The Unknown Knowns. Need for a parliamentary inquiry on counter terrorism.
Only a few days ago we again witnessed horrible terrorist attacks on European territory. People are scared and worried. Everyone is trying to make sense of what happened Tuesday. And while Brussels is getting back on their feet and normal live starts again, a pattern emerges that is all too familiar. At first, the attacks looked to come out of the blue, completely unpredictable. But as time passes, we learn how vital information had been ignored and was not shared between countries, or even between authorities within countries. After every major terrorist attack since 9/11, the perpetrators were known to the authorities, but that information was not used. In some cases, including in the case of the Paris and Brussels attacks, but also the "underwear bomber" or the Mumbai attacks, the authorities even ignored urgent warnings by relatives of the terrorists. The EU shares information with the US on a massive scale, on condition of reciprocity. But still there are too many examples where vital information did not reach the EU or only after the facts.
In recent days Belgium became the target of ridicule and criticism, as it became clear how the spaghetti of Belgian federal, regional and local authorities and different language regimes, had messed up the situation. It was even labeled "a failed state". But the critics seem to overlook the fact that the European Union is just as badly equipped to handle major challenges, as Belgium. Is Europe "a failed Union"? In the current climate of rampant nationalism, politicians chose to keep the EU just as weak, paralysed and ineffective as Belgium seems to be. The only ones benefiting from this administrative weakness, are criminals and terrorists.
Despite the raft of measures taken since 9/11, the "war on terror" has failed, just like the "war on drugs". And yet, like a broken record, politicians keep calling for more of the same. After every attack, there is the familiar Pavlov reaction by politicians, calling for more mass surveillance. But the question about the failure of the authorities to "connect the dots" is never put, let alone answered. Of course mistakes are human. And there is no 100% guarantee of safety. A lone wolf with a Kalashnikov can hardly be detected, but he can cause a massacre. But here we do not see single mistakes or incidents, but a systematic failure of the authorities to use and share vital information. The refusal of national authorities to work together costs lives.
It is high time the public gets answers on the results of the fight against terrorism. The European Parliament has repeatedly and urgently called for an in depth evaluation of European counter terrorism policies, and assess the effectiveness of the existing toolkit. Notably in its 2011 resolution.
But even more important than an overall evaluation of counter terrorism policies, is the issue of (non) sharing of information. This merits a full-blown parliamentary inquiry by the European Parliament. National parliaments should investigate the possible failures of their own services, but they cannot fully investigate the failure to share information and to cooperate within the EU. Therefore the European Parliament should conduct a parliamentary inquiry into the (non) sharing of vital information within the EU and between EU and third countries. Failure to use vital information should not be covered up. People have a right to know if mistakes were made, and an inquiry should lead to better information sharing, which will save lives.