Interview With Chris Jansing of MSNBC

Brett McGurk
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL
Department of State
Washington, DC
November 20, 2015

CHRIS JANSING: Joining me now, Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS. And we have a lot we want to talk about in terms of what's happening here on the ground in Paris. But if I can, first, is there anything you can tell us about that deadly and fast-developing situation right now in Mali?

BRETT MCGURK: Well, Chris, it's a rapidly developing situation. Obviously, we're very focused and we've been in communication with our embassy there throughout the day. I think DOD has confirmed this morning we have about 25 U.S. military personnel on the ground that we understand are helping with some of the first responders, but Malian forces will be going in to take care of the situation, and we're obviously coordinating very closely with them, but it's a fast-moving situation. Our main concern right now are getting the hostages to safety and helping the Malians get it under control.

JANSING: And understanding that this is very early in the process, but do you think there is a possibility that this could somehow be related to what happened a week ago here in Paris, if nothing else, to amplify the message being sent by the Paris attacks?

MCGURK: I think it's really too soon to speculate on that. I mean, obviously, these terrorist groups try to stoke attention. There are copycat attacks, but it's too early to speculate on anything like that, nor any kind of connection between this group in Mali and ISIS. The groups in Mali are not particularly connected to the ISIS groups.

JANSING: Let me ask you now about the situation that is going on here on the ground in France, and obviously, a lot of new pieces to the puzzle coming out this morning. And there's been a lot of concern about the ability of all western governments to track these kinds of terrorists. Two of the things we learned were that, finally, we saw pictures of Abaaoud, the so-called mastermind of these attacks, was caught on video just 20 minutes from where the Bataclan attack took place, and the hotel where he was killed was a short distance from the stadium. What do you say to people here and in the United States who are watching this and saying we just don't have a good handle on where these terrorists are, even when they're known to us?

MCGURK: I just back from Paris, where you are. I spent two days there with Secretary Kerry, meeting President Hollande, meeting senior French officials, and also going to the memorial sites and talking with French citizens. And if anything, we are galvanized and we're in solidarity with the French. We came to Paris after being in Antalya with the G-20 and the global community, doing more to get a handle on this threat. Let's make no mistake, we are determined to destroy this barbaric terrorist network. There's a lot going on in Iraq and Syria and its phony, self-declared caliphate, and we're going to continue to put the pressure on ISIS throughout that area. But most importantly, we have to collapse these global foreign fighter networks.

You know, Chris, we've never seen anything like this before. We have about 30,000 of these foreign fighters traveling into Syria from 100 countries all around the world. We think we started to get some inroads on to those networks. Over the last year, about 40 countries have passed new laws to crack down on foreign fighter flows, about 25 countries or so have cracked down and actually arrested foreign fighters. What we need to do now, and within the global coalition, we set up a structure to do this, is we need to share information across borders. This is something that's very difficult. It requires cooperation among law enforcement community, intelligence community.

We just signed a very important information-sharing agreement, intelligence cooperation agreement with France just a few days ago, but this really has to increase. In the EU in particular, tracking individuals on airplanes or passenger records is something that they are in debate within amongst themselves, in Brussels and within the EU, about balancing the security threats against privacy concerns. And it's something that they really need to tackle. But within the global coalition, we've built this coalition of 65 countries all around the world, because these people are coming from countries all around the world, from Europe to Asia to Africa, and we have to coordinate on a global basis to just not only crack down networks capital by capital, but to share information and set networks across borders. That's something that we're going to be very focused on over the coming months.

JANSING: When you say, though, for example, as you just did, that we're making some inroads, do you understand the concern of people who hearing, for example, here in France the possibility of a biological chemical weapons attack? People in New York City who are seeing an increased presence in times square, people in Washington, D.C., who are worried about a video that suggests that that could be a target as well, the FBI looking to the Italians to track five people after threats in St. Peter's square, in Milan at La Scala, in Milan at the Duomo. What are people hearing that they need to work harder, they need to find more cooperation, which seems like a long-term goal, when the threat is very real and very much today?

MCGURK: Well, Chris, look, this is a tremendous challenge. I think our FBI director, James Comey, and the attorney general spoke to this yesterday about what we're doing here in the United States. We're actively smothering anything that might be a potential plot here in the United States. There's been no direct intelligence, actual intelligence of anything here in the United States, and we're working to share information with capitals, particularly across the EU and particularly with France. No question, I think investigations will go on about what exactly happened here in Paris, but we have to get to the bottom of this global jihadist network, which is pouring foreign fighters into Syria. T

There's a role for every single country to play here, and there is no question that we need to intensify our efforts. It is a simultaneous pressure strategy. We want to suffocate the networks. We want to suffocate the networks, not only in Iraq and Syria, which we're doing, but suffocate these global networks. There's a role for Turkey, because most of these foreign fighters are coming through turkey, and we're of course working closely with them, but there's a role for what we call the source countries, where individuals are getting on airplanes and coming to Turkey. We're sharing information and making sure we are tracking where people are going. There are ways to do this. We have the tools to do this, but we have to have cooperation from the capitals to share the information and to balance, as they do in their capitals, in their own national debates, this balance between the privacy concerns and the very acute national security risks.

JANSING: Brett McGurk, you have taken on -- and this is an understatement -- what is an extraordinarily difficult and challenging job, and I know you're going to be briefing later on today at the state department, and we'll hear more. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

MCGURK: Thank you very much, Chris.