Keeping Europe Safe

Counterterrorism for the Continent

En garde! Near the Eiffel Tower, Paris, March 2016. Reuters / Philippe Wojazer

Just before 11 PM on Thursday, July 14, a 19-ton truck turned onto a seaside promenade in Nice, France, where crowds had gathered to watch Bastille Day fireworks. The truck sped up, plowing into the people on the promenade. By the time French police shot the driver, the truck had traveled 1.1 miles, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds more. That attack came less than four months after three terrorists killed 32 people in explosions in the departure hall of Brussels Airport and a metro car near Brussels’ Maelbeek subway station. And it came eight months after a group of young men killed 130 people in Paris, in the deadliest attack on France since World War II. The self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, claimed responsibility for all three attacks.

These attacks have exposed deep flaws in continental Europe’s approach to counterterrorism. European intelligence agencies do not share information with one another fast enough. Europe’s porous borders allow terrorists to cross the continent with ease. Other European governments have lagged behind the United Kingdom in developing capabilities and legal frameworks for digital intelligence gathering and in cultivating effective cooperation between their many agencies.

In the aftermath of the attacks, continental Europe now has a unique opportunity to reform its intelligence infrastructure. Its leaders recognize the need for action. After the Paris attacks, French President François Hollande imposed a state of emergency, declaring that “France is at war.” A French parliamentary commission of inquiry into the Paris attack concluded that Europe was not up to the task of fighting terrorism, identifying failures in French intelligence and in the communication between intelligence and law enforcement bodies. Belgian authorities have accepted that their counterterrorism policies are inadequate: the Belgian interior and justice ministers offered their resignations over the evident failures in Belgian intelligence.

European governments must now commit to lasting reforms, ramping up investment and breaking down barriers to information sharing. The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the EU will not make things easier. Yet it also

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