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          • Year: 2016
          • Cooperation between security services as a key answer to terrorism

          • Belgrade Centre for Security Policy is presenting an interview with a Dutch expert Matthéus van den Bersselaar led by BCSP Executive Director Predrag Petrovic.

        • Matthéus van den Bersselaar is an expert on integrity building in the security and intelligence services at the CEDAR Advisors. He has worked for decades in the Dutch security service, and has extensive knowledge on Serbia and Western Balkans region.

          This is the first out three pieces of this interesting conversation, so keep following.


          What are the key security threats in the EU today? To what degree are the security services in the EU countries ready for these threats?

          Nowadays you can see what has been developing in the last one and a half or two years, that terrorism, coming from radical Muslims, is the biggest threat coming to EU from the outside. I see it as something that is coming in from Africa, from Middle East, but also from Balkan area. We are almost surrounded by this kind of threat, but also from within, the lone wolves, mostly with support of an outsider.

          So, what is important for the Western security services is the huge effort to find out who is coming into the EU - whoever, migrants or refuges - and whether they are coming with the motive of violence or killing innocent people, to recruit more people, etc. So, in that respect we also see this as an internal threat, because we do not know how many people, who have been living in the EU for two or more generations, are radicalization victims, and becoming, once in a while, lone wolves and causing great grieve by killing people. In all it is coming from outside as we are surrounded by it, and it is coming from the inside because of the - developing - lone wolves in the large populations of Muslims all over Europe.


          What would be the best answer of security services in the EU countries?

          There are two things that can be done in my opinion. Crucial above all is the cooperation between services and the exchange of intelligence, including raw information. Sharing information is of eminent interest and with that there should be trust between the services that none is abusing or violating the intelligence received from the partner-service. Another aspect of this cooperation is also specializing. Example: one service could become the state-of-the-art data mining agency and take in orders from colleague-services.

          It is unprofessional behavior and a dream to think you can fight terrorism in a national context. Dreaming of closing the borders is a way back in time. All countries are interconnected in any aspect of life, EU even propagates the free movement of services, persons, capital. We are economically too entangled, although the building up of gates on the borders of some east-European/Balkan-countries may say different. It is naive to think that gates can stop the coming in of terrorism in Europe. Border checks on the scale to stop every individual would also cost a lot of money and most countries are not prepared to do this.

          There was the opinion that some countries should actually do the opposite - not to cooperate too much, but actually to strengthen their national security apparatus. Is it possible to close the borders in this situation?

          Hundred percent checks at the borders in main roads would still mean that 80% of the border-entries, not being the main-ports, still are available for illegal crossings. Do not think that terrorists and their supporting cells would not be smart enough in finding ways of entering and exiting via very unexpected corners and means.

          The answer is again to ensure that there is intensive cooperation and information sharing between services, that the Schengen-data is fully available, not only for checking but also for registrations. Now, from a national point of view, security services, which should be visible and easy-contacted by the general public and even more so by police-officers, working in the street, welfare-officers, teachers and social workers not to forget Muslim-parents, imams etc. All these contacts should be aimed at discovering early radicalization of Muslim in time and to provide authorities with the necessary information. I do realize that privacy and personal freedom is a concern, but do not see another way to prevent attacks on innocent civilians; we have an obligation to protect society and civilians from cruel attacks.

          Cooperation between security services and police in the EU


          How would you assess the current level of cooperation and the available mechanisms on the EU level? We have EUROPOL, EUROJUST, but also we have Club de Berne. What are the differences between these mechanisms, how can they actually be put on the same page, and how can they work in more cohesion?

          You mentioned Club de Berne, and EUROPOL and EUROJUST in the same sentence. EUROJUST and EUROPOL are about prosecution and police work and they are very much different from Club de Berne. Of course they should cooperate as much as possible, but at the Club de Berne we have all the security agencies of EU, including Norway and Switzerland. From this cooperative body stems also the regular cooperation between security services on the counter terrorism field. So EUROPOL and EUROJUST are just maybe at the other side of the chain. The security services will have to try to find out cases of terrorism, and hand them over to the police, even though the police as well (especially people working in the field) can be employed in finding out security threats.


          There are several articles arguing that EUROPOL did an awful job in exchanging information and that there is huge distrust between security services and the police, because security services do not want to hand over their information as they fear that they will end up in the hands of the police. How can one actually describe this situation?

          For some countries it is a huge problem, because it starts with having trust in your police force. A service has to be prepared to hand over information to the police via the proper channels, without ever having to reveal the sources it used to collect the information. That is a dilemma, as police and later a judge - and the lawyer of the defendant! - have to be able to assess the information, which includes having knowledge of the provider and/or source of it.

          The more trust between services and police-bodies, the easier to exchange information. Police has also to respect the working-method of services and the unwillingness to reveal sources. Same time services have to understand that the police want to make lawful arrests and to bring a solid case, via the prosecutor, to the court.


          How could this gap be bridged?

          By building trust at all levels. Every time again it proves that trust between bodies like security-services and police agencies is the key for success and that distrust between such bodies is only helping terrorists to do their bloody deeds.

          If the directors-general at the top can convince their subordinates - at all levels - to be at all times prepared to exchange intelligence and to pass information (that in itself seems to be insignificant) to colleague-services nationally and internationally, it would be the biggest blow imaginable for any terrorist-organization.

          Appointing liaisons, seconding officers, exchange middle-management are all tools for organizations to improve relationships. The more a police-officer knows about the functions of his colleague at the security-service and vive-versa, the more likely they will ‘find’ each-other in the exchange of any relevant piece of information. The same goes for the international cooperation; on specific fields like counter-terrorism services should exchange officers, to ‘allow them in the kitchen’ on specific working fields. Officers of security services, handling agents in the field, should never forget that police-officers, surveilling suburbs and streets, are much deeper in the veins of society than they ever can be. 

          Cooperation among security services in the EU


          Is Club de Berne changing after the terror attacks in Europe in the last years and in what direction?

          In my experience, Club de Berne has not changed too much. What they have been doing in the last 20 or 30 years is making sure that security services are working together and having safe channels of communication with each other. However, cooperation was stepped up to certain degree in 2004 after Madrid attacks. Within the Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG), that is an offshoot of the Club de Bern focused on Islamic terrorism, heads of the counter-terrorism department sat together every 3 months to exchange intelligence. More recently, since the first half of 2016, these meetings became more frequent, so now heads of counter-terrorism departments meet every week in Netherlands, under the auspices of the AIVD.  Also, the Club has admitted more security-services and has established more specialized working groups like ‘radicalization’ and ‘recruiting’ in Muslim-communities. As a fact, Club de Berne already did these things, which now seem to be of great urgency, already decades ago. For the national security-services this close partnership within Europe has also been a successful weapon against partly giving away their national powers to a federal (EU-wide) or multilateral body. The volume of the offered intelligence varies from service to service, but in general is quite extensive.


          How were then, for instance, Paris terror attacks possible, when there is a very intensive cooperation among intelligence services in the Club de Berne?

          The recent human disasters in France, like in Paris, could take place because of the several facts. Firstly, in the recent years huge numbers of individuals was radicalized very fast. Security services cannot track them all closely.  Secondly, there is a phenomenon of lone wolf who are also difficult to identify. Thirdly, work methods of security services is available to terrorists enabling them to evade security services and police, as well as to employ these methods. Also, security ervices tend to be reluctant when it comes to exchanging intelligence that shows the bad and undesirable sides of their society. In the case of Belgium you can add the chaotic civil administration, low budget and understaffed service, the continuing alienation of a suburb like Molenbeek/Brussels and an ever continuing aversion between Flamish and Wallon population, also civil servants, also in the security-service.


          Recommended readings:

          Björn Fägersten. „For EU eyes only? Intelligence and European security“


        • Tags: security services, cooperation, eu, police, terrorism
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