(WASHINGTON) — President Obama is “wrong” to downplay the dangers facing the United States, longtime counterterrorism official and ABC News contributor Richard Clarke said in response to the president’s attempts to calm concern over the escalating threat from ISIS and turmoil in the Middle East.
Obama told an audience at a Democratic fundraiser in New York Friday that the “world has always been messy” but added, “I promise you things are much less dangerous now than they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago or 30 years ago.”
Clarke, appearing Sunday on This Week, said simply, “I think he’s wrong.”
“We’re much more capable of defending ourselves now,” said Clarke, who served under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as the nation’s top counterterrorism official. “We have the Department of Homeland Security, we have a lot of resources going into counterterrorism, but the threat has also increased. And I think the threat has probably increased more than the defenses.”
Speaking of the Islamic terrorist group ISIS, Clarke told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, “ISIS is highly capable. It has a lot of money. It has people from many, many countries. And our fear is it may have people in its ranks that we don’t know about. We have the names of thousands of people, and we can stop them if they try to get into this country, but if we don’t know their names, and we don’t know they’re involved, they can get in.”
Others experts on This Week echoed these concerns. Mubin Shaikh, a former Taliban jihadist who became an undercover counterterrorism operative, said that while terrorist recruiting efforts in the U.S. could eventually be brought under control, “the horse has bolted from the farm” in terms of existing efforts.
Clarke emphasized the importance of law enforcement working with the local Muslim communities to combat those recruiting efforts, saying, “our best defense are our own American Muslims who have been very cooperative. They don’t want anything to happen like this again in this country.”
On the This Week roundtable, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called the ISIS threat to America a “potential 9/11 moment,” but sounded a note of caution on dealing with the terror group, saying, “They’re bad, but what is their goal? Can they reach the American homeland?”
Richardson acknowledged the regional threat posed by ISIS, but said the U.S. shouldn’t act without allies and “go it alone” with military action against the group in Syria.
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Ryan Browne and Evan Perez, CNN
Maeve Reston, Theodore Schleifer and Eli Watkins, CNN Newswire