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Thursday, May 13, 2010

How France Deals With Terrorism--And Obama Won't

According to the Washington Post, Europe's antiterrorism agencies favor human intelligence over technology, but the difference goes deeper than that:
"You have got to be proactive," said Jean-Louis Bruguière, who as an investigating magistrate handled many of France's major antiterrorism cases and now is a liaison to the U.S. Treasury Department on terrorist financing. "It is not a question of defense."

From the beginning, Bruguière and other specialists said, the emphasis in Europe has been on domestic human intelligence rather than the computerized systems such as watch lists favored by U.S. security agencies. That has meant tedious hours of surveillance, patient listening-in on telephone conversations, careful review of bank records, and relentless recruitment of informants among Islamic zealots who are motivated to betray acquaintances by everything from fear of losing visas to a desire to clear the name of Islam in European minds.
But dealing with the threat of terrorism is still more than working from behind a desk:

In France, to pressure for more information and keep would-be terrorists off balance, the specialists said, police and domestic intelligence officers carry out frequent raids, taking young Muslim men into custody for interrogation and intimidation. That treatment extends to Islamic groups that may never imagine carrying out a terrorist attack but eventually could help with logistics, even unwittingly, or just hear about someone with violent plans.

"They are constantly bothered," said Xavier Raufer, a veteran terrorism expert who heads the Criminology Institute at the University of Paris II. "The most fragile of them are singled out, contacted and eventually flipped."

About three dozen people have been sentenced to prison over the last three years in connection with antiterrorism raids, many of them under a broad-gauge law that defines as a crime "criminal association with intent to commit terrorism," according to a recent Interior Ministry report.
Even during the Bush administration, concerns with profiling were hamstringing efforts to combat threats of terrorism. Now, with the Obama administration omitting "Islam" and "Jihad" from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy, the US is even more unlikely to take a forceful proactive stand against terrorism.
"Even though we're similarly democratic, we have very different views of the practical application of those values," said Kenneth Wainstein, homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush and a former assistant attorney general for national security. "I recall being surprised when our European counterparts discussed cracking down on jihadist rhetoric on the Internet. That would never fly here. For us, much of that rhetoric would be protected by the First Amendment."
These different views between Europe and the US means
French and other European police also have more latitude in dealing with terrorism suspects than their American counterparts.

The DCRI [Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence, France's main antiterrorism force], for instance, has been exempted from oversight by France's National Committee on Computer Science and Liberties, allowing it to monitor computer messages and Islamic Web sites without outside restriction.

French police can demand a show of identity for no specific reason, Heisbourg recalled, and can hold suspects for questioning over two days -- or more in terrorism cases -- without intervention by defense lawyers. Police and prosecutors in other European countries have similar latitude.
Meanwhile, in the US the anti-terrorism efforts will have their hands tied for the foreseeable future--and the recent attempt to explode a bomb in Times Square is not reassuring.

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