French Intelligence Reform

The Counterterrorism Commission Won't Prevent the Next Attack

Burning candles, messages, and a drawing pay tribute to victims of the truck attack along the Promenade des Anglais on Bastille Day that killed scores and injured as many in Nice, France, July 17, 2016. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

France is once again in a period of mourning. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s truck rampage on July 14 was the fifth Islamist terrorist attack in France that has led to a loss of life since January 2015. Nearly 150 people were killed in Islamist terror attacks in France last year; after this week’s barbarism in Nice, we are over half way to hitting that number again.

It is sobering to realize that 2016’s death count could have been much higher. Consider the case of Ayoub el-Khazzani, who unsuccessfully tried to gun down commuters on the Thalys train to Paris; of Tarek Belgacem and Bertrand Nzohbonayo, who struck police officers with a meat cleaver and a knife, respectively; or the soldiers targeted outside a mosque in Valence and the Jewish community center in Nice in January and February of this year. All these plots flew under the police and intelligence radar yet either resulted in no casualties or were stopped by active duty officers or quick-thinking civilians once the attack got underway.

There is no doubt that security agencies are overburdened, have an exceptionally difficult job, and thwart more plots than not; it is often noted that “we need to get lucky every time; the terrorists only need to get lucky once,” and that is indeed true. But in France, the terrorists have not gotten lucky just once; they are getting lucky time and again. In other words, it is obviously not luck that is on their side.

The name Mohamed Lahoualej Bouhlel is seen on a plate outside the building where he lived in Nice, France, July 17, 2016.
The name Mohamed Lahoualej Bouhlel is seen on a plate outside the building where he lived in Nice, France, July 17, 2016. Eric Gaillard / Reuters
A parliamentary commission established to examine some of France’s intelligence failings reported back earlier this month. It identified an unwieldy, complex bureaucracy, with six intelligence agencies reporting to various government ministries (economic, national defense, the interior). These agencies were collecting information but not connecting the dots. To help combat this issue, the commission called for the six agencies to be streamlined into one body. Although the creation of this U.S.-style National Counterterrorism Center could be a solution, one would be hard pressed to

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