The Michigan Republican briefed the rest of the GOP House Conference on a phone call this morning. Guest Host John Campbell was on that call, and brought on the Congressman to give America the same briefing on ISIS. His conclusion: They can’t be degraded solely by air strikes in Iraq. Syria ground action will have to be undertaken.
JC: Our next guest here is someone who knows a lot about the background on that. We have with us Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mike, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, and thank you for coming on with us.
MR: John, it’s always good to hear your voice, now even over the radio.
JC: Yes, yes, and you’ll be on this side of the mic at some point in the future, but we’ll get to that later. Three hours ago, you and I were on a conference call with House Republicans, with the Speaker and Majority Leader McCarthy and so forth, and you gave us a briefing on ISIS, and on the threats that ISIS provides, and your thoughts on that. To the extent that you can, and you feel comfortable doing so, I think America should hear what you told Congress three hours ago. So I would ask you now to repeat as much of that as you feel comfortable repeating.
JC: Well, sure, John, I’m happy to do it. And it’s one of the reasons you hear those of us who look at this information every day, and have tracked the rise of ISIS well over a year now, and certainly their brutality across Iraq, why we’re concerned, and why people like me keep saying hey, we have to do something and deal with this. So a couple of things that are concerning. One, you have an organization that has lots of time and space. And the one thing that we’ve learned leading up to 9/11 was that al Qaeda, Osama bin laden, had lots of time and space, He could recruit and train and raise money, plan operations without disruption, practice conducting operations, get themselves armed, get themselves the right kind of paperwork and passports to get where they needed to go. And they had the time and freedom and space to do it. Well, we see that exactly happening with ISIS only on steroids. And the reason I say that is because we believe that there are in excess of 3,000 individuals who have left either European or the United States or Canada countries, traveled, and are now being trained and further radicalized, and we hope not operationalized. We don’t have good acuity on that, that are just about a plan ticket away from coming home. So they go back to Europe. If they can find no derogatory information, that individual gets on an airplane and flies to the United States. They have, it’s called a visa waiver that would allow them to do that. And even though we’re better at tracking these things since 9/11, it’s not perfect. And we’ve never experienced this volume of individuals that we’d have to track. So when you get to countries like Canada, they have a different set of rules. They don’t track their, those kinds of movements of citizens, even in those areas. It makes it more difficult for us to figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. They come into Canada, as you know, they’re just a simple drive right across the bridge, and they’re in the United States. So that’s why David Cameron stood up and so forcefully said hey, we’ve got a problem in Great Britain, and we think it’s in excess of 500 individuals. We’re trying to figure out who they are. We’re not figuring out all of them. That leaves huge gaps in our ability to determine the movement of these folks when they come home. You add, in addition to that, that about 12 of the 20 al Qaeda affiliates around the world have either overtly or covertly expressed some support to the ISIS movement, meaning they haven’t necessarily abandoned al Qaeda and its goals, aims and desires, but they’ve secretly in some cases, and overtly in some cases, expressed lots of support for this ISIS organization. Now you say well, what does that mean? Well, that means that other al Qaeda affiliates operating in Africa or Southwest Asia, or even the Levant, now you can plug into their logistical operations. They may have an individual that fits the right criteria that can do a Western style attack. So some notion that ISIS is so preoccupied with what its doing in Syria and Iraq that they aren’t interested in conducting a Western attack, terrorist attack, easy to say. But the evidence, the empirical evidence here is overwhelming that we have a huge problem, and that we have to deal with it. And most of their training camps, most of their logistics, are now happening out in Syria.
JC: Okay, Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, how did ISIS get this way? How did this group that the President called a jayvee team just, what, six months ago or something like that, how did they get here? And I guess, and we’ll get back on how to deal with them currently in a minute, but we don’t want this sort of thing to grow up like this again. What happened? How did this happen?
MR: You know, it started with, well, it was actually, rose to prominence with a guy named Zarqawi. A lot of these names pretty close, but he was the guy that was in Iraq conducting operations against U.S. troops that became bad guy number one, and he was, and announced at that time that he was going to affiliate with al Qaeda – same aims, same goals. They want to kill Americans. They want to kill Westerners. They want to kill Israelis. They believe that this is the establishment of the caliphate that would encompass most of Northern Africa, Levant, and to include Israel, by the way, and Lebanon and those places, and then Syria and Iraq. So they argue that this was the start of that. Well, the United States put him on the bad guy list, and brought him to justice in Iraq, and shut down, and at least suppressed that organization pretty significantly. It was making very good gains. When the United States just summarily pulled out, when the President said we quit and left Iraq, without that final seasoning and final cooking off to try to train Iraqi troops to handle these kind of problems, they decided that that was enough time and space, that was enough breathing room to reconstitute itself, that organization under a new banner. An individual who had at one time been in U.S. custody, a guy named Baghdadi, sees that opportunity, is a bit of a charismatic leader, was able to rally those individuals. And then that same violent approach, which by the way, Zarqawi did as well, he was also known for beheading, he was able to start to grow. Well, when nothing happened in Syria, when the President decided to reject the Arab League overtures for hey, at least coordinating an effort in Syria, we started to see the rise and the pooling of al Qaeda extremists in Eastern Syria. And well over a year ago, people decided, hey, this is a pretty serious problem that we’re going to have to start dealing with, and our Arab League partners came and said hey, we’ve got to deal with this. The President said no, not interested, not my problem. And it just began to fester. When they got to the place where they could, again, attract recruits, finance arms, and they were collecting arms caches around Syria, when they believed they were strong enough, they went across the border into Iraq, and that’s how you saw this whole thing get kicked off. At one time, again, these were all al Qaeda affiliates, and some notion that they’re so brutal for al Qaeda, you know, I just, I can’t believe it. I just so strongly disagree with that statement. Remember, al Qaeda kidnapped people on airplanes and then slaughtered them by flying those airplanes into buildings and slaughtering an additional 3,000 people. This is not about brutality. It’s about control. So al Qaeda, their leader, Zawahiri, kept saying hey, we want you to focus just in Syria right now. We don’t want you to try to expand or hold ground quite yet. And it was these folks were just impatient. And they decided no, we think we can do this. We want to implement Sharia law right away, which is a very harsh interpretation of Koranic teaching, and boom, now you have this problem. They separated from al Qaeda. There’s actually been some skirmishes there. They’re not in all-out conflict, but then with their prominence, they’ve started gaining recruits from around the world. People said hey, that’s my brand of extremism. They’re winning. And they saw that they were enforcing Sharia law in places like Mosul, a city of two million people, and thought this is the caliphate that we’ve been dreaming of. And so they’ve found this influx of people and resources in a way that we’ve just never seen before. And the longer you let it go, again, the more time, the more space, the more trouble for us.
JC: When you say we’ve never seen it before, including the al Qaeda pre-9/11?
MR: Well, we’ve, not at this size, and we certainly saw al Qaeda pre-9/11. They had that time and space, but not this size. And they didn’t have access to the Western passport holders. They had to get pretty creative about how they were going to try to infiltrate people in to get on airplanes in the United States. So imagine if you have a whole cadre of individuals now that have American passports, or British passports, or German passports, any other waiver country, which means you don’t have to apply for a visa, so it doesn’t get the same kind of scrutiny that you might get from other countries of interest, you know, somebody from Pakistan, for instance. They have to apply for a visa, and it’s a whole process to make sure that people from the, extremists from the tribal areas aren’t trying to infiltrate the United States. None of that happens. And so this makes it much more difficult, and much more easy for them to try to plan attacks in the Western world.
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JC: Congressman Rogers, before the break, you had mentioned, we were talking about al Qaeda and 9/11 versus ISIS today. And something you said several times was not of this size. What do you mean of this size? What is the size of ISIS that is larger or greater or whatever than al Qaeda was?
MR: Yeah, al Qaeda was basically a cell-oriented network. So it had a leadership cadre. It had what was called a Shura council, or a group of leaders, and these were spread, you know, fairly significantly over the Middle East and Africa and other places. And so they never had a large gathering. They never had an army, per se. They had training camps, they had individuals who, where they would teach them to shoot and do explosives training, and surveillance, and all the things that they would need to pull off a successful terrorist attack. But it was small cell, very surreptitious, operated in the remote lands of Afghanistan, at least at the end of it, before the 9/11 attack. And so they never really were connected to thousands and thousands of people in a very open way. Well, with ISIS, what you see now is a terrorist organization that has a functioning army. And it is a functioning army. They have command and control to a large extent, more than you would see in any terrorist organization. They have tanks. They have artillery pieces. They actually named a few weeks ago an oil minister to try to make sure that they were taking full advantage of the oil refineries that they had captured, and how to sell it and disburse it in a way that they could see a daily revenue stream. They are actually trying to govern, to some degree, in Mosul, again, a city of two million people where they’re implementing Sharia law, appointing local civic leaders at all levels, controlling law enforcement. Now, of course, their interpretation is beheadings, lopping off hands, stoning women, I mean, truly back in the stone ages. But that is their function and the way they’re operating. And in addition, the number I’ve seen, I think Brussels put out a number about 7,000 individuals with Western passports of some degree or another who have flocked to do this fighting, to what they believe as being a part of establishing the Islamic caliphate under Sharia law. And so we’ve never seen that size and that number, and that just means that ISIS now has A) a functioning army, B) they’re trying to create some civil government of some sort, certainly nothing we would agree with, and then they have this large, vibrant pool of what would be new recruits for any Western operations that they might want to conduct.
JC: How big is that functioning army? How many people?
MR: Well, best estimate is about 20,000 or so.
JC: Plus, as you’re saying…
MR: And so, and that number we think is swelling. Troubling to that, too, John, is that we’ve seen now recruiting. So they have an official recruiting arm. We’ve seen them in other nations surrounding Iraq and Syria recruiting individuals to come for the fight. So they’re actively out, you know, they’ve got their military, if you will, recruiting stations, organized pamphlets, organized efforts to get and continue the flow and the stream of individuals into Iraq and Syria where they can train them.
JC: Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I’d like to play for you now a clip the President. This is today, a comment he made at the NATO convention in Wales, in Cardiff, Wales, clip number one:
BO: The objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq, but also the region and to the United States. In order for us to accomplish that, the first phase has been to make sure we’ve got an Iraqi government that’s in place, and that we are blunting the momentum that ISIL was carrying out. And the air strikes have done that.
JC: Now Mike Rogers, the President is basically, and I could have played this longer, that was about a 25 second clip, but he goes on, and he mainly talks about Iraq. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. What do you think we should be doing with ISIS? First of all, I’ll get to what should Congress and the President be doing in terms of legal authorizations. But what do you think is the military, diplomatic, intelligence reaction? What should we be doing now to destroy and degrade this threat?
MR: Yeah, a couple of things. One, it’s okay to have the diplomatic effort in Baghdad to try to get the government to come together, which was the whole purpose of extending troops, by the way, to try to make sure that happened and stayed in place. That’s okay, but this comes in the walk and chew gum department. You can’t wait for that government to get up and running at any level where whatever the President decides he feels comfortable when we know that they’re recruiting, when we know that they have access to these individuals, when we know that they’re raising money, some believe it’s in excess of a million dollars a day. This is a terrorist organization with cash, with training, with recourses, with time and with space. You have to disrupt that. You can’t do it simply in Iraq, either. Iraq is their offensive move. They launched this attack from Eastern Syria. And I know the President is loathe to even mention, mainly because the policy now, of his Assad policy versus this Eastern Syria problem, is in conflict, no doubt. And rather than come out to try to explain that to the American people, he just keeps talking about it in terms of Iraq. But you are not going to defeat or degrade them in any meaningful way if you don’t deal with the Syrian problem at the same time as you deal with the Iraqi problem.
JC: And that is because…
MR: That’s where their headquarters is. This is where their logistics are. This is where a lot of their oil revenue comes from. This is where their military equipment, a lot of it came from until they got up into Mosul and cleaned out those arsenals. Raqqa, which is where they are tending to operate near or from, is supposedly going to be the capital of their caliphate. So this is in the heart and soul of where they think their safe haven is. And they get to freely fight up in Iraq. Even with, if it’s with the Peshmerga, and other Iraqi forces in with U.S. support, if they can freely operate out of Syria with that safe haven, that logistical hub, then it’s really nearly impossible to degrade them where they can’t be a threat. You have to at least disrupt that, the nest, if you will, of their logistics hub if you’re going to have any impact on degrading their ability to conduct attacks outside of the Levant.
JC: You and I are going to be in Washington on Monday. And we’ll see each other, and we don’t know what the President’s going to do. But in the final roughly 30, 40 seconds we have here, what should the House, what should we in Congress do to move this issue forward next week?
MR: We ought to give the President authority to go after ISIS where they find them. They don’t sense borders. We ought not to sense those borders. We shouldn’t handcuff ourselves in an effort to degrade and disable their ability to conduct operations. And this does not mean big military movement. It does mean intelligence and some Special Forces type activity that would be required to be impactful, and to help our Arab League partners be more impactful. But it doesn’t mean big, structure, 101st Airborne type units. It does mean we’re going to have to get a little more involved on the ground.
JC: Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, everybody in America should listen to these last two clips so they know this threat.
End of interview.