TCS Daily

Teamwork Against Terror

By Olivier Guitta & Sally McNamara - February 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Recent events have proven all too dramatically that homeland security can be ensured only in the context of global security. Since September 11, 2001, domestic counter-terrorism has become a matter of worldwide intelligence-gathering and the dogged pursuit of international terrorist networks. Transnational terrorism represents a lethal threat to all Western nations, therefore the response has to be international.

After September 11, Western nations were left with no choice but to cooperate closely in terms of intelligence, know-how and even procedures. But this is without doubt one of the most difficult areas for cooperation among nations. Indeed, in order to be effective, this cooperation must be very discreet, often touching on sensitive, "sovereign" areas like intelligence and justice. Most importantly, cooperation must also focus on operational issues - such as on how to prevent terrorist attacks in the planning process. For these reasons, cooperation works much better in a bilateral arena rather than a multilateral one. Thus, it has proven much easier for the United States to cooperate with individual member states of the European Union than with the institution as a whole. Where speed, trust and flexibility are needed, individual partnerships have proven the most reliable forum for stopping the terrorists, and the EU must now refocus its efforts to addressing the most effective part it can play in winning the war on terror.

Transatlantic partnerships on counterterrorism have improved tremendously since the September 11 attacks. Certain individual partnerships are flourishing and there is reason to be optimistic that many European nations and America will continue to enjoy long-term alliances, based on reciprocal approaches to security matters. The clear rapprochement between U.S. and European intelligence services is one of the most striking aspects of this new cooperation. Indeed before September 11, European services would complain of the lack of U.S. cooperation, especially regarding Islamist terrorism. But Europeans now acknowledge that cooperation is much improved. In fact, information is flowing smoothly on both ends and it is utilized more effectively now that services work to complement each other. Indeed, European services' forte - especially France's - is human intelligence on Islamist terror groups, while the U.S.'s strength is its impressive electronic intelligence gathering capability. Combining the two in an unselfish, cooperative fashion is a win-win combination.

Interestingly enough, political disagreement from some European quarters over the war in Iraq did not significantly affect the level of cooperation between individual European countries and the United States (it is also worth noting that 12 EU member states were actually part of the initial coalition of the willing). For instance, France, which led opposition to the war in Iraq, has been one of America's best partners in counterterrorism intelligence efforts. Former CIA Director John McLaughlin described the relationship between the CIA and its French counterparts as "one of the best in the world. What they are willing to contribute is extraordinarily valuable." According to The Washington Post, right after September 11, French President Jacques Chirac advised his intelligence services to collaborate with American ones "as if they were your own service."

Germany, which, like France, opposed the Iraq war, has also been a reliable ally in counterterrorism intelligence. While ex-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was vehemently critical of the U.S. over the intervention in Iraq, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble revealed that German agents were interrogating alleged German terrorists in Syria and in Guantanamo. Also, as of April 2004, up to 15 liaison officers from U.S. law enforcement agencies were participating in investigations under way in Germany.

Nevertheless, some rough spots remain in the transatlantic relationship over the global war on terror. Germany's recent release of Mohammed Hamadi, the life-sentenced Lebanese hijacker and member of Hezbollah who murdered an American serviceman in 1985 and dumped his body on the tarmac of the Beirut airport, is a disgrace - nothing short of an appeasement to terrorists. This is a serious step backward for German-American cooperation in fighting terror.

And despite some positive signs from the EU, Washington is right to be suspicious about the extent to which the union, as a whole, has the stomach for a prolonged war on terror or real understanding of the magnitude of the problem. The controversy surrounding the EU's official list of terrorist organizations exemplifies the very problem that it faces in forming a cohesive response to the changing global security picture. Following the September 11 attacks, the EU formulated an official list of terrorist organizations, although press reports indicated that it was initially reluctant to do so. Having agreed on a common definition of terrorism - a definition that is substantially narrower than the U.S.'s - it placed 12 groups and 30 individuals on this list, which obliges member states to seize their assets. This is a welcome move as a visible repudiation of terrorism and those who sponsor it.

However, the most recent list, issued November 29, 2005, does not include Hezbollah - a terrorist organization that was responsible for killing the most Americans prior to September 11. In March 2005, worried by the continued omission of Hezbollah from the list, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution branding Hezbollah in whole as a terrorist organization, calling on the Council to "take all necessary steps to curtail them." But the Council has not listened and the EU has not added the group to its official list. Worse still, this list has never even included al Qaeda as an official terrorist organization, a rather glaring omission, to put it mildly.

Knowing that most of the planning for the September 11 attacks occurred in Hamburg, and that Europe has become a base for Islamist terror cells, America's national security is irrevocably connected to Europe. And Europe needs America, too; its defense capabilities - and budgets - fall well below those of the United States, and there is little probability that this will change. Neither side can afford a divided relationship. Europe itself has been hit by major terrorist attacks since September 11. One of our enemies' stated aims is to split Western alliances, and break down the united fronts that can most effectively fight the war on terror. We cannot let this happen at the risk of losing the war.

Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs consultant and Sally McNamara is the International Initiative Project Director for the American Legislative Exchange Council. A longer version of this article can be downloaded here.

1 Comment

full of anti european prejudice
Mr Guitta,
The least you could do is read comments to previous articles of yours and check them. If you had done so you would stop insisting on the apparent failure of the EU to include Al Qaeda in the EU anti terrorist list. You are obviously not familiar with EU legislation. When the UN has already determined that an entity qualifies as terrorist, as is the case with Al Qaeda, the EU adopsta a Common Position (as it did) to ensure UN legislation implementuarantee within the EU. So Al Qaeda is definitely a terrorist entity in the EU, stop that nonsense please!
Secondly, you qualify as a disgrace the release of a terrorism suspect in Germany. In the EU we have decided to fight terrorism within the rule of law, that is, abiding by what ordinary courts of law determine, that is, not resorting to the creation of legal limbos such as Guantanamo and not allowing extraordinary executive powers. And we are doing quite well, both against terror as well as preserving our democracies, thank you very much. If the said Lebanese is indeed a terrorist, the authorities should be able to prove so and get him properly convicted.

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