Former CIA Director Michael Hayden on Monday said the United States shouldn’t underestimate the threats posted by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, given earlier failures to recognize al Qaeda’s rise.
“We’ve underestimated these guys in the past … a failure of imagination before 9/11. We knew al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We just didn’t think it would be a Nigerian on an airplane over Detroit. I wouldn’t underestimate these folks,” Hayden said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
He was referring to the “underwear bomber” who failed to set off explosives in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in December 2009.
Hayden described ISIS as “quite strong,” but echoed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey’s statement about the group not yet posing a direct threat to the U.S.
“I think they’re quite strong regionally, and I think they have global ambitions. They haven’t quite shown that global capacity yet,” said Hayden, who led the CIA from 2006-2009. He was the director of the National Security Agency from 1999-2005.
Hayden suggested the U.S. failure to aggressively aid the moderate rebels in Syria has not helped the situation.
“Our failure to build up a moderate opposition, a center, created and actually reinforced [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s] effort to create the opposition as just a terrorist organization,” he said.
He ruled out any U.S. collaboration with Assad, whose regime President Obama threatened to attack nearly a year ago. Assad has also been battling ISIS in Syria.
“Now we’re in a position where ISIS is the enemy of both of us,” Hayden said. “I don’t see cooperation between ourselves and the Syrian government.”