Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta said the terrorist attacks in Ottawa and Paris, and the raids on terror cells in Belgium, highlight the fact that “we’re entering a new and perhaps more dangerous chapter in the war on terrorism.”
Panetta has previously criticized the Obama administration’s national security policies with the release of his memoir in October.
He told CNN over the weekend that the situation on the world stage is only getting worse.
“You’ve got terrorists coming at us from a lot of different directions, from ISIS, from Boko Haram, from al-Shabaab, from AQAP, from other elements of al Qaeda. They are recruiting like crazy from these various wars in Syria and Iraq and Yemen. And they seem to be involved in more planning and more weapons in terms of the types of attacks that they are working on,” Panetta said.
“So I think it’s pretty clear from what we’re seeing that we are entering a more threatening and more dangerous period in this war on terrorism.”
Panetta stressed that governments need to be “very aggressive in confronting this more dangerous threat in terms of terrorism.”
“You have to do it with increasing our basic intelligence because obviously, whether it’s human intelligence or technical intelligence, getting the right intelligence gives you at least a chance to avoid these kinds of attacks,” he said. “Secondly, I think we have to continue to stress our counterterrorism operations, both our intelligence operations, our special forces operations, to be able to use our capabilities to target their leadership and their command and control.”
“And thirdly, you’ve got to build partnerships with the countries abroad that are confronting terrorism. We’ve got to be able to share intelligence, share operations, and be able to work together to go after this broad array of threats, because these individuals as they come back — I think, you know, we’re probably in a pretty good position with our watch list and with our defenses that have been set up to be able to check them.”
The “problem is in Europe,” Panetta said, is “that there frankly is a greater capability to be able to move from country to country without being detected.”
“So somehow working with other countries we’ve got to be able to share intelligence and improve our capability to track these foreign nationals that in one way or another are coming back to these countries and trying to conduct these attacks,” he said.
Panetta said there’s “no question” that the Paris attack was an “intelligence failure.”
“The reality is that when these foreign nationals are able to come back into our country, and there are thousands of these nationals that are overseas in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, I think it still represents a real danger in terms of the United States,” he said. “I don’t think we can take anything for granted. I think we are dealing with a much more aggressive form of terrorism coming at us in a number of different directions, as I said. And the United States ought to continue to remain very vigilant and very aggressive in going after this kind of terrorism.”
He added that it was a “mistake” for the administration to have skipped the march of world leaders in Paris.
“Because we missed an opportunity to show solidarity with the leadership in the world that is confronting this terrorism threat that we all face. It was a missed opportunity we should have had. If not the president, certainly the vice president or secretary of state should have attended,” Panetta continued.
“As far as what went on in the White House, all I can say is when I was chief of staff, the National Security adviser and the chief of staff usually presented these kinds of issues directly to the president and the president then made the ultimate decision as to what happened. Whether or not that happened here, I just don’t know.”