Germany and the US say better cooperation is needed to fight terrorism, but while Germany is advocating a "clearing house" to exchange information, the US says that idea won't work.
Tom Ridge wants more cooperation from Germany
Germany and the United States agree that closer intelligence-sharing is needed to fight terrorism, that there should be more cooperation on setting up passenger identification measures at entry points and protect their respective homelands from terrorist attacks. But how best to do this? That's where German Interior Minister Otto Schily and US Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge don't quite see eye to eye.
"There is a debate…whether we should create within the European Union a kind of European secret service. I find that rather too bold an idea," Schily said at a press conference in Berlin after talks with Ridge. "So I've argued that we should have a clearing house for Europe in order to guarantee such an exchange (of information)."
German Interior Minister Otto Schily speaks in the German Parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2001, during the debate on the new migration law. (AP Photo/Roberto Pfeil)
Before meeting with Ridge, Schily (photo)said in an interview with the Financial Times Deutschland that information sharing between the EU's various national police and intelligence departments still leaves much to be desired.
But Schily said a "clearing house" function could be achieved by pooling information from all police and security sources across the EU at the bloc's Europol police agency. Intelligence analysis would be shared at a processing center in Brussels. EU interior and justice ministers are still discussing the issue, he added.
US: Clearing house won't work
Ridge was skeptical about the clearing house concept, and said he didn't think it would work on a global basis.
"Historically, countries have shared information on a bilateral basis, for many varied and good reasons," he said. "The notion that there will be a multilateral central clearing house where all information is shared with all countries is a concept that I don't think, based on history, one could conclude would be the best way and the most appropriate way to share information."
Ridge said that the US and Germany had set up a working group to boost bilateral intelligence-sharing, and that some progress had been made in bilateral consultations on the introduction of biometric features such as fingerprints and iris scans for ID cards and passports. Another working group will be dealing with ways of how to better protect infrastructure in both countries against terrorist attacks.
Ridge also spoke of his department’s efforts to strike the right balance between security concerns and the facilitation of business and academic travel between Germany and the US. It's an issue that's become a source of frustration among Germans who need a visa to travel to the US, as new security measures have made the process more expensive and inconvenient. Starting on September 30, all EU citizens who travel to the US under the so-called visa waiver program will also feel the effects of the new measures, as they'll be fingerprinted and photographed.
German terror trials hampered
Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq is pictured in a courtroom on the third day of Motassadeq's retrial in Hamburg, northern Germany.
Schily and Ridge also commented on the German trials of two men suspected of having helped the Hamburg al Qaeda terrorist cell plan the September 11 terrorist attacks. Schily expressed understanding for US reluctance to allow testimony from key al Qaeda operatives in the trials of Moroccans Mounir el Motassadeq (photo) and Abdelghani Mzoudi, but said he hoped "some of these obstacles can be cleared up."
Motassadeq is being retried on more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder and membership in a terrorist organization after an appeals court threw out his 2003 conviction, saying he was unfairly denied testimony from suspects in US custody. The missing testimony was also a factor in February's acquittal of Mzoudi, who faced identical charges.
Despite expressions of regret from Washington at the lack of a conviction in either trial, US authorities are still refusing to allow testimony from Ramzi Binalshibh, who is believed to have been the liaison between al Qaeda and the Hamburg cell.
Ridge noted that the US and Germany "operate under the rule of law… and these rules may and do differ."
"There may be some expressed criticism or frustration, but that is almost secondary to the notion that there is a due process, there is a way of doing business," Ridge said. "We just accept it."