As the world continues its battle to end terrorism, why haven't the world's intelligence agencies started willingly sharing counter-terrorism information?
Currently, NATO has their hands full keeping the 28 NATO member countries up to date on raw, real-time terror risks, alerts, and threats. However, it is becoming readily apparent they cannot do it all. Even with help from the US sharing real-time, raw information with our allies in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is evident that the information stops there. However, it's not NATO's responsibility alone, let's not forget that Britain and France have their very own invasive domestic surveillance intelligence agencies.
We now live in an era where ISIS and other terror organizations have been allowed the time and freedom to increase their sharing capabilities, via burn phones, encrypted mobile texting apps, and chat-rooms. Allowing them access to gather and share real-time information. Why aren't countries fighting to defeat ISIS doing the same? Why are we still behind the curve?
In 2015, Europol was given new life by the European Union. Europol's main purposes were to collect, store, and share information about the thousands of potential terrorists, who travel freely between borders to engage in terrorism. There is hope that Europol can one day become a rival to the FBI.
The concept of twenty-eight European countries sharing information with each other, however, has never been a strong suit for the European Union. While European intelligence agencies are proficient at gathering counter-terrorism information, they are more interested in sharing their information with the US rather than the rest of Europe, including their bordering countries.
Does country's mistrust of each other come from Europol's location at The Hague? Or maybe the lack of trust comes from competition, jealousy or are countries afraid that sharing vital counter-terrorism intelligence equals giving up national sovereignty between countries. No matter the reasoning, Europol's intentions are being road blocked by its very influential members. Even Europol's website makes the claim that they are the European Union’s law enforcement agency. If they are unable to obtain inter-country compliance, communication, or at least, understanding the fundamentals of how the system works, nothing will change.
To realize the extent of just how much of Europol's capabilities continue to be wasted all one has to do is look at the numbers. In March 2016, only fourteen EU countries protected under Europol had registered terror suspects in the available database. While other countries who desire to participate in Europol's program have no idea how to manage, add information, or navigate the system. The most blatant example of the extent in which failure to use Europol's potential became apparent in the weeks after the Paris attacks. Only then did Belgium acknowledge, they had known there was an ISIS network based in a Brussels district notorious for planning terror attacks. This neighborhood contained the very group, who authorities later learned, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Had that information been entered into Europol, compiled with information from other Europol's security services regarding threats made against France, with the emphasis on the City of Paris in the weeks leading up to the attacks, the attack may have never inflicted the damage it did. However, the Belgian authorities didn't know how to properly use and disseminate the information that could have prevented the terror attacks from even happening.
There was hope the EU's system might be getting ahead of the terrorists in their backyards when British officials announced they had disrupted numerous terrorist plots in the months that followed. More promise was seen on March 9th when German officials announced they were in possession of more than 22,000 ISIS documents. Unfortunately, it was a false hope with a very short lifespan. When, during the early morning of March 22, 2016, more than one ISIS terror cell carried out near-simultaneous attacks at the Zaventem Airport. Then within the hour yet another ISIS cell successfully carried out an attack at the Maelbeek Metro Station. To make the situation worse, those involved in this attack, lived in and belonged to the same terror cell responsible for the Parisian attacks.
Earlier this year, the US announced new arrangements that were designed to pass threat information to France quicker and more often. Giving France the same raw intelligence that is close to the same real-time raw information the US was currently sharing with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Also, the CIA is attempting via back channels, to strengthen its counter-terrorism sharing capabilities with Russia.
While last year's Europol World Counter Terror Congress, pointed out the obvious greatest obstacle to the world's defeat of terrorism. That being the only way to win against terrorism is to work together. Although, countries have political differences, they must learn to work together against the common enemy, at least for now. Hopefully, this year’s Europol World Counter Terror Congress, will define operational strategies, and can find a common ground.