US homeland ‘more secure’ , but ISIS can inspire homegrown extremists online – CIA chief

CIA Director John Brennan discusses instability and transnational threats to global security at The Council on Foreign Relations on June 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. © Pete Marovich / Getty Images / AFP
An attack by Islamic State in the US would not be surprising, the CIA chief said. While the US is more difficult for terrorists to infiltrate than it was before 9/11, IS has shown ability to inspire people already inside the US using the internet.

“I would be surprised if ISIL isn’t considering carrying out attacks,” such as the Istanbul airport bombing inside the US, CIA Director John Brennan said Wednesday, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

While Tuesday’s airport bombing looks like an IS operation, Brennan said the group may be reluctant to claim responsibility, because it still wants support of individuals inside Turkey.

The US still has “a ways to go” in defeating IS, which “still has a lot of momentum,” Brennan argued.

“This country has done a great job since 9/11 making the American homeland much more difficult for terrorist organizations abroad to penetrate,” Brennan added, but Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL) is pushing its narrative online, and the takeaway from the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando is that individuals who decide to act can do a lot of damage before law enforcement and intelligence agencies can flag them as terrorists.

Most terrorist attacks are directed out of the group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria, and addressing the threat requires collective, combined effort against both “upstream” leadership and “downstream” dissemination of instructions, Brennan said.

During the question-and-answer period, the CIA director argued that he did not disagree with the White House when he testified before the Senate two weeks ago that “our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach,” of IS.

“I’m hard pressed to think about where President Obama and I differ on this issue,” Brennan said.

Asked about rooting out IS in Syria, the CIA director repeated the administration’s assertion that the government in Damascus was somehow responsible for the terror group’s rise. He acknowledged, however, that Moscow’s actions in Syria were motivated by a desire to defeat terrorists. President Obama and the US State Department have previously accused Russia of not fighting IS, but propping up the “Assad regime.”

The US was working on “getting the trajectory of the Syrian conflict on a better course,” Brennan said, adding that it won’t be resolved on the battlefield.

“There’s going to be no way forward on the political front without Russian cooperation,” he added.