Intelligence cooperation in counterterrorism

Terrorism was not born in the 20th century; it has existed for thousands of years in every place where people live.

Mike's Place suicide bombers 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mike's Place suicide bombers 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On April 30, 2003, a suicide attack occurred at Mike’s Place, a bar in Tel Aviv. Three people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
On that day, at 12:45 p.m., a British citizen entered the club and blew himself up at the entrance. Another British citizen was also carrying an explosive belt, but it did not explode. This terrorist dropped the belt and ran away. Later his body was discovered on the beach. The cause of his death remains unknown.
Security forces failed to prevent the terrorists’ entry into Israel from the Gaza Strip, and their arrival to Tel Aviv. The two British terrorists came to Israel from Jordan via the Allenby Bridge. They were in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Investigation of the incident revealed that the two attended a memorial ceremony for Rachel Corrie, an ISM activist, and that they met with members of the International Solidarity Movement, Palestinian Authority officials and foreign journalists, and received assistance from them. Yet there was no prior intelligence about their arrival.
Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Hamas, both religiously motivated organizations, claimed joint responsibility for the attack.
TERRORISM WAS not born in the 20th century; it has existed for thousands of years in every place where people live.
Its characteristics haven’t changed over the years; it has always been the domain of individuals or groups outside military or civil society, disconnected from any legitimate organization.
Although it originally referred to the activities of states, for example the French Revolution’s “Reign of Terror,” “terrorism” today is usually understood to mean acts of violence perpetrated by individuals or non-governmental groups to get media attention.
Historically, terrorism has also mainly been a domestic phenomenon; usually directed against democratic regimes, although there have been exceptions, such as the ETA in Franco’s Spain or the Shining Path in Alberto Fujimori’s Peru.
Religiously motivated terrorism constituted a significant change from the historical pattern. Religious terrorism is terrorism performed by groups or individuals, typically motivated by faith-based tenets, which have been performed on religious grounds with the hope to either spread or enforce a system of beliefs or opinions.
Thus, terrorism was no longer based just on struggles of organizations against states; terrorist operations were being carried out against a background of religious fanaticism and ethnic separatism.
As a direct result, terrorist organizations began to operate in many countries and have expanded their activities, in an attempt to spread their influence all over the globe.
THE LOGICAL response of those countries that have suffered terrorist attacks at the hands of extremist religious organizations would have been to unite in the face of a common enemy, whether by building cooperation mechanisms, mutual information transfer, joint operations, etc. But this did not happen.
At first, and especially before the events of September 11, cooperation between affected countries was mainly influenced by their respective political strategies; their need to develop natural alliances among themselves while at the same time maintaining normal diplomatic relations with the countries where terrorism was born and grew.
However, the events of 9/11 led to a fundamental change in how intelligence organizations perceived their role in the common war against terrorism. This was especially true of the intelligence organizations in the United States and Europe.
Traditionally, for the Americans, the focus of counter- terrorism efforts was external, and designed to keep the threat away from its borders. Even the Department of Homeland Security is focused on America’s borders and boundaries. This is logical, as the US faces fewer internal threats. However in Europe, counterterrorism is more a domestic issue, even today.
But slowly and gradually, Europe and America began to realize that even if there is no political consensus, intelligence cooperation in the war on terror is still possible and desirable. The Israel Security Agency, on the other hand, understood the essential need for intelligence cooperation right from the start, and established a mechanism for external relations with the agencies in Europe and the United States.
Intelligence ties among the various organizations have gradually improved, as has the transfer of information among them. The direct result of this has been felt at several levels.
TERRORIST SUSPECTS have been located and identified in their home countries, and terrorist organizations in the early stages of formation exposed and thwarted. Rapid and complete transfer of suspected terrorists’ details made possible their detention and interrogation in the early stages of organization, and terrorist attacks which had already been planned out avoided and thwarted, saving thousands of lives in Israel and other countries.
Intelligence cooperation between countries is the future. The success of the war against fundamentalist terror organizations hinges on the extent of cooperation and openness among the world’s intelligence organizations.
The writer is a security expert and a former brigadier-general in the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) who served as a bureau head.