Restaurants. A concert hall. A stadium. Bloodthirsty ISIS terrorists in Paris attacked the very heart of French life Friday armed with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and suicide belts. Most locations were so-called soft targets: public spaces that attract gatherings of people and feature little or no security.
What's scary is that security officials say there is no reason it can't happen in the United States.
While U.S. officials said over the weekend that they know of no specific threat to the nation in the wake of the Paris attacks, officials up to and including the president of the United States also said that U.S. intelligence is alert to potential dangers at all times. "Every day we have threat streams coming through the intelligence transom," President Barack Obama said at the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, on Monday.
Obama also laid out the stark reality of playing defense against militant jihadists bent on the destruction of the West: "If you have a handful of people who don't mind dying," the president said, "they can kill a lot of people."
The terrorist organization itself said there's more to come: ISIS put out a propaganda video Monday, praising the assault on Paris and threatening more Western cities, including Washington, D.C.
On Capitol Hill, the police force that protects Congress sent a memo to Congressional staffers on Monday morning saying that there is no known specific threat against the Capitol building. That said, officers warned staffers " out of an abundance of caution," to take precautions including using secure underground tunnels between congressional office buildings instead of walking on public streets. The warning noted that the Capitol Complex "will always be an appealing target."
Still, Obama during his speech went on to cite a number of reasons for hope that the United States may be relatively more safe than Europe, including the efforts post-9/11 to harden so called soft targets inside the country, efforts to secure aviation, and more cooperation between the FBI and state and local governments. And, he said the simple geography of a country bordered by two oceans provides "some advantages" against a terrorist threat that has been able to walk and drive its way into the heart of Western Europe.
Many longtime veterans of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement echo this mixed message. Jack Devine spent decades in the CIA, including as the U.S. liaison in Afghanistan to the mujahedeen fighters battling the Soviet Union in the 1980s. In an email to CNBC on Monday, he said there is no completely effective strategy to defend the country from the type of violence that hit Paris on Friday the 13th. "There are a million soft targets in the USA and an abundance of available firearms," Devine wrote. "We are extremely vulnerable and are a high-value target."
And Devine thinks that the Paris attacks show a new offensive strategy of ISIS in the Western world. "What has been lacking is the will to take the fight to us at home," he wrote. "That may have just changed."
Devine's solution? "The best defense is a very strong offense," he wrote. "We need to destroy ISIS."
Current CIA Director John Brennan underscored that point Monday. "I certainly would not consider this a one-off event. It is clear to me that ISIL has an external agenda that they are determined to carry out these types of attacks — this is not something that was carried out in a number of days," he said. "I would anticipate that this is not the only operation that ISIL has in the pipeline."
Across the country, law enforcement agencies and private companies are struggling with that reality.
In Cincinnati, the Bengals of the National Football League issued a statement ahead of Monday night's game with the Houston Texans. "Since 9/11, the NFL and the Bengals have taken a comprehensive approach to fan safety at all of our games," the team said. "Security at NFL games has evolved over the years and will be in full force for the game Monday evening." The team said it would not detail all of its stepped-up security measures, and some would be invisible to fans. It also said that only clear bags would be allowed in the stadium, and officials would use magnetometers, additional lighting and K-9 searches to screen the crowd ahead of the game.
At the Mall of America in Minnesota, officials simply issued a statement saying they are "aware of the attacks that have taken place in Paris." Officials said they take safety and security seriously. "Mall of America has implemented extra security precautions, some may be noticeable to guests and others won't be," the statement said.
It is a similar picture at law enforcement agencies of all stripes across the United States. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District said that it has no evidence of a specific threat, but that transportation officials in Indiana and Chicago have "all increased their law enforcement presence and employee alert levels to be vigilant to any suspicious incidents." The agency said that rail passengers who have concerns about a specific situation they see should notify their train conductor or call 911.
See the complete coverage: http://www.cnbc.com/paris/