There are huge gaps in the capabilities of the continent's security agenciesby Pauline Neville-Jones / December 2, 2015 / Leave a comment
Developments in Syria and recent IS atrocities have spotlighted the issue of intelligence failures. British intelligence agencies, apparently, did not foresee the Russian decision to move equipment to Syria to prepare for bombing what it claims are terrorist targets. After the Paris attacks, the French said that other EU countries did not inform them that one of the perpetrators, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had reached France from Syria. No doubt there have been failings in both cases, though the causes may well have been different.
All intelligence agencies are told by their governments to focus their efforts on certain targets. Thus, they do not devote resources to matters lying outside these areas, however significant they may be or become. In David Cameron’s foreword to the newly minted National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, one of the more telling passages reads “we cannot choose between conventional defences against state-based threats and the need to counter threats that do not recognise national borders. Today we face both and we must respond to both. So over the course of this Parliament our priorities are to deter state based threats [and] tackle terrorism.”
The 2010 National Security Strategy made no reference to state-based threats. Indeed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s expertise on Russia had been run down. It is now pledged to be “expanded”—and about time, too. The agencies will have followed policy priorities set by ministers and while Russia will not have been omitted, Syria may not have been ranked high enough. The 1,900 extra staff promised to the agencies will have plenty to do.
The intelligence failings in relation to the Paris attacks were serious. A central question is how much of the deficiency is to be attributed to French agencies alone and how much to shortcomings in the exchange of information and anti-terrorist co-operation across Europe.
There is much more to effective anti- and counter-terrorism than simply good intelligence. Among other measures, governments need to undertake programmes tailored to deal with individual cases of radicalisation and with the integration of society as a whole. Such programmes are culturally specific and there is no “European” solution.
But the same is not true of…