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Former CIA Chief On ISIS: 'We Have To Go After Them In Their Homeland'


Today, French warplanes targeted suspected ISIS sites in Syria. As we learn more about the group's role in the Paris attacks, officials in France and the United States are beginning to look differently at the threat posed by the Islamic State. Coming on the heels of the bombing in Lebanon and the mysterious downing of that Russian jet in Egypt, the attacks in Paris could show that the group is more organized and centralized than previously assumed. Given this apparent evolution, we wondered if U.S. strategy toward the Islamic State is on point. So for one perspective, we called former CIA director James Woolsey. He is now chancellor at the Institute of World Politics. That's a small graduate school that focuses on foreign policy and national security. Welcome, ambassador, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.

MARTIN: You know, the president of France called the latest attacks in Paris an act of war. Is that correct?

WOOLSEY: I think it is. ISIS wants to be a country. It is in the midst of a transition to establishing what it calls a caliphate. And I think since they are acting like a state and have launched an attack on France, it's entirely plausible for France to call it an act of war.

MARTIN: So just so that I'm clear, your view now is this threat needs to be challenged army to army, as states opposing a state, which has committed an act of war against an ally, as opposed to as a law enforcement approach, which identifies illegal behavior by individual actors acting under their own authority. Is that about right?

WOOLSEY: President Obama keeps referring to this in law enforcement terms. And frankly, I think that's ridiculous. These are not a bunch of bank robbers that we need to extradite to the United States. This is a major terrorist group that is growing in influence, has ambitions to become a state. It's in the process of becoming a state, beheads people. This is just not a regular law enforcement problem by a long shot.

MARTIN: So what are the implications of where U.S. policy should go and that of the allies should go now?

WOOLSEY: It is a very strong-willed, fanatic group of people. And I think they will not be stopped by anything short of a two-sided approach by the United States and hopefully with us, our allies. One is that I think we have to go after them in their homeland. I think the main thing that would make a difference is a far more sensible and devastating use of air power. When we fought in desert one at the beginning of the '90s, we were flying thousands of sorties a day. Up until a few days ago in Syria against ISIS, we'd been flying eight. That's not 18 or 80 - that's eight sorties a day. That's not going to war effectively using air power. That's fiddling around. Then in domestic terms, there are a lot of things that are related to this. For example, I'm no fan of the changes that were made after Snowden's leaks of classified information. I don't think they have improved our ability to collect and use intelligence, and I think they've seriously reduced our abilities. I think Snowden has blood on his hands from these killings in France.

MARTIN: That's James Woolsey. He's the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He's currently chair of the leadership council of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Director Woolsey, Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for speaking with us.

WOOLSEY: Thank you, good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.