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Ex-NSA chief: ISIS fight "under-resourced and over-regulated"

Michael Hayden joins “CBS This Morning” to discuss why he thinks the U.S. needs to commit more to the fight against ISIS
Michael Hayden joins “CBS This Morning” t... 04:25

The fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is "under-resourced and over-regulated," former National Security Agency and CIA director Michael Hayden said, the latest veteran among the U.S. intelligence community to weigh in on the series of terror attacks in Beirut and Paris.

"We need to commit more to the fight and we need to loosen our rules of engagement," he said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

"A classic case in point: About 36 hours ago, American air power destroyed over 100 tanker trucks in Syria. They were being used to literally fuel the treasury of the Islamic State," Hayden added. "We could have done that on Thursday, but we only decided to do it on Sunday. I think there are a whole host of decisions like that, that if we loosen the rules of engagement, we can actually more strongly take the fight to the Islamic State."

The retired general, who now works with global risk management firm Chertoff Group, also said he "absolutely" agreed with CIA director John Brennan's comments Monday on how U.S. intelligence capacities have been damaged.

"In the past several years, because of the number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of hand-wringing over the government's role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been policy and other legal changes that make our ability to collectively find these terrorists much more challenging," Brennan had said at the Center for Strategic & International Studies' Global Security Forum.

Hayden cited the timeline of the "past two and a half years," alluding to June 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked details of NSA's surveillance programs that gathered domestic phone and Internet usage data to detect suspicious behaviors linked to terrorism.

"Suddenly, that big stack of meta data doesn't look like the scariest thing in the room, does it?" Hayden said with a tight-lipped smile.

While the Obama administration is being criticized for its strategy against ISIS, with questions raised on whether the U.S. is underestimating the terror group or whether America needs boots on the ground, President Obama defended his administration's tactics Monday at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey.

For one, Mr. Obama said he and his closest military and civilian advisers think a larger ground force in Iraq and Syria would be a mistake.

"Not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we've seen before -- which is if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface," Mr. Obama said.

Hayden acknowledged local Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have seen success, as evidenced by the Iraqi-Kurdish troops' recent efforts to take back Sinjar from ISIS, but said the Kurds can be "self-limiting."

"They've been very powerful in and near Kurdish areas, but for them to go much further into Arab lands, their usefulness begins to reduce," Hayden said. "We need Arab allies on the ground stiffened -- stiffened, assisted, enabled -- by a larger American footprint. But no one is calling for American maneuver units to return to the deserts of Iraq or enter the deserts of Syria."

While reducing ISIS' capabilities is first in the process of defeating ISIS, Hayden pointed to the ideological warfare in the fight against ISIS.

"This is a fight where the ideological struggle, the motivation, is tightly tied to their success on the battle field," Hayden said. "Look, these guys are claiming they're enacting the will of God and they are the hand of God. And the more they are successful, the more they look inevitable, the more they motivate the kind of people [who are willing to die for the ISIS cause]. And so if we can break this narrative, we actually begin to break their ideological foundation."

All in all, Hayden stressed that the U.S. would be a tougher target than its European allies because of the distance, differing demographics, cultural assimilation and -- "because we're actually pretty good at this."

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