The Corner

Brexit, Belgium and the EU Security Model

Former CIA (and NSA) director Michael Hayden does not seem to share John McCain’s bizarre belief that “the need for a strong and united Europe is greater than ever”:

The BBC explains:

 Mr Hayden said the standard of security services across Europe was “very uneven”. France and Britain had “very good” services, he said, while in Scandinavia, they were “good but smaller”. The rest of Europe had “small” services and Belgium’s, in particular, was “small, under-resourced and legally limited – and frankly working for a government that has its own challenges in overall governance”. He said he agreed with Sir Richard [Dearlove] that leaving the EU could boost Britain’s security. Mr Hayden said: “I don’t mean to be arguing against the European Union, but the union is not a natural contributor to national security to each of the entity states. “In fact in some ways [it] gets in the way of the state providing security for its own citizens.” He rejected a suggestion that the UK leaving the EU would affect the US’s ability to co-operate with national security services, adding that European security services were “more forthcoming with us than they are with one another”. “We are a huge security service and each sees their national interests as being well served by having a productive relationship with us and, frankly, the same math does not apply to other services on the continent,” he said.

Richard Dearlove?

He’s the former head of MI6 who recently embarrassed the Bremain camp by arguing, all too convincingly, that the security risks posed by a Brexit were “low”.  I discussed that comment, and what came next here and here.

But let’s follow the trail highlighted by Hayden’s comments about the “governance” of Belgium. Here’s EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger, quoted in Politico:

“We must clearly address the shortcomings of the Belgian security services,” the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society told German newspaper Bild. His comments were posted on the daily’s website late Wednesday. “In Brussels alone there are several different police agencies, which do not cooperate sufficiently,” Oettinger was quoted as saying. “This cannot continue.”

Writing in Prospect, David Patrikarakos, unpacks matters further:

The Paris terror attacks of November last year… were planned in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, an area long known to intelligence agencies as hotbed of radicalisation.

I wrote about Molenbeek here, here, and (in 2006) here, but the failure to address its problems were the product of more than a matter of complacency, denial, Saudi money, Islamism, mass immigration and the politics of multiculturalism, although those were toxic enough.

Thus there’s this from John Schindler, writing in the New York Observer:

[I]ts very status as a Jihadistan of sorts gave Belgium a degree of protection until very recently. While mass-casualty attacks struck across Europe since 9/11…Belgium was left nearly unscathed. Radicals appreciated that Brussels, being lax in security matters, was granting them de facto sanctuary to plot attacks elsewhere. This was a deal that the terrorists sensibly saw no point in disrupting.

None of this is new. A quarter century ago, back in the early 1990s, Belgium developed robust clandestine networks of jihadists, heavily of North African origin, dedicated to supporting the Armed Islamic Group (GIA, an early joiner with Osama Bin Laden’s global movement) and its bloody war back in Algeria. Belgian intelligence paid less attention to GIA networks than later seemed warranted because the jihadists were plotting terrorism elsewhere—seldom if ever in Belgium…

Thus when Belgian-based terrorists caused mayhem in France in the mid-1990s, including a wave of bombings in Paris, Brussels helped French intelligence catch the bad guys but undertook no serious dismantling of jihadist networks in Belgium. Over time this problem metastasized, and with the rise of ISIS in recent years, including hundreds of Belgian citizens going to the Middle East to wage holy war for the Islamic State, the threat has grown exponentially.

But back to Patrikarakos:

Brussels has 19 communes (boroughs), each of which, until recently, had its own police force. This organisational foolishness was partially rectified when the authorities slimmed the 19 down to six, but it remains an absurdity in a city of under 1.5m people. Such decentralisation does not lend itself well to cracking down on jihadist threats, where the sharing and pooling and collating of information is a vital part of countering and then neutralising the threat.

The story of the country’s intelligence services is even more depressing. After the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that the Belgian secret service (the Staatsveiligheid) was unable even to fill its desired quota of intelligence officers—a mere 750: totally inadequate to deal with the existent danger. This is a country wholly unequipped to deal with an ever-increasing jihadist threat.

But what is most worrying is that these problems are not localised. That is to say, they cannot be fixed by focusing attention to a specific area. They are, rather, the effect of overarching structural problems that strafe the Belgian state. The ethnic, linguistic and bureaucratic fault lines that divide Brussels and Flanders, the Flemish and Walloons, have made effective governance of Belgium almost impossible.

Indeed they have.  The citizens of today’s Belgium would be far safer if their divided country was split up into nations that reflected its ethnic, political and linguistic reality, nations that would possess the authentic democratic legitimacy to take the security measures that the fractured Belgian state is unable to take.

And yet Belgium is often seen as an EU in miniature.  The more unified Europe that John McCain and, of course, Barack Obama (a reliable cheerleader for every supranationalist idiocy) endorse, would inevitably be plagued by similar levels of institutionalized distrust.  As such, it would be a danger to those doomed to live within its borders.  And yet the cries for “more Europe” grow ever louder.

To quote John Schindler, “even the best intelligence cannot compensate for political failings on an epic scale”.

Do not forget those words. 

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