD leaders in saying the fight against ISIL will be a long one. “If there is one thing we have learned over the years, it is that success against terrorism requires patience and determination,” he said. “Clearly our country will be dealing with terrorism in one form or another for many years to come.”
Threats in the Cyber Realm
Modern communications technologies complicate the fight against ISIL and its ilk, Brennan said. “New technologies can help groups like ISIL coordinate operations, attract new recruits, disseminate propaganda and inspire sympathizers across the globe to act in their name,” he said. “The overall threat of terrorism is greatly amplified by today’s interconnected world where an incident in one corner of the globe can instantly spark a reaction thousands of miles away, and where a lone extremist can go online and learn how to carry out an attack without ever leaving home.”
The cyber domain brings tremendous benefits, but also brings tremendous dangers, he said.
“Threats in the cyber realm are an urgent national security priority, as America has no equivalent to the two wide oceans that have helped safeguard our country’s physical, maritime and aviation domains for centuries,” Brennan added.
Nations, terrorist organizations, criminals and hackers are trying to penetrate U.S. digital networks, he said.
“Government institutions are under constant assault, and private companies are spending enormous sums of money to defend against hacking attempts, denial of service attacks and other efforts to disrupt their networks,” Brennan said.
The North Korean attack on Sony last year highlighted the cyber threat, he said.
“CIA is working with our partners across the federal government to strengthen cyber defenses, to share expertise and to collaborate with the private sector to mitigate these threats,” Brennan said. “Together we have advanced our understanding of the threats in the cyber realm.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)