Lisa O. Monaco on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

A Conversation With Lisa O. Monaco

Lisa O. Monaco

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, The White House

Kenneth L. Wainstein

Partner, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft 


Lisa O. Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, joins Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft's Kenneth L. Wainstein to discuss threats to U.S. homeland security as well as counterterrorism strategy. Monaco announces the Obama administration's upcoming public release of an assessment of combatant and non-combatant casualties resulting from U.S. drone strikes since 2009. She additionally discusses the White House's approach to challenges posed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, encryption, and emerging threats

The Kenneth A. Moskow Memorial Lecture on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism honors the memory of longtime Council member Kenneth A. Moskow, who made this event possible through a generous bequest. His intent was to establish an annual event to bring together the leaders of the intelligence community and promote discussion on critical issues in counterterrorism.


WAINSTEIN: Good afternoon, everybody. Go ahead and bring things to order here. My name’s Ken Wainstein. It’s a real pleasure to be here to preside over today’s session with Lisa Monaco.

I want to welcome everybody to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa O. Monaco. This meeting is part of the Kenneth A. Moskow Memorial Lecture of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Series, which honors the memory of Kenneth A. Moskow, a long-time CFR member who had a distinguished career in the intelligence community. And further details about his life and professional accomplishments can be found on the booklet for today’s meeting. I’d like to extend a special welcome and thanks to Keith Moskow, as well as members and guest of the family who are in attendance today.

Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce Lisa to you. Lisa, besides being an old friend, is a tremendous public servant. She assumed the duties of the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism and deputy national security advisor on March 8th of 2013. And in that capacity, she advises the president on all aspects of counterterrorism policy and strategy, as well as the coordination of all homeland security-related activities throughout the executive branch. Prior to that, she served as the assistant attorney general for national security from 2011 to 2013. And prior to that, she was the principle associate deputy attorney general, which is an important function of the Deputy Attorney General’s Office of Main Justice. Before that position, she was over at the FBI, where she was chief of staff to Director Robert Mueller, and also special council to him prior to that.

From 2001 to 2007, Lisa served as a federal prosecutor. She was on—she was appointed to the Enron taskforce, where she was co-lead trial counsel in the prosecution of five former executives of Enron Broadband Services. For her work in that taskforce, she received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, which is the highest award given by the Justice Department. Back in 1998 to 2001, prior to being a federal prosecutor, she was counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, providing advice and guidance on national security, law enforcement, budget, and oversight issues. And prior to joining DOJ, she clerked for the honorable Jane Roth with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. She received her J.D. from the University of Chicago and her B.A. from Harvard University.

I’d like to welcome Lisa to the stand and thank her for appearing today. (Applause.)

LISA MONACO: Thank you so much, Ken. Ken was reverting to his prosecutor days when he asked—he welcomed me to the stand. (Laughter.) He was reverting to our common prosecutor days. The thing that Ken didn’t tell you is that I’ve basically be stalking him my whole career—from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C., where Ken served as the U.S. attorney, to the FBI, where Ken was also chief of staff to Director Mueller, to the Department of Justice, where Ken was also the assistant attorney general for national security. And of course, he preceded me—he’s one of my predecessors in my current job. So it’s good to be here. It’s good to be back with an old friend.

It’s also very good, and a real pleasure, to be delivering the Kenneth Moskow Memorial Lecture. I had the opportunity to visit with Keith just backstage here. And we shared a number of stories about our common roots. For those of you who aren’t aware, Ken Moskow, in addition to being the kind of guy who liked to run with the bulls in Pamplona, was a talented CIA operative. He hailed, as Keith and I discussed, from my hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. And he died tragically and far too young near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. His life and his work was like that of so many other intelligence men and women, military men and women, homeland security, diplomatic, and law enforcement members. They all put their lives on the line every single day. They do so to keep our country safe.

Today, I want to talk about the preeminent security threat that we face, the threat of terrorism, and how ISIL represents a new evolution of that threat, and how we are waging an innovative campaign to counter ISIL and, importantly, its barbaric ideology. Now, it was only three months ago that a married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik walked into an office gathering in San Bernardino and opened fire. They had assault rifles and a veritable armory with them, and in their home, including pipe bombs. They also had a six-month old daughter who they left with their grandmother—with her grandmother, before they began their murderous rampage. Fourteen people were killed, 22 were wounded. Syed Farook was an American citizen.

Like the recent attacks from Paris to Chattanooga, the San Bernardino attack was a stark reminder that for all of our vigilance, for all of our focus, the specter of terrorism persists, both for Americans and for our allies. Instability, from Syria to Somalia, provides fertile ground for extremism and, sometimes, tragically, the attackers are homegrown. But I mention San Bernardino not just because it was the worst terrorist on the United States since 9/11, but because it was a starkly different kind of attack. Simply put, the terrorist threat we confront today, almost 15 years after that terrible September day—the terrorist threat has evolved, and it’s done so dramatically.

What distinguishes the threat today is that it is broader, more diffuse, and less predictable than at any time since 9/11. Where we once spoke of hierarchical networks and sleeper cells, much of the threat today is online, distributed across the globe. While we continue to see planning for sophisticated and coordinated attacks, such as those in Paris, terrorism today is increasingly defined by small cells or lone actors, sometimes with little or no direct contact with terrorist organizations. Those people have succumbed to violent extremism. It’s what you might call opportunistic or a do-it-yourself terrorism. The primary example of this new type of terrorism is the cancer of ISIL.

Originally an outgrowth of al-Qaida in Iraq, in the past two years ISIL has eclipsed core al-Qaida as the principal terrorist threat we face. The world has been shocked by the butchery and the depravity of these twisted fanatics. From their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, ISIL has displayed an apocalyptic ambition and an unprecedented brutality. They crucify their victims and burn alive others. They enslave women and children and teach that rape is an expression of God’s will. They behead innocents and broadcast their barbarism to the world. It’s not only ISIL’s unconscionable brutality that troubles us. What keeps me up at night is that this threat is unlike what we’ve seen before.

Al-Qaida focused on launching catastrophic attacks against the West—the so-called far enemy. They used the Internet to post grainy videos and propaganda in .pdf form. ISIL is very different. A recent report on ISIL was subtitled: From Retweets to Raqqa. And that, I think, underscores the scale of our challenge. These fanatics are online and on the ground. They are at once terrorists, insurgents, and bureaucrats, attempting to control the territory that was, at one point, larger than the United Kingdom.

ISIL supporters have shown an ability to engineer high-profile attacks, like blowing up a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula. But they also direct foreign fighters to attack soft targets, as they did in Paris. They’ve deployed crude but deadly chemical weapons, which pose an imminent threat to Syrians and Iraqis, and they use—through their use of social media, ISIL has distributed the threat globally. They can inspire sympathizers and adherents anywhere and at one time turn lost souls to soulless killers. And they do it whether it’s in Bangladesh or in San Bernardino.

So even as we focus on ISIL, we can’t take our eye off of al-Qaida, its affiliates, or its adherents. From North Africa to South Asia, their desire to strike at American interests and citizens warrants our continued vigilance. The most active of these affiliates remains al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. And it has attempted to attack the United States multiple times, but American airstrikes and international pressure have thwarted AQAP’s external plots, and it has targeted their leadership. We continue to disrupt plots also from al-Qaida’s largest affiliate, the Nusra Front, operating in Syria. And we’re paying very close attention to groups like al-Shabaab and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which has recently shown through brutal attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso that it too remains dangerous.

Taken together, these all form a toxic brew. And the different threat, though, that ISIL poses is a danger that we cannot ignore nor underestimate. This is not an entity we can accommodate. So I’ll say it again: Today ISIL, in all of its manifestations—insurgent army, foreign fighter magnet, social media phenomenon, external operations cadre—ISIL is the principal counterterrorism threat we face as a nation. Against this backdrop, we are applying the lessons learned in our fight against al-Qaida to a new and adaptive enemy. Thanks to the brave military and intelligence personnel that we have, and we have disrupted al-Qaida’s finances and training camps, we’ve hunted down their leaders, including of course Osama bin Laden and many others. Core al-Qaida, as we knew it 15 years ago, has been decimated. Al-Qaida’s remaining leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan spend more time plotting to survive than plotting attacks. But we will not let up our relentless pressure.

Now, our success against al-Qaida is the result of the transformation that our national security apparatus has undergone over the past 14 years. After 9/11, we implemented a series of legal, structural, and cultural reforms to break down the barriers that had grown up between law enforcement, the intelligence community, the military, and the functions, not named at the time, that we now call homeland security. I’ve seen, first at the FBI, then at the Department of Justice, and now at the White House, how we brought intelligence and law enforcement tools together to confront this threat. We’ve adopted new normal in everything from airline travel to our interactions with partners overseas. And the courage and dedication of counterterrorism professionals across two administrations has succeeded in averting further large-scale catastrophic attacks on our homeland.

So just as we’re doing with al-Qaida, we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. As President Obama told the nation: We will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power. As always, whether confronting al-Qaida, ISIL, or another threat, we are guided in our counterterrorism efforts by several core principles. We will always take every appropriate, lawful action to protect Americans at home and abroad from terrorist threats. We will protect our values by continuing to conduct our counterterrorism efforts as transparently as possible, with clear guidelines, strong oversight and accountability, and in full accordance with the rule of law. We will build and sustain effective multilateral coalitions and work with those partners to anticipate and annihilate terrorist organizations before they require an outsized military response. And we’ll integrate our counterterrorism actions with efforts to undermine the forces that fuel terrorists, like political oppression and lack of opportunity.

In recent years, we have taken clear and specific steps to institutionalize our counterterrorism approach so that our military, intelligence, and law enforcement communities have the tools and the authorities they need to sustain the fight for years to come. This includes putting in place a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism actions, consistent with our values. As it applies to ISIL specifically, our strategy consists of five pillars. First, we are protecting the homeland. Second, we’re engaging our partners. Third, we’re taking direct action to target ISIL on the battlefield. Fourth, we’re disrupting the factors that enable ISIL, like financing and foreign fighters. And fifth, we’re taking creative steps to counter the violent extremism that fuels and swells ISIL’s ranks.

Our first pillar is the first part of my job title, and will always be our first responsibility as the U.S. government, protecting the homeland. Every day I meet with the president to discuss the threats that we face. Whether it’s terrorism, cyberattacks, or deadly viruses like Ebola, his first question is always, are we doing everything we can to protect the American people? He does not take his eye off that ball, ever. And I can tell you that the president and those of us on his national security team are focused every day on preventing future attacks at home and abroad, whether the terrorists are homegrown, ISIL-directed, or ISIL-inspired.

Destroying ISIL starts with going after ISIL abroad. And as our second pillar recognizes, we cannot do it alone. The United States has built a broad coalition of 66 international partners. We’re sharing vital intelligence, training, equipping and empowering partners on the ground in Syria and Iraq. And together with our partners, we’re working through a political process to diminish the terrible violence in Syria. The current cessation of hostilities is an opportunity to move that process forward, even as we continue to isolate and hammer ISIL. And we are hammering ISIL on the ground through direct action, our third pillar.

In Iraq and Syria, coalition forces have conducted almost 11,000 precision airstrikes. Today these terrorists have lost about 40 percent of the territory that they once controlled in Iraq, and 20 percent in Syria. Our operations are keeping ISIL guessing for fear of capture, or feeling the full weight of the mightiest military on Earth. We estimate that our coalition is taking out key—one to two key ISIL leaders every day. That includes ISIL’s second-in-command, their finance chief, and Mohammed Emwazi, otherwise known as Jihadi John, who brutally has murdered Americans and others.

Of course, ISIL can’t survive without the fighters and the finances that sustain its barbaric enterprise. And that’s pillar number four. And it’s why we’re working with partners to slow the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Iraq and Syria. ISIL has lost 10,000 or more frontline fighters. At the same time, we’re choking off ISIL’s ability to fund its terror. We’re striking their oil infrastructure and making it harder for them to exhort local populations. Inflation is up in ISIL-controlled areas. And if you’re an ISIL fighter today, chances are you’re being paid far less than you were last year.

There must be no safe haven for these killers. We continue to go after ISIL wherever it tries to take root. In Libya, for instance, we’ve removed ISIL’s leader there and recently struck an ISIL training camp. In all of these strikes, our operators do everything in their power to avoid civilian casualties. And in keeping with the president’s commitment to transparency, I can announce today that in the coming weeks the administration will publicly release an assessment of combatant and non-combatant casualties resulting from strikes taken outside areas of active hostilities since 2009. Going forward, these figures will be provided annually. We know that not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counterterrorism actions and the broad support of our allies.

But no amount of airstrikes and no amount of military power alone can defeat these fanatics and their warped world view once and for all. Our approach—initially tailored after 9/11 to fight a top-down terrorist network that operated more like a corporation than a secret army—our approach is adapting to fit today’s diverse and decentralized threat. The only lasting answer to hateful ideologies are better ideas. So even as we target ISIL’s men and its money, our final pillar recognizes that we must also confront and defeat their twisted message. We focus on this front as well because ISIL is trying to occupy digital territory, just as it is trying to occupy physical territory. They’re on Facebook. They’re on Twitter. They’re on YouTube. There’s something like 90,000 Twitter accounts associated with or sympathetic to ISIL—sometimes each with 50,000 followers.

Last year, ISIL produced 7,000 slick pieces of propaganda, disseminated by 43 distinct ISIL media offices. Now, I remember only a few years ago the counterterrorism community was worried about an al-Qaida affiliate distributing an online magazine via a .pdf file. That, frankly, looks like the eight-track tape version of what we’re seeing now. With the click of a mouse, these Internet-savvy extremists are poisoning the minds of people an ocean away. Many of these recruits have been middle class, seemingly well-adjusted in their communities. And of course, the FBI has investigated ISIL-inspired suspects in all 50 states.

So this is not just an American or Western problem, though. We’ve seen from Nigeria to Indonesia, this is indeed a global problem. With allies and with our partners, we’re working hard to expose ISIL’s true nature, to highlight their hypocrisy. And it can’t be underscored enough, a group that claims to be defending Muslims is actually killing countless innocent Muslim men, women, and children. But we know that the U.S. government is often not the best or most compelling voice for this message.

That’s why we are working to enable partners around the globe and in our communities who can convincingly speak against extremism. We’ve seen the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia all stepping up their efforts to discredit ISIL’s claim to represent Islam. The State Department has created a new Global Engagement Center, which will amplify and empower the voices of our international partners, from religious leaders, to ISIL defectors themselves. And our countering violent extremism taskforce, co-led by the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, is coordinating our efforts across the U.S. government.

Ultimately, though, one of our most potent weapons against terrorist narratives is going to be the power of our ideas and the innovation that has made this country so great. For the past year, we’ve been working to partner with some of our nation’s most imaginative companies. Tech firms like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Instagram have all made strides—removing terrorist content that violate their own terms of service, and denying ISIL a digital safe haven. Already Twitter has suspended roughly 125,000 ISIL-linked accounts in just the past six months. I want to commend these companies for the actions they’ve taken to date in removing ISIL’s murderous online message.

Now, our engagement with Silicon Valley on countering ISIL online has actually been more positive than you might think from reading the latest news. Last year, I went to Silicon Valley to initiate the White House’s focus on innovating our way through this problem. I sat down with key tech leaders, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and students at the Stanford D School, their design school. Now, it may seem an odd choice for someone like myself, who has spent two decades in government, but the setting was instructive and almost as important as the discussions themselves.

In a space that was more akin to an ad agency or a creative design studio, we brainstormed out to prevent ISIL’s use of technology to recruit, to radicalize, and to mobilize. And I’ve held similar sessions in Boston and in New York. And just a few weeks ago, we brought these worlds together—Madison Avenue, Silicon Valley, and even Hollywood, along with NGOs and civil society. The goal is to develop private sector approaches for countering violent extremism online. We call this the Madison Valleywood Project. These companies are exploring cutting-edge ways to amplify credible voices to counter ISIL’s destructive narrative. And they’re just getting started, but we think that the collaboration that could come from this project could be quite promising.

But this can’t be a top-down effort. It’s got to come from empowered voices, like those I heard last September at a global youth summit in New York that was co-hosted by the White House and the Counter Extremism Project. Hundreds of young people gathered from 45 countries. They all came together to build digital platforms, all designed to help keep young people off the dark road to radicalization. And they came up with a host of ideas from supporting aspiring entrepreneurs to creating anti-extremist rap music. But even with all these creative and determined efforts, even with the constant vigilance that we apply, there will always be those who try to exploit our openness to cause chaos and to cause destruction.

Homeland security has got to be about more than taking off our shoes when we fly. Whether we’re confronting terrorism or a tornado, we’ve got to refused to be terrorized, and we’ve got to rebuild when we get knocked down. And we’ve got embrace one very simple truth, which is that a hateful and barbarous group like ISIL will not ever overcome our strength as Americans. A few months ago, I gathered at Arlington Cemetery with the families of those who were lost in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. For more than 25 years, the families of the fallen have mourned their friends and their family. But they’ve also celebrated countless weddings and births. They’ve lost loved ones, but they never lost hope. That’s what makes this country stronger than any terrorist bomb or bullet.

We see it in San Bernardino in the employee who returned to work in January, shaken but determined, in the woman wearing hijab who bowed her head to remember the victims, and in the disabled man who was a client of the center who held up a sign reading: I love you IRC. We see it in Boston. After the Marathon bombings there was an attack on my hometown where next month 30,000 wicked-determined runners will lace up their shoes and run the 120th running of the marathon. They will crest Heartbreak Hill, and they will show the true meaning of Boston Strong.

So we face a cruel and very cunning adversary in ISIL. The tactics of terror have indeed transformed. And we have entered a new era. And as the president has made clear, this will be a generational struggle. But with the dedication of our brave men and women in uniform, our diplomats, intelligence and law enforcement officers, the support of our partners, the innovation of the private sector, and the strength and the resilience of the American people, we will meet and defeat this threat, as we have others before it. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

WAINSTEIN: OK. So, first, let me just say thanks—thank you, Lisa, for that really tremendous overview of your counterterrorism efforts. I thought it was a good overview, and tremendously inspirational, actually. But the one thing that intrigued me is that you’re hanging out with Hollywood. I don’t remember hobnobbing with Hollywood when I had the job.

MONACO: Apparently I’m not doing it very well, since I can’t mic myself.

 WAINSTEIN: (Chuckles.) So I guess you’re doing this job with a little more style than I did. So this is the part of the event where I get to ask you a few question, and sort of keep our former prosecutor vein, I get to cross-examine you. The one question I had is you mentioned that a big part of your strategy is your foreign cooperation and working with our partners. That obviously was a big part of the effort post 9/11 against al-Qaida. And it was, I think, one of the strong points post 9/11. But as with any relationship, they ebbed and flowed. I remember in 2006 talking to some of our partners over in Europe who were pushing back on the notion that this was a war against al-Qaida. In their minds, it was more of a law enforcement action. Do you see a different flavor in the relationship with the foreign partners as it relates to ISIL than it did over the years since 9/11 as it related to al-Qaida?

MONACO: I see a common view when it comes to ISIL. And this is across the board. And it’s interesting, I have taken many trips to the Middle East in this job, but one thing that struck me several trips ago was how unified our Gulf partners were against ISIL. To a country, they were—expressed complete horror at the fact that this group would claim to be Islamic. And so it has unified Gulf partners. It has galvanized our European partners, certainly before, but certainly after the Paris attacks, to do better on things like information sharing. That was an issue I know you worked on when you were in my role an in preceding roles. So I think that there is a recognition that ISIL poses a distinct threat to European countries in a way that is—I do detect a different than from al-Qaida.

WAINSTEIN: One other question I’d like to raise. You mentioned that there’s been a good big of press coverage of the relationship between the administration and Silicon Valley and the tech industry. And obviously the burning issue is encryption—the tension between the value of encryption, but the need for law enforcement and the intelligence community to try to access signals intelligence which is so—has been so critical to foiling the plot that we’ve seen since 9/11. Just watching the reporting over the last few weeks, it seems as though there have been sort of differing views on this issue coming out of the administration. Do you want to address that for us?

MONACO: Yeah, you know, I’ve seen some of that as well. And, you know, what’s interesting to me is what I think has not been captured is that there is a recognition across the administration that the virtues of strong encryption are without a doubt. So in my own role, whether it’s counterterrorism operations, cybersecurity, you name it, there is a tremendous value in having strong encryption. There’s no doubt about it. The president has said there is not a world in which we don’t want really strong encryption.

And the same is true from the Defense Department, to the intelligence community, to the FBI, and the Department of Justice, who have to worry about investigating, prosecuting cyber intrusions of all stripes. So there is uniformity about the value of strong encryption. There is also uniformity in the recognition that strong encryption poses real challenges. It poses real challenges to criminal and national security matters, to identifying plots in their nascent stages to their imminent stages. And sometimes, it poses an impossibility in identifying those and ultimately prosecuting them. So the notion that there isn’t a recognition of and appreciation for strong encryption I think is just not true.

WAINSTEIN: OK. So now we get to open this up to invite members to join the conversation with questions. Just a reminder that this session is on the record. And if you would, please raise your hand. I’ll recognize you. Then wait until you receive the microphone from one of the gentlemen on the sides here. Stand, state your name and affiliation, and ask a single question, if you would. Try to keep it concise so that we have an opportunity for as many people to ask questions as possible. Start with the gentleman here, third row.

Q: John Gannon from Georgetown University.

 I think you’ve made a clear assessment of ISIS as being on a path of defeat. What happens, though, afterward? And would it have to depend on the collaboration with neighboring states? What role will Iran play in it? And to what degree do you think Iran can be brought in, in a constructive way, to establish a peaceful result?

MONACO: It’s a good question, I think not one that we know the answer to yet. As I mentioned, we’re working very hard to put forward and see take hold the cessation of hostilities, which is currently generally holding, although it’s quite fragile. And I think there is every recognition that it is fragile, and it’s something that we have to take every step to try to make sure it takes hold. And we’re doing that, for instance, with the taskforce that’s sitting in Geneva, evaluating and looking at any violations.

It’s been no secret that we feel that the Russian activity, for instance, has really quite complicated the environment that we’re operating in in Syria. So we’re hopeful that the cessation continues to maintain, and want very much for those actors, like the Russians and others, who have taken steps to date to, frankly, complicate and impede, frankly, things like humanitarian access—we want them to be putting their energies towards ultimately a political solution because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way that this thing is going to—that the violence is going to be able to be diminished.

WAINSTEIN: Woman in the second row, right here, please.

Q: Thank you. Kim Dozier with the Council, and writing for the Daily Beast.

So a question on the assessment: Will it include an assessment of casualties in places like Pakistan and Yemen, Somalia and Libya, in addition to places where its Pentagon UAVs operating, Syria and Iraq? And did you consult with human rights groups, like the folks sitting next to me, in your assessment? How did you come up with the damage numbers?

MONACO: So, first, the assessment that we will release, as I noted we’ll do so in the coming weeks—and it’s something that we’ve been working on. I know it’s issues that we’ve talked about, I’ve talked about with folks from a range of human rights groups, civil society and others. It will account for all counterterrorism actions outside the area of active hostilities across the board. And I’m not going to be more specific than that at this stage. And we came to this as, first and foremost, this is a reflection of the president’s commitment on transparency, going back to a speech he gave at the National Defense University in 2013, in which he laid out the principles and the policy standards that we apply in conducing counterterrorism direct actions, whether capture or lethal.

And it’s fair to say that both the outlines of that policy, as well as getting to this point, where we are committed to disclose the assessment that I mentioned, comes as a result of that commitment, as well as many discussions with representatives from a range of human rights organizations. And I would say that we think it’s pretty important to be considering a full range of information when we conduct those assessments. And frankly, also, to make sure that they can be updated. I mentioned that this assessment will be provided annually. That is both to continue to have the transparency, which is essential for the legitimacy, as I mentioned, for our counterterrorism actions, but also to reflect the latest in intelligence across all sources, as well as information from outside groups—those outside the government who may have different and differing in kind types of access. So we want to incorporate all of that.

WAINSTEIN: OK, the gentleman in the far back there, please. Yep, right in front of the camera.

Q: Mittai Ozioni (ph), George Washington.

Some of us who study Islam feel that our best way to deal with this is to work with moderate Islam against violent Islam. And that to keep looking for secular, liberal forces inside Syria, Iraq, and Libya is not going to get us very far. If that is for a moment something worth considering, if you have a whole discussion of the situation without ever mentioning the word Islam, how are we going to get the situation if we realize we have to work with one Islam against the other?

MONACO: I think what I’d—trying to be responsive to what you said, I think I’d say two things: One, to address what really is a perversion of Islam in what ISIL and other terrorist organizations are putting forward, as I said, we first have to recognize that the U.S. government is not going to be the best messenger. It’s simply the case. We are not going to be the most legitimate messenger. And that is reflected—and that recognition is reflected in the efforts we’re taking, as I mentioned with things with the Global Engagement Center, which is not going to be focused on U.S. messages, with a government stamp on them, but rather amplifying moderate, credible voices in the region and throughout—and from civil society. So recognizing who’s going to have the most legitimate voice and doing everything we can to lift that up, and not having it be a U.S. message.

With respect to working with partners, I think we’ve been very clear about the difficulty involved in—particularly in Syria. We have a willing and increasingly capable partner in the Iraqi security forces, in Iraq. But of course, the increasingly sectarian divisions there, evidenced most recently over the weekend in the ISIL suicide bombing in a Shia area south of Baghdad, is something that is going to continue to fuel the tensions here. But we’re looking for partners that we can work with who can take the fight to ISIL, but importantly also be around to hold that territory, to be the sources of governance. Otherwise, this is just going to be a never ending cycle.

WAINSTEIN: Gentleman in the fourth row. Yes, sir.

Q: Simon Henderson, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

You made a reference to core al-Qaida and the remaining leadership of it being in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s a very simple question here is, why is it still in Pakistan? Last week on this platform we had Sartaj Aziz, who’s the Pakistani advisor on Foreign Affairs to the prime minister of Pakistan. And he had been in—was in Washington for a strategic dialogue. Did the Pakistanis give any sort of commitment to getting rid of al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan? And if so, did they give a time frame on when they would accomplish this?

MONACO: So I won’t speak specifically to conversations with Mr. Aziz, but I will talk generally about our cooperation with partners in the region. Look, we work with and want to have a strategic relationship with the Pakistanis across a range of issues. And they have taken steps over the last year or so to conduct military actions in areas of the FATA that are quite difficult and denied to—for a long time to their forces. So we look to work with them against al-Qaida where we can. And we will continue to do that and continue to try and develop the relationship with the Pakistanis, even as we’ll continue to also, I expect, have differences over time as well.

WAINSTEIN: OK, the woman in the fifth row there. Yes, ma’am, in the blue. Mmm hmm.

Q: Courtney Radsch, Committee to Project Journalists.

You cited the 90,000 Twitter followers. That actually was a Brookings study that also included many journalists in that figure. And my question, in this countering violent extremism agenda which includes content removal, with extremism being ill-defined, even harder to define than terrorism. And the second pillar of partnerships, and many of those partners being some of the worst human rights abusers in the world who are systematically imprisoning journalists which are, of course, an important source of information and accountability—some of the only information coming out of Raqqa is from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is a citizen journalist collective. So when Egypt has become the second-worst jailer of journalists and is a key ally in this right, how is the U.S. going to make sure that these, you know, countering violent extremism messages and initiatives are not leading to the use of terrorism and extremism charges to jail opponents, to jail opposition, activists, and journalists?

MONACO: So you’ve hit upon one of the biggest challenges we face, which is, as you pointed out, content removal is a really difficult issue. I talked about working with technology companies here to help them address content that violates their terms of service. This is something that they’re doing on a voluntary basis because, and I firmly believe this, they don’t want their platforms used by terrorists. These are patriotic companies that don’t want to see their great engines of innovation used to perpetrate heinous, heinous acts. But it is also a system that is extremely difficult to manage, not the least of which is identifying that content in a scalable way that does violate their terms of service.

You talked about countries in the region and elsewhere that discriminate against or take repressive actions against journalists. In every instance, the United States government condemns those types of actions, and has very, very pointed conversations with governments where, although we maintain important strategic relationships and counterterrorism relationships, we also don’t give any quarter when it comes to the repression of dissidents, of journalists, and those working in the human rights community.

WAINSTEIN: If I could just use my prerogative to follow up, I mean, you talked about the cooperation from some of the companies in Silicon Valley in dealing with terrorist, extremist content. I’m not sure that that story is out there. I was certainly surprised when I started hearing about the extent to which some of these companies are going to help take down that content. And that’s a lot of resources and a lot of effort that isn’t reflected on their bottom line. Do you have any more comment about sort of the breadth of that cooperation?

MONACO: So I think, you know, we’ve talked about this. We’ve had a range of conversations, some of which I mentioned in my remarks. We also went out—a number of the most senior members of the president’s national security team went out to Silicon Valley back in January and sat down with a whole range of representatives and senior leaders from the tech industry, to, frankly, broaden the conversation to a whole range of issues that we can work together on to go after exactly these types of things. What is the content that is being perpetrated on their sites, that they—and using their services and their platforms, that they have no interest in allowing to be used on their platforms.

There are things that they do and have done for years, whether it’s to address child pornography, to address fraud, to address scams on their platforms, that might also be applicable in this space. This is not to kind of oversell and oversimplify because, for the reasons that the young woman indicated, this is a very difficult, challenging problem. But if we don’t get the best minds, the best, most innovative thinkers, who know their systems best, to help us work on it, we’ve—you know, we’re not going to be able to confront this challenge because, as I said in my remarks, it is a wholly different task than even the ones we dealt with just a few years ago, and when you sat in the same windowless office in the West Wing that I occupy.

WAINSTEIN: I just think that’s a good news story that might not—that might get lost in all the discussion about the Apple controversy right now, the level of effort that we’re seeing from—

MONACO: Good news stories getting lost? I’m shocked. (Laughter.)

WAINSTEIN: Yeah. It’s something new and different. OK, gentleman in the fifth row, with the tie. (Laughter.) That would be you. A reporter with a tie, what do you know.

Q: Eric Schmitt, with The New York Times and a Council member.

Lisa, thank you for your presentation. And you mentioned Libya, and the fact the U.S. has taken some action there. And yet, your colleagues in the administration have talked about the need to try and help encourage the development of a unity government there, which still seems somewhat far off. How long do you think the administration and its partners can wait for this government to form, perhaps form in a way to marshal the resources on the ground to combat ISIS, at a time when the ISIS ranks on the ground have more than doubled in just the last few months? How long can you wait before that threat poses a threat to Americans and American interests in the region? Thank you.

MONACO: Simple answer: We’re not waiting. We’re not waiting. As our actions have shown, where ISIL presents a threat—and as I noted we conducted an action to take out ISIL’s leader, their emir in Libya, Abu Nabil.

Q: Yeah, but we’ve seen that guy’s already been replaced and the training camp you hit is in the far west. You’re not doing anything against the stronghold, and what actually—you have no allies on the ground, fighting on the ground, as you do in parts of Syria.

MONACO: You’re quite right. My point is that we’re not waiting to address threats that are posed to the United States. However, we are, as you also noted, working assiduously to support the U.N. efforts to form a government of national accord. And you have rightly pointed out that that is an ongoing process that has experienced fits and starts. So the point is, we’ve got to do both. We’re not waiting for one to happen in order to address threats that are posed to the United States. But ultimately, to have a lasting impact and to try and have a partner on the ground with whom we can make a lasting presence, a lasting impact on ISIL’s efforts to form a stronghold in Libya, we will need and want to have a partner on the ground. And that’s why, amongst other reasons, we’re working with European partners, with regional partners, to try and get this government of national accord formed.

WAINSTEIN: Gentleman right here in the second row, please.

Q: Thanks. I’m Mike Haltzel at Johns Hopkins SAIS. I want to begin by congratulating you both for your performance today and for the work you do.

This follows on Mr. Schmitt’s question. It has to do with allies. You say that ISIL is the number-one threat to the United States in terms of terrorism. We have 66 allies. I don’t minimize for a minute the difficulties of coordinating 66 allies to do anything, let alone to fight a war on the ground, but it’s been more than a year since ISIL’s held Mosul, they’re in charge of Raqqa. It’s difficult for me to believe that it is not militarily possible to dislodge them. I know we’ve made progress in the western part of Iraq.

I wonder if you could talk about the constraints that are preventing us and our allies from basically doing it. I mean, I know the president doesn’t want American boots on the ground. Understand that. American public opinion probably wouldn’t either. There are forces in Iraq that don’t want us there. Muqtada al-Sadr said the other day, you know, you’re going to kill Americas. I mean, what are the—what are the constraints that are preventing us from getting ISIL out of this huge territory that they occupy?

MONACO: So I’d say a few things. One, I think I might challenge the premise a little bit, which is to say that—and I noted the progress that we’ve made, and you noted in your question, this is not only about military power. You’re quite right. And I mentioned it. We’ve got the mightiest military on Earth. But the lasting defeat of ISIL certainly in its—in the core—what we call the core, in Iraq and Syria, is going to also have to happen by having forces on the ground and governance on the ground to keep those places that have been cleared, to allow them to get repopulated—like Tikrit, for example.

Ninety-nine percent of the population has not returned to Tikrit after working with the Iraqi security forces. They pushed—some months ago, they pushed ISIL out. But to have that lasting solution in Tikrit, in Ramadi, in a whole host of places, that means doing the painstaking work of removing the IEDs, allowing people to come back, having a governance structure, having a situation where people can feel safe coming back. We’ve done that in Tikrit. We’re doing it in Ramadi. We’ve made huge strides, working with our partners, closing off that segments of the Syria-Turkish border, which is allowing and has allowed for the flow.

So all of these things are very, very complicated, time-intensive, laborious, painstaking efforts to allow not only for the military efforts to push ISIL back, to constrict them in the heart where they’ve been operating—and that’s what we’re doing; we’re squeezing them right in the heart—but to enable the return of the populace, to have them feel safe. That’s a longer effort which requires those partners on the ground, and requires the ability for them to feel safe and to be able to come back.

WAINSTEIN: Gentleman right here, the bowtie. Yes, sir.

Q: That’s why I wore the bowtie.

WAINSTEIN: Perfect. (Laughter.) Stand out.

Q: Ray Tanter, a former NSC staffer.

I think you did an outstanding job defining the threat. And you spent a great deal of time, and most of the questioners talked about, the threat. But you didn’t say so much about coordination within the American bureaucracy. I was speaking with a friend of mine at Kirkland & Ellis, Susan Davies. And she said, on mundane issues like visas, it should be easy for the White House to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and various other agencies of government. But when it comes down to more difficult issues, you would expect even more difficulty in coordination. So could you address this issue of how—who are your allies within the administration? (Laughs.)

WAINSTEIN: Yeah, and the bureaucracy was well-oiled machine when I left. What happened? (Laughter.)

MONACO: Yes, that’s true. Yeah.

WAINSTEIN: It all ran perfectly.

MONACO: I can blame it all on—I can blame it all on Ken. (Laughter.) Look, as has been noted, the role that I play, that Ken formerly played, is to coordinate the policy development, the policy implementation, and to make sure that what has been laid out is getting implemented. We do it every day. I’ve got a host of allies around the Situation Room table. Does that mean we always agree on everything and everything’s smooth sailing? Absolutely not. But I’ll tell you one thing, when I’m sitting in the chair, chairing a meeting of the deputy’s committee, or on homeland security the principal’s committee meeting, I frankly don’t want everyone singing in unison because that’s when I know that everyone’s fallen prey to groupthink. And that’s a real problem, in my view. And I bet that Ken would agree with me.

And I’ve sat in different chairs around that table throughout my career. I used to represent the Justice Department at that table. And I was very conscious, as I’m conscious now as the chair of those meetings, in making sure that every component of the government that sits at that table, that weighs incredibly difficult, complex issues, is playing their role. Do I mean being parochial? Sometimes. But I want them playing their role, giving their best view, weighing the equities that are important to them, because what’s going to be important to the State Department’s going to be different than what’s important to the Treasury Department. And we if we don’t get all of that out on the table, then I haven’t done my job informing and weighing and chewing on the most difficult issues and presenting the president with the most well-thought-through, varied options on the toughest issues that we face as a nation.

WAINSTEIN: OK. A very strong point. I think we’ve run out of time. So thank you for your questions. These were all great questions. Thank you for appearing, Lisa. But also let me just take a moment, reflect on what she said earlier on about the different jobs she’s had. She’s had a series of very tough jobs in very tough times, and has really tremendously served this country in sticking with it for as long as you have. So thank you.

MONACO: Thank you.

WAINSTEIN: Please join me in thanking her. (Applause.)


"I can announce today that in the coming weeks the administration will publicly release an assessment of combatant and non-combatant casualties resulting from strikes taken outside areas of active hostilities since 2009. Going forward, these figures will be provided annually. We know that not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counterterrorism actions and the broad support of our allies."
- Lisa O. Monaco
"There is also uniformity in the recognition that strong encryption poses real challenges. It poses real challenges to criminal and national security matters, to identifying plots in their nascent stages to their imminent stages. And sometimes, it poses an impossibility in identifying those and ultimately prosecuting them. So the notion that there isn’t a recognition of and appreciation for strong encryption I think is just not true."
- Lisa O. Monaco
"It’s been no secret that we feel that the Russian activity, for instance, has really quite complicated the environment that we’re operating in in Syria. So we’re hopeful that the cessation continues to maintain, and want very much for those actors, like the Russians and others, who have taken steps to date to, frankly, complicate and impede, frankly, things like humanitarian access—we want them to be putting their energies towards ultimately a political solution because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way that this thing is going to—that the violence is going to be able to be diminished."
- Lisa O. Monaco
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Speaker: James R. Clapper Jr.
Presider: Frances Fragos Townsend

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