Friday, August 11, 2006

How the French fight Terrorism.

The lastest developments regarding the "war on terror" reminds me of another article published last January in Foreign Policy called "How the French fight Terror".
It basically sais that the US can actually learn from its French counterpart because France has dealt with the terrorist threat for a much longer time (since it was first strikes by terrorist attacks on its soil in the mid-80s, back when it was cought as unprepared).

The main point of the article is that France has an efficient system based on a good relationship between the judiciary and the police:

The smooth relationship between France's judiciary and its intelligence world is unique among Western nations. Even after 9/11, a proposal to create a separate domestic intelligence service failed to gather momentum in Washington. In Britain, the MI5 has no judicial competence. Yet, since the 1990s, the French domestic intelligence service has had the ability to ask magistrates to open investigations. Judges can in turn assist the agency by ordering warrants, wiretaps, and subpoenas.

That is in part because the French authorities see petty crimes as a window into a terrorist network, as its members mostly operate in compartmented cells, each contributing to a larger conspiracy known only to the masterminds. To unravel complex plots, France has used its extended police powers to monitor mosques and suspicious individuals and eventually expel those deemed too dangerous. It has relied both on human intelligence, notably police and intelligence agents of Muslim descent, and on technological means to break cases. A new bill adopted in December increases police surveillance methods- especially video and communications- and stiffens prison sentences for convicted members of a terrorist plot.

In recent years, French authorities claim they have thwarted a number of terrorist plots by using their forward-leaning arsenal, from a series of alleged chemical attacks planned by Chechen operatives against Russian interests in Paris to a recently reported ploy by French Muslims linked to a radical Islamist group in Algeria to target one of the capital's airports. The French have a very aggressive system but one that fits into their traditions, says Jeremy Shapiro, the director of research at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington. They seem to be doing the best job in Europe.

Such praise makes French officials cringe. They point to Islamist attacks against French interests in Pakistan and in Yemen as evidence that France is not immune to terror. “We have our own approach and it has worked fairly well,” says Marsaud, “but we know that in this area, success can only be relative.”.

(Highlights are mine)

However imperfect it may be and however it may just the result of experience and traditions that are too different from those of the U.S. there are probably some things the current Bush administration could learn from it if they could look around a bit more. According to this other FP article, the greatest criticism experts make of Bush's policy is to put too much emphasis on military tools. A number of experts actually claim that the U.S. is even losing the war on terror.
Here's an interesting remark by Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs:
“We are losing the war on terror because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause.[O]ur insistence that Islamic fundamentalist ideology has replaced communist ideology as the chief enemy of our time ... feeds al Qaeda’s vision of the world."
It is likely that even if the latest attack was thwarted - thanks to British intelligence - there will be one some day on US soil and it'll hurt, but it's something we need to live with and be prepared for. Yet obviously, we should expect our governments to do everything they can to focus on the real issues and not lead us on.


NOTE: By the way, I find the term 'terror' - i.e. "a pronounced state of fear, an overwhelming sense of imminent danger" inappropriate - there is no war on terror, there is "war on terrorism" maybe, i.e. on "violence to generate fear, political, religious and ideological change." . So what's wrong with this government using the wrong words? Is it because it just sounds more frightening?

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