The Paris attacks: Former CIA chief weighs in

French Authorities Identify 'Mastermind' Behind Paris Attacks

Have we reached a state of "global war?" After Europe's deadliest terror siege in more than a decade -- with multiple attacks in central Paris, and the death toll reaching 129 when this story went live -- it's fair to worry that the Islamic State has spread its deadly tentacles far beyond Syria and Iraq.

For months, the Islamic State has ravaged the Middle East, gassing civilians, beheading innocents and unleashing such terror that millions of refugees have fled to Europe for a semblance of safety. The events of Friday night -- bombings, point-blank executions and random shootings -- have reverberated far beyond the City of Lights, as has the fear.

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What it all means is this: It's time for the West, including the United States, to come to grips with the terrorist threat. That's according to former acting CIA director John McLaughlin, who is also a longtime OZY columnist. In an interview hours after the Paris attacks, McLaughlin weighed in on a bevy of questions, from whether a frightened citizenry should travel to the big one: Can we win this?

See photos from the deadly scene of the Paris terrorist attacks:

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The Paris attacks: Former CIA chief weighs in
People run after hearing what is believed to be explosions or gun shots near Place de la Republique square in Paris on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in several shootings and explosions in Paris today, police said. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Spectators gather on the pitch of the Stade de France stadium following the friendly football match between France and Germany in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on November 13, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. At least 18 people were killed, with at least 15 people killed at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, only around 200 metres from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo which were attacked by jihadists in January. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: French officials and medics work near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant in the 11th district after a drive-by shooting killing 11 people, November 14, 2015, Paris, France. At least 142 people were killed deadly shootings and explosions took place in several neighbourhoods of Paris. 1,500 troops deployed in French capital says Elysse. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Two men evacuate the Place de la Republique square in Paris as a police officer looks on, after several shootings on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in several shootings and explosions in Paris today, police said. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 13: Police survey the area of Boulevard Baumarchais after an attack in the French capital on November 13, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 18 people were killed in a series of gun attacks across Paris, as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
Rescuers rush to the scene following an attack in the 10th arrondissement of the French capital Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed as multiple shootings and explosions hit Paris, police said. Police also said there was an ongoing hostage crisis in the Bataclan a concert hall in the French capital. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: French officials and medics work near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant in the 11th district after a drive-by shooting killing 11 people, November 14, 2015, Paris, France. At least 142 people were killed deadly shootings and explosions took place in several neighbourhoods of Paris. 1,500 troops deployed in French capital says Elysse. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A firefighter attend to an injured person lying on a stretcher near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. At least 39 people were killed in an 'unprecedented' series of bombings and shootings across Paris and at the Stade de France stadium on November 13. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
People are evacuated by bus, near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. More than 100 people were killed in a mass hostage-taking at a Paris concert hall on November 13 and many more were feared dead in a series of bombings and shootings, as France declared a national state of emergency. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. President Barack Obama departs the White House briefing room after delivering remarks on the recent violence taking place in Paris, France November 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. Gunfire and explosions erupted in the French capital with early casualty reports indicating at least 60 dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Football fans leave the Stade de France stadium following the friendly football match between France and Germany in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on November 13, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. At least 18 people were killed, with at least 15 people killed at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, only around 200 metres from the former offices of Charlie Hebdo which were attacked by jihadists in January. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
supporters run in panic on the pitch during the International friendly match between France and Germany on November 13, 2015 at the Stade France in Paris, France.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
Police are seen outside a cafe-restaurant in 10th arrondissement of the French capital Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed as multiple shootings and explosions hit Paris, police said. Police also said there was an ongoing hostage crisis in the Bataclan a concert hall in the French capital. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A policeman stands behind a cordon blocking the street near the site of an attack in a restaurant in Paris on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in multiple attacks in Paris Friday, including one near the Stade de France sports stadium and another at a concert venue. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A victim lies on the ground covered by a white sheet (Rear L) as special police work at the attack scene rue Bichat, in central Paris, early on November 14, 2015. More than 100 people were killed in a mass hostage-taking at a Paris concert hall late on November 13 and many more were feared dead in a series of bombings and shootings, as France declared a national state of emergency. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters and rescuers evacuate injured people near the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris, on November 14, 2015. At least 39 people were killed in an 'unprecedented' series of bombings and shootings across Paris and at the Stade de France stadium on November 13. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
People are evacuated following an attack at the Bataclan concert venue in Paris, on November 13, 2015. At least 18 people were killed in multiple attacks in Paris Friday, including one near the Stade de France sports stadium. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts inspect the site of an attack outside the Stade de France stadium in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, early on November 14, 2015, after a series of gun attacks occurred across Paris as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. A number of people were killed and others injured in a series of gun attacks across Paris, as well as explosions outside the national stadium where France was hosting Germany. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
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OZY: The French government is blaming ISIS for the tragic attacks in Paris this weekend. Do you think ISIS was responsible?

John McLaughlin: It will take sometime to nail this 100 percent, but this was almost certainly either planned by ISIS, probably in Syria, or inspired by them — or a combination. Some of the techniques, like mass casualties, have an al-Qaeda feel, while others are ISIS trademark tactics: drive-by shootings, suicide bombings. But terrorist tactics are increasingly merging due to the availability of virtual training and social media.

OZY: The synchronized nature of the attack, combined with other recent bombings and the downing of the Russian jetliner, suggest we are now in a state of "global war." Would you agree?

J.M.: Yes, this war now stretches well beyond the boundaries of Syria and Iraq. We've seen in recent weeks ISIS-managed or inspired attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere. In fact, the number of ISIS or ISIS-inspired attacks against Western targets doubled, from 20 last year to 41 so far this year. About 4,500 fighters have joined ISIS from the West, which gives the group unprecedented mobility and access to Western targets.

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OZY: President Obama is heading to Turkey for a summit of 20 global leaders. What immediate response should they take?

J.M.: The most important thing they can do immediately is to remove barriers to full exchange of intelligence. They should focus first on what is known about the identities and movements of suspicious individuals.

A more important forum at this moment might be the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). French President François Hollande has called the attacks an "act or war," and as a NATO member, France is entitled to request a NATO consultation that could lead to invoking Article 5 of the treaty. Under Article 5, all 28 members must come to the aid of a member who is attacked. If approved, NATO would then have to decide on appropriate steps ranging from training missions to actual combat operations. This would be a big deal. The only other time Article 5 has been invoked was after September 11, when all of the members voluntarily said they would come to the aid of the U.S.

I think it would be a good thing if NATO got involved. It's time the civilized world came together to stop this scourge.

OZY: In general, what is the most rational response to terrorist attacks -- one that keeps people safe while preserving as much liberty as possible?

J.M.: You have to do three things to combat terrorism: Destroy the leadership, deny terrorists safe haven and change the conditions that give rise to the phenomenon. At this point, we have to focus on the first two, because the third is too complicated and long-range. We have let ISIS have a safe haven for too long, now we're seeing the results.

We don't have to sacrifice our liberties to keep people safe, although we have to tolerate more monitoring of suspicious activity than we have been willing to, judging from all the post-Snowden controversy. His revelations have alerted terrorists to communicate only with great caution and have made it much harder to stay on top of them. In the meantime, the Homeland Security advice — "If You See Something, Say Something" -- is good advice to citizens.

See the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and around the world:

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The Paris attacks: Former CIA chief weighs in
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 27: President of France Francois Hollande attends The National Tribute to The Victims of The Paris Terrorist Attacks at Les Invalides on November 27, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 15: People gather and sing songs at Place de la Republique on November 15, 2015 in Paris, France. As France observes three days of national mourning members of the public continue to pay tribute to the victims of Friday's deadly attacks. A special service for the families of the victims and survivors is to be held at Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 15: Members of the public gather to lay flowers and light candles at La Belle Equipe restaraunt on Rue de Charonne following Fridays terrorist attack on November 15, 2015 in Paris, France. As France observes three days of national mourning members of the public continue to pay tribute to the victims of Friday's deadly attacks. A special service for the families of the victims and survivors is to be held at Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral later on Sunday. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 14: People finish arranging candles into the word 'Paris' next to flowers and messages left at the gate of the French Embassy following the recent terror attacks in Paris on November 14, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Hundreds of people came throughout the day to lay flowers, candles and messages of condolence to mourn the victims of attacks last night in Paris that left at least 120 people dead across the French capital. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks that were carried out by at least eight terrorists.. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: Bono and band members from the band U2 place flowers on the pavement near the scene of yesterday's Bataclan Theatre terrorist attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: A woman cries near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, the day after a deadly attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 14: People arrive to lay candles and flowers at the gate of the French Embassy as the Brandenburg Gate stands behind illuminated in the colors of the French flag following the recent terror attacks in Paris on November 14, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Hundreds of people came throughout the day to lay flowers, candles and messages of condolence to mourn the victims of attacks last night in Paris that left at least 120 people dead across the French capital. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks that were carried out by at least eight terrorists. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 15: Ultra Orthodox Jewish men pass as Jerusalem's Old City wall is illuminated with the colours of the French national flag to show solidarity for the victims of the Paris attacks on November 15, 2015 in Jerusalem, Israel. At least 129 people have been killed and over 300 are injured in Paris following a series of terrorist acts in the French capital on Friday. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: A woman cries outside of the Consulate General of France in New York the day after an attack on civilians in Paris on November 14, 2015 in New York City. At least 100 people were killed in a popular Paris concert hall, one of at least 6 terror attacks in the French capital. The French president Francois Hollande closed French borders following the attacks. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
French soldiers patrol the area at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on November 14, 2015 following a series of coordinated attacks in and around Paris late Friday which left more than 120 people dead. French President Francois Hollande blamed the Islamic State group for the attacks in Paris that left at least 128 dead, calling them an 'act of war'. The multiple attacks across the city late Friday were 'an act of war... committed by a terrorist army, the Islamic State, against France, against... what we are, a free country,' Hollande said. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 15: A rose is placed beside a bullet hole at La Belle Equipe restaraunt on Rue de Charonne following Fridays terrorist attack on November 15, 2015 in Paris, France. As France observes three days of national mourning members of the public continue to pay tribute to the victims of Friday's deadly attacks. A special service for the families of the victims and survivors is to be held at Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral later on Sunday.(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 14: Pedestrians walk in front of the Sydney Opera House as its sails are illuminated in the colours of the French flag on November 14, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 are injured in Paris following a series of terrorist acts in the French capital on Friday. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 14: A woman with a French flag painted in her face cries during a vigil for victims of the Paris terror attacks at Martin Place on November 14, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 14: Benjamin Hebert of France with a message for Paris on his golf cap during the third round of the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren Golf Club on November 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
People lay flowers and light candles in front of French Embassy in Warsaw on November 14, 2015 following a series of terror attacks in the French city of Paris and its surroundings that has left at least 120 people dead and some 200 wounded. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 14: A man hold a French flag and a sign during a vigil for victims of the Paris terror attacks at Martin Place on November 14, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: A man reads a French newspaper after a terrorist attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 injured, 80 of which seriously, following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
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OZY: We have never had an enemy quite like ISIS. Can it be defeated?

J.M.: Yes, but it is going to take something we've noted in OZY numerous times over the last year — first, taking back territory from ISIS to show potential recruits that ISIS is not invulnerable and has no caliphate. There may not be a military solution to this problem, but any solution needs a military component. And second, political reform in Iraq and Syria that meets the grievances of Sunnis, who constitute 70 percent of the Syrian population, and feel excluded and abused. More than anything else, Sunni disgruntlement is the magnet that draws adherents to ISIS.

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OZY: Certainly, there are lessons we can draw from all this. In retrospect, is there anything the U.S. or global leaders could have done differently to prevent the rapid growth of ISIS?

J.M.: We've waited too long to organize an effective coalition against ISIS, largely because all the choices have been difficult, costly, dangerous and with a variety of downsides. But as we've said in OZY, no decision is often a decision — things just get harder. That's where we are now.

That said, we've made some progress lately, like the liberation of the strategic town of Sinjar by Kurdish forces with U.S. support, which will make it harder for ISIS to connect between its Syrian stronghold and Mosul, its major urban conquest in Iraq. There's also the decision to forward deploy some of our special operations troops to advise and assist the Kurds. Perhaps we can build on this. It's not hopeless.

OZY: Looking ahead, what is the future of intelligence gathering over the next 20 years? What changes might increase security?

J.M.: Tough question. It's going to be very challenging with the large number of problems existing now and looming on the horizon. It will be very important to set priorities — dividing effort wisely among issues that are truly urgent versus those that are less pressing but still important, and those that are emerging. It will be a constant battle to avoid surprise.

OZY: Returning to the crisis at the moment, what's your analysis of the French response? What might the U.S. government or CIA have done differently?

J.M.: The French are among the best in the world on counterterrorism, given their years of experience with it. So it's all the more impressive that the terrorists pulled this off. But the magnitude of the threat now stretches the security services too thin everywhere, and it's a bit too soon to say if there's something we or they should have done differently. France had already strengthened its intelligence and surveillance capabilities. Look for more of this.

OZY: What effect will the attacks have on the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe?

J.M.: Given that ISIS had threatened to infiltrate the groups of fleeing migrants, Europeans are likely to become even more wary of the new arrivals. Opposition to refugees is certain to rise, along with efforts to screen these populations more carefully.

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OZY: As a U.S. citizen yourself, is there any change people should take themselves in the near term? Would you avoid traveling abroad or attending large events?

J.M.: I can't give advice to others, but personally, I would not curtail travel plans. That's what terrorists want us to do. When we start doing that, they win.

That said, it's always wise to exercise caution and support and cooperate with those responsible for your security wherever you are, even when it's inconvenient. And the advice to "say something" if you notice something suspicious is a good idea anywhere you are. You'd be surprised how many times that has made a difference. In Times Square in 2010, for example, a street vendor noticed and reported a suspicious truck that, had it exploded, would have sent deadly shrapnel through many blocks of New York City.

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