The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who stepped down last week told an online defense magazine that “we’re in a period of prolonged societal conflict that is pretty unprecedented” and stood by his assessment that the country is not safer today.
The Pentagon announced in April that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who took the reins of the agency in 2012, would be resigning. Last month, Flynn told the Aspen Forum “we understand that we’re not” safer than we were two, five, or 10 years ago. White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to Flynn’s comments by saying “there have been very devastating blows that have been leveled against al-Qaeda.”
Flynn told Breaking Defense that he has never seen so many global crises crashing down simultaneously.
“I will frankly tell you that what I see each day is the most uncertain, chaotic and confused international environment that I’ve witnessed in my entire career. There were probably more dangerous times such as when the Nazis and [Japanese] Imperialists were trying to dominate the world, but we’re in another very dangerous era. We rightfully talk about the last decade being the longest war in American history, for instance, but when we pull combat troops out of Afghanistan at the end of this year, it’s not going to feel like that war is over. To me, it feels like we’ll be facing a familiar threat and heightened uncertainty for a long time yet,” he said.
He stressed that the “explosion of social media” is accelerating the changing landscape, with everyone caught up in the rapid-moving events. “Even the president, I believe, sometimes feels compelled to just do something without first saying ‘Wait! How did this happen? Who made this decision?’”
On his Aspen Forum remarks? “In 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland,” Flynn said.
And “the core ideology and belief system” of al-Qaeda “is spreading, not shrinking.”
“Look at the unbelievably violent videos coming out of Iraq just in recent days. I’ve physically interrogated some of these guys, and I’ve had the opportunity to hear them talking about their organizations and beliefs. These are people who have a very deeply-rooted belief system that is just difficult for Americans to comprehend. Just think about the mindset of a suicide bomber,” Flynn continued.
“…When Bin Laden was killed there was a general sense that maybe this threat would go away. We all had those hopes, including me. But I also remembered my many years in Afghanistan and Iraq. We kept decapitating the leadership of these groups, and more leaders would just appear from the ranks to take their place. That’s when I realized that decapitation alone was a failed strategy.”
Flynn says he believes he accomplished his goal of “shaking things up at DIA.”
“Maybe it did get to the point where I was a little too far out in front of my headlights. I had a meeting with my boss and the message was ‘it’s time for you to go,’ and my reaction was to salute and say, ‘Okay, no problem.’”