It's safe to assume that there are people with terrorist ambitions and instructions from the Islamic State operating inside the United States today, says a former Department of Homeland Security official, agreeing with a similar claim made by the agency's current chief.
While hesitating to use the phrase "sleeper cells" to describe these attackers in waiting, former DHS assistant secretary Stewart A. Baker told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV
Thursday that it is "more probable than not" that they are here, "and we certainly should be acting as though that's likely."
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"It is quite possible that there were foreign fighters from the United States or from other countries whose names we never got and whose travel to Syria we never flagged," said Baker, "and that those folks have come back to the United States with instructions to try to carry out an attack if that's possible."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
said as much on Sunday, telling CNN's "State of the Union" that a number of individuals living in the U.S. are in touch with the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terror groups that share "a desire to conduct an attack" against America.
Johnson said the problem of homegrown or reimported terrorists is worse in Europe than in the U.S., but that on both continents, social media make it easier for an ISIS or an al-Qaida to recruit fighters from afar or groom lone-wolf terrorists within the targeted countries.
It's against that backdrop that President Barack Obama
is grudgingly seeking a new congressional authorization for military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, said Baker.
"It's obvious he would very much like not to be fighting this war," said Baker, a lawyer and former general counsel to the National Security Agency.
Obama "came into office thinking he would put an end to the use of force abroad and to unilateral executive decision-making about what force could be used," said Baker, "and he's found himself actually being more Bush than Bush on that topic, taking existing authorities and stretching them far. "
His written request to Congress for a war authorization lasting three years is an attempt to "thread a needle," said Baker, "to say, 'Give me a lot of authority but not as much authority as you've given the president in the past,' because he is genuinely ambivalent about whether this is a good idea.
"He's written it in a way that authorizes ground troops, just not for very long or in any large numbers," said Baker.
"He is visibly uncomfortable doing what he feels he must do, both politically and militarily, and any limits he can come up with, he's glad to embrace, especially if those limitations will mostly be felt by his successor," said Baker.
Baker also discussed the new cease-fire in Ukraine agreed to by Russia,
which has been hit with international sanctions for backing separatists rebels in Ukraine and annexing Ukrainian territory.
German and French leaders Angela Merkel and François Hollande helped broker the truce, but Baker was doubtful that it will last any longer than Russian President Vladimir Putin wants it to.
"He is playing, especially, Europe, but he's playing us as well," said Baker. "He's managed to increase the [Ukrainian] territory that is largely under the control of his Special Forces and the rebels, and now the West has more or less validated that new territory in exchange for the same promise he gave last time," when Russia signed a ceasefire agreement in September.
"So whether there's a cease-fire depends entirely on whether Putin really wants one," said Baker, "and right now he may simply be saying, 'Well, in order to head off the delivery of arms to the Ukraine, I'll promise them the cease-fire and in a week I can take it back.'"
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