Top Democrat says Obama's ISIS strategy isn't "sufficient"

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee has critical words for President Obama's plan to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or ISIL), saying the situation in the Middle East is only getting worse and the U.S. is running out of time.

"This has gone on too long now. And it has not gotten better. It's gotten worse," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "There may be some land held by ISIL in Iraq and Syria that's been taken back. But for all of that there's much more they have gained in other countries."

The strategy has taken on fresh urgency in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris earlier this month that left more than 120 dead. After the attacks, Mr. Obama promised an "intensification" of U.S. airstrikes against the group and assistance for local troops on the ground, and argued those tactics were working.

Feinstein, however, said Sunday, "I don't think the approach is sufficient to the job."

"I think they're general principles. And they're general principles in terms the administration's strategy, too. But I'm concerned that we don't have the time - and we don't have years. We need to be aggressive now," she said.

She said that the group's reach -- including a quasi-state, 30,000 fighters, civil infrastructure and funding -- presents "a big, big problem."

"Now what you see I think in other places, is a competition developing from other terrorist organizations. But ISIL is something apart. It's enormously strong and has to be dealt with in a very strong manner," Feinstein said.

She praised recent developments in the fight, including an agreement in Vienna where various nations -- including Iran and Russia -- talked about collaborative efforts to fight ISIS.

"I think that's very crucial," Feinstein said. Like Mr. Obama, she argues that Syrian President Bashar Assad must leave power, although the Russians are major backers of Assad and have said he is the best equipped to fight ISIS.

Feinstein: The Achilles heel in the internet is encryption

Feinstein also weighed in on the debate over whether the U.S. government should force tech companies to maintain a way to access encrypted communications. Members of the intelligence community have argued that the rise in encrypted messaging allows terrorists to keep their communications and planning hidden from view.

Tech companies argue that creating a so-called "back door" for the government to access these communications would also open the door for hackers to exploit other sensitive information. Feinstein disagreed with that notion.

"I think with a court order, with good justification, all of that can be prevented," Feinstein said. "I have visited with all the general counsels of the tech companies just to try to ask them to take bomb-building recipes off the internet, recipes that have been tested and we know can explode a plane, directions, where to sit on the plane to blow it up."

She said the U.S. may have to pass a law forcing those companies to maintain more access to encrypted communications but said, "I am hopeful that the companies, [many] of which are my constituents...will understand what we're facing. We're not crying wolf. There's good reason for this."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for