Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Europe's Counterterrorism Strategy

The EU has recently revised its Counterterrorism Strategy. The document is just 9 pages long, so it's not very detailed. After a quick review I found a few passages worthy of note and comment:

Terrorist threats should mostly be addressed at national level – even in the knowledge that the current threat is mostly international. Work at EU level complements these efforts and is built around prevention, protection, prosecution and responding if an attack occurs.
The situation in Europe is more complex than in the U.S. The number of nations involved, the different cultures and legal structures, the immigration patterns - all of it makes it more difficult to collaborate on a solution. But I'm not convinced that the most important work has to be done at the national level.

I still maintain that most of the important work has to be done on a local level. The national government can play a key supporting role - and a lead role in some instances - but in the end it requires coordinated local effort to dislodge terrorism and create an environment in which it cannot bloom again.

The strategy identifies eight key measures for combatting terrorism:
• Stopping violent radicalisation;
• Protecting our critical infrastructure;
• Improving the exchange of information between national authorities and cooperation between all stakeholders when appropriate;
• Reacting to non conventional threats;
• Improving the detection of threats;
• Depriving terrorists of financial resources;
• Supporting victims;
• Research and technological development.
The first measure, stopping violent radicalization, seems a logical step for the Europeans, given their demographics (i.e., a lot of immigrants who don't feel like they've assimilated into the dominant culture, some of whom have fallen under the sway of jihadists).

But in terms of stopping this radicalization, it seems like they're still trying to get their arms around the issue:
Understanding the motivations behind terrorist activity is a key part of prevention. The Commission is in the process of developing a policy on identifying and addressing the factors contributing to violent radicalisation. Research into this complex area is important and the Commission funds studies, conferences, and projects to share experience and better understand the issue.
It's admirable to try to understand the problem. But it seems to me that they're missing something. Instead of studying "the factors contributing to violent radicalisation" (i.e., what kind of person, from what kind of background, is subject to becoming a violent radical) I think they would do much better to focus on the process of recruiting and radicalization.

It really doesn't matter much what a person's background is, when you think of it. What matters is the process that they go through to become a violent radical. That process inevitably leaves signs and signals, in spite of the great efforts that are made to hide it. If you focus on that process, rather than the psychology of who becomes a radical and why, then you have a better shot at interdiction and prevention.

On information sharing, I found it noteworthy that they focus on information rather than intelligence:
Exchange of information – in compliance with fundamental rights including data protection – is essential. The Passenger Name Records (PNR) proposal which is part of this package demonstrates it. Much has been done by the Commission. Telecom and internet service providers now have to retain their data, as a consequence of the Data Retention Directive. The principle of availability has made its first step with the PrĂ¼m Treaty: soon, all Member States' databases on fingerprints, DNA and vehicle registration will be accessible to the authorities of other Member States.

Agreement has been reached to give law enforcement authorities access to the Visa Information System (VIS) once it becomes operational. Access to the VIS will allow police and other law enforcement authorities, as well as Europol, to consult data in the Visa Information System. It will store data on up to 70 million people concerning visas for visits to, or transit through, the Schengen Area.
Maybe I'm just making the assumption that they're subordinating sharing intelligence in favor of sharing information. But it seems odd that they're just talking about data here - and not the intelligence that's created by analyzing the data.

In the end, the EU introduces a security package for moving ahead. I find these steps to be generally on the right track:
This security package aims to improve the security of Europe and face the terrorist threat by:
  • Dealing with those who support terrorism.
  • Practical action to stem the use of explosives.
  • Establishing a European system for the exchange of Passenger Name Records ("PNR").
The first step wisely acknowledges the fact that terrorists require a sympathetic environment and an actively supportive infrastructure. The second is rather limited in scope, covering only one potential type of terrorist act. You've got to give a determined terrorist more credit than that, I think. The third step is logical, given the fact that many terrorists travel overseas before going operational with an attack plot.

Still, taken in their entirety, I'm not sure they've got a comprehensive strategy that is going to address all aspects of the terrorist threat.

(Hat tip to Jonah at HLS Watch, who also
provides a good overview of the strategy.)

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