Last week’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris represent a major strategic success for the Islamic State but are unlikely to provoke a game-changing response from France and the United States, according to University at Albany experts.
A panel of intelligence, counterterrorism and civil liberties experts on Friday night discussed the roots of the Islamic State and what the Paris attacks say about the terrorist group’s evolution.
The conversation touched on the likely response from French and American leaders, the Islamic State’s underlying strategies and the group’s threat to America and likelihood of an attack here.
“The fact that they can export attacks that kill hundreds of people is an important change in the threat profile that ISIS represents,” said Brian Nussbaum, a faculty expert in cybersecurity and terrorism.
Other panelists agreed that the attacks — and a series of smaller attacks perpetrated by Islamic State fighters or supporters in the past year — showed that the group was beginning to focus more on executing attacks outside of its Middle Eastern territory.
Western European nations face a more immediate threat because of geographic proximity and a larger flow of foreign fighters, the panelists said. But all of the five experts said it was likely just a matter of time before the terrorist group was able to pull off an attack against American targets.
“If we think this won’t reach us in the U.S., we have our heads in the sand,” said Rick Mathews, director of the National Center of Security and Preparedness. “Maybe not today or tonight but it will happen.”
The panelists clashed over balancing civil liberties and personal freedoms with the need for intelligence agencies to collect information about potential threats and possibly collecting data on millions of citizens.
While former CIA agent Jim Steiner said it was important to store phone records that could prove helpful in a future investigation, civil liberties and public law expert Matt Ingram said it would be more effective to focus resources on smaller subsets of known threats.
“These weren’t new actors, new discoveries … to one degree or another intelligence authorities knew about them,” Ingram said of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks.
Ultimately, terrorism expert Victor Asal said, American leaders were unlikely to do little more than “put a band-aid” on the Islamic State problem and hope they don’t strike in this country. More than a decade of war in Iraq has depleted the nation’s appetite for anything more, he said.