Terrorism and individual freedom: after Detroit new strategies in the United States and Europe?

The speech where President Obama took full responsibility of the administration’s failure to prevent the aborted attack to the Detroit fight, confirms, if there were any doubts, the firmness and quality of the civic and political debate in the other side of the Atlantic.

By publicly recognising the administration’s liability and, more importantly, taking measures to tackle the loops the strong authority of a country that after 9/11 has made of the fight against terrorism its main priority has been confirmed.

Indeed, this country never witnessed a direct attack to its territory and had never had a ministry of home affairs up to that moment however it has put into place an impressive amount of reforms to promote the cooperation between dozens of administrations traditionally jealous of their own liberty of action in just a few years.

For instance, the intelligence reforms introduced by the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Acto (FISA) allocate impressive financial resources (85 billion dollars were allocated for civilian and military intelligence in 2008 according to authoritative sources) forcing agencies to share restricted data.

Thereof, the ‘need to share’ principle is now established. It forces public administrations to share national security information modifying what had previously established by ‘need to know’ principle which restricted the access to ‘classified’ information to a limited circle of individuals.

This represents a Copernican revolution for Agencies such as CIA, FBI and the imposing although less popular agency responsible for the systematic interception of worldwide communications the NSA (National Security Agency). In addition, a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) has been established to ensure that common procedures are intelligence information are exchanged and analysed via an integrated platform.

Here NCTC serves as the principal advisor to the DNI on intelligence operations and analysis related to counterterrorism, by swiftly integrating information collected by the agencies and federal administrations.

The truth  is that the analysis of nominatives has become increasingly complex now that more than half million names have been combined in the one-stop searchable system ‘Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment’ (TIDE). Indeed, the European Union first and the United States then have raised doubts on the ability to promptly draw logical connections between the information scattered by terabyte of data (“connecting the dots”).

Others (especially those unhappy with the last changes adopted) observe even more cynically that it would be appropriate to review the reform under way and make sure that bureaucracy issues will not be solved using…additional bureaucratic filters.

On the other hand, representatives from the Heritage Foundation, which supported the Bush Administration, blindly ‘took up the cudgels’ the Homeland Security Department ‘s decisions and firmly criticised the Congress (now with a Democratic majority) of having a limited understanding of the issue.

As a result, it is likely that after the Congress hearing new measures will be taken (maybe by decentralising decisions to the country of origin of the attacker).

Concerning Europe, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security will meet the home affairs ministers of the European Union on January 22 to reinforce the already close Transatlantic cooperation in the field of internal security and intelligence.

It is likely that after the recent memorandum of understanding signed on 28 October 2009, and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, this meeting will influence the debate over the internal security strategy of the European Union.

For instance, it is not a coincidence that already under the Spanish Presidency the Committee for Internal Security (COSI art. 71 TFEU) has put forward the idea of creating a more dynamic European centre compared to the Situation Centre (SITCEN) which currently assist the High Representative of the EU and comparable to the NCTC of the United States. Obviously a parallelism between the two structures is almost impossible.

However, it could represents an important stimulus to enhance the cooperation between big and small intelligence services of the Member States within the framework of the ‘Swedish initiative’ (*) and, at the same time, to reinforce the cooperation with the European agencies of Europol and Eurojust. EDC (*) Council Framework Decision 2006/960/JHA on simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities of the Member States of the European Union (the “Swedish Initiative”).

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