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EU, U.S. face vulnerabilities after Islamic State attacks in Paris

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    Hari Sreenivasan is with us still in Paris. And our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, joins us here in Washington.


    So, Hari, Francois Hollande said today there is a state of war in France. You're on the streets. The memorials are behind you. What is the sense of the mood there? Is it resolve? Is it fright?


    You know, it is — it's a bit of both. There is a serious sense of grief, but there is also a tremendous undercurrent of anger that you can hear in people here.

    They're a little bit confused about what to do. You can't take out the heart of France, which has the nature to take people in, to take the refugees in. And at the same time, they feel that some part of that heart was cut out with this horrible attack. So, people are trying to figure out how they can strike that balance between securing their borders and being the French that they are proud to be.


    And, Malcolm, we hear you describing the views of the people there in Brussels, talking to them about how they feel. Is there a sense of solidarity with the French, that Europe together has moved into a new chapter when it comes to dealing with the Islamic State?


    Well, there is certainly a sense of fear in Brussels. And that was really quite apparent on the train that I took today from Paris through to Brussels, because there were some — as soon as we got on the train, there were Belgian police coming down the aisles, checking for weapons, checking to see who was on the train.

    And — but, I mean, tonight, here in Molenbeek, you don't get any sense of it, because it was just down the street here where the police went in. And — but you do feel as though there is a terrible thing that is about to happen. And people are sort of terrified that there is going to be this kind of apocalyptic sort of breakout. And they don't know just how precisely to react to it.


    Margaret, you have been spending the day working your sources here in Washington.

    And it was interesting to hear the president today talk how he was acutely aware — the term was acute awareness — of the ISIL threat, and yet the administration is on the defensive about its handling of it.


    Gwen, the administration officials and John Brennan, the head of the CIA, gave a speech this morning in which he said that the U.S. actually had strategic warning, he called it, that something big was coming.

    And a defense official — or, rather, an intelligence official told me later that, in fact, they had picked up chatter particularly concerning Europe, that it was going to be a big operation, and particularly worried about France, and that they had warned France as late as Friday morning, though no specificity on targets.

    That said, they acknowledge now that the attack was much bigger and more sophisticated than they thought ISIS had the capability of doing, and, Brennan alluded to this, and especially in their cyber-sophistication, that they had a developed a way to communicate that is impervious to surveillance.

    Now, Brennan tried to blame — or did blame it on post…

    But one official told me they have also perfected the use of these downloadable apps. Some names other people mentioned to me like Kik and Surespot or something, in which people communicate one to one. It's completely encrypted and there's no backdoor.

    And that's scary when you think that Brennan said today they don't consider this a one-off event and other planned attacks are in the pipeline.


    Just quickly, staying with you, Margaret, the president made it very clear today he doesn't think a change in strategy is needed. Is that a unified view inside the administration?


    Oh, Judy, that is one of the questions.

    The fact is, it is the view of the administration. I certainly pick up from some officials that they would like a more robust approach. But, as they describe it to me, President Obama genuinely believes that massive application of force doesn't work in a situation like this, unless you are going to keep troops there forever.

    In other words, he looks at Iraq and Afghanistan. And as one official said to me, we're not going to moderate the divisions in Islam by the force of arms. It's just going to morph into something else. And so you're right. He's just going to do more of the same. He's going to do more weapons drops and more bombing raids, but it is not going to be qualitatively different.

    And one former defense official said to me, basically, they have this philosophy, they're clinging to the philosophy, even though Paris proved that it's probably not sufficient.


    Hari and Malcolm, there's been much discussion on this side of the Atlantic about the role of the refugee, the migrant crisis in Europe and the degree to which any of the perpetrators could have come into Paris disguised basically, secreted there.

    I wonder how much that is being discussed in Paris, Hari.

    And, of course, Malcolm, you have been covering this for us for some months now. I want to hear what you have to say about that as well, but Hari first.


    All right, so I think one of the key tensions that we pick up on here in the streets of Paris — I even heard it in the story that Malcolm filed — is, how do we protect our borders when there are 26 countries in this thing called the Schengen agreement that's been running for 20 years?

    Free travel through Europe is one of its hallmarks. And now it's also one of its key vulnerabilities. So when these refugees are coming through Syria across to Greece, and then up through Macedonia and all the way up to Germany, they have the access and ability to go to any of these countries.




    Well, I think that part of the problem lies in Greece in a way, because the Greeks just want to get these people through the country. And they are not really sort of checking them properly.

    Also, the Greeks just don't have the facility to be able to check everybody. And there are perhaps 10,000 people coming through Greece every day. And these people are literally just swarming through Europe and many of them just — they are getting travel documents and they're getting this defense — their movement is being facilitated by countries which want to get them through.

    But the response, I think, is going to be much — you're going to see a lot of kind of right-wing opposition movements now demanding that the Schengen really is at an end, and that — that I think we're actually witnessing the end of this, because more and more people are going to want border controls because they want to know who's coming into their countries.

    But one of the problems, for example, that the French have got — and they just haven't been able to sort of monitor all these people — is that there are 5,000 potential jihadis in France. And the intelligence services have a real problem trying to monitor these people. And they have to prioritize them.

    And when there are thousands of people coming through Europe, you just can't monitor all of them. The security services are kind of overwhelmed in that respect.


    And just quickly, staying with you, Malcolm, and you, Hari, one last question, and that is, do you sense any pulling back in the willingness of Europeans — and I know you are both on the ground, you, Hari, briefly in France, and Malcolm in Brussels a short time — pulling back on the willingness to keep ahead, keep on with the military campaign against ISIS in Syria?




    I think that one of the things we got is almost a universal sentiment from different people that we spoke to today. We asked them, what about the airstrikes in Raqqa yesterday? Do you think that was appropriate? Frankly, people said, you know, I have been dovish for quite some time, but this is one thing. I want a targeted response from my government that is as efficient as possible. And if that's where ISIS is and that's the root of the problem, then that's where it needs to be stopped.

    Again, there's quite a few people who feel differently. And it's a small sampling. But there is definitely a feeling here that something has to be done and that the government needs to take swift action, because there's also local elections coming up in December. And there — as Malcolm pointed out, there could be a fairly significant tilt towards more of a conservative France if they don't get results in the next few weeks.


    And Malcolm?


    I have to say, I haven't spoken to that many people in Brussels, but one person I did talk to is somebody who understands this kind of area quite deeply.

    And he thinks that it would be a huge mistake for the West to really start putting boots on the ground, for example, in Syria, because he thinks that that would be playing into ISIS' hands and giving them the sort of response that they want. And he thinks that that could actually lead to a much wider inferno.


    Malcolm Brabant in Brussels, Hari Sreenivasan in Paris, and Margaret Warner here with us in Washington, thank you very much.

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