Why Europe must unify its intelligence networks

Israeli security experts claim that the high number of intelligence agencies and lack of cooperation in Europe hinders an efficient response to the battle against the Islamic State, which Israel's defense minister calls a "Third World War."

al-monitor European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reacts to news of the Belgium blasts during a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Amman, March 22, 2016.  Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.
Ben Caspit

Ben Caspit

@BenCaspit

Topics covered

terrorism, terror attacks, security cooperation, intelligence, is, european union, europe, belgium

Mar 23, 2016

“The increasing pressure on the Islamic State [IS] is causing the organization to change and to alter its modus operandi,” a former Israeli Mossad official told Al-Monitor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The organization has lost quite a bit of territory in recent weeks and absorbing military defeats on the ground. In light of this situation, there are signs that IS is changing its strategy. From attempts to expand and continue building a caliphate, it is shifting to a survival mentality, maintenance of its current assets. In addition, it now emphasizes the launching of numerous, high-quality terrorist attacks on sensitive sites in the West, with its focus on nearby Europe, in which it can operate relatively easily.”

In recent months, Israel’s intelligence and security branches came to similar conclusions. IS, according to their assessments, is evolving into a more dangerous mutant. “We are looking at a new battlefield,” said the former official. “The West must learn to understand it, prepare for it and immediately battle against it. Any delay will cause great damage.”

After the March 22 IS attack in Brussels, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “This is a Third World War against our common values.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a taped speech delivered to the AIPAC conference in Washington, said, “Every day high-level delegations land at Ben Gurion Airport. They come from America. They come from Europe. Increasingly they come from Asia, from Africa, from Latin America. … They wish to learn from Israel’s proven security and intelligence capabilities how to better protect their own people.”

On this issue, a senior Israeli security official who requested anonymity said, “Israel should also adopt some humility on the issue. While it's true that we teach everyone else how to fight terror, we ourselves are unable to cope with the current terror wave that is mainly comprised of teenagers with knives or improvised guns.” Despite this cautionary statement, the West still knows that Israel has the most accumulated experience in dealing with Islamic terror, which has accompanied the state since the day it was founded.

“The most important thing is intelligence,” said Yaron Bloom, a former Shin Bet senior official. “It all begins and ends with intelligence. You cannot win without it. You must map out the areas in which the seeds of terror are sown and cultivated. You have to know what is being said in the mosques. You have to know where the extremists are located and then create a network of informers that will prevent ‘surprises.’”

Salah Abdeslam, one of the perpetrators of the Nov. 13 massacre in Paris, succeeded in hiding for months in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. Israeli security sources say that this proves that that neighborhood, like other places in Europe, has a terror-supporting infrastructure. This must be fully understood.

The main problem in today’s Europe, said a former senior officer from the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) intelligence unit, is the lack of intelligence synchronization. In spite of Europe ostensibly being united, its security and intelligence organizations are scattered and unconnected. They do not sufficiently cooperate with one another. According to the source, there are six police and security organizations in Brussels alone. Belgium has 192 security organizations, while Germany has 16 intelligence organizations.

When intelligence does not flow in real time throughout the entire continent, the struggle is useless, said the IDF source, who cited the following example: It is known that Abdeslam was stopped at a checkpoint after the attacks in Paris, but released after a cursory check. This happened mainly because the necessary information did not arrive in time at the right place.

Europe has a knotty problem with political correctness, a senior Israeli figure who deals with securing airports emphasized. He said that a very high percentage of airport workers in Europe are Muslims. Although the vast majority of the workers are law-abiding citizens and have no connection to terror, even one lone worker who agrees to smuggle a bomb or detonator belt onto a plane or into a terminal can cause terrible damage. This is a time bomb. Such a scenario has already played out with the Russian passenger plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula in October.

This means that security branches must prepare for all scenarios and that security must be run by the state, like in Israel. This one sphere should never be privatized. The state is responsible for training, guidance, supervision and control. A large number of security circles must be in place, both visible and concealed. There must be active and passive security safeguards as well as synchronization among the systems. It is a never-ending “war of the brains,” but IS can be vanquished, if this is understood as a life or death struggle.

“The key to success,” said a former Mossad senior official speaking on condition of anonymity, “is that European leadership must understand that we are not talking here about a terror attack or some offensives against Paris or Brussels alone. This is an all-out war. In Europe, they still aren’t even able to utter the word combination ‘Islamic terror,’ as if it will go away if they don’t say these words. But it does exist, and it does threaten, and it seems to me, it is already clear that no compromise can be reached with it.

“Islamic State terror wants to destroy the West and replace it. The faster we understand this, the shorter and less difficult will be the path to victory. This brand of terror knows how to reach its audiences, knows how to use the networks and Internet, Sony PlayStation, Twitter and the social networks, in order to recruit and activate its agents. We must learn to monitor all these networks and terminate the recruitment systems. This is slow, time-consuming work. These are the new rules of the game, but with the proper allotment of resources and correct understanding of reality, victory is possible.”

The current “victory” photo belongs to IS. It was captured at a press conference by Federica Mogherini, the EU high commissioner for foreign affairs and security, and her Jordanian colleague after news of the attack in Brussels. Mogherini broke down in tears and left the podium. For IS, this is a victory photo. The West and Europe sanctify life, while IS and radical Islam worship death. This is the reason why the West will, ultimately, win. If it wants to live, it has no other choice.

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