News / Europe

    Europe’s New Counterterror Center Unlikely to Make Quick Impact

    Europol Director Rob Wainwright answers questions of reporters in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 22, 2016.
    Europol Director Rob Wainwright answers questions of reporters in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 22, 2016.

    Europe’s latest effort to counter the growing threat from foreign fighters is being hailed as a hopeful first step but there are deep concerns that the new measures will not prevent another Paris-style attack.

    Officials late last month launched the European Counter Terrorism Center, described by the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, as “a unique European information hub.”

    The focus, Europol Director Rob Wainwright has said, is “improving the level and effectiveness of information exchange between the national authorities in the European Union.”

    The timing of the center’s launch is critical as reasons to fear another attack increase. Europol estimates between 3,000 and 5,000 foreign fighters have returned to Europe from Iraq and Syria.

    “We have the problem of foreign fighters coming back to Europe either from Syria or Libya,” a Western diplomat told VOA, adding that despite increased security measures, “It’s very easy.”

    The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Massen, told ZDF television earlier this month that terrorists disguised as refugees have slipped into the country repeatedly. Massen’s comment came a day after German forces arrested two men with possible links to the Islamic State terror group for plotting an attack on Berlin.

    Exterior view of the Europol headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 22, 2016.
    Exterior view of the Europol headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 22, 2016.

    EU officials are hopeful the new counterterror center will soon leverage arrests like those into additional successes.

    “The ECTC is building on already some existing capabilities within Europol,” spokesperson Tine Hollevoet. “By adding new capabilities and putting all of this together in a new center, we believe that this will significantly increase our response to terrorists.”

    Will member states share information?

    For now, the center is employing a staff of about 45 counterterror experts.

    “The key is on the information sharing by the member states,” Hollevoet added.

    Still, some doubt the new counterterror center has the wherewithal to make it happen.

    “The creation of the center has not come attached with any new major powers for Europol,” said Javier Argomaniz, with the Handa Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University.

    “The key obstacle remains security agencies' organizational culture and their traditional reluctance to exchange valuable operational data, especially if this could result in leaks,” he added.

    Former CIA counterterrorism analyst Aki Peritz is equally skeptical.

    “There are 28 member states of the EU,” he said. “The big boys are not going to share with everybody.”

    And that is just one of the many obstacles the new EU Counter Terrorism Center will face, according to Peritz, now vice president of the Center for Intelligence Policy.

    “What you really need to do here is collect on individuals going to and from Syria and Iraq and elsewhere, and you’re going to run into a lot of civil liberties laws and problems because each member state has different laws when it comes to that,” he said. “I’m not quite sure how they’re going to overcome that issue.”

    Flowers and candle tributes are placed at the Restaurant Le Carillon in Paris, Nov. 19, 2015, after the attacks.
    Flowers and candle tributes are placed at the Restaurant Le Carillon in Paris, Nov. 19, 2015, after the attacks.

    Peritz also questions whether the Paris terror attacks, which killed 130 people, will galvanize the EU in much the same way the September 11, 2001 attacks galvanized the United State, spurring change across the law enforcement and intelligence communities.

    Others are more hopeful

    “The extent to which it will be up and running as really an effective entity is a question, but I think it’s a great step,” said William Braniff, executive director at the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.

    Specifically, Braniff thinks the new center may be able to seize on some “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to information sharing, especially when it comes to foreign fighters.

    “There’s been a lot of finger-pointing in Europe between the countries of origin of the foreign fighters,” he said. “What I’m hoping is that this will create a parallel environment where practitioners can actually address these in a much more productive way, maybe outside of that political microscope.”

    Another potential reason for optimism is that European officials have been talking to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, which have already grappled with similar issues.

    “We’re trying to benefit from each other’s experiences,” said Kshemendra Paul, Program Manager of the Information-Sharing Environment at the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

    “We’ve been in conversation over the last year-and-a-half, two years to line up the frameworks, to make sure where we have pursuit of the same ideas,” he said. “We’re not putting in gratuitous or unnecessary barriers to interoperability.”

    May not head off next attack

    Officials and analysts hope the new European Counter Terror Center will prove valuable both in the short and long term, though they admit it alone will likely not be enough to deter Europe’s next major terror attack.

    “It’s part of a menu of things that need to be done both at the government level and cross governments to deal with the extremism threat,” said Mark Wallace, CEO of the U.S.-based Counter Extremism Project.

    “I wouldn’t call it a panacea but, certainly, a positive step,” he said.


    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Moses608 from: Kenya
    February 24, 2016 6:15 AM
    Dear Sir/madam,
    Old African story.Hyena with a tendency of eating human beings was wounded hunters and chased.The hunters were about to outrun him and then finish off when a woman out tending her crops out in the field give it sanctuary.When the hunters came a long she told them that she had not seen the brute.After the hunters had gone quite a distant and all was safe for the hyena it emerged and devoured the woman and her child. It is good to welcome suffering people.But wrong people have seized the chance.God help Europeans.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora