Marc Perelman has an interesting new article in Foreign Policy on the French model for homeland security and counterterrorism. Some key sections:
Like most European countries, France favors a judicial approach over the U.S.-style â€œwar on terror.â€ But the French blend of aggressive prosecution, specialized investigators, and intrusive law enforcement is unique in Europe. And though the policy has gone through trial and error, the early warning helped fashion what has proven to be a fairly successfulâ€”though controversialâ€”counterterrorist response.
The smooth relationship between Franceâ€™s judiciary and its intelligence world is unique among Western nations. Even after 9/11, a proposal to create a separate domestic intelligence service failed to gather momentum in Washington. In Britain, the MI5 has no judicial competence. Yet, since the 1990s, the French domestic intelligence service has had the ability to ask magistrates to open investigations. Judges can in turn assist the agency by ordering warrants, wiretaps, and subpoenas.
That is in part because the French authorities see petty crimes as a window into a terrorist network, as its members mostly operate in compartmented cells, each contributing to a larger conspiracy known only to the masterminds. To unravel complex plots, France has used its extended police powers to monitor mosques and suspicious individuals and eventually expel those deemed too dangerous. It has relied both on human intelligence, notably police and intelligence agents of Muslim descent, and on technological means to break cases. A new bill adopted in December increases police surveillance methodsâ€”especially video and communicationsâ€”and stiffens prison sentences for convicted members of a terrorist plot.
Many elements of this French model are not replicable in the United States due to such factors as the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches. But there are clearly things that US homeland security and counterterrorism officials can learn from the French model, such as:
- The willingness to view the judicial system as a key enabling tool, rather than an inconvenience;
- The enforcement of certain types of petty crime as a window into terror activity; and
- The fact that small, empowered teams are almost always better than a large bureaucracy.
It should be noted that there are also things that France can learn from the United States in the war on terror, particularly in terms of integrating immigrant communities into society – a relative strength that we hopefully will not “unlearn” in the near future.