Analysis: Europe Offers Different Counterterrorism Approach



I have in the past posed the intriguing question of whether US intelligence agencies should learn from the French approach to counterterrorism. This issue has now come up again in an interesting Washington Post essay, which examines the different approaches to Islamic militancy by American and European intelligence organizations. Some of these differences are undoubtedly contextual: there are no First Amendment rights in Europe, and European law enforcement and intelligence organizations enjoy a somewhat wider legal latitude in which to operate domestically. Moreover, the Europeans, especially the French and the British, have a longer experience than the Americans in dealing with armed insurgencies. But there are also critical differences in tactics. Importantly, the European approach to Islamic militancy has not only been more pro-active than the American, but also a lot more discreet and clandestine. In Europe, it’s not called a “war”; it is a policing operation in the strictest sense, which is probably the most striking difference between American and European efforts. Furthermore, as intelNews has indicated before, British and –especially– French intelligence agencies rely considerably less on satellite reconnaissance and computerized analysis, and considerably more on domestic human intelligence. This method appears to be working: in France alone, no fewer than 15 terrorist plots have been stopped in the past few years, all of them through the careful placement of well-trained informants. In the words of Jean-Louis Bruguière, a former Magistrate who led France’s counterterrorism investigations from 1981 to 2007, France has not been hit on its own soil by a terrorist attack since 1996, “foiling one or two attempts a year during that period”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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