TCS Daily

The State of Transatlantic Ties

By Olivier Guitta - June 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Even though recent headlines have portrayed a rift between Europe and the US regarding terrorism issues, one shouldn't jump to conclusions. While the CIA "black sites" (unofficial jails installed mostly in Eastern Europe) issue has somewhat poisoned the public debate in Europe, as with many issues, such is often posturing by European politicos for the sake of the public. Indeed, behind the scenes, European governments are still by and large quietly cooperating with the US. This trend has actually accelerated since the London bombings of July 2005.

Cooperation on terrorism

Since Europe has become one of the main battlegrounds in the fight against Islamist terrorism, terrorist activity and the presence of terrorist support networks in Europe remains a source of concern for the US Administration. Now more than ever, the outcome of European counterterrorism efforts can have a direct impact on US national security. Poor European homeland security is now making the United States more vulnerable, and paradoxically strong US homeland security is making Europe more vulnerable. It looks like politicians from both sides of the Atlantic have gotten the message loud and clear -- especially after the Madrid and London bombings.

Proof of this assessment by the US State Department just released 2005 Country Reports on terrorism:

"The contributions of European countries in sharing intelligence, arresting members of terrorist cells, and interdicting terrorist financing and logistics were vital elements in the war on terrorism. European Union (EU) member states remained strong and reliable partners.

The United States and EU states developed more comprehensive, efficient border security processes to ensure close cooperation among law enforcement agencies and to improve information sharing capabilities."

A very telling recent example proved how even unlikely allies would go out of their ways to cooperate. This story concerns Germany and the Schröder Administration, which got reelected in 2002 on a very anti-American anti-war platform.

According to revelations of a few months ago, the country was not nearly so removed from the US-led war efforts as Schröder liked to claim. "Despite the troubles in the relationship between Berlin and Washington, the political decision was made to continue the close relationship of the intelligence services," an unidentified source from the BND told the public German television station ARD. Schröder's chancellery allegedly knew all about the cooperation. In fact as the New York Times reported in March 2006, the operation was approved by German top officials including Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Schröder's then chief of staff and current Foreign Minister) and Joschka Fischer, then foreign minister.

That close relationship apparently involved German intelligence agents remaining in Baghdad during the entire Iraq war at the same time Schröder (and his coalition cabinet) were officially maintaining strong opposition to the war in Iraq. That operation consisted among other things to utilize two German intelligence agents, from the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) who had remained in Iraq for the entire war. The BND agents allegedly helped the Americans by identifying "non-targets" -- such buildings as embassies, schools and hospitals that should not be bombed. But they also went further than that for example when they delivered targeting assistance for the April 2003 bombing in the wealthy Mansur district of Baghdad, which unsuccessfully targeted Saddam Hussein and several top members of his regime.

Finally, as the New York Times reported, an additional German agent was stationed in Qatar in the office of US General Tommy Franks, the American commander of the operation "Iraqi Freedom". Finally, these three German agents were given for their valuable help the American Meritorious Service medals.

But everything is far from rosy especially when it comes to terrorist groups. For instance, the EU as a whole remains reluctant to take steps to block the assets of charities associated with Hamas and Hezbollah.


Under its Container Security Initiative, the United States had secured permission from some EU countries including France and Germany to deploy specially trained US Customs Service officials to select European ports to monitor shipping manifests and inspect cargo bound for the United States. But most European governments refused implementing background checks and biometric devices for seafarers. Europeans also denied US initiative to share information about the ultimate ownership of vessels.

In May 2004, the United States and EU reached an agreement permitting airlines operating flights to or from the United States to provide US authorities with passenger name record (PNR) data in their reservation and departure control systems within 15 minutes of a flight's departure. This accord formalizes a practice in place since March 2003 that remains controversial because of fears that it compromises EU citizens' data privacy rights; the most contentious issues relate to the length and type of data stored. But late last year, Philippe Leger, the advocate general of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice, called for the annulment of the deal that provides US counterterrorism authorities with information about air passengers, arguing the measure insufficiently protects privacy. In doing so, Leger sided with the European parliament which brought the case and against the EU executive commission and the Council of member states. The decision was confirmed by the European Court of Justice just a few days ago.

The United States and the EU have also pledged to enhance international information exchanges on lost and stolen passports and to promote travel document security through the use of interoperable biometric identifiers. Cooperation on biometric identifiers is aimed in part at helping to minimize US-EU conflicts over new US rules for its Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and to facilitate legitimate transatlantic travel.

The United States and the EU continue to discuss the use of armed air marshals on some transatlantic flights. US requirements issued in December 2003 for countries to deploy armed marshals on certain flights to and from the United States were contentious in Europe. Some European countries claimed that guns on board planes would increase the security risks, while others -- such as the U.K. and France -- were more receptive. In April 2004, US officials pledged to consider alternative measures that could be put in place for European countries opposed to armed air marshals, and US and EU officials agreed that canceling flights should be a measure of last resort.

Judicial issues

In June 2003, the United States and the EU signed two treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance (MLA) to help simplify the extradition process, and facilitate prosecutorial cooperation. In negotiating these treaties, the US death penalty and the extradition of EU nationals posed particular challenges. Washington effectively agreed to EU demands that suspects extradited from the EU will not face the death penalty, which EU law bans. US officials also relented on their initial demands that the treaty guarantee the extradition of any EU national. They stress, however, that the extradition accord modernizes and harmonizes existing bilateral extradition agreements with individual EU member states.

But frustration is rampant. As the 2005 State Department Country Reports on terrorism states:

"Efforts to combat the threat in Europe were sometimes hampered by legal protections that made it difficult to take firm judicial action against suspected terrorists, asylum laws that afforded loopholes, inadequate legislation, or standards of evidence that limited the use of classified information in holding terrorist suspects. The new EU arrest warrant encountered legal difficulties in some countries that forbid extradition of their own citizens. Germany found it difficult to convict members of the Hamburg cell of suspected terrorists allegedly linked to the September 11 attacks. Some European states have at times not been able to prosecute successfully or hold some of the suspected terrorists brought before their courts."

What is most interesting is that the EU first priority is the respect of human rights; it has become the leitmotiv for a whole generation of Eurocrats. But when it comes to national security, governments play another tune.

For instance, under the new November 2005 French anti-terrorism law, terrorism suspects may be detained for up to 6 days before charges are filed. Suspects can be held for up to three and a half years in pretrial detention while the investigation against them continues. Other measures in the bill include increasing the maximum penalty for association with a terrorist enterprise from 10 to 20 years in prison, and increasing the maximum penalty for terrorist enterprise organizers from 20 to 30 years in prison.

Different values?

Even though the US and European nations are at odds on lots of important issues such as the death penalty, religion and foreign policy in the Middle East for instance, it is not accurate to conclude that Europe and the US have a different set of values.

When it comes to terrorism, even though most Europeans claim totally to refute the concept of war on terror, their global positions are not so far off from the American ones. We are pretty convinced, for instance, that if Paris or Berlin were hit with a major deadly terror attack (on a September 11th scale) with or without WMD, both countries would react vigorously using military means. For proof, recall Jacques Chirac's January speech in which he promised nuclear retaliation on terrorist groups or states that attacked France or its allies.

Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant in Washington DC.


1 Comment

Too little, too late
France has had a an armistice with the Jihaddies for 30 years. Greece has been a hotbed of terrorists of all stripes for 30 years. The EU basic desire is to try Americans as war criminals if given the chance. Any cooperation we get from most of our European "allies" is too little, too late. I believe Americans realize who are European allies are.

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