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article imageOp-Ed: Blaming Belgium — The intelligence test everyone’s failing

By Paul Wallis     Mar 24, 2016 in World
Brussels - The catty and stupid process of queuing up to blame Belgium for its hideous experience in the recent terror attacks is a symptom of failure. The problem isn’t Belgium; it’s lousy logic and worse working dynamics in global intelligence.
The level of argument in the accusations against Belgium isn’t at all impressive. For example — new information indicates Turkey deported one of the attackers, a Belgian citizen, to the Netherlands, and informed the Dutch and Belgian governments that he was a jihadist. The Turkish president said the Belgians couldn’t identify a link to terrorism.
The fact is that the Belgian authorities may not have had the chance. Anyone who’s ever worked in any government agency will tell you that providing information is one thing; where that information goes, and how it’s used, is something quite else. Everything was done according to the proper procedures, and it still didn’t work.
Border crossings are another issue where apparently Europe has “failed” to the point where everybody else is suddenly beyond reproach. There are countless border crossing points in Europe in an area roughly the size of the mainland United States. Can people move from one US state to another without being noticed by intelligence organizations? From a French province to another? Realistically, tracking people isn’t about borders. It’s about tracking people.
Who knows what? Why, when and where?
The different European nations have differing national intelligence capabilities. Unlike the U.S., UK and France, the intelligence capacities of the other nations come from a very different, local rather than international, perspective. Consider for a moment — if you were a Belgian intelligence agency, what would be your focus? People smuggling, or a handful of roaming jihadis in other countries out of millions of aliens, legal or otherwise? The priorities are naturally different, and they couldn’t possibly fund or operate huge intelligence networks on the same scale.
It’s noticeable that countries which have experienced attacks have much beefed-up intelligence networks with capabilities far in excess of the smaller nations. Whether these nations cooperate with their smaller neighbors, or whether the flow and access of information is able to deliver critical information when needed, are the questions.
Is it realistic to assume that other nations have those advanced capabilities is a question with a simple answer. It’s not, and never has been. Would you expect Belgium to have the same capacity as the American National Security Agency?
Belgium has a jihadi problem, for sure. So does Europe. The actual numbers in Belgium aren’t well defined, and Belgium, like most countries, isn’t actually on a war footing, with even local laws preventing security raids between 9PM and 5AM. The criticisms, however, seem to assume that these terrorists are easy targets who would naturally be caught in routine procedures. They’re not. They’re highly mobile and agile, with a network of support in and outside the tough zone of Molenbeek. How does any of that make it “easy” for Belgium to manage terrorists?
The double standards here are that the other attacks in Europe were somehow unavoidable, but the Belgians “should” have been able to prevent attacks when nobody else did, either. How? Would all of the attackers have been caught in any of the “should have” scenarios?
When intelligence is stupid.
The world is making a series of fundamental, stupid mistakes in terms of managing intelligence:
• It cannot be simply assumed that the people who need intelligence information will have it when they need it. These attacks and the Madrid, Paris and London attacks were as much a result of that assumption as any other cause.
• Nobody can act on information they don’t have, or which is effectively buried in some mountain of data. The flow of information basically dictates its effectiveness.
• Intelligence assessments of threats and people vary considerably between individual experts, let alone nations. A same page environment doesn’t exist in this sense, and needs to be created.
• The many wise current song and dance routines regarding better intelligence cooperation don’t seem to be mentioning how this is to be achieved. Bleating self-righteously is one thing; getting things done is another. Enough talk. Get on with it.
Europe, ironically, has a very simple way of fixing its intelligence issues which it’s not using. It’s a little-known organization called NATO. It has a built-in, experienced, and highly advanced way of managing data and information in real time. It’s plugged in at national and operational levels. That’s what NATO is supposed to do, in military terms, and it’s had some experience in recent years.
Adapting local intelligence into the NATO framework is the obvious move. Information can be properly shared, strategically and operationally coordinated, and made cohesive to meet real needs. This information can also be coordinated with American and allied information management on the same basis. No-brainer? Yep.
Accusing the Belgians and their many dead and maimed of negligence in this haphazard/whatever/wherever environment is absurd. It’s also downright repulsive and astonishingly insensitive.
“Intelligence failures” have a habit of relating to failures of intellect and management, not failures of people trying to do their jobs with whatever half-ass resources are available.
For those who’ve forgotten — the idea of the war against terrorism is to win, not merely breed smug press releases. Can we now get on with the main game, and leave the grandstanding to reality shows?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about War on Terror, Brussels terror attacks 2016, European Union security, Nato
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