CIA Director John Brennan on the Paris Attacks (11/16)     Print

By Michael D. Mosettig, former Foreign Editor of PBS’s The News Hour

Despite the events in Paris, CIA Director John Brennan kept his commitment to open a think tank conference 60 hours after the deadly attacks. But show up he did for a discussion that included the suggestion that some European governments re-think their post-Snowden curbs on intelligence gathering but rejecting suggestions that the European Union would have to end its policies of free movement.

In a prepared talk and Q&A at the annual Global Strategy Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Brennan was asked how the French attacks could have happened and what went wrong. His response was that the operation had been planned over a long period, reflected in its sophistication and simultaneous attacks. And while authorities had strong warnings of terror attacks, especially in Europe, terrorist groups have become increasingly sophisticated in hiding their communications, even getting schooling in such matters.

Brennan then added that Europe and the U.S. Should take a look to see if they have inadvertently created intelligence gaps with some policy and legislative actions which make more challenging the ability of agencies to detect and respond to threats.

"I hope this is a wake up call, especially in Europe," Brennan said.

The director emphasized the close cooperation with French and other European authorities while acknowledging the difficulty of detecting and controlling the movements of ISIL operatives across the Belgium-France and other Schengen area borders.
But he insisted it was both impossible and undesirable to hermetically seal borders.

Brennan said the Paris attacks were not a one-off event and that ISIL has an external agenda and plans attacks not over days but months.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the director's talk was revealing he has had several talks with his Russian counterpart, despite political differences between the two governments over Russian military intervention in Syria. Some 2,000 operatives from the Caucuses have joined ISIL in Syria including a Chechen in the top ranks of its leadership.

Brennan insisted, in response to a question, that more successful attacks are not inevitable, but he added:

"What is inevitable is that terrorist groups will continue to attempt attacks as far as the eye can see."