Monday, 11 July 2016

Ineffectual Inability

Euro Rhubarb At Work

France has been enjoying the services of its vast, sclerotic bureaucracy, with all the deadly unintended  consequences, when it comes to fighting Islamic terrorism.  A French parliamentary investigation into the security and anti-terrorist services has concluded that successive terrorist attacks upon innocent French citizens could have been prevented, had not the multiple intelligence agencies failed miserably.

In the Guardian report, one paragraph paints the picture with startling clarity:
The report considered the fact that eight soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who had been present outside the Bataclan during the terrorist attack did not intervene because they had not been given orders to do so. Police officers arriving at the scene asked the soldiers to lend them their assault weapons but the soldiers, obeying army rules, refused to hand them over.
Take that one instance of defalcation, idiocy, and irresponsibility and multiply it a thousand times through countless agencies acting in concrete silos and steel bunkers, talking only to themselves, minding their own domains, playing bureaucratic games and you get the picture.  The terrorists appeared superhuman, like a diabolical Scarlet Pimpernel, to be sought here, and there, but able to slip through undetected until death was unleashed.  But they were allowed to be so "clever" because the French agencies were so impotent.

In a perverse kind of way, this should give us some comfort.
 The terrorists are not clever; rather, the authorities have been dumb and dumber.
The commission highlighted a “global failure” of French intelligence and recommended a total overhaul of the intelligence services and the creation of a single, US-style national counter-terrorism agency.  “Our country was not ready; now we must get ready,” said Georges Fenech, head of the commission.

France has six intelligence units answering variously to the interior, defence and economy ministries. Fenech said the multi-layered, cumbersome intelligence apparatus was like an army of soldiers wearing lead boots.  He said that without the multiple intelligence failings, the Bataclan attack, which killed 90, could have been prevented.  “Faced with the threat of international terrorism, we need to be much more ambitious … in terms of intelligence,” he said.  All the extremists involved in the attacks had been previously flagged to authorities, Fenech said. Some had past convictions, or were under judicial surveillance in France or in Belgium when they struck Paris.

After 200 hours of hearings, the commission found that the different intelligence agencies had struggled to communicate about known Islamists who had been under surveillance, in prison or had had their phones tapped at some point.  Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a siege at a kosher grocery store in January last year and shot dead a policewoman, was a known radical and repeat offender. While serving a prison sentence for his part in a plot to free another terrorist from jail, he had been flagged as radicalised. This information was not passed from prison services to intelligence agencies on his release.
It remains to be seen whether France, with its pervasive bureaucratic fiefdoms, can reform itself sufficiently to develop an effective counter-terrorism force.  The jury is still out.  It will probably be out for a long time.  But the case does not look good.  One imagines that the wagons are already circling the fiefdoms and patch protection is in top gear.

The problem is not just France.  It is Europe wide.
 “Europe is not up to the task” of fighting terrorism, said Sebastien Pietrasanta, a Socialist MP who presented the report.  He highlighted as an example the handling of the case of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national believed to have been the ringleader of the November attacks.

While in Athens in January 2015, Abaaoud surfaced on the radar of Greek authorities who were aware of his importance as an Isis figure planning attacks on European targets.  That month Belgian police swooped on a terrorist cell in Verviers that had direct links to Abaaoud. The commission said the Belgians forgot to warn the Greek authorities that they were about to swoop until half an hour before the raids. This meant Abaaoud was able to escape from Athens.  “This shows a real difficulty in dialogue and cooperation,” the commission said.

The report also pointed to “unquestionable” failings that allowed Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the November Paris attack team, to flee from France by car to his home country of Belgium hours after the attacks.  At 9.10am on the day after the attacks, Abdeslam was stopped by French gendarmes in a car near the French-Belgian border. He gave his real name and identity papers and the gendarmes held the car for over 40 minutes while they called through to French authorities to check the details against European files.

Abdeslam’s name was in the cross-border information system for common crimes, but the Belgian authorities had failed to add that he was under surveillance as a potential jihadi. The order was given for the French gendarmes to let him go.  An hour later the Belgians called in again with the information about his radicalisation. It was too late; his car had been waved through. Four months later he was arrested in Belgium after one of the biggest manhunts in Europe, and he is currently in a French prison.
As Reginald Perrin reminded us, the EU has always been about the effective administration of rhubarb.  And little else.  

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