Skip to main content

Former CIA chief: Matter of time before ISIS tries to attack West

By Joshua Berlinger, CNN
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Sun August 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former CIA chief Michael Hayden says ISIS will attempt to attack targets in Europe, U.S.
  • Hayden says such an attack would express ISIS' "street credentials"
  • More airstrikes conducted against ISIS on Sunday

(CNN) -- An ISIS attack against the West is a question of timing -- "not of inevitably, not of intent," according to the former head of the CIA, retired Gen. Michael Hayden

Speaking to CNN's Jim Sciutto on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Hayden said he expects ISIS to attempt an attack on targets in the United States or Europe.

"ISIS is a very powerful local organization, and probably a reasonably powerful regional terrorist organization," Hayden said. "But it's one that has global ambitions -- and it has the tools."

Keeping ISIS out of the U.S.
Kurdish leaders: ISIS has been weakened
Is it the beginning of the end of ISIS?

There's no clear consensus inside the intelligence community as to whether ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, is currently capable of striking the West.

That debate came to the forefront last week after the Sunni militant group beheaded American journalist James Foley in retaliation for the airstrikes -- an act that Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, called the group's "first terrorist attack against the United States," in an interview with CBS.

"It's expressed the intent," Hayden said. "There's no way more powerful way to express their street credentials among the jihadist community than a successful attack against the West."

The U.S. military has conducted targeted airstrikes in order to stop ISIS's progress in the region. The Obama administration initially said the strikes were carried out in order to protect U.S. personnel at the consulate in Irbil, Iraq, and prevent the genocide of the Yazidi people, a religious minority in the country.

That mission has appeared to have been broadened -- strikes continued to hit ISIS targets near Irbil and the Mosul Dam on Sunday, U.S. Central Command said in a news release. The majority of the strikes have been in support of Iraqi forces near the dam, which briefly fell under ISIS control.

Hayden said that American airstrikes inside Syria, in addition to those being conducted in Iraq, would make a difference in the fight against ISIS. Airstrikes in Iraq come at the request of that government; Syria, however, is in the midst of a civil war in which almost 200,000 people have been killed. The United States has called for its President, Bashar al-Assad, to step down.

"It's not just about defense; it's not just about keeping the right people off of aircraft," Hayden said. "It's about offense. It's about disabling ISIS. It's about making them more worried, more consumed with protecting their own survivability rather than yours or mine."

READ: James Foley's murder: A message to Britain

READ: Voice, words may provide key clues about Foley's killer

Part of complete coverage on
ISIS
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
updated 5:01 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS is close to capturing Kobani, Syria, giving them control of an area that stretches to the Turkish border.
updated 2:13 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
updated 5:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
British photojournalist John Cantlie reads a statement in a new ISIS hostage video that mocks airstrikes.
updated 1:51 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
The United States may be touting its strikes on ISIS targets in Syria, but one of the terror group's fighters says the hits are trivial at best.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
The U.S. and several Arab nations carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, intensifying the campaign against the militant group.
updated 1:04 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Anti-terrorist raids in Australia. Beheading of a French citizen in Algeria. Reports of ISIS sympathizers in Indonesia. Here are the countries that could be affected.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The involvement of five Arab countries in the air strikes against ISIS in Syria is a major new development for the region.
updated 6:27 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Could the United States be helping another foe: the regime of President Bashar al-Assad?
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
U.S. airstrikes against al Qaeda offshoots show the president is playing whack-a-mole against a new generation of terrorists.
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
President Obama's policy towards Syria -- three years of red lines and calls for regime change -- culminated in a barrage of airstrikes.
The United States and several Arab nations rained bombs on ISIS targets in Syria. Here's a look at the targets.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
The campaign of airstrikes against ISIS in Syria has pitted several Arab countries into action alongside the United States.
updated 4:01 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
The U.S. has promised to supply and train "acceptable" rebels in Syria to counter ISIS. But who are they and are can the strategy work?
updated 9:53 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
For a while, it seemed that the threat from ISIS was limited to sparsely populated desert regions in the Middle East.
updated 11:53 AM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
Hearing his name in execution video strengthened Tony Blair's resolve to defeat ISIS, he says.
updated 4:34 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.
ADVERTISEMENT