European investigators have called for more efficient cooperation in the fight against terrorism. But conflicts of interests and privacy issues, especially in Germany, are undermining investigations.
Otto Schily's call for security reform in Germany fell on deaf ears
Just days after European investigators called for "sharper tools" and better intelligence-sharing in the war on terror, Germany's attempts to adhere to these calls has come up against a brick wall of the government's making.
Interior minister Otto Schily, who addressed a security conference in Wiesbaden on Tuesday, told those attending that he was confident of forcing through constitutional changes to give the Federal Crime Office -- the Bundeskriminalamt or BKA -- more "preventive powers," including those which would allow German security forces to tap suspects' telephones.
But by Thursday, Schily was left frustrated at the unwillingness of the German government to reform the security services. Powers which would give the BKA the ability to mount the increasingly sensitive and intrusive investigations Schily recommends in the fight against terrorism would have to be agreed upon by the government, a course of action it is not willing to take at the moment.
Schily's plan to create a central terror suspect database is also causing controversy. The federal police and intelligence services have already had their headquarters moved to Berlin as part of a drive to improve coordination, an initial part of the plan to centralize information on suspected Muslim extremists.
False accusation fears
The rights of Germany's three million muslims could be compromised.
But the creation of a central database for Muslim fundamentalists is controversial, both with Germany's more than three million Muslims and with privacy watchdogs. Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar told the security conference this week that Muslims considered to be "extremists" must not be listed in such a database unless there was concrete evidence of links to terrorism.
However, tensions were increased when top intelligence officials countered that view, claiming suspects could always be removed later if terrorist involvement was ruled out. "We shouldn't let (militants) exploit our freedom and data protection rules," said Rüdiger von Fritsch, deputy head of the foreign intelligence agency.
The privacy issue aside, the creation of a centralized intelligence agency has increased tensions between the government and the16 German states, all of which have their own police and security forces. At the moment, each of the German states is responsible for its own investigations into terrorist activities, something Schily wants to reform in a bid to compile a nationwide network of efficient data collection and exchange under a BKA banner.
Conflict with Germany hindering process
Speaking at the security conference, BKA chief Jörg Ziercke (photo, with Schily) said that the current situation often forced the agency to take a back seat to police forces in the federal states.
"If we receive highly sensitive threat information, we don't want to get into long discussions with the states on whether they have the resources to launch surveillance if I have the resources to do that myself," he told journalists.
The German bickering highlighted the problems facing the EU countries in the fight against terrorism in regard to speed of investigation and action.
French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere told the conference that the bureaucracy was undoing a lot of the good work being undertaken by European investigations. "We must act in real time," he told the conference. "Very often it takes much too long for appropriate action to be taken. We must position ourselves so a house search can be carried out within the hour."
European initiatives suffering
Europe's struggle to overhaul anti-terrorism cooperation since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in the United States has been hampered partly by the reluctance of security services to circulate intelligence information in a European Union of 25 countries for fear of compromising sources.
The creation of a smoothly aligned Europe-wide network of investigative organizations gained importance after the Madrid train bombings on March 11 this year.
"We cannot deal with this threat on a local or national level ... It's about pooling and sharing intelligence on a cross-agency basis," Bruguiere said.
Agencies like the EU police body Europol had "not reached their full potential yet," he added. Europol has been under an acting director since the summer because member countries continue to argue over a successor.