John E. McLaughlin, former deputy director of Central Intelligence and former acting director of Central Intelligence, John S. Pistole, former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Francis X. Taylor, undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis, join Dina Temple-Raston, counterterrorism correspondent for National Public Radio, to discuss developments in counterterrorism and intelligence gathering in the past fifteen years, including lessons learned since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The Lessons from History series uses historical analysis as a critical tool for understanding modern foreign policy challenges by hearing from practitioners who played an important role in a consequential historical event or from experts and historians. This series is made possible through the generous support of David M. Rubenstein.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Good afternoon. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations Lessons from History series. And it’s a meeting called The State of Intelligence 15 Years after 9/11 with John McLaughlin, John Pistole, and Ambassador Frank Taylor. And I would also like to welcome CFR members from around the nation and the world participating in this meeting through livestream and teleconference. And we’ll hear from them during the Q&A portion of our program today.
And I’m Dina Temple-Raston. I’m the counterterrorism correspondent for National Public Radio. And if, at some point, just actually seeing me while I talk bothers you, just close your eyes and you’ll feel much better. (Laughter.)
OK, so I thought what we’d do is we would start by providing a small retrospective of some of the 9/11 reforms in these various areas of expertise and then quickly move on to how the attacks have affected the future fight against terrorism. And so I’ll kick off the discussion with some questions. And then at about 1:30 we’ll have half an hour for questions from you.
So let’s start with John. John, the CIA was so central to all of this that I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what happened just in the days after 9/11. You wrote recently that the most prescient thing that you had ever written or one of the most prescient things you’d written was right after the attacks. You wrote the words “So that’s it.” What did you mean? And talk a little bit about—you were at the CIA at that time. Talk a little bit about that first week please.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I wrote two sentences in that first week, actually in the first day. The last plane hit at 9:37, the Pentagon. And, you know, apart from the horror that we all experienced, at CIA our reaction was “So that’s it,” because we had been anticipating an attack all that summer. And we had talked to the White House about it and we’d talked about it publicly. But we had been unable to find the evidence of time, target, method. But we were expecting an attack. “So that’s it.” That was our first reaction.
The second thing I wrote at the end of that first day, at about 10:00 p.m., I just turned to my computer and wrote a memo to myself. The one sentence said, “Nothing will ever be the same.” And that certainly has proven to be prescient.
That first week—it could be a book, but let me just give you some quick highlights from that time, the vivid memories I have. That day we had a video conference with the president, the national-security team. I remember him saying we will find them and destroy them. That’s the main thing I remember his—him saying that day.
The second and third day I was asked by the White House to go brief the Congress. Of course, things were changing by the minute. On the second day a congressman asked me, is the Capitol a likely target? I said yes, possibly. At that very moment an alarm went off in the Capitol. To this day I don’t know why. But there was a stampede out. And several congresswomen were almost trampled.
We were working on a plan for what to do. The president got us together on Saturday at Camp David. Everyone put their ideas on the table. He called us back again on Monday at the Cabinet Room, and he issued about 12 orders. The one that sticks in my mind was, having heard our plan, he said I want the CIA first in. That phrase became kind of iconic.
Fifteen days after the attacks, we had two teams on the ground in Afghanistan. And the rest, I guess, is history.
The changes at CIA, of course, were enormous. We had just been through a decade of reductions in force, about 23 percent in budget and personnel. After 9/11, resources flowed back. Before 9/11, we had preserved our counterterrorism budget, but I always described us as 300 people spread eagle across a dike.
We went to about 2,000 people within six months on counterterrorism. We got new authorities to do things we’d never done before, and at that point weren’t sure how to do. We now have a generation, like the post-World War II generation, that has been socialized in war.
This is a dangerous period for the CIA. We carve a star on our wall in the lobby, in the marble, every time an officer is killed. There are 117 stars. One third of them have been added since 9/11; so profound changes, I think, across the whole national-security arena.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So my first day at CNN in New York was on September 11th. And there was—for a very short amount of time, when the first plane hit, there was a possibility that it was an accident. Was that ever a possibility, even for—
TEMPLE-RASTON: —a short time?
MCLAUGHLIN: Fleetingly. Fleetingly. We were of two minds. It could be an accident, but we’d been expecting an attack. And I think the balance was toward this is probably an attack. And, of course, you know, a very short time later it was apparent.
Within about two and a half to three hours after the last plane hit, an analyst burst into our office, and that analyst had the manifest from the plane that had hit the Pentagon. And there were two names on that list manifest that we knew. Their names were al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. And we had been following them overseas for more than a year. And we suspected they were in the United States, and no one was able to find them. But immediately then we thought this is al-Qaida.
TEMPLE-RASTON: These are the guys who were in San Diego, right?
MCLAUGHLIN: They were in San Diego, and they were lost in the United States. That is a story unto itself, because that almost couldn’t happen today in terms of two people like that, that you knew to be bad, lost in the United States. John Pistole and Frank can comment on that. But I think it would be very hard to imagine that happening today.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So, John, how about if you do comment on that and talk a little bit about why that couldn’t happen and changes that have happened at the TSA since that time?
PISTOLE: Yes, both at the FBI and then, of course, the creation of TSA. I think everybody remembers that Bob Mueller, the director, had been on the job for one week. He started September 4th of `11, or `01, and had a career-prosecutor background; homicides in D.C. particularly. The attorney general at the time, John Ashcroft, had a focus on guns and drugs. And the FBI was focused on public corruption, organized crime, major white-collar crimes, those type of things, prior to 9/11. Counterterrorism, frankly, just wasn’t one of the priorities.
And so the changes that we have been and we understood at the FBI, and then later with the creation of TSA, have gone beyond a paradigm shift. They were just fundamentally across the board, internally and externally, in terms of going from a really good law-enforcement agency that could solve almost any crime, U.S. helping others around the world, to that of being a counterterrorism agency. What are you doing to prevent the next terrorist attack, which President Bush asked Director Mueller the day after.
And so the notion of two people who had been on one agency—one of 16 agencies in the U.S. intelligence agencies’ radar, and they had come to the U.S., that would—today that would not happen. I have nearly 100 percent confidence that would not happen because of all the changes that have been made, not only in individual agencies, but with stand-ups for such things as National Counterterrorism Center and the way that information is not only collected, analyzed, and shared across the board in a real-time manner.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So just to be a tiny bit more specific, since John said that that couldn’t happen today, that these two individuals could be in San Diego without the U.S. knowing, what specifically leads to that? And perhaps you can jump in as well, Ambassador Taylor.
PISTOLE: Well, so I would say the information would have—would be shared earlier in the process. If you go back and analyze all that, it would have been shared earlier in the process. And there would have been action in a much more deliberate way, as opposed to, OK, since this isn’t really a priority, who are these folks? Why even look at them, other than when we get around to it? Because terrorism is—counterterrorism is a top priority, the number one priority for the FBI and the U.S. government, anything that comes in with something actionable is done right away. And so that would have been followed up immediately. The fact that we had names of two hotels in New York City that people stayed at, well, that would have been action that day, if not that hour. And that’s what would happen today.
I have to quote a public source here, but Peter Bergen, a well-known counterterrorism specialist, published a paper recently in which he said—and assuming these figures are correct—that in 2001 there were something like 16 people on the no-fly list. Today there are 48,000.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Which cuts both ways.
PISTOLE: Which cuts both ways. But I’ll leave it at that.
TAYLOR: I think, following up on John’s comments—both Johns’ comments—we now have a process that incorporates all of the agencies that have responsibility, who get access to that data, to include the border-security agencies, the law-enforcement agencies. So there isn’t just a discussion between the FBI and the CIA. It’s a discussion across the entire community that has responsibility for various aspects of travel, various aspects of the movement of people, and those sorts of things. We didn’t have that on 9/11.
PISTOLE: And so, for example, with TSA, which, of course, was created after 9/11, this notion that anybody flying to the U.S.—there’s about a quarter-million people every day that fly to the U.S. from about 275 airports around the world. All those people are identified prior to departure, coming to the U.S., and are compared against the no-fly list or the watch list, which was nascent. If anything, prior to 9/11, there was no agency to really—to assess that and then to take action on that. So just small things like that, which people take for granted today, weren’t even in place at the time, going to Frank’s comment about process.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And as things have gotten—security has gotten greater and greater, both here and overseas. So I was on the ground in Brussels about 12 to 24 hours after the attacks on the airport there earlier this year. And what I was hearing from Belgian officials at the time was that this was something everyone had always worried about, that there would be an attack outside the security perimeter, which could be just as deadly if you were on the other side.
Could you talk a little bit about that? What can you possibly do now, post-9/11, with all these things that have been put in place? How do you protect against that?
PISTOLE: Yeah, so that’s one of the challenges that everybody in the security business faces. And that’s why virtually everybody takes a risk-based, intelligence-driven approach, to say, look, we can’t guard with 100 percent against all threats, all risks. So how do we buy down risk? How do we manage risk in a meaningful way in going from the hijacking of planes 15 years ago to shoe bombs to cargo bombs to liquid explosives to underwear bombs to new-generation underwear bombs to non-metallic improvised explosive devices is still the top concern.
But as terrorists have evolved into softer targets, such as airports, such as in Turkey or in Brussels, the realization has always been there. The question is, how do you still facilitate the free movement of people and goods with the best security and achieve that balance that strikes not only a balance between facilitation and security, but also privacy and civil liberties? And so it’s striking that balance.
So everybody has known that there is a risk for softer targets. And I think we’ll see more of those, as opposed to the catastrophic attack that we saw 15 years ago.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, terrorists are now doing what we always wondered—we always expected them to do and wondered why they didn’t do; that is, going for soft targets. Now, al-Qaida had the practice of wanting to replicate 9/11. They had the practice of planning elaborate layover, a long period of time, to carry out a spectacular attack. ISIS and its fellow travelers have figured out that soft targets are an easier way to go.
And I think one of the things we have to rely on increasingly, apart from all of the things that security agencies do, is the awareness of people, here and abroad. It’s a variation of what Homeland Security calls “See something, say something.” It’s happened here in New York with the Times Square bombing that was prevented, that Faisal Shahzad tried to carry out when a street vendor noticed something strange about a truck. That’s an increasingly important equation here as they go for soft targets.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And in Faisal Shahzad’s case, one of the reasons why his bomb didn’t work was because there are so many different checks when you get the contents of what he wanted in his bomb. He put the wrong thing in. So he basically ended up building a giant smoke bomb—
MCLAUGHLIN: That’s right.
TEMPLE-RASTON: —and also left his keys in the car. So he wasn’t sort of a genius at this; and his house keys, as I understand it.
So let me ask you, Ambassador Taylor, we touched very briefly on Europe. And I think we can all agree that, between Charlie Hebdo attacks and everything that’s happened in Paris, in Brussels, over the last sort of year and a half, that there appears to be an intelligence failure going on in Europe in terms of being able to track the number of people who’ve gone and come back and want to attack.
What is the U.S. doing to help them with that failure? Because eventually it’s very possible that people with those passports could come here.
TAYLOR: I wouldn’t speak about an intelligence failure. What I would say is we have encouraged our European partners to get better at sharing information among themselves within the intelligence services, and certainly with the United States, both intelligence services and law-enforcement agencies.
As we were having lunch today, you mentioned that the EU is 28 separate states, all who have sovereign national-security authority. The EU does not dictate how member countries do national security. So getting our partners in Europe to understand sharing information among themselves is the only key to securing all of the EU, because, as we saw in Brussels, or from Brussels, the attack in Paris, across that border, made it very clear that these guys are able to move across borders. And the only way you can understand that is to share that information more broadly.
So we’ve worked both with the intelligence services and now with Europol on information-sharing. And it’s beginning to improve. It’s not perhaps where we are today, nowhere near where we are today, but certainly the sense is that it’s moving in the right direction.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So are they where we were 10 or 15 years ago? How would you—
TAYLOR: I would say—
TEMPLE-RASTON: —as an ambassador?
TAYLOR: —on 9/11—
TAYLOR: —where we were—some sharing, some relationships that worked, but not in a systematic way. And I think the point that I would continue to make—and my big aha moment coming back to government from the private sector is that we have created a system of information sharing, as opposed to ad hoc information sharing. People talk a lot about connecting the dots and making sure you share. But you need a system to do that, where you are not making decisions on the fly, but you know who needs it, who can get it, and it’s shared almost automatically.
MCLAUGHLIN: Of course, this is a more urgent problem for the Europeans, in a way, than we faced—
MCLAUGHLIN: —because, the numbers vary depending on how you count them, but something like 5(,000) to 6,000 people from that part of the world have gone to fight with ISIS. And something like 1,900 to 2,000 of them have returned to Europe. Imagine that, amongst small countries that aren’t talking to each other that well. Compared to the problem we have, they have a much bigger problem. I would say their intelligence services, just knowing the nature of that work, are stretched to the limit.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Right. So the rule of thumb is to follow somebody 24 hours a day, you need between 10 and 12 people.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So you can imagine, if those are the numbers that you have in Europe, how—it’s just an impossibility. So—and this is—
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you’re always—you’re always choosing your priorities.
MCLAUGHLIN: So this is classic intelligence work in the sense that you’re always choosing to do something and not to do something, and hoping you’re placing your bets correctly because you can’t do everything. So it’s mathematically certain you’re going to miss something.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Right. And this is what I wanted to ask you, Ambassador Taylor, is how do you prioritize those people? And what are you saying to the Europeans about the methods that we’ve used to do that here in this country?
TAYLOR: Well, as John mentioned, I think we understand who we know. They understand who they know. And that sharing of information allows you to prioritize by sharing and pooling the knowledge of the individuals that you’re following, tracking, whatever. So it’s through that sharing, both internally within Europe and also with us in the exchange of information between our services back to the Europeans, allow us to better understand the level of risk that an individual or group of individuals may present, and therefore prioritize the effort that law enforcement and others will take on those individuals.
TEMPLE-RASTON: My understanding, in talking to the Europeans—and I’ve been there reporting—is that there’s a great variety of how much they’re willing to, quote, invade privacy.
TEMPLE-RASTON: I understand that the French are very pragmatic about these issues, whereas maybe some other Europeans not so much. Do you find that, after the summer of terror that they’ve had, that those issues are falling away in—
TAYLOR: I wouldn’t say that privacy is falling away, just as privacy and civil liberties in our own country are core to how we think about doing counterterrorism. What I would say is there’s a more pragmatic view of how important information sharing is to the security of countries in Europe, and therefore perhaps a stronger inclination to share, as opposed to not to share.
I think there’s also a confidence building that has to happen. There are some folks that believe that if you give something to the U.S., the U.S. is going to use it, or to another country, they’ll use it in an improper fashion. And we’ve been very clear that, no, the privacy, civil rights, civil liberties of all information is—that’s important to us, and that we will do our utmost to protect those things while conducting security operations that are appropriate to secure our country or to secure our partners overseas.
MCLAUGHLIN: Although I will say that when I went to Europe, say, three years ago, right after Snowden appeared, any time someone heard where I came from, they’d beat me up about surveillance. Last couple of trips they haven’t done that. So it goes back to something a predecessor of mine once said at CIA. When people feel frightened, they can’t get enough of us. And when they don’t, they think we’re immoral.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And that actually is a perfect segue to what I wanted to talk about next, which has to do with fear, and in particular not just fear in Europe, but there seems to be a new wave of fear in this country as well. And it’s showing up somewhat in the political arena, but it’s showing up sort of basically people feel less safe now than they have in some time.
And John Pistole, I wanted to get you in on this. I think, rather than thinking of it as an ethereal feeling people are having, we can look at what happened at LAX and at JFK—
TEMPLE-RASTON: —when they thought there was a live shooter there and people panicked.
TEMPLE-RASTON: What does that say about this fear factor? And I guess also what does it say about all these advances that TSA and other—DHS and lots of other of the lettered agencies have made since 9/11, and yet that happened?
PISTOLE: I think what we’re seeing is—
TEMPLE-RASTON: Do you want to describe what happened at LAX and JFK?
PISTOLE: Sure. So at LAX, several weeks ago now, there was a loud sound. Some people thought it may have been a gunshot. Some other people saw an individual dressed like Zorro with a plastic sword. They didn’t know it was plastic, I guess. And when people heard a loud sound, some people panicked and yelled and started running.
Now, the running part can be good if you know where you’re running. I mean, part of the active-shooter training that some of you have probably been through is run, hide, fight. The challenge is if you don’t pause just briefly, even a split second, and think where am I running—for example, if you’re out on the corner here, let’s say 68th and 3rd or something, and you hear a loud sound, most of you probably aren’t going to run right out in the middle of the street. You’re going to pause and just, OK, what’s going on, and figure out what’s the best way to go.
So the notion that we are so sensitized now to what we’ve seen on TV about what’s happened at airports across Europe and what’s happened in terms of terrorists doing bad things around the world and what’s happened in Orlando or San Bernardino or fill in the blank, so there is this hypersensitivity that I think we need to work with the public to say, yes, be alert. Be aware of your surroundings. But don’t overreact. And just pause, because that panic can actually cause more trouble than an isolated shooter, anyway, at JFK may have been from people in a bar cheering when Usain Bolt won at the Olympics, and everybody started—so that people down the terminal heard all this yelling and things, and so they panicked. But when you go out in an emergency door out onto the tarmac, out by the planes and things, that’s not a good thing.
And then the other part is, could that be a diversionary tactic, such as we’ve seen in other attacks? And, you know, what happened in Turkey, in Istanbul, at the Ataturk Airport, where you had multiple shooters, bombers, those who were creating diversions, and then going and doing things? So that—again, I think I’d just call it a hypersensitivity, because I think we have seen so much in the press that we are concerned. But my admonition is or my encouragement is don’t panic until you know what’s going on, and then, if you need to run, hide, fight, do that.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And do you think that the fact that people did panic and the way people reacted showed that the system was working or it wasn’t working?
PISTOLE: Both. Yeah, so I think it’s working from the standpoint of people are demonstrating vigilance and awareness and acting upon their concerns. And it’s always easy to second-guess. Are they legitimate concerns? And, of course, there was an active shooter at LAX on November 1st of 2013 who targeted and killed a TSA officer, wounded two other officers. So they’re sensitized to that. There was also a shooter back on the 4th of July, 2002 at the El Al counter, and years ago, decades ago, at JFK with other groups.
So we are aware as a society about bad things happening, but you just have to act with some sense of reason, just like you don’t yell fire in a crowded theater—
PISTOLE: —unless you actually know there’s a fire there.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So it’s just about 1:30, so I thought I would open up the Q&A session. And I’d like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions; a reminder that this meeting is on the record. And please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it, and stand and say your name and your affiliation, and preferably end it with an uptick in your voice so it’s actually a question. And limit yourself to one question. And I’d like to remind national members to email their questions to questions@CFR.org.
OK, so do we have any questions? This gentleman in front, please.
Q: Herbert Levin, Council member.
I appreciate what you have described and what you’re doing. I wonder if you could go back a step and say what information that you turn up is relevant to getting to the sources of the terrorists and the terrorist planning? In other words, you want to stop those who are on their way or planning to come and do bad things, but how do you get to them and dissuade them from doing that or trying to come? Do you work at that end, at the origin of this problem, or do you work hard—and we appreciate it—to stop them when they’re on their way or planning to come? Thank you.
TAYLOR: I think you got to work on the whole cycle, which is why our military is engaged against the enemy in Syria and Iraq. We’re working in places like Yemen and other places in conflict around the world with the intelligence services and law enforcement services because this is a global phenomenon and you can’t just do one thing. The one thing we don’t want to do is inadvertently allow people into this country that want to threaten us and want to come in to do harm to Americans. That’s the endgame of the system. But there’s a lot in front of that gets at trying to stop terrorism, writ large, from happening in societies around the world.
PISTOLE: Yeah. And I would just add there’s over 100 joint terrorism taskforces around the country that the FBI has leadership for, that combines virtually every federal agency and most significant state and local agencies. And anytime there is any information that come in from around the world or domestically, then they take the lead in terms of that investigation. And it may lead to an undercover operation, which has resulted in dozens of arrests over the last just two years. And then how can that be done in a way that, again, protects privacy and civil liberties, but actually identifies those who may go beyond aspirational to enabling or operational?
MCLAUGHLIN: Here’s a way to think about it too, and there’s two parts of this that are manageable and one part that really isn’t very manageable. We used to think you had to do three things: destroy and disrupt the leadership; second, deny them safe haven—they need a place to plan and plot; and third, change the conditions that give rise to the whole phenomenon. You’re nodding your head, so you recognize immediately that the first two are kind of doable. The third one is not one that intelligence alone can do. It’s an all of government, maybe a multinational problem. But it affects everything from the so-called, misnamed, lone wolf, to the conditions in the countries that are deplorable and cause people to seek an outlet through belonging to terrorist groups.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And if I could just push back a tiny bit on that, and that is aren’t those first two things now even less necessary, because you have an internet component to this, and a social media component to this? So that you don’t necessarily need a place to plan? And you don’t necessarily need, as we had in the old days, a recruiter?
MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Yes, yes, but it is important that—what’s happening now, that is to take territory away from ISIS, because—they’ve lost about 50 percent of what they had in Iraq and about 20 percent of what they had in Syria—because without that territory, they don’t have the caliphate. Without the caliphate, it affects the narrative which is come join us and do wonderful things and have a wonderful life. Their recruitment is down sharply. They used to get a thousand people a month. They’re down to maybe—the last figure I saw was maybe 50 a month. And so taking that territory is important. I would boldly suggest here—people will debate this endlessly—but that we’re maybe about 25 percent toward destroying them. We have a long way to go, but 25 percent isn’t bad. And that’s intuitive and I have a calculus and sort of a rough algorithm for how I get there. But we have a long way to go yet.
TAYLOR: But I think you have to attack it all. And I think you have to go after the leadership. You have to go after territory, particularly with ISIL. But we also have to destroy their ability to use social media effectively. And much of that begins in Raqqa and in Mosul. And so coming after that is also a very, very important part of this fight.
PISTOLE: And countering the narrative which—yeah, it’s now do we counter the narrative that it is an appealing thing to either go fight, or to commit a terrorist attack in the U.S., or in the West, yeah.
TEMPLE-RASTON: But the government is very bad at countering the narrative. I mean, we—
PISTOLE: Oh, I’m not saying the government should be doing it. There are efforts, and some very good efforts, but it’s really a corporate—a societal responsibility, because at least from the FBI’s perspective, most of the attacks in the U.S., somebody in a family or a friend know of some type of planning or something nefarious going on with the perpetrators before it happened. So the notion of see something say something is critically important in that regard. And so that’s a countering—even if it’s a mom telling an 18-year-old son what are you doing? Get your act together here. And whatever it may be.
TAYLOR: That has been a very, very high priority for Secretary Johnson during his tenure, and that is outreach to Muslim communities in this country to help empower those communities, one, to understand the threat and, two, to be able to work within their community on countering that threat and that message. That’s not a message that can come from the U.S. government. It has to come from members of the community who understand the threats and the risks. And our countering violent extremism program, while it’s not so much—that’s a term we use, it’s not a very good way of describing it. It’s really about community empowerment, and allowing communities to understand that threat and how it’s manifested itself, so those communities can deal with it most effectively.
TEMPLE-RASTON: OK. So we mentioned this briefly. And I was just wondering—I’m not sure which of the three of you would best to talk about this—but Ash Carter has been talking about so-called cyber bombs, which clearly goes beyond countering the narrative. And I’m to have a piece on NPR in the next couple of days about this. But I wonder if I can talk a little bit what cyber bombs really are, and how it goes beyond countering the narrative, but actually goes to the internet and its mechanics to use old-time intelligence in a new-time way. Can one of you talk about that? Or are you not allowed to talk about it?
TAYLOR: What I would say is that, following Secretary Carter’s comments, is that it has to be an all-in fight, to include a cyber fight. And DOD is working on that aspect of the fight, along with physical aspects of the fight that you hear about on a day-to-day basis.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Mmm hmm. Do you want to explain what they are?
TAYLOR: No, ma’am. (Laughter.)
TEMPLE-RASTON: OK. How about you, John?
MCLAUGHLIN: I will only quote what I—look, first, I don’t know, because I’m not in government anymore. But I have seen statements out of the military that they are—public statements—that they have a program to attack websites and such. And why not? Now, there’s an answer to why not, because once you start messing with the internet, you’re playing with fire. But I don’t know enough to really answer that intelligently. But I’m sure we are doing things physically to counter their use of the internet. Their use of Twitter, I have read—again, this is publicly acknowledged by the government—is down by about 45 percent. That’s important, because a lot of recruitment occurs in those sites.
And also, I know, from having participated in some of these discussions, that it’s a lot of effort being made to deal with companies that have social media sites—Twitter, Facebook, and so forth—to help them do some self-policing of those sites when they’re being used for illicit purposes. And I suspect they are helping on that score. But then they have issues too. They have a business model, and issues of privacy. And this is all hard stuff. It’s hard stuff.
PISTOLE: And the way I would just summarize it is, is it’s about denying space in which people can work.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Whether it’s online or whether it’s physically on the ground?
MCLAUGHLIN: A lot of hands now.
TEMPLE-RASTON: A lot of hands now. That’s great. This gentleman in the front, in the blue blazer, please. And please tell us who you are.
Q: I’m Stanley Arkin.
My question is, what do we do about getting Pakistan to cooperate more? ISIS, al-Qaida, Taliban all hang out there.
Q: Can you speak into the microphone, please?
Q: I’m sorry. Taliban, al-Qaida, terrorists all hang out across the border in Pakistan. We do not have great communication with Pakistan, and with Pakistan—(inaudible). So I’m asking you whether you have any ideas how to make better friends.
TEMPLE-RASTON: With Pakistan.
Q: With Pakistan.
PISTOLE: So I would start it off by saying, from my experience, it has been transactional, is the best way, meaning if there’s a specific thing that you need cooperation on, whether it involves air travel or law enforcement cooperation, if you can get that cooperation on a transactional basis as opposed to trying to do something broad brush, that has always been more positive. But I’ll defer to my colleagues on broader than that.
TAYLOR: It’s been a challenge. And it’s been hot and cold since 9/11. I happened to have been in the office when Rich Armitage gave the ultimatum to the head of ISI about cooperation after the events of 9/11. And Pakistan, as most nations do, act in what they perceive to be their own interests and have allowed certain things to happen within that country that we are not particularly happen with over the years. But the cooperation has been hot and cold. It’s better today than it was five years ago. Is it as good as we want it? Probably not yet. But we continue to work on it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: OK. Let me take a question from Washington. This is from Gardner Peckham from the Prime Policy Group. And his question is as follows: Has the creation and population of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence increased the effectiveness of the U.S. intelligence community? Or has it added an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy on top of the existing system, and as a result creating greater inefficiencies?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that’s always a—that’s a tough question. But basically I would say as someone who initially opposed creation of this layer of bureaucracy, if you want to call it that, I’ve come around to the view that it is now a helpful thing because back before this was created in my job, I was one of the last directors of Central Intelligence, which meant that we supervised not only the CIA, but 15 other agencies. That was a big job. And I’m told by subsequent CIA directors that it’s comforting to be able to run one agency with a global mission and pay attention to that, rather than having to look over your shoulder at all the other agencies, which this office, the DNI, the Director of National Intelligence, does.
And I would particularly give kudos to the current DNI, Jim Clapper, who is a very effective guy who’s figured out that his job is to coordinate, not to direct, and to do the things that only a person at that level can do. He does briefings with the president. He organizes the budget and sets priorities. So on balance, I think it’s worked out.
TAYLOR: I would tend to agree. I think in particular the work of General Clapper in the last four years has really made the DNI organization, I think, indispensable to the IC in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And do you think that’ll make the DNI job easier to fill? Because that always seems to be a job nobody wants. (Laughter.)
TAYLOR: We’ll see.
PISTOLE: TSA administrator’s a tough one too. (Laughter.)
TAYLOR: Yeah. Yeah.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Not to take anything away from TSA.
PISTOLE: No, of course not. No, no.
TEMPLE-RASTON: How about way in the back with your—the young lady with the—thank you. You got it.
Q: Young lady? Thank you. (Laughter.) Laurie Garrett from the Council.
One big difference between the United States and Western Europe is that we have a huge armed citizenry. And a common statement made after every terrorist incident was, well, if somebody in the crowd had pulled out a gun and taken out the shooter, end of episode. So two-part question. One, can you name any incident since 9/11 where a private armed citizen had a positive impact? And second, what is the role of the private armed citizen in terms of interventions by law enforcement? Does it endanger law enforcement to have private armed citizens in such incidents?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I mean, I’ll just say quickly, I’m for more gun control. I can’t think of a case where that’s been the case, where it’s been helpful. I think guns are fine to protect your own home and family, but that’s the end of it. I just don’t think they have a place as an armed citizenry against terrorists. That’s my view.
PISTOLE: There’s always the risk of, in law enforcement, the blue on blue. If you don’t know who your colleagues are, and you see somebody with a gun, it may be a good person but it also may be a shooter. So how do you know there? There have been at least three FBI agents killed by, quote, friendly fire over the years. And lots more in terms of law enforcement—the 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the country. So that’s always a risk. And, no, I’m not aware of any time that—since 9/11—that an armed citizen has intervened in a situation.
TAYLOR: We also—I’m not aware of any incidents. The secretary has publicly said that, you know, gun control, or aspects of gun control have a homeland security implication, specifically with regard to keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists or people on the terrorist watch list. So not aware of anyone. I know in Dallas there was several people with arms who the police had to sort out, because it’s an open-carry state, to determine where the shooter came from. So it complicates the police response when you have people who weapons who are unknown to law enforcement who’s responding to a circumstance.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And we also have this new problem that I think that we’re seeing. And that has to do with there are lot of people who have come back from the war, Iraq and Afghanistan, who do have weapons who are very skilled. And this ends up being, from my perspective of reporting on Dallas and other things, that because they’re so skilled they’re that much more deadly. And it’s a new wrinkle for law enforcement because they’re not—they thought, I think, originally that there were two or three shooters in Dallas because he was so skilled and he was able to do this.
PISTOLE: He was moving, right?
TEMPLE-RASTON: He was moving, exactly.
This gentleman in the bowtie, please.
Q: Howard Berkowitz.
(Comes on mic.) Oh. A two-part question, dealing with foreigners who have gone to fight with ISIS. First of all, you mentioned that 5(,000) to 7,000 Europeans have gone to fight with them and 1,900 have returned. Why were they allowed to return to Europe? And secondly—the second part is how many Americans have gone to fight with ISIS? And have any of those been allowed to return to the United States?
MCLAUGHLIN: My colleagues may have a view on this. I think—I don’t know specifically how they returned. I just don’t have that research. But my logical conclusion is that Europe until recently has not had a very good database on exactly who went, and a way to catch them on their way back. We do. My understanding is that something like 250 Americans have gone—
TAYLOR: Or attempted.
MCLAUGHLIN: Or attempted. Yeah, secretary will know this better than I do. But I think that’s—I think this is a new art form in Europe. They’ve got to share information among themselves. There are multiple ways to enter. Once you enter one European country, because of the Schengen Agreement, you can move among some large number of them without border controls. The Europeans are working to put some limits on that. So it’s—
TEMPLE-RASTON: It’s also not illegal for Europeans to go to Syria in the same way it is here. So that’s the other issue of their coming back.
PISTOLE: And some were identified after the fact.
TAYLOR: Right, right.
MCLAUGHLIN: The Turks—the Turks are now more careful. The Turks claim to now have a better database for people they that they ought not to let pass through Turkey. But for a long time, they didn’t have such a database. So this is the classic situation where the emergency, I think, is kind of forcing everyone finally to kind of get serious about this.
PISTOLE: And in the U.S., there are some who had been identified who are allowed or permitted to come back, either for one of two reasons: So they can be charged and detained when they arrive. Or, two, so the U.S. can collect information and intelligence about them. Who are their colleagues? Who are they meeting with? Are they trying to recruit? Or is it something—they had a terrible experience and they’ve renounced terrorism, or whatever it is? So those are a couple of the reasons that we look at here. And in Europe, exactly right, a lot returned and the Europeans didn’t know they had gone and returned, or so they’re identified after the fact.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And, Ambassador Taylor, a lot of Europeans countries, it isn’t illegal, right, to go to Syria? It’s illegal to fight with a terrorist group, but if you have no idea what they were doing in Syria, how can you prevent them from—
MCLAUGHLIN: Or how they were getting there.
TAYLOR: Or how they were getting there. And we call it broken travel. You think you’re traveling one place. They break that travel and end up in Syria or Iraq.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, the classic pattern was—that we’ve been able to document—is someone flies to Turkey. Before they go, someone on Twitter from ISIS gives them a phone number to use. The phone number hooks them up with someone from ISIS on the border who welcomes them across the Turkish border in the ISIS world. And that’s all starting to tighten up now, largely because the Turks are getting serious about this.
TEMPLE-RASTON: ISIS actually has a travel agency. So the three girls who tried to go and join ISIS from Denver actually were given precise instructions on exactly—they’d never traveled on their own before—how to buy a ticket, how to get a passport, where to get their passport form, how much it will cost, how to break their travel, number to call once they got there, bus to take to meet the guy who’s on that side. They didn’t get that far, but there’s a literal travel agency that helps—
TAYLOR: They didn’t get out of Denver, right.
PISTOLE: They didn’t get out of Denver.
TEMPLE-RASTON: No, no. They got out of Denver.
TAYLOR: They didn’t get that far.
PISTOLE: They got to Chicago.
TEMPLE-RASTON: No, they were captured in Europe, just before their last flight to Istanbul. They were taking cheap flights so they had been hopping a lot.
TAYLOR: The number of Americans is around 250 that have either gone or tried to go to go to fight with ISIL in Syria. Several dozen have returned. Many of them went before the conflict with ISIL started. Many went for humanitarian reasons and returned. All have been under investigation by the FBI that have returned.
MCLAUGHLIN: You have to—look, I looked at the ISIS propaganda in 2014, and you can understand how a young person who does not feel they belong somewhere and has other issues would react to this. It showed a house, a car in the driveway, a swimming pool in the backyard, opportunities to work as things other than fighters—hospital technicians, border guards, whatever.
MCLAUGHLIN: Plumbers, doctors, lawyers. So, for a period of time in 2014, they presented a very benign face to the world, coupled with all of this violence and stuff that you are very familiar with—kind of a heady brew for a certain kind of individual who’s vulnerable to that appeal.
TEMPLE-RASTON: There in the back, on this side here.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. Sorry, I can barely see you.
Q: Sure. Martha Teichner, CBS News.
Recognizing the transformation of the intelligence agencies in this country since 9/11, and also excluding the fear of lone wolves, what do all of you believe is the biggest intelligence weakness we have today?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if you exclude lone wolf—don’t let—I won’t let you exclude that right away, because if you were asking me what is the single biggest deficit, it’s that we don’t really have and haven’t developed, I think very hard to develop, a warning system for that kind of terrorist.
But putting that aside, as you suggest, let me mention two or three things. The first is simply the volume of problems you’re dealing with. Most people would say that today the list is longer than it’s ever been. You know, the Cold War was a challenge, but in the Cold War, among other things, you could look for very big things in the world; now you’re got—you know, bombers, submarines, deployed nuclear forces. Now you have to do all that, plus look for very little things: a suitcase, little bit of liquid getting onto a plane one person in a city of 17 million people. And on top of that, you have all the classic issues—I could give you the list, but I think you know it—of, you know, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, monitoring duties, detection duties. So it’s the sheer volume of material that you’re dealing with now that forces you to make choices all the time, to pick up the phone as I remember doing so many times, calling the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and saying would you please move a destroyer from the, you know, Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf to collect something, knowing that I’m uncovering something in the Indian Ocean but I’m making that choice. So it’s the volume of things, which has gone through the roof.
Second, it’s technology. In intelligence, you always have to have better technology than the adversary, because the adversary has everything that’s available publicly. So your technology has to be a leap better. You all experience the technology revolution every day. So for intelligence to stay ahead of that is tougher than it used to be before we were in the midst of this rapid transformation.
And the third thing is, I would say, in the information age where so much is available, if I were back in that business what I’d be thinking every day is, how do I add value to what everyone knows? People know a lot. So adding value becomes harder, because you’ve got to concentrate on the harder targets, the things that are really tough to get: the intentions of foreign leaders in authoritarian countries, things like that, where they practice excellent communication security and so forth.
So those are some of the things that occur to me immediately as not so much weaknesses, but I would call them challenges that you face.
PISTOLE: Yeah, I would add the context, I think, is important. What are we trying to prevent? If we look at the number of people killed in the U.S. since 9/11 in terrorist attacks, depending on how you define terrorism—whether that’s Omar Mateen in Orlando and the San Bernardino couple and Tsarnaev brothers in Boston, things like that—it’s in the low hundreds, vice that of—and I’m influenced—we had the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration on campus at Anderson University two weeks ago, and he talked about the 47,000 deaths last year because of drug overdoses, particularly opioid—so there’s an opioid epidemic in the U.S., versus say 30,000 people killed in car accidents, or 30,000 people killed with firearms. So the context, I think, to John’s point, is what resources do we have to apply to the problem, and what are we trying to achieve, recognizing that even if one person is killed in a terrorist act, that receives incredible media attention—and probably rightfully so, but I think that’s debatable—vice that of what’s going on in the rest of society and what are we trying—where are we investing our resources.
MCLAUGHLIN: I had one more, and this is kind of a boring one. I could put you all to sleep very quickly, but it’s very important: data fusion. In other words, how do you—and they’re working on this, the Director of National Intelligence, developing an architecture—information architecture for the intelligence community that works as well across all of those agencies as Google does for you when you’re doing a search. But remember, you do that in an environment where you have to protect some information. Not everything can be shared with everyone. So you’re—it isn’t a technology problem, it’s a policy problem.
And yet—and then you add to that the volume of information you have, with exceeds anything I remember from the early years of my involvement in this business. You capture a terrorist, you get their electronic media, you are getting the equivalent of a small public library. And with all the anti-ISIS work we’re doing, people are getting so much data. You need algorithms to break that stuff out, to figure out where the threat is in it. That’s a huge—I think that’s in the area of weakness, in that it’s a strength in that we’re doing it, but it’s a—it’s something that the tools are not there to do at the level we need to do it yet.
TAYLOR: I would go back to the question about the value of the DNI. And this is where the DNI, I think, has truly become valuable in terms of fusing the data systems across the 16 intelligence agencies in a much more effective way. And as John mentioned, everyone can’t have access to everything, but there are nuggets of information that sit in all of our datasets that if we can better analyze them, use big-data techniques, we’ll find new answers. And that’s what we need to look for, is new answers to questions that we already have, based upon the data that we have sitting in our systems.
It’s a big issue in DHS. One of our big initiatives under the secretary is what we call the DHS Data Framework; that is, to take 20 disparate datasets and put them in a data lake so that we can do analysis across those datasets to better enable us to make security decisions for the department. So—
TEMPLE-RASTON: You call it a data lake?
TAYLOR: That’s a technical term. (Laughter.)
PISTOLE: You just broke the story. (Laughter.)
TAYLOR: But the notion is to create a—from all those disparate datasets a methodology or a capability to be able to analyze those datasets across and to find new knowledge.
TEMPLE-RASTON: OK. Well, I’m sorry that we have to leave it there. I have to conclude the meeting because we’re very good at concluding on time. But if you’ll please join me in giving the gentlemen a hand for being here—(applause).