By BRIAN A. HOWEY And MATTHEW BUTLER
INDIANAPOLIS – On the February day President Obama spoke at Ivy Tech, a Bosnian man was arrested on the Ronald Reagan Parkway in Plainfield and detained on terror-related charges of funneling money and guns to ISIS fighters in the Middle East. Last weekend, ISIS allegedly hacked into several Indianapolis websites, prompting a Homeland Security investigation. And Internet hackers in China exposed the personal information of 80 million Americans when Anthem servers were encroached.
Mike Rogers, former U.S. House Intelligence Committee chairman, said in an exclusive interview with Howey Politics Indiana on Wednesday that Hoosiers are not immune to the war on terror and could, in fact, end up on the front lines. In a conversation at Loughmiller’s Pub under the famed photo of Vice President Nixon debating Soviet leader Khrushchev, Rogers was asked if the Cold War now seemed like the good old days. “Now they can touch you with a keyboard from 5,000 miles away or call you on the phone and tell you to kill a guard at the Capitol building,” the Michigan Republican said.
Aware of the ISIS website hacks in Indianapolis, Rogers observed, “They did one of the art websites. They are looking for opportunities. If something caught their eye on the Internet, they’ll put it on their target list. Maybe there was an event, maybe something in the press, maybe something drew their eye, but something clearly allowed them to get there. Once they were there, they found an opportunity to get beyond their firewall and take over the site. That’s a victory for them. They can strike in the Midwest, they can strike in New York, in Los Angeles. This is part of a true terror campaign. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”
Since leaving Congress in December, Rogers has formed the Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security organization that will brief the 2016 Republican presidential candidates and voters designed to “educate and identify” issues related to national security. Just prior to HPI’s interview, Rogers huddled with Gov. Mike Pence at the Statehouse. He described the Governor as a close personal friend who arrived in Congress the same year as he did. Rogers also met with state and local officials on Wednesday to discuss security issues.
“On Jan. 21 that new president is going to face a world of hurt,” Rogers said. “No more is there a honeymoon of not dealing with foreign affairs in the first term. That’s gone. It’s going to be equally as bad and equally as complicated as it is today. They are going to have to deal with it. These candidates are saying ‘I’m for Israel and Putin is bad and so is ISIS, thanks, now let’s talk about another issue.’ That’s not enough; we’re going to be in trouble if we do that. So we’re going to have forums with the candidates and discussions on national security. This is all about national security.”
Rogers was aksed what message he wanted to convey to Hoosiers, “If you want to look and see what the world looks like without our engagement overseas, turn on your TV. The problems you see, and this happens with both Republicans and Democrats, both parties are having this, ‘Let’s pull back from the world, it’s too hard and complicated.’ But because of that, nation states – Russian, China, Iran – are going to step in to fill the void. That’s not good for economic prosperity at home and it’s not good for our national security. When ISIS can attack an artscenter cyberwise in Indianapolis, when the Chinese send a human spy here to steal Dow Agro secrets and send them back to China, Indianapolis should be as much engaged as the state of Indiana on national security issues as any other states. They are not immune
“If we don’t get the national security posture right, then all the other stuff we’ll never get right,” he continued. “It’s the peace-through-strength message. We’re trying to get the engagement message through. It’s not military adventurism.
Just blocks from Loughmiller’s, a huge NCAA bracket adorns the eastern facade of the JW Marriott Hotel and the Final Four will be played two blocks away. There are two stadiums, critical fiber optic trunk lines, major interstate and rail lines, and Lilly’s insulin manufacturing facility, all within a couple of square miles. For these reasons, Indiana officials must take seriously the terror threats from abroad.Is the chairman worried about loose nukes and biological weapons in the hands of ISIS death squads, or the proverbial lone wolf?
“The lone wolf is equally as bad,” Rogers began. “This is when ISIS changed. Maybe it was a year, a year and a half ago now. They had eight Australians who had self-radicalized, self-identified with each other, raised their own money, worked with an ISIS recruiter in Syria and said, ‘Hey, we’re ready to go.’ This is where the game changed, I think. The recruiter called back and said ‘We have enough people in Syria right now. What we want you to do, don’t plan this, but randomly drive out, grab a civilian off the street, cut their head off, video tape it and send it to us. We’ll use that for propaganda purposes.’
“The game changed,” Rogers said. “They wanted to strike in the Westernized countries. Shortly thereafter came Ottawa. They’ve had arrests in New York, in Germany, Spain and France.So they’ve decided to have this disruptive activity. I worry as much about a lone wolf or two or three who decide they want to take something into their own hands as I do a big organized event that might hit in Indianapolis or New York.
Now, we worry about those too. It’s easier for them to try and coordinate and inspire these lone wolf attacks. Unfortunately, we’ve seen
Americans over the past year have watched the beheading of journalists and Indianapolis humanitarian aid worker Peter (Abdul Raman) Kassig, a Jordanian pilot burned alive, children shooting hostages, gays thrown from rooftops, and the mass executions of Christians. Less understood is the group’s probing into places like Indianapolis. Is it happening in other parts of the U.S. as well?
“Oh, yeah,” Rogers replied, “They are very aggressive. We found they were able to get into Twitter accounts of military spouses and then terrorize them: ‘We know where your husband is, we know where you live. We know he’s gone. We’re going to come get you.’ You can imagine how you’re already worried about a loved one living in the military and get something like that on your social media. They are very aggressive and their sole purpose is to intimidate and terrorize. We’ve never seen an organization use social media the way they do. This is their version of Tokyo Rose and they are using it. They are not outlandishly sophisticated. They’re not going to get into the bank and shut it down. But they crack into social media, which is very low security. They’re that good.”
A 25-year war?
Is the U.S. facing a generational war, with some believing it could last 25 years or more?
“Remember the Nazis?” Rogers asked. “At the beginning there was friction. ISIS rules and dominates and governs by fear. They will take your daughters into forced marriages or as sex slaves. Or cut your head off, cut your hand off, public executions. We are going to have a long process. We’re going to have to deal with them. We have to do something about their structure in eastern Syria. We want to disrupt that structure. But the way we’re currently doing it is not going to make a difference. We’re going to have to have special capabilities down range. If we don’t do a little bit now, versus big and ugly later, I’d rather do a little bit now. I still think we can have an impact on their eastern Syrian logistical hubs. We can’t do that with just an air campaign. And right now, when ISIS uses their social media, we’re thinking, ‘Gosh, we’re containing them.’ We’re not beating them. There’s a big difference. And they’re telling people who believe in their philosophy that they’re winning. Come and see.”
As far as Western intelligence capabilities, Rogers describes our European NATO allies as overwhelmed,
as the Muslim communities are mostly self-segregating, unlike much of the U.S. “Those European intelligence services are saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got water coming over the bow. We can’t keep up with all the leads coming out of these communities.’ They can’t follow them all. They can’t surveil them all. They can’t tap all of their phones. They don’t have the manpower, money or resources to do it. That’s when you start playing Russian roulette with the internationals. They’re hoping they’re on the right ones, but they may not be. That’s a huge problem.”
The Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Boston Marathon bombing trial is a case in point. The Tsarnaev brothers turned up on Russian intelligence radar, which was communicated to the FBI. “They were United States citizens,” Rogers said of the brothers. “So if a foreign intelligence service comes here and says, ‘Hey, Mike Rogers is a bad guy,’ that does not give the FBI permission to tap my phone, follow me around, do all those things. It gives them permission to start a preliminary investigation. The problem is the FBI did a preliminary investigation and found no derogatory information; nothing that would rise to the level of the legal standard to get a warrant or do more electronic surveillance. They (the brothers) had all the constitutional rights that you and I do.”
He is concerned about FBI capacity. “When I was chairman I tried to give them more surveillance capability,” Rogers said of the FBI. “I didn’t think we had enough. But, again, this is about being smart with the resources. They don’t have enough to follow every case, every lead that gets presented. They have to prioritize. MI5 in Britain has told us, ‘We’re maxed out.’ Syria is a magnet for homegrown terrorists as well as people who show up to fight, get skills and then go home. They can get on an airplane and fly to the United States as a British citizen, no visa required. It’s called a visa waiver.”
China and Anthem
When it came to the attacks on Anthem in Indianapolis and Sony Pictures, Rogers describes another danger facing the U.S. “China has unfettered cyber attack capabilities,” Rogers said. “Unfettered.” There were hundreds of millions of dollars of damage and no consequences. Essentially, 80 million Americans were attacked by hackers in China, where the government has security control over its Internet. We asked Rogers where he draws the line between criminal mischief, intellectual property theft with business concerns, and an act of war on American citizens.
“This is a very difficult issue,” Rogers said. He said the Anthem attack was “the mother of all fishing campaigns.”
“Now I know your Social Security number, your birth date, your personal information, and your medical records,” Rogers said of the exposure of 80 million Americans. “I can craft an email. Let’s say your doctor’s name is Bob. It looks like it comes from Dr. Bob’s office. It says, ‘Here’s the last four of your Social Security for verification. There’s been a mislabeling of tests you had back in June’ because they know you had tests back in June. So you go, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ It will say ‘click here to see if this is your test.’ Click. They’re in. There’s something called the ‘dark net’ where they shop this information around. It’s a bazaar of stolen identity information and stolen source code. You can buy almost anything you want on the black market.
“It’s hitting home,” Rogers said. “They are part of a foreign nation taking aggressive action against American businesses. If there was a server farm and they sent a submarine and launched a missile off the coast to blow that thing up, that’s pretty egregious. With a cyber attack, that’s exactly what they did.”
And the Chinese government knew? “They control the Internet,” Rogers confirmed. “They completely control it. I argue the next generation’s prosperity is going to be impacted.”
How should the U.S. respond? “Before you punch your neighbor in the nose, you better get strong,” Rogers
said. “We’re not ready for what comes back at us. Eightyfive percent of networks in American are private sector. And contrary to popular belief, NSA is not monitoring private networks in the United States. Sometimes businesses are hit and our government has no idea. If a nation state wants to get into your network, I don’t care who you are, they are going to get in your network. That’s the problem.”
Rogers enjoyed the irony of the “kitchen debate” photo between Nixon and Khrushchev hanging in Loughmiller’s. At one emotional point during the Cold War, the Soviet chairman vowed, “We will bury you.”
As we all know, that didn’t happen. But out of the dormant embers of the Cold War come vastly more complex challenges and asymmetrical warfare that replaced mutually assured destruction. The danger for the West with foes like ISIS and China is a war where death comes by a thousand cuts. It won’t necessarily happen in the cradle of civilization. The front lines could be taking shape in the American heartland.