Assessing European Union’s Counter-terrorism and Intelligence mechanism: From 9/11 till today

counter terrorism


One of the key principles highlighted in the treaty of European Union is to ensure “safety and security” of its citizens within the domain of “Area, Freedom, Justice and Security”. In the light of EU’s commitment to counter-terrorism, it is quite surprising to acknowledge its commitment to “securing its citizen” particularly by the experts from academia, even after its “vital” international cooperation followed by significant importance in global politics. To understand the European Union’s commitment to combat terrorism, policymakers will find inadequate publications particularly on the topics of EU’s counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism initiatives.

In the light of such “ignorance” from experts within the academia, it is imperative for policy makers to evaluate the “successes and flaws” of European counter-terrorism and Intelligence agencies operational initiatives, in an effort to reinforce the current security mechanism established by the EU while using these operational experiences as a “study guide” for security and intelligence agencies of the world. The objective is to largely understand than assess European Union’s counter-terror mechanism and conclude, whether the EU has significantly reinforced its counter-terrorism policies enough to combat terrorism, if not, what measures and lessons from the past should the EU of today enforce in an effort to enhance and strengthen its counter terrorism policies, while living up to the expectations of its members particularly when they are threatened by the emerging threats of terror?

Today, neither the international communities nor experts from the academia have been successful in defining the term “counterterrorism” in a complete “relevant” sense, however it continues to be used extensively in policy papers, draft policy suggestions drafted by think tank organizations, members of European Parliament and experts from the academia. Hence, to begin with policy makers must draw a “consensus” on defining a term broadly enough to be accepted globally and used thoroughly in internal proceedings making it easier for policy-centric organizations, think tanks, law enforcement and intelligence agencies to strengthen the “security mechanism” while reinforcing European Union’s commitment to combat terrorism. Moreover, policy makers must ensure “effective” inter-agency and intra-agency cooperation, while strengthening “security parameters” of “strategic” infrastructure, “effective” counter-terrorism legislations, while reinforcing “mechanism for border security” and putting close “vigilance” on terror recruitment and its financing.

It is important for policymakers to note that, terrorism is a “multi-faceted” issue and it is quite difficult for intelligence agencies to “systematically” segregate “principle factors” from “supporting factors” from the equation leading to actions of terror. However, during post-investigation these factors play a significant role in identifying the perpetrators, their allegiance tasking the responsibility for domestic and international counter-terrorism agencies to understand the methodologies. This puts an immense task on national and international counter-terror agencies to conclude by thoroughly assessing “evidences” which are reinforced by “effective analysis” from relevant actors. Moreover, security agencies which do not have a “clear operational mandate” or function without a specific objective or do not allocate available resources effectively and timely, may compromise an on-going investigation on terror. The “fall-out” of such investigations thoroughly effect “real-time” counter-terrorism policies, making it difficult for European security agencies to “effectively” coordinate and co-relate with each other.

Understanding EU’s counter-terror initiatives post 9/11

The European Union has accomplished much over a decade. Once considered by academia as an institution of “obsolete relevance”, followed by acts of violence induced in London, and Paris, today, EU is playing an active role in countering terror. Initiating series of counter terror policies, legislations, strategic dossiers, the European Union stands committed to counter terror by actively “cooperating and corelating” with individual member nations counter terror legislatures, while formulating a national counter-terrorism policy while aggressively supporting counter terror operations carried by individual member’s agencies.

In this context, the framework dossiers drafted by relevant agencies of the EU, looks “rhetorically” aggressive. On November 2001, the then European Council ratified and adopted the “Action Plan to Combat terror” while in December 2005, member nations of the EU again ratified on counter terror strategy in the aftermath of terror attacks on London and Madrid, highlights EU’s initiative to combat terror. The strategy was appreciated by many security agencies and experts from the academia, reinforcing EU’s security agencies to combat “terror recruitment and financing”. The United Nations Security Council, then adopted the European Security Strategy in 2003, making “terrorism” a leading factor on the “lists of threats” posed to the member nations of the EU which then member nations called for a review five years later. Terrorism was a key factor in the Internal Security Strategy which was ratified by member nations in 2010. However, policymakers should also note that inspite of aforementioned successful legislators, a gruesome attack on Paris was successfully carried out, that when security agencies received “credible” intelligence prior to the attack.

However, these attacks further strengthened European Union’s response to counter terrorism while highlighting the need to initiate series of “legal instruments” for member nations to counter such threat. Moreover, these attacks instigated series of “terror shock” which forced the general masses to question the legislators with a hope for “stringent replies”, since the threat was largely national, regional governments unanimously echoed for a “larger more aggressive unified response”.

Furthermore, many experts continue to question the alertness on European Union’s security and intelligence establishment, which seemed “untimely”, quite visible from the post-incidence assessment of the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo. Moreover, experts argue that, the security agency’s ability to successfully avert a terror attack, initiated quite late (the response time of CIA/NSA/DIA was quicker Post-9/11). The factors that forced security agencies to arrest the perpetrator before carrying out an attack were largely “domestic”, instigated by “repetitive” terror strikes. Many experts argue on the effectiveness of Lisbon treaty (which focusses on partnering with third world nations) while questioning the “internal architecture” and “legal jurisdictions” of security agencies such as the Europol, Eurojust, Interpol amid others while arguing the “absent” necessary political will needed to counter terrorism. In the light of “repetitive” terror attacks and ISIL’s significant loss of territories in Syria and Iraq, the terror attacks on Europe seems “dedicated” since NATO and its allies continue to carry operations and are on the verge to “capture” remaining occupied territories. Experts continue to argue on the traditional militant concept of “Europe as threat”, which terror factions such as Al-Nusra and Taliban continue to preach in their “not-so-frequent” recordings. However, within EU, the “traditional political consensus” persists even today with significant member nations pledging for extensive counter-terror actions, although, the action seems to be carried out by “limited” actors.

Many experts argue that European Union’s extensive participation and cooperation in counter-terrorism activities may also be credited to significant “external” factors. Enforcement of “smart sanctioning” policies while enforcing policies to extensively counter money laundering activities of these terror factions, resulted in the successful apprehension of major trans-national organized crime factions. This encouraged European political leaders to establish similar anti-money laundering policies from already established legislatures such as the FATF. Similarly, the EU adopted certain guidelines from the ICAO and the IMO guidelines to enforce domestic transportation security policies. Also, pressured from international organizations and the US, EU implemented trans-national partnership on security.

Policymakers must note that the fight re-enforced by the security agencies of the EU, is largely domestic. However, experts remain sceptical of EU’s “interest” in strengthening security and counter-terrorism partnership with third world countries. Moreover, the EU-US security partnership remains controversial; this has resulted in certain “apprehension” from member nations within EU, which further diminishes the interest of third world countries to extensively participate with EU.

(This is the first part of the two-part series article)