16 April 2016

Except for UK, German and Netherlands, Most European Nations Refuse to Share Intelligence

NY Times Editorial Board
April 12, 2016
It took two weeks after the devastating attacks in Brussels for officials to discover that the plotters originally intended to hit Paris again or that the two attacks were carried out by a single network. Even now, authorities don’t know the full scale of the Islamic State’s operations in Europe, which involve criminal elements as well as terrorists.
Islamic State operatives have moved freely across borders and, investigators now assume, there may be terrorist cells in countries where violence has yet to occur, with Britain, Germany and Italy believed to be probable targets. All of which reinforces the urgent need to fix the problems in Europe’s flawed security and law enforcement systems.

On Friday, Belgium’s struggling law enforcement authorities arrested Mohamed Abrini, who confessed to being the third man in the Brussels Airport bombing. The arrest, while critically important, was also a reminder of the cross-border nature of the operations. Mr. Abrini is said to have played a logistical role in the Paris attacks in November, where he had gone unnoticed.
Since the Brussels attacks, there have been signs that Europe is taking the terrorist threat more seriously. Yet many governments still seem unwilling or unable to commit themselves to the reforms that are needed to protect their populations.
There are two obvious holes in Europe’s security system. Except for Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, European nations often refuse to share basic intelligence with one another and, in some cases, within their own governments. (Brussels alone has more than a dozen different police forces.) That makes it vastly harder to connect the dots between events and individuals and to figure out when terrorists might strike.

Cooperation is also hampered by differences in languages, budgets, intelligence capabilities and even judgments about the severity of the terrorism threat. From its inception, the European Union has been more about economic than political integration, which among other things means there is no central intelligence service. Indeed, most European governments rely heavily on the United States for intelligence and share data with the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. that they would not share with other Europeans.
The need for greater teamwork has been made all the more pressing by Europe’s porous borders, which once exemplified freedom of movement but now present a huge challenge at a time when thousands of Europeans are being recruited by the Islamic State and hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing the war in Syria for Europe.

Europe could take a page from America’s experience. After 9/11, Congress created an independent commission to investigate how Al Qaeda carried out the attacks, and that effort led to many reforms in government structure, regulations and spycraft. The system isn’t perfect, but there have been big improvements and an investment of $650 billion in homeland security. Europe is undoubtedly more vulnerable than the United States, which has only two international borders, but it is still worth noting that terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 have claimed 45 lives while in Europe, the four largest attacks — in Madrid, London, Paris and Brussels — plus some smaller attacks have claimed nearly 10 times that number.

A month before Brussels, the Obama administration sent an expert team to work with the Belgians on stiffening their defenses. Since then, airports in Europe have tightened hiring and other security procedures. But here again, success depends on the commitment of individual nations. Following 9/11, the European Union adopted rules for protecting airport spaces in addition to standard security checkpoints, but it left enforcement to each country. The bombers at the Brussels Airport took advantage of a lack of strong and uniform enforcement.

Lisa Monaco, the top White House counterterrorism official, put the matter well in a speech last month. Europe, she said, must do more “to disrupt plots by continuing to break down barriers, to increase cooperation and intelligence-sharing among agencies — and to do so consistent with the rule of law.” Democracies must always find balance between security and freedoms, but the need for Europe to abandon attitudes and structures that impede counterterrorism cooperation could not be more acute.

No comments: