According to US security experts, the attacks in Brussels have exposed the catastrophic deficiencies of European security policy. They are calling for radical changes. Gero Schliess reports from Washington.
What has long been an open secret among US intelligence experts, is now, in the wake of the deadly attacks in Brussels, being widely discussed in the US media: The inability of Europeans to protect themselves.
New York Times: 'Belgium is a failed state'
The "New York Times" (NYT) wrote that the most recent terrorist attacks in Belgium had shaken European security and increased the fear of failure among its intelligence agencies. The newspaper, as well as many other media outlets, claimed that international terrorism was making the old continent constantly vulnerable. It went on to write that in spite of feverish efforts by police and intelligence services following last year's Paris attacks, authorities had been unable to prevent this week's attacks in Brussels.'
The general tenor of media assessments is that Belgium's "overstretched intelligence services" can hardly hold "deeply rooted terrorist networks" in check. The NYT article went so far as to call Belgium "the world's wealthiest failed state." David Ignatius, one of America's most respected security experts, actually broadened that caustic criticism to include the whole of the European Union in a "Washington Post" opinion piece. His assessment: "Brussels shows Europe's shockingly dysfunctional approach to security."
The White House was more reserved, speaking of "significant challenges," and saying that in light of the heightened threat it was now "more important than ever" that European authorities strengthen cooperation amongst themselves. From an American point of view it is exactly that aspect which, despite many assurances, is still lacking.
"The recent attacks have clearly demonstrated that there are still many blind spots between European security agencies," as Carl Hvenmark Nilsson of the Brookings Institute's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told DW. "There is no comprehensive and meaningful exchange of information among them," he said, and he criticized the existence of "intelligence services rivalries" between, and even within, member states.
The Americans never had much faith in Europe's security and intelligence services, with the possible exceptions of France's and Great Britain's. Ignatius acknowledges that Germany's intelligence services are "competent," but they do not take advantage of their strengths due to a lack of political and public support. Nevertheless, the USA does not trust any of the other European countries at all in this regard.
Now there is great concern that Europe's stability will be jeopardized long-term by continuing terror attacks. In the "Washington Post" Ignatius wrote that, "Europe is facing a security threat that's unprecedented in its modern history," and points to the growing number of radicalized "foreign fighters" returning from the Middle East. He makes the case that, "The European Union needs to reinvent its security system," otherwise the continent risks sinking into fear and chaos.
US experts call for radical reforms
Many US security experts see only one solution to the problem: The intelligence services of individual member states must finally bid farewell to the arrogance and jealousy that has characterized their attitudes toward one another. "We need a rigorous approach when it comes to the exchange of intelligence services information," Nilsson said. He added that a faster "horizontal" flow of information was essential. Currently, European authorities are moving at a very slow pace, much like the FBI and CIA prior to 9/11.
But US media outlets do not solely hold the Europeans responsible for the current threat situation. According to Ignatius' analysis, "The failure of the US-led coalition to contain the jihadists" is the deeper cause for the situation. He, too, would like to see intelligence services work in closer cooperation, and to this end says, "the US should take the lead in bringing them together."
Further attacks 'quite likely'
Additionally, there have been many calls for the Europeans to return to controlling their national borders in an effort to combat terrorism. Nilsson does not agree. For that would endanger the European ideal, and "send the message that the attacks were successful" in their declared goal of spreading fear among the Europeans.
However, even if all of the demands that security experts have put forth were quickly implemented, it would still take a long time before the security situation in Europe showed a sustained improvement. Nilsson can offer little hope: The fact that Europe will be the target of further terrorist attacks, he says, is "quite likely."