August 31st, 2014

Congressmen Ruppersberger: “We don’t have intelligence at this point that an attack on the United States is imminent” from ISIS

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Congressmen Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) discussed the threat of ISIS and how to stop Islamic militants.  Text highlights, and a transcript of the discussion are below.


Rep. Ruppersberger on ISIS: “we don’t have intelligence at this point that an attack on the United States is imminent.”

Rep. Kinzinger on strategy towards ISIS: “I think the question is, you know, are we going to contain ISIS or are we going to crush ISIS? And that’s really what it comes down to. If you want to contain ISIS, yes, you engage them in Iraq. And I do commend the president for making the moves in Iraq. I think, look, that wasn’t easy for him to do, and it was the right thing to break some of the sieges, to push the momentum back of ISIS.”

Rep. Ruppersberger on the greatest threat to the US: “What — the biggest threat that I see to the United States right now are Americans and Brits who have passports that have the ability to come into our country without getting a visa. We had the suicide American bomber who was radicalized, came home to visit his parents, went back and then killed himself. Now, that could have happened in the United States. “

 A full transcript is available after the jump. 


CROWLEY: We begin with a new setback for ISIS, thanks in part to military action by the U.S. Today, Iraqi security and volunteer forces broke the ISIS siege of Amirli, a town north of Baghdad. The U.S. carried out airstrikes there Saturday.

As for the larger questions about ISIS, I am joined by the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, and Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and as well — and a veteran from the war in Iraq.

So, thank you both for being here


CROWLEY: Just we heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week saying, if you want to get rid of Syria, it’s going to take — I’m sorry — if you want to get rid of ISIS, it is going to take going into Syria.

We have heard everybody with hair-on-fire analysis of what this group is capable of and of the imminent threat to the U.S. and to Britain and to all of these places. And then the president comes out and says — seemed to try to want to put the brakes on the idea that we might go after ISIS in Syria.

What — what is the message here about what our current take is from this administration about ISIS?

REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND: Well, first thing is that we have to protect Americans. That’s the number one issue.

We got in — into Iraq because we had humanitarian issues that we had to deal with and because we have to — in our ways, we have to stop ISIS. It’s a very dangerous group of people. They — we know they are barbaric, but they’re well-funded, they’re organized. And we have to make sure that we attempt to stop it.

Now, as it relates to Syria, Iraq is different than Syria. Iraq, we have relationships there. The government wants us to come in. We have intelligence with the Kurds and some in the Iraqi military. In Syria, it’s a different story. It’s another — it’s another country. The Syrian government has airpower. So you just don’t…

CROWLEY: Sure, but they don’t like ISIS either.


CROWLEY: But the — but the fact is that this — that’s not new. And so I think what — what people questioned was, why isn’t there — why aren’t we thinking about this?

KINZINGER: I think the question is, you know, are we going to contain ISIS or are we going to crush ISIS? And that’s really what it comes down to. If you want to contain ISIS, yes, you engage them in Iraq. And I do commend the president for making the moves in Iraq. I think, look, that wasn’t easy for him to do, and it was the right thing to break some of the sieges, to push the momentum back of ISIS. And what we have seen is, airpower actually works.

When airpower comes in, in coordination with Iraqi security forces, Peshmerga forces, those are our boots on the ground, by the way, are the folks that are native to that area and have an interest in it.


KINZINGER: And even our own military, when we find ourselves engaged in combat, the first thing our own military, who are, unchecked, the best in the world do is, they call for airpower, airpower to come in and crush the enemy and help them move forward.

CROWLEY: So, Congressman Ruppersberger…


CROWLEY: … which is it? Do we want to contain ISIS or do we want to destroy ISIS?

RUPPERSBERGER: We want to do whatever we need to do to stop ISIS.

Now, in order to do that…

CROWLEY: Would that be…



RUPPERSBERGER: … we need a plan. I know the president was criticized saying, we don’t have a plan. We — we’re working, whether it’s military intelligence, which happens to be the best defense against terrorism, getting together that plan right now.

Now, you just don’t come in and bomb unless you know where you are, who you are going to get. You don’t want collateral damage killing other people. And when the time is right, we will do what we have to do.


RUPPERSBERGER: And the other question is our coalitions.

It’s not just the United States. We can’t be sheriff for the whole world. It’s France. It’s — it’s the Brits. It’s — it’s the other countries that need to work with us, including countries like Saudi Arabia and that region, who also need to stop… (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: United Arab Emirates.


RUPPERSBERGER: Yes, no question.

KINZINGER: Well, I was going to say, I agree with everything Dutch said.

But the key here is this, is you have a group that really delights in evil here. And this isn’t new. This isn’t something that really took us by surprise in the last month. In fact, I remember in January, I called for strikes against ISIS when they moved into Fallujah, called a war — a warmonger for that and whatever.

But now we see that I think, had we engaged ISIS in January, we probably wouldn’t be on your show talking about it today. So, I think it’s going to take a very concerted effort. We have had a year that the president has talked about trying to put together a strategy in Syria.

I think it was unfortunate that he used the term, we have no strategy in Syria.

CROWLEY: And, Congressman, we — we also heard sort of joining the holy cow, these people are really awful and they need to be stopped…


CROWLEY: … the king of Saudi Arabia, who issued a warning about Islamic extremists. He didn’t — he didn’t talk about ISIS particularly, but it seem aimed at them, talking about them attacking the West.

He said — quote — “I’m certain that, after a month, they will reach Europe and after another month America.”

So we have been led to believe by the public statements of the Pentagon chief, of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the president, by a lot of people that this is an immediate threat to U.S. interests at home and abroad. And now we’re saying, well, it’s — we got to get these people help get us on board, and we have got to do this and we have got to do that.

And the president is talking about years and — so, how urgent is it?

RUPPERSBERGER: It’s extremely urgent, but you just don’t rush in because the media is talking about it. You don’t rush in because other countries don’t — aren’t going to tell us what to do.

When we do it, we’re going to — endgame, we’re going to get it done. And we will do what we have to do to protect us from ISIS. CROWLEY: Are you disappointed that the president did not appear to have — does not appear to have an approach to Syria?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, I happen to get information on a regular basis. I know that the administration has briefed me, has briefed our chairman, Chairman Rogers. And we get information about where we are.

Now, we have the best capabilities in the world from an intelligence point of view and the strongest military. If we’re going to go in, we are just not going to go in and drop some bombs. We are going to go in to stop them on a long-term basis.

We have to learn from Iraq. In Iraq, military just doesn’t do it alone. That’s why it’s so important that we have to get other people. We have to get the Sunnis more active. What happened in Iraq and Maliki’s government pushing the Sunnis out caused a lot of this problem.

KINZINGER: See, look, this…


CROWLEY: Go ahead.

KINZINGER: A lot of this, though, is — and I agree. You know, we have got to go in cautiously. We have to understand where our targets are. We should have been doing this for a very long time, assessing this.

The problem is, half the battle in this is public perception, and not just public perception of the American public, but our enemy. What is our enemy thinking after the president’s press conference the other day? Were they more worried about the United States of America or were they less worried? And I don’t think there’s many people that would argue that the president gave a forceful press conference.

Prime Minister Tony (sic) Cameron did, and that was very forceful. I think, if the president came out and said basically, look, we’re going to take our time to find out where the targets are, but ISIS should understand that they are not going to survive, period, they would quake in their boots, because they are no match for the fierce United States military.

CROWLEY: Let me move just to the idea of allies and creating this coalition, and first in the region. How helpful now and what can you tell us about information from Jordan, from the Saudis, from the UAE, all of whom have a vested interest in seeing that ISIS doesn’t spread? They are living in the neighborhood.

RUPPERSBERGER: They are extremely concerned. We know that.

CROWLEY: But concern isn’t help.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, no, they are concerned. But we need their help also. We need intelligence from them. We need Saudi Arabia, as an example, to help fund a lot of the issues we’re talking… CROWLEY: We don’t get that now?

RUPPERSBERGER: … we’re talking about.We’re getting it, but we also need to stand up, especially the Sunni population to stand up. There’s one issue I do want to raise that hasn’t been raised, though. And that’s the issue that this ISIS is holding land. Usually, if you’re a terrorist, you don’t have to protect your land. You just move in and you attack.

In this situation, they are controlling land. So, right now, their focus is more in the region. That’s why we don’t — we don’t have intelligence at this point that an attack on the United States is imminent.

That’s why we didn’t do in the United States what was done in Britain. And Britain has other issues and a certain population there that they are concerned about. So, that’s why they — they decided to move forward.

CROWLEY: Let — let me also ask the two of you about our European allies.

We have heard what Cameron had to say. We have heard from France saying, well, this is really terrible, and we need to have some meetings, but, really, we’re kind of a little more interested in Libya right now. That’s where we’re worried about terrorists.

We have Germany saying, well, you know, yes, we’re looking at it, and we maybe would be helpful in some way in providing military equipment to Iraq. It just isn’t a, hey, if we — if you go into Syria, we’re with you.

This is always a difficult sell to people who have more at stake, it seems to me sometimes, than the U.S.

KINZINGER: Well, I think, you know, it’s a — it’s a couple of issues here.

Number one — and it’s always been this way for the last seven years. And, frankly, I think it’s good, because I would rather America be in the leadership role than anybody else. But Europe responds when America takes a very strong position and a strong leadership role.

I think, if the president and when the president — and hopefully he does — comes out and says, this is not just in the interests of not just our homeland, not just the borders within the — within the two oceans, but, you know, our allies, our interests around our embassies and everything, this is in our interests, and he can motivate the Europeans to come along, I think they will.

But, look, no — Europe has notoriously been reluctant to engage. You see it in Ukraine right now, because of what they have going on there. And so it takes strong American leadership. And I think the president, if he gets serious about it, can rally Europe behind this — taking on this threat.

CROWLEY: As a final sort of wrap-up question, Congressman Ruppersberger, if — if some of this allied support and support in the region is forthcoming in some way, shape or form, does the U.S. have to provide some sort of way by air with allies on the ground to go into Syria?

RUPPERSBERGER: Clearly, we’re providing air already. By the way…

CROWLEY: In Syria?


CROWLEY: I’m talking about Syria.



CROWLEY: Yes. Should the U.S. go into Syria?

RUPPERSBERGER: If we need to go — we need to protect ourselves from ISIS, we will. And — but it’s got to be a coalition.

CROWLEY: Do we need to go into Syria to do that?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, it — we — we don’t have the information, which hopefully we will have in the next week or so, what the plans are going to be. And lot of it is classified.

Remember, you don’t tell an enemy you’re coming in to attack them.


RUPPERSBERGER: So, that’s the — that’s the number one issue. You don’t respond to the media. You respond to what the endgame is.

And, by the way, as far as other — other allies we have, the Brits, the Australian, the Italians, the French are all in there with us. They were involved just in the attack that occurred yesterday in Amirli. So these — these are coming together, these coalitions…


RUPPERSBERGER: … and the intelligence. We have got to get the intelligence.

I — I think you will see action within the next week or so.

CROWLEY: And — go ahead.

KINZINGER: Well, I just want to add to that, sure, you don’t tell every — you don’t tell the media everything you’re going to do. I also would just throw out there, you don’t constantly take things off the table either. The idea of no troops on the ground, none of us want 100,000 American troops there, but quit saying what you’re not going to do. Quit talking about mission creep. Say, look, we have to destroy ISIS.

If you have cancer in your liver, and it’s spreading to other parts of your body, you don’t just treat the other parts. You treat the liver. The liver is Syria. I think we have to go to the heart of this and do it in a big way. And I think Dutch and I…


RUPPERSBERGER: And I agree with Adam, too. Syria is the most dangerous place in the world.

What — the biggest threat that I see to the United States right now are Americans and Brits who have passports that have the ability to come into our country without getting a visa. We had the suicide American bomber who was radicalized, came home to visit his parents, went back and then killed himself. Now, that could have happened in the United States.

That’s my biggest concern, is these individuals who have gone to Syria to fight…

CROWLEY: Who have training and sort of can operate as lone wolves.


RUPPERSBERGER: … and have been trained and radical — and then they can come back. And it’s a lot more difficult for the FBI or Homeland Security to identify them.

CROWLEY: But is — is that substantially different from lone wolves who do this for other causes? And Boston, you know…


CROWLEY: … that was a — a tremendously damaging attack. So, why is an ISIS lone wolf with a Western passport that could easily get in here different?

KINZINGER: Well, I don’t think a person coming back that had fought with ISIS is defined a lone wolf. A lone wolf is somebody in their mom’s basement that feels neglected and decides to jihad themselves, in essence. But…

CROWLEY: We’re talking about someone who knows what they’re doing.

RUPPERSBERGER: And another issue there, too, is that they are using social media. They are recruiting people.

KINZINGER: Right. RUPPERSBERGER: And that is serious. They are sophisticated. They have money. This is ISIS.

And they have — they have recruited people through social media and other arenas. So, that’s — that’s of a concern. This is what intelligence is about. It’s the best defense against what we need to do to protect our country from an ISIS. We will do whatever we have to do, whether Democrat or Republican. We will do what we have to do to protect our country.

And one of the biggest issues we have now is not the homeland as much. We have to always be concerned. Something could happen tomorrow. But we have to be concerned about protecting Americans in another part of the world now. Look what happened to Foley. Look what happened to…


RUPPERSBERGER: … other Americans who have been kidnapped.


RUPPERSBERGER: That’s the issue that — as of today.

CROWLEY: Congressman Ruppersberger…


CROWLEY: … thank you for joining us.

RUPPERSBERGER: Good. Good to be with you.

CROWLEY: Congressman Kinzinger…


CROWLEY: … thanks to you as well.