“We are just getting started”
03 December, 2015
“We are just getting started”
Interview with James Woolsey, former director of Central Intelligence Agency, currently chancellor of Institute of the World Politics

Former CIA director and acting chancellor of  Institute of World Politics James Woolsey considers state-building aspirations to have played a pivotal role in strengthening in strengthening of the so-called Islamic State, with its attempt to build a “caliphate” attracting young recruits from all over the world.

Read the Georgian version of the article on Voice of America website.

– What’s your reaction
to Europe’s extreme agitation and it being worried about a possible follow-up attack after what happened in Paris?

– We are just getting started. ISIS will be with us for some time; even if headquarters of their “caliphate” are captured and destroyed, we will be seeing ISIS in one way or another in Europe or perhaps in North America for a long time to go.

– Is ISIS more dangerous than it was before? And if so, how has it been able to magnify its capabilities?

– I think that by forming a “caliphate,” it attracted the allegiance of some – especially young people – that it otherwise would not have attracted. There is something about serving a state, particularly one that implements the ideals of early Muslim groups that existed in Muhammad’s times. That has proven to be attractive to some young people in different countries, not only in Syria, while helping create leverage and problems for us.

– Does it surprise you that the group has been able to entrench itself and strengthen in Iraq and Syria?

– I think the reason is that we have not successfully attacked the headquarters of the “caliphate” yet; we had more or less left it alone, while it brought the war to us in the West. So, I think it was unwise for us to wait for many months before engaging trucks that carry about a million dollar a day worth of petroleum to the “caliphate” and help fund its military attacks, terrorism and other activities.

– Do you think the U.S. government and other western governments underestimated the abilities of the Islamic State?

– I think they probably did, because they did not recognize the power of the notion of building a state. They were probably thinking of ISIS along the lines of Al-Qaeda and various Al-Qaeda offshoots while disregarding them in the capacity of a budding empire.

– When we talk to intelligence or military officials, they are often concerned that they don’t know enough about the control and command ways of ISIS. Given how ISIS manipulates the social media, has the traditional meaning of “command and control” changed?

– I think there has been a subnational increase in the use of apps, in the use of Playstations, which are heavily encrypted, and the communication has often been conducted using very nontraditional means, not only through social media. This has made it significantly harder for the West and the countries under attack to sort out what ISIS is doing; there may be a whole number of things planned with people not gathering for meetings, but sending messages via apps instead.

– The refugee situation is another big issue. Are you concerned about ISIS operatives and other terrorists trying to sneak into the U.S. as refugees?

– It’s certainly possible; we have already had at least a couple of terrorists that came as refugees and there may well be more. Any time there is a large group of people that floods the sorting system, verification systems and a venting system, the chance that terrorists will get through increases. However, that does not mean that we should rescind our willingness to serve as a land of asylum. We have had people running to the United States from wars and terrorists alike for many years. However, we have to be cautious and careful about who we are letting in and do our best to check up on them.

The criteria for letting people in have for many years been oriented towards giving preference to those fleeing religious persecution, the sick, the children, etc. so the first people to come through will probably be more of the same types of people that have been coming earlier.

Read the Georgian version of the article on Voice of America website.

By Jeff Saldin, VOA Georgian Service
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