CIA Director John Brennan said Monday he suspects the Islamic State is currently working on more terrorist plots against the West following Friday’s attack in Paris that killed at least 129 people and injured hundreds more. He also criticized new privacy protections enacted after Edward Snowden’s disclosures about U.S. government surveillance practices.
“I would anticipate that this is not the only operation ISIL has in the pipeline,” Brennan told a crowd at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s not going to content itself with violence inside of the Syrian and Iraqi borders.”
Brennan’s remarks come on the heels of a new Islamic State video released Monday proclaiming all countries playing a role in air strikes against the group in Iraq and Syria would be a target. The video specifically pinpointed Washington as in its crosshairs.
“We swear that we will strike America at its center in Washington,” says a man in the video, which surfaced on a site the Islamic State uses to post its messages. The authenticity of the video could not be immediately verified.
In his remarks, Brennan said the attacks should serve as a “wake-up call” for those misrepresenting what intelligence services do to protect innocent civilians. He cited “a number of unauthorized disclosures, and a lot of handwringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists.”
He added that “policy” and “legal” actions that have since been taken now “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.” In June, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation reforming a government surveillance program that vacuumed up millions of Americans’ telephone records. Passage of the USA Freedom Act was the result of a compromise between privacy advocates and the intelligence community.
Brennan’s remarks immediately sparked criticisms from civil liberties advocates who have fought for greater privacy protections from government surveillance and now fear the Paris attacks could roll them back.
For months, FBI and other law enforcement officials have pressed Congress about needing to access encrypted communications of potential criminals or terrorists that are concealed by smartphones and messaging apps. Privacy advocates and technologists worry that providing authorities with exceptional access to phones would be exploited by hackers and make the Internet more vulnerable to security breaches. The advocates also believe U.S. spies already have intrusive surveillance capabilities that put too much power in the government’s hands.
In his speech, Brennan underscored the challenges facing intelligence services, given the numerous ways terrorists can hide their communications from law enforcement. “They have gone to school on what it is that they need to do to in order to keep their activities concealed from the authorities,” he said.
Brennan also said the United States had “strategic warning” about the terrorist attack in Paris, but did not provide details, other than to say it was “not a surprise.” He said he believed the attack was planned over “several months.”
During a press conference in Turkey, which is hosting the G-20 summit, Obama said “there were no specific mentions of this particular attack” the United States could have used before it was launched to prevent the violence.
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