The Briefer: Ex-CIA No. 2 on Syria crisis

In his first TV interview, CIA veteran Mike Morell gives insight into closed door meetings with President Obama about Syria's civil war

Mike Morell: The president announced a number of months ago that we would provide military support to the opposition and there is the moderate opposition which the United States is trying to support in any number of ways, and there is a radical opposition that we want to make sure that we don't support.

As a career CIA analyst Mike Morell looks at a problem from every angle and what he sees in Syria is more complex than just a civil war. Behind the scenes he sees four wars. The people against a dictator, al Qaeda against secular government, Sunnis against Shias and a proxy war between the Saudis and the Iranians for dominance in the region.

Mike Morell: So this needs to be done with extreme care and extreme caution and that takes a little time.

John Miller: If there's a U.S. strike against Syria, Syria could retaliate. Is it in their interest to do so?

Mike Morell: I don't think it's in their interest to retaliate. I don't think it's in their interest to start a broader war with Israel or a broader war with the United States.

John Miller: What about somebody other than Syria retaliating for a strike on Syria?

Mike Morell: So the two most obvious players are Iran and Hezbollah. They would have no interest in retaliating in a conventional sense because they don't want to get into a war. What I think you're likely to see from Iran and Hezbollah, would be asymmetric attacks. So terrorist attacks, cyberattacks. And I think the decision would be made in Tehran, not in Damascus.

John Miller: So what you're saying is even if Assad made the decision not to strike back after a U.S. attack, Iran could decide to do it without him?

Mike Morell: Correct. And it could be months down the road that such a response occurred, particularly if it's in a terrorist attack that takes time to put together.

John Miller: Would that simply be an Iranian punishment operation against the United States for what was a punishment operation against Syria?

Mike Morell: Uh-huh (affirm). That's how they would see it.

John Miller: If we send cruise missiles into Syria, one of the potential responses is not a military response in the conventional sense, at all, but a cyberattack.

Mike Morell: So if there were to be a cyberresponse to a U.S. attack on Syria, I would expect it to come from Iran, not Syria.

John Miller: Iran's last cyberattack on a serious level wiped out 85 percent of the hardware of Saudi Arabia's biggest oil company. That sounds like a fairly serious capability?

Mike Morell: Iran's capabilities are growing every day with regard to cyber. You have to have two things to do serious damage. You have to have the right tools, and you have to have access. And the hard part is the access.

John Miller: Do you think that Iran has enough access to U.S.-- either government or just as likely a private sector critical infrastructure things -- to do damage?

Mike Morell: No, but I think they're working on it.

From its sanctuary in Afghanistan, al Qaeda was able to plan and execute catastrophic attacks against the United States. A decade of war and drone attacks has all but decimated al Qaeda's organizational structure. But the al Qaeda narrative continues to spread to a growing number of affiliates across the Middle East and North Africa.

John Miller: When you see the potential of an al Qaeda presence as dominant in Syria, at the end of that conflict, or Mali-- or the case in Somalia, have we spent all these lives and all these dollars to, rather than deny sanctuary, change the ZIP code for the terrorist base?

Mike Morell: There is no doubt that the ideology has spread to North Africa and to other parts of the Middle East. And that those areas could eventually become the kind of safe haven that could pose a significant threat to us. They don't right now. They pose only a regional threat. But you know, the places that I'm worried about in terms of ultimately becoming a safe haven that could pose the kind of threat that al Qaeda posed to us pre 9/11 is Syria, No. 1, and No. 2, Afghanistan, if the Taliban were to get a grip on that country again post-2014.