Global Public Square

Panetta: We're facing 'much more aggressive form of terrorism'

Fareed speaks with former CIA Director Leon Panetta about how the U.S. should respond to the recent terrorist attack in Paris. Watch the full interview on GPS this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

There are a lot of people who feel that the United States doesn't face quite the same danger, partly because, as you say, we've got oceans and watch lists. But also because the Muslim population in the United States is much more thoroughly assimilated than in Europe. Would you agree with that?

Well, I think obviously that since 9/11, we've done a very good job of being able to improve our intelligence gathering capabilities, our law enforcement capabilities, our intelligence in terms of being able to track the particular threats that are out there. And clearly our Muslim population has the opportunity to become citizens in this country, to integrate more fully into our society. And that gives us an advantage.

But having said that, the reality is that when these foreign nationals are able to come back into our country – and there are thousands of these nationals that are overseas in Syria and Iraq, in Yemen – I think it still represents a real danger in terms of the United States.

I don't think we can take anything for granted. I think we're dealing with a much more aggressive form of terrorism coming at us in a number of different directions, as I said. And the United States ought to continue to remain very vigilant and very aggressive in going after this kind of terrorism.

Would you expand the no-fly list, the watch lists? Would you put in place new procedures for even more intrusive intelligence, intelligence gathering?

You know, one thing I learned as CIA director is that you can always improve what you're doing in terms of being able to develop, not only the lists, but develop the intelligence that's needed in order to make sure that we're able to track these individuals.

I mean, we do have the watch list. We have pretty good security with regards to those coming into this country. I think we have a good capability there.

The problem is in dealing with those in the various European areas where there is, frankly, less aggressiveness at going after these individuals when they return. So the real challenge here is going to be for the United States to work very closely with our counterparts in Europe to make sure that these watch lists are shared, that we're working together to make sure that these individuals are being tracked when they try to come back to the various countries, and that we work together operationally to be able to go after them once that happens.

So there's room for a great deal of improvement here in order to make sure that we're at the top of our game in terms of trying to protect our country.