EU must face loss of freedoms, terror isn't going away - terrorism expert
Europe has been plagued and hit hard by extremist and jihadist ideologies. With its security forces seemingly unable to prevent bombings, many are looking to Israel’s long experience in dealing with Islamic radicals for answers. How can terrorists be stopped, especially those that don’t fear death? How many more security agencies are needed? And where’s the fine line between necessary checks and investigations and abandoning democratic, liberal values? We ask a director of the National Institute for Counter-Terrorism, and former consultant to the Israeli government - Dr. Boaz Ganor is on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Dr. Boaz Ganor, founder and director of the National Institute for Counter-Terrorism, former consultant to the Israeli government on counter-terror, welcome to the show, great to have you with us. Now, that the terror acts in Brussels have been thoroughly analyzed, Belgium’s law enforcement has sort of come in for a lot of criticism, and they knew the attackers, the city was on lockdown, and yet it still happens. Is this a one-off grave mistake by the security services or a systematic underestimation of the threat?
Boaz Ganor: Security services, police departments all over the world, they are aware of the problem of terrorism, but they still have the challenge to comprehend what are the new aspects and dimensions of modern phenomenon, especially, I am talking about the challenges which are coming from ISIS and from foreign fighters and homegrown terrorists, actually, today, all over the world, in Muslim countries, in Arab countries, in the Western countries, and on all possible continents.
SS: But let's talk specifics. Israel has decades of experience fighting terrorism. It is said that a terrorist won’t survive for 10 seconds in Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. I’ve been to Ben Gurion and, yeah, the security is pretty rough, but it doesn’t have, like, a gun squads standing on every corner. Are there armed plainclothes agents in airport, invisible to you and me, who are ready to intervene at any moment?
BG: The most important factor is public awareness. You can have special squads, you can have trained counter-terrorism experts, but if the public turn a blind eye and doesn’t notice suspicious behaviour, abandoned objects, and so forth, it will be very difficult for the different agencies to deal with this phenomena. I think that what makes Israel unique is that the public in Israel, in general, is aware to the threat of terrorism. And this is a force multiplier for the police, for the security services and so and so forth.
SS: Yeah, but I want to hear some specific things, like, if we talk about methods, for example - because everyone is always referring to Israel and Israeli airports after these terrorist attacks. Since its not possible to thoroughly check each and every person entering an airport, how do you tell which ones should be checked? I mean, public awareness is a good thing, but you know, public can possibly see a terrorist in every person as well. Public can miss something too.
BG: First of all, nobody is totally, 100% safe and secure, and Israel as well, I have to say that. But having said that, there’s a few circles of security that needed to be used in order to have more efficiency in counter-terrorism, and Israel is doing that. The first circle, maybe the most important circle in counter-terrorism, is intelligence. If you wait until the terrorists are getting to the target place, if it’s an airport, if it’s a crowded place or whatever it is, it is too late, especially when you’re talking about the suicide attacker. Even if you identify a suicide attacker after he infiltrated into a secured compound, again, it could be an airport for that matter, it is too late. Even if you will approach him, even if you will try to neutralize him, he will probably press the button and not kill the number of people that he wanted to, maybe less, but still it will cause a lot of casualties and damage. So, intelligence is a key factor. You need to know about the intentions of the terrorists before they conduct the attack.
SS: Would you say the security guards who are at the border in Israel, who actually are at the passport control, are they part of the intelligence? What’s the security is looking for in the interview? Do they have certain key questions they have to ask, and what kind of reactions are they looking for? Because I’ve never been so heavily interviewed as on the border of Israel, so I’m wondering, is this a special force that sits there to interview people or is it just security guards?
BG: The security guards are not intelligence officers, but they need to get an intelligence warning and they will be much more effective in what they do. They need to identify few individuals within the crowd. Those people that behave suspiciously, based on experience, based on previous knowledge of how those terrorists behave. Then, the next stage, when they are coming through the security counter, and are being interviewed - and in Israel, every passenger who’s getting to the airport, in the end of the day, finds himself being interviewed before climbing the airplane - there are few questions that the Israeli security guards are asking each one of those passengers. The answers are important, but much more important than the answers themselves, is the behaviour of the person while he’s answering. When you see some signs of tension, of hesitation, of confusion, or you’re getting wrong answers, then you can take this person and have a much more in depth interview and look into his things in more in depth way than you would do with a regular passenger.
SS: What happens if a terrorist acts before anybody questions them? For instance, in Brussels, what happened was that they didn’t go through customs…
BG: That’s true, and actually, in Brussels, they found one of the most fragile parts of the airport security - this is before the terrorists reach the security check. For that matter, you need to have the circle of security of the airport itself, meaning the gates for the cars, the gates for the passengers just getting into the lobby of the airport itself. You need to have people there and you need to have security services of two types: those that are seen, in order to deter the terrorists, wearing uniforms, having weapons, in a way that a terrorist would notice them, and maybe, in collecting intelligence, before conducting the attack, they would decide that it is too risky to try to get into that place; and, second are the concealed security personnel, which are walking without uniforms, with civilian clothes, and trying to allocate those people before they are getting into the crowded places themselves. They should be in the distant circle of security and not the internal circle of security. This might prevent the attack. But, again, the main factor is getting intelligence and preventing the attack before they reach the airport itself.
SS: So, after the terrorist is finally identified, how do you go about detaining them? Are they shot on the spot? Have there been cases of mistaken identity by the Israeli security forces? For instance, remember, after the London bombings in Britain, a Brazilian man was shot the next morning, mistakenly.
BG: The main problem is with a certain type of terrorist attacks that now threatens the whole world: and I am talking about the suicide attackers. The suicide attacker doesn’t care for his life, he wants to die. Therefore, if you approach the suicide attacker, if you would identify a person, or a suspect for that matter, and you would approach him, you would not be able to neutralize him, because he will press the button, he will kill you and he will kill anybody who is in the immediate surrounding. Neutralizing the suicide attacker is possible only from distance, in a way that you’re secured because of the distance, and the second thing is that shooting a suspect and wounding him would not solve the problem. Unfortunately, you need to shoot to kill, in order to prevent the suicide attack. This, of course, might cause the unfortunate circumstances in which innocent suspects are not just going to be hurt, they might be even killed in the process as it was in Britain, as you well noted.
SS: So, in Israel it is accepted as a fact that you need to give up some degree of comfort for the sake of security and saving lives. Standing in lines for questioning, going through additional security checks… Do you think that’s a sacrifice Europeans are ready to accept?
BG: Well, if they are not ready, they will be ready in the future, because terrorism is not going to disappear. Actually, just the opposite: what we see is a deteriorating situation and I, unfortunately, tend to believe that the attacks that we saw in Paris and Brussels are not secluded and we’re going to see many more of those attacks in Europe. Once the challenge of terrorism grows, you need to find the ability to pay the price of inconvenience. This has to do with standing in lines and asking questions and holding an ID card, that, unfortunately, Europeans would need to get used to.
SS: The Brussels terror attack was a double-strike, right after the airport was hit, the Metro bombing happened. When a terrorist attack goes off, what needs to happen straight after? Is it possible to prevent a swift second attack?
BG: That’s a great question. The first question that I ask myself when a terrorist attack occurs: “Is this is a personal initiative attack or an organized attack?”. If this is an attack which is conducted by a lone wolf, which may be inspired by terrorist organisation, or is this an attack that is planned and prepared by terrorist organisation and is executed by activists of a terrorist organisation. In the first case, usually, it will be in one place. It could be a lone wolf, it could be a group of family or friends that will conduct the attack in one place, in most cases. Organized attacks may occur in different parts of the city, on different targets altogether. So, the first question you need to answer to yourself “is it lone wolf attack or an organized attack?”, and the first thing that you do, as you asked what should be done immediately after the attack occurs, is, again, collecting intelligence, forensic information, try to understand what bomb was used, or what gun, who has it, and from that you should conclude whether there are people that are associated with that attack, other members of this organisation which may be planning another attack and behave accordingly.
SS: You’ve mentioned how important intelligence work is to prevent terrorism. Is infiltration and undercover work in terror cells more efficient in predicting attacks than relying only on monitoring communications?
BG: When you talk about intelligence in general and counter-terrorism intelligence in particular, mainly, what you have in mind are two sources of intelligence - it could be human or comm. Human resources or communication resources. And I would that say that both resources have proved in the past to be very important and useful in preventing terrorist attacks. But this is mainly in reference to the organised attacks, when the organisation plans, prepares and executes the attack. In lone wolf attacks, usually, no intel is useful, because the planning and the preparation of the attack starts and ends with a sick mind of one person, or maybe, two people altogether. So, here, what we found recently, is that open sources intelligence, and, especially, social network information, might be used in order to predict a terrorist attack. In several cases the lone wolves gave a warning, using facebook, twitter, and so forth, that they are planning to do something about that, and this is another possible source of intelligence.
SS: The Paris and Brussels attackers were extremists known to police. Some of them went to Syria to fight and then they came back. They openly talked about it on the Internet. Shouldn’t this be enough to take action? I mean, how do you make sure security services act on the info they have?
BG: That’s a great question, and, yes, you are right. In many cases we see that the terrorists that conduct the attack are not unknown to the security services. In some cases, by the way, they were criminals that engaged in petty crime, spent time in jail, have been radicalized in jail and then went out. The main problem is the quantity. Take, for example, the Belgian security services. They have, what, about 150-200 foreign fighters that they know that came back to Belgium. Now, each one of these people, you need to follow them 24/7. They don’t have the resources to do that, and this is only the people that they know about. What about those that they don’t know about? That’s why I say that the only solution for that matter is a new European joint venture. I am not talking about better cooperation, I am talking about a joint apparatus that will help countries that have more problems, by giving them more efficient manpower: security services, police, and so on and so forth. Belgium should get that from other European countries which are efficient in doing that.
SS: You know, during the left-wing terror attacks of the 70s, terrorists usually detonated explosives from a distance, or hijacked a plane and then landed somewhere where they will be safe. Now, there’s some expectations they will die in the attack. How do you counter something… How does the counter-terrorism technique change, when your enemy isn’t afraid of death? He’s there to die.
BG: It may be the biggest challenge for counter-terrorism. It brings me back to my first idea. It’s very difficult to prevent an attack after the attacker was sent to his mission, because he isn’t afraid to die. That’s why you need to prevent the attack before the attacker was sent onto his mission. That’s why you need good intelligence, that’s why you need efficient security services that will apprehend the attacker and people which are working with him before the attack is conducted, and this is why targeted killing is necessary in some cases, when you are trying to prevent the attack by killing the perpetrator before he was sent to his mission. In a ticking bomb situation, after he was sent to his mission, it’s almost impossible to prevent the attack.
SS:Do you think European security forces will be reluctant to enact practices seen as “unfairly targeting Muslims”? Is racial profiling justified when there’s the danger of terrorism?
BG: You know, being an Israeli, travelling in the U.S., I find myself in many cases being taken out of the line of security in the American airport, and being called for a “random” security check. Why? Because I’m holding an Israeli passport. Well, it caused me some inconvenience, but I’m saying to myself: “So what?” - If this is my contribution to the American security at that particular point of time, I’m doing that happily. Unfortunately security engages inconvenience, and the question is how much inconvenience? If I would’ve been apprehended unlawfully, I wouldn’t support that. But if somebody stops me for one moment, asks me two questions and then decides to let me go on - well, this is some kind of inconvenience. Unfortunately, I believe that the European countries and other countries around the world would need to cause more inconvenience to innocent people in order to find the bad seeds and the terrorists with this malintentions that they have.
SS: Now, in one of your articles, you mentioned that democratic dilemma that emerges from the need to up the war on terror and the desire to preserve existing liberal-democratic values. Do democratic freedoms always need to be sacrificed for the sake of security? Is that happening in Israel? Do you see that happening in Europe?
BG: Thank you for asking that. Unfortunately my answer is positive. Some people tend to turn a blind eye - I recall well President Obama in his inauguration speech in 2008 was saying along the lines: “We regard it as false that there’s a contradiction between our values and our security”. I beg to differ. I wrote a PhD on that, 300 pages, and it all describes this tension between our international community security and our liberal-democratic values. Even President Obama today, when he had a problem with Apple in contradiction to the privacy of the customers of Apple, understood that there’s a need to find a balance, a fragile balance between those two ends. The only question is, do you neglect one side? You’ll think: “I’m clinging to my liberal-democratic values, I turn a blind eye to the security - or I’m clinging to the security and turning a blind eye to the liberal-democratic values”. None is the solution of terrorism in liberal democracy. The solution is finding a right balances. Sacrificing as little as possible liberal-democratic values for security, sacrificing some, hopefully little, security in order to guard your liberal-democratic values. That’s the art of counter-terrorism.
SS: Now, you believe Europe needs to reassess its migrant policies and border controls. But, the threat is not coming from the new arrivals, we are seeing attacks carried out by people of migrant descent but the are European citizens, they were born and raised in Europe. Why is the terrorist threat, so distant and foreign to European values, coming from inside Europe itself?
BG: I’ve conducted an interesting research about 5 years in reference to Europe and I found that the main problem of terrorism is that the perpetrators of terrorism, the immigrants, are mainly not the first generation immigrants, we are talking about the second and the third generation of immigrants, which have been creating the homegrown terrorism phenomenon in Europe. That means that as much as Europe has a problem today of foreign fighters coming back to Europe via the new enormous wave of immigration, this is chicken feed compared to the problem that the second generation of immigrants will pose to Europe. Why? Because the first generation, in most cases, those are people which were hoping to improve their life by immigrating to Europe. Although the conditions of an immigrant are difficult conditions, they are very happy and satisfied with the situation because their hope was fulfilled. Second generation, they actually were born into a new situation. Nobody gave them a favor by granting the citizenship of the state, and they are not assimilated into the society, they feel themselves as second-grade citizens, and therefore, they turn into violence, and this is being taken by the terrorist organisation that provokes them to conduct terrorist attacks. So, yes, there’s a problem with the immigration, but mainly, in my view, the worst is yet to come.
SS:Thank you so much for this interview and this insight. We were talking to Dr. Boaz Ganor, the founder and director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, former counter-terrorism advisor to the Israeli government. We were discussing strategies against extremism and the techniques that can be used to prevent terrorist attacks from happening. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.