Morell on July 4 Terror Threat: Heightened Security ‘Is the New Normal’

‘To wipe it out, we have to take that territory away from them in both Iraq and Syria, not just one, but both’

DICKERSON: “Back here in the United States, American celebrated the Fourth of July yesterday under heavy security. There were 7,000 additional officers on the streets of New York City, and Washington’s National Mall was also under tight watch. CBS News senior security contributor and former number two at the CIA Michael Morell joins us now. Mike, we got through the July 4 holiday, but is this heightened alertness, is that the new normal?”
MORELL: “So, John, there were three reasons why we were so focused on this weekend. One was the large number of Americans who have been radicalized by ISIS, 40 arrests since the beginning of this year for people who want to conduct attacks here or who want to go fight in Syria. The second reason was the call to arms by ISIS for the month of Ramadan, which — mid-June to mid-July, and then the third, right, the Fourth of July being a symbol of America. Put all three together, right, and that’s why we were so focused on this weekend. Two of those remain after this weekend until mid-July, and one will remain for the foreseeable future. So, I do think this is the new normal.”
DICKERSON: “We have two kinds of terrorist threats, at least two big ones, ISIS and al Qaeda. Which one worries you more?” 
MORELL: “So, in terms of quantity, it’s ISIS, right, because they can radicalize people here at home so easily. You could have a series of attacks here. But in terms of quality, in terms of size of the attack, I think al Qaeda is still the biggest. And, here, we’re talking about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Yemen. They could bring down an airliner. ISIS can’t do that yet.”
DICKERSON: “Of those two, which do you think U.S. has a better handle on pushing back against?”
MORELL: “So, we have to push back on both. I think, right now, we are probably doing better job on pushing back on al Qaeda in Yemen because we’re conducting a series of strikes there against the leadership. I think, with ISIS, the biggest — the biggest thing we have to do is change the momentum on the battlefield, because the perception is that ISIS is winning. Right? And that makes their — that makes their narrative, that makes their call to arms so much more powerful.

“So, that is why today’s strike in Raqqa is so important. The tactical objective is to make it difficult for them to move men and weapons out of their capital to the rest of Iraq and Syria, all right? But the strategic objective is to put their leadership under pressure and to make it look like they’re losing. And that will change the dynamic here, if we keep it up.”
DICKERSON: “And let me just jump on that point about making it look like they’re losing, because that has a public relations benefit in the social media realm, where part of this battle is taking place. Right?”
MORELL: “Right. So, their social media so powerful for three reasons. One is their narrative is powerful. We have established the Islamic caliphate. America is trying to destroy us. Defend us. Defend us. The second is the way they deliver it, right, with their social media, a couple hundred thousand tweets a day, Madison Avenue-style quality. And then the third is this perception that they’re winning, right, which draws people to you.

“So you have to get at all of those, but that most important one, I think, is to change the view of who is winning, and strikes like this today matter.”
DICKERSON: “In the larger effort against ISIS, is your view that it can only be contained, or can it be wiped out?”
MORELL: “I think we have to contain it first and then we have to wipe it out, so it can be wiped out. And to wipe it out, we have to take that territory away from them in both Iraq and Syria, not just one, but both. And then we have to get after their narrative, right? We have to change that narrative.”
DICKERSON: “And so was this a significant attack, this new one, and do you think it’s a new stage? Do you see this attack in Raqqa and their headquarters as a kind of new stage?”
MORELL: “So, I hope so. Right? So, I think in order to defeat a terrorist group, one of the lessons, one of the big lessons we learned post-9/11 with al Qaeda is you have to keep pressure on the leadership of the terrorist organization. And if you do that, you make it more difficult for them to plot and — because they’re worrying about their own security, right? And so I think the more strikes that you can do on their leadership, the better off we’re going to be.”
DICKERSON: “All right, Mike Morell, thanks so much.”
MORELL: “Good to be with you, John.”

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