Washington Post: “Europe’s antiterrorism agencies favor human intelligence over technology”

The Washington Post has an article on intelligence agencies last week titled: “Europe’s antiterrorism agencies favor human intelligence over technology”. The article seems to imply that the U.S. can learn quite some things from its European counterparts, especially from the French Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DCRI), France’s main antiterrorism force.

1. European Intelligence vs US technology
According to the Post:

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.

Indeed, this approach can be seen as a good way of countering ‘homegrown’ terrorism. But three out of four measures the WP highlights here might involve the use of (sometimes sophisticated) technology.

2. France garde a vue detention vs US miranda rights

Francois Heisbourg, a defense specialist who played a key role in drafting the white paper outlining France’s antiterrorism policies, is quoted saying that French and other European police also have more latitude in dealing with terrorism suspects than their American counterparts.

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.

In the light of the ongoing discussion in the US on the restriction of Miranda rights, this approach seems to be quite interesting for U.S. policy makers. Indeed, in France persons suspected of terrorism-related offenses may be detained  in garde à vue for up to 6 days, and access to counsel in some  cases is permitted only after 4 days. France has stated before the UN that access to legal counsel is only delayed “for the purpose of the inquiry having regard to the seriousness of the offences in question.”

The UN’s Committee Against Torture has warned France in 2006 however that this practice is “likely to give rise to violations of Article 11 of the Convention, since it is during the first few hours after an arrest, particularly when a person is held incommunicado, that the risk of torture is greatest.”

The ICJ has criticised France as well, saying that

The combined effect of restrictions on access to lawyers, medical examinations and the provision of information on the arrest to family members, is that detainees may be held virtually incommunicado for at least three days.

Moreover, FBI analysts have said that Miranda rights don’t inhibit the questioning of suspects. As a former FBI interrogator, and author of the book Hunting Terrorists: A Look At the Psychopathology of Terror.” says:

“In 25 years working as an FBI agent, I found that the Miranda decision did not interfere with me in either obtaining usable information or making prosecutable cases.

“Miranda doesn’t interfere with making cases,” he added. “Incompetent  investigators do.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and about three dozen human  rights and antiwar organizations sent a letter to Attorney General Holder Monday urging him to leave the  Miranda rule untouched.

“In the nearly nine years since the attacks of 9/11, the Department  of Justice has obtained convictions in more than 400 international  terrorism or terrorism-related cases without weakening Miranda or  risking the safety of Americans. (…) The ‘public safety exception’ is exception enough.”

3. France’s intimidation policy vs US wiretapping of potential homegrown terrorists

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.”

I’m not sure whether such an agressive, intimidating approach is the perfect way to prevent homegrown terrorism, as such behaviour may actually lead to increased radicalised feelings among the targeted communities and in the end may constitute the direct trigger which causes a person to ‘flip’ – to the wrong side. The British approach of communitiy policing would be a far better approach.


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