TIME foreign affairs

Chairman Mike Rogers: We Will Have to Risk American Lives to Defeat ISIS

House Republicans
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., speaks with the media before a meeting of the House Republican caucus in the Capitol to discuss an immigration bill, August 1, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Military assessment teams and ad hoc air strikes may provide temporary gains, but they will not defeat this enemy

Two years ago, a prominent Middle East ally of the United States came to Washington to highlight a nascent Islamist threat emanating from Syria. Around the same time, several of us on Capitol Hill warned that the chaos burgeoning in Syria would not be contained within that country’s borders. More likely, we argued, the conflict would destabilize a strategically critical region and provide a safe haven from which extremist forces would plot future attacks. The Administration responded with essentially, thanks, but no thanks. The President’s response exacerbated the threat, and resulted in more chaos and a loss of trust by our allies. Now, the Administration is slowly waking up to the threat from ISIS.

ISIS’s rise comes, of course, in the context of a complex and evolving Middle East, where conflicts rage within both states and religions. The complexity of the problem, however, does not minimize the threat to the United States or remove our need to act quickly. To date, our policy responses have been either abject paralysis or anemic and half-hearted measures. After years of watching these events unfold, we no longer have time to wait for better circumstances.

It is well past time for the U.S. to not only act, but to lead. Military assessment teams and ad hoc air strikes may provide temporary gains, but they will not defeat this enemy. America should respond with the seriousness, focus and might that the threat deserves. The problem is complex, but our plans must be clear.

First, we need to reengage the plans that were provided by our Arab League partners two years ago, the plans that had our Arab League partners leading the way. America must build a coalition of regional partners. We need not and should not go it alone. Leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have a keen interest in destroying this threat to their region, and they have capabilities to bring to the fight. These partners, however, have requested the coordinating influence and guidance of the world’s largest military and greatest superpower. Only the United States can help plan, coordinate and assist in accomplishing the missions needed to defeat ISIS.

Second, we must be willing to use the expertise and capabilities of America’s experienced military and intelligence operators. Air strikes are ultimately effective only when coupled with sound intelligence about important targets and changing battlefield dynamics. To achieve success, we must be willing to develop the needed information for a robust and constant air campaign in an evolving battle space. Only a relentless pace of operations against key leadership figures, logistics and infrastructure will keep the enemy from regrouping and effectively responding.

Third, we must partner with local forces to develop a sensible ground campaign; air strikes alone cannot defeat this dynamic enemy. News reports already indicate that ISIS is altering its tactics and operational security to hide from future strikes. Our elite military forces and intelligence operatives must act as a force multiplier for the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi Security Forces and even the moderate opposition in Syria and our Arab League partners.

Finally, we must not let the standard trope that there be “no boots on the ground” become a mantra of self-defeat or a definition of intelligence operations and special capabilities. We do not need American infantry and tanks rolling back into Anbar Province in Iraq or into northern Syria. But it is not enough simply to send a few hundred troops to defend American diplomatic compounds. We need to defeat the ISIS safe haven in Syria, eliminate it on the battlefields in Iraq and stop its march into the Levant. This is a terrorist organization that has an army, and we need to treat it that way. To defeat this enemy, we will have to risk Americans who will be operating in the fight. But let’s be clear, American lives around the world are presently at risk from ISIS’s brutality.

The strategy to defeat radical Islamic terrorists requires more than defeating them at one dam or one mountain top. The United States of America needs to lead an effort among like-minded nations to defeat the terrorist threat from Mauritania to Malaysia and everywhere in between. This doesn’t mean we need to militarily invade every nation where there is a terrorist threat, but we should use every aspect of hard and soft power to accomplish our objective. We should structure our national security apparatus to defeat this threat. Fooling ourselves into thinking some terrorists are JV and that ISIS really isn’t a threat to the U.S. is dangerous. The last time we underestimated al-Qaeda and their ilk, which has grown to include Western passport holders fighting with them, it cost 3,000 lives on our own East Coast.

Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

TIME Congress

Mike Rogers Says Obama Has Gone ‘Kinder, Gentler’ Against al-Qaeda

Mike Rogers
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., at a press conference in Washington, March 25, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The retiring House Intelligence Committee chief tells TIME that Obama is leaving terrorists "on the battlefield," and explains his charge that Edward Snowden is "under the influence" of Russia's security service

When you think of spring break, you probably don’t envision a congressional hearing on Benghazi. But politics runs deep in the home of Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, whose college-age son is spending his time off from school in Washington, D.C., this month, and who attended the hearing his dad convened Wednesday on the 2012 tragedy in Libya that Republicans call a scandal and Democrats a dead horse. “Don’t give him any ideas,” Rogers said with a chuckle when TIME suggested to his son that spring break should be enjoyed on a Florida beach, not in a Rayburn building hearing room.

It’s actually the elder Rogers who’s about to enjoy a good time. After more than a decade in Congress, the Michigan Republican announced last week that he’s leaving the Hill at the end of this year to become a talk-radio host, with a national show syndicated by Cumulus Media. The salary is undisclosed, but presumably large enough for a few luxurious beach vacations. And for a man who loves to talk — Rogers has long been a fixture on political television — the new gig should be a breeze.

Nor does Rogers seem to be foreclosing a political future, unlike the countless members of Congress who jump to lucrative influence-peddling jobs. “I don’t think I’m done with government service,” Rogers said with a knowing smile, before unsubtly offering that his show will reach primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. (Presidential intention or PR gimmick? You decide.)

For now, though, Rogers is still in the thick of it — consumed by the parade of horribles on view in his regular classified briefings, fretting about America’s myriad vulnerabilities. In a TIME Newsmaker interview, Rogers talked about which threats worry him most, his belief that President Barack Obama has gone too soft on al-Qaeda and just what he means when he says Edward Snowden is “under the influence” of Russian officials. Here’s a partial transcript:

You just held yet another hearing on Benghazi, this one featuring former deputy CIA director Michael Morell. So much has been said about that night already — did you really take away anything new?

The takeaway is that the CIA had all the relevant information. There was confusion in the day or day after the attack, but it started to gel that this was an al-Qaeda extremist event — yet the narrative of the Administration never changed.

Isn’t one reason the Benghazi debate never ends that people disagree about whether it’s correct to call it an “al-Qaeda event”? Even if people with al-Qaeda connections were involved, that doesn’t mean it was planned and organized by core al-Qaeda leaders. Which is what the New York Times reported in December.

That all went out the window today when the deputy director of the CIA said that the reason he removed references to al-Qaeda from the talking points was because they had sources that said al-Qaeda participated in the event, and in their mind they didn’t want to disclose those sources. [See here for more on Morell’s testimony and this dispute.]

We have numerous people that we know participated in the Benghazi attacks affiliated with al-Qaeda that are still on the battlefield. We have the capacity to get them but there’s no planning to get them. We have other serious al-Qaeda threats that normally we would take off the battlefield, but because of this Administration’s more kinder, gentler approach we have not done that.

What do you mean by a “kinder, gentler” approach? Is that because the pace of drone strikes seems to have slowed?

I’m not allowed to talk about specific programs. But I can tell you that there are ways that we have taken people off the battlefield that have been disruptive to their ability to plan operations, and there are cases where we are no longer doing that.

And if you have serious al-Qaeda players remaining on the battlefield because of bureaucracy created here, that’s a problem. We know from the 9/11 Commission that once nothing happened after the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in 2000, the psychology of that empowered al-Qaeda and led them to do bigger and bolder things. Which led to 9/11.

The old slogan is that Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive, and that al-Qaeda core is going away. Which is inconsistent with the facts that we know. And it concerns me that it is translated into policy. If you tell everybody that works for you that al-Qaeda’s not that big a threat, well, guess what? Their decisions will reflect that.

You get classified briefings. Apart from al-Qaeda, what worries you the most?

Oh, which one? Cyber is the biggest national-security threat I’ve ever seen, one that we’re not prepared to deal with. Disengaging the size and scope of our military has sent a pretty awful message — it has said to countries they can invade their neighbors without fear of retribution. Radiological material, black-market issues around the world. Iran’s interest in getting a nuclear weapon.

How about bioterror? Not everyone thinks it’s a serious threat.

I do worry. It’s cheap. That’s worrisome. I did a biodefense bill to stockpile prophylactics. I still worry about it, because we know it’s out there and we know that al-Qaeda has talked about trying to get their hands on it.

You have said that Edward Snowden is “under the influence” of Russian officials. What does that mean, exactly? That they house him? Pay him? Recruited him? People say you’re casting aspersions without evidence.

The NSA contractor is definitely under the influence of Russian officials. We know that he was in China, Hong Kong anyway, and in Russia today. We have seen patterns and activities that lead us to believe that some or all of that information is being worked through by those intelligence services and putting the U.S. at risk.

“The NSA contractor” — you don’t use his name?

I think people have wrongly given him some elevated status, and he has some kind of an underground rock-star status. He’s a traitor who puts our soldiers lives at risk.

So what exactly does “under the influence” of Russian officials mean?

First of all, he’s living about a mile from the FSB [Russian security service] facilities. We know he has regular conversations with the FSB. And remember we have a long history of both KGB and FSB operations, we know how they work. The FSB grabbed a guy off the street in Kiev who was involved in the street protests, cut his ear off, drilled a hole in his hand — all to make him confess that he took money from the Americans to foment problems in Kiev. This wasn’t 1950, it wasn’t 1960, wasn’t 1970. This was this year.

So we see how they get people to cooperate, the kind of tactics that they use. And it is absolutely naive to believe that this guy who we know has been in the custody of intelligence agents of the Russian Federation, who has been housed in the joint facility, who got permission to go to work — that’s just not happening without their approval.

You’re saying he’s housed in a “joint facility”?

No, no, not a joint facility. He’s housed very near an FSB facility. Makes it convenient for everybody.

And remember we have other classified ways as well. That’s why no counterintelligence official does not believe that today he’s under the influence.

But that’s not the debate. The debate is, when did it start? Did it start in 2010 when he was taking classes in India, and made it known — in a place that is frequented by Russian intelligence officials — made it very clear that he was working for a U.S. intelligence agency? We don’t know, exactly. The FBI would call that a clue. In the spy business you call that a dangle.

We have other cases, you can go back and look at the history of profiles of someone who did not get along with co-workers, who had employment-history problems. This guy fits the profile to a T. I get worried when people want to think he’s something different than he is.

You took over the House Intelligence Committee in January 2011. Is the average American more or less safe today?

Oof. [Pauses.] Again, there are counterterrorism policies that I disagree with that I argue put us in a more dangerous position today. On this committee, I think the oversight is far better, I think the budgeting is far better. We chased partisanship out of the committee.

We engaged in constructive investigations — the Huawei investigation, for example, where it was darn close that the Chinese government was going to own the pipes through which all our private information traveled within the United States. And that is no longer the case, because of the work of our report. We have moved the country to a better place to be better protected on a whole host of threats.

Will you have more influence as a talk-radio host than you do as a Congressman?

The opportunity is pretty significant. It’s across the country. It’s talking to people every single day to develop a relationship. The kinds of things I was able to do at the committee never get talked about. This notion that if we just hide under our desks, the rest of the world will leave us alone and we’ll have a prosperous nation is dangerous. And that perspective is there on both the right and the left.

I think more people will tune in, and we’ll have better, more fired-up and productive conservatives at the end of the day.

And if a Republican is elected in 2016, will you return to run the CIA, FBI or Department of Homeland Security?

I never say never. I don’t think I’m done with government service. We’ll see what role it takes.

I look forward to the opportunity to talk to people in Iowa and New Hampshire too, that’d be nice. And of course New Mexico, Michigan and South Carolina. ["Ooo-kay," an aide says warily, ending the interview on schedule. Rogers laughs.]

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity and readability.

TIME Mike Rogers

Mike Rogers Won’t Rule Out 2016 Run

The Republican Congressman and House Intelligence Committee chairman is stepping down from politics at the end of this year to host a talk-radio show focusing on national-security issues

House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, the Republican from Michigan, is stepping down from politics for now, but he hasn’t ruled out a 2016 bid for President.

Rogers is giving up his seat in Congress at the end of the year to host a talk-radio show focusing on national-security issues. In a Sunday interview with Rogers, Fox News’ Chris Wallace mentioned that President Ronald Reagan had a radio gig before running for the White House.

“Ronald Reagan used his platform on radio to run for President of the United States? I had no idea, Chris,” replied Rogers with a coy, joking smile. “I’m going to take it where it goes.”

Rogers went on to say he hopes his future in national radio will help him “move the needle” on policy debate.

TIME Congress

Top Intelligence Lawmaker to Retire

Mike Rogers is stepping away from Congress and stepping up to a microphone

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of his term for a new career in talk radio.

“As I close this chapter please know that I am not finished with the effort to bring back American ‘exceptionalism,’” Rogers said in a note to supporters. “Not in the sense of a great notion, but in the sense of impacting the hopes and dreams of a great nation and her people. You may have lost my vote in Congress but not my voice. I look forward to building on our successes and confronting America’s challenges together.”

Rogers, a Republican, has represented part of southwest Michigan since 2001, and has risen in prominence from a FBI special agent to a frequent Sunday talk show guest as a fierce defender of the National Security Agency. After the disclosure of mass NSA domestic surveillance programs by leaker and former contractor Edward Snowden, Rogers and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence committee, released a proposal earlier this week to scale back the NSA’s bulk collection of data on Americans’ phone calls, a significant measure compared to just a year ago.

Rogers will start as a radio talk show host for the company Cumulus in January of 2015.

 

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Evidence Missing From Charges Snowden Works for Putin

Senator John McCain speaks at a news conference in Kiev
Senator John McCain speaks at a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, March 15, 2014. Nikitin Maxim—ITAR-TASS/Corbis

The Arizona Senator joins a slew of lawmakers who have accused the man who leaked secret documents on the NSA's spying program of treason, but McCain's charges lack evidence to support them

Congressional accusations of treason just keep coming for leaker Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor now living under asylum in Russia.

Senator John McCain said Wednesday he believes Edward Snowden is collaborating with the Kremlin to hurt the United States. “Our real problem is Mr. Snowden is working for Russia, and he will be releasing information at appropriate times where it has the most significant impact damaging to the United States,” McCain told The Washington Examiner at the Capitol on Wednesday. “I know that Mr. Putin is hospitable, but he usually wants somebody to pay the rent.” McCain said he believed Snowden was working with Russia, “because of the timing of his releases of this information. If you look at the timing it’s when certain issues have been before us.”

Senator McCain’s office has not responded to a request from TIME for evidence to support the claim.

The charge echoes statements made by House intelligence committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. Rogers said he knows that Snowden is “under the influence of Russian intelligence officials today” and repeated the accusation he’s made before that Snowden perpetrated his leak of NSA documents with Kremlin assistance.

“I see all the intelligence and all the evidence from everything from his activities leading up to this event to very suspicious activity during the event,” Rogers said. “And so when you talk to the folks who are doing the investigation, they cannot rule it out.”

Asked for evidence to back up his assertion, Rogers’ office sent the following statement to TIME: “Chairman Rogers receives regular classified briefings on the status of the criminal investigation into what the former NSA contractor stole and the intelligence assessments about the impact of that theft to America’s national security.”

Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has said she looked into the contention that Snowden leaked documents with help from Russia and found no evidence to support it. Snowden has denied he had help from anyone in leaking secret government documents and called the accusation “absurd.”

Senator McCain’s charge that Snowden is releasing classified American documents on a schedule designed to hurt American interests contradicts statements made in the past by both Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, one of the primary journalists responsible for publishing the documents Snowden leaked. Both have said repeatedly that Snowden turned over all copies of the documents to journalists months ago, in Hong Kong, before traveling to Moscow to seek asylum.

“Edward Snowden has not leaked a single document to any journalist since he left Hong Kong in June: 9 months ago,” Greenwald wrote Sunday.

With reporting from Alex Rogers

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