Thursday, January 19, 2006

Counter-terror: Do the French do it better?

Marc Perelman of The Forward has a useful and provocative piece in the current issue of Foreign Policy:

How the French Fight Terror
By Marc Perelman

In 1988, the FBI invited Alain Marsaud, then France’s top antiterrorist magistrate, to speak about terrorism to the bureau’s new recruits at its academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Marsaud, now a conservative lawmaker, told the audience of would-be feds of the deadly threat that radical Islamist terrorist networks posed to Western societies. His talk was an unmitigated flop. “They thought we were Martians,” recalls Marsaud, who chairs the French Parliament’s domestic security commission. “They were interested in neo-Nazis and green activists, and that was it.”

Marsaud’s experience goes to show just how far Washington has come. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has moved swiftly to overhaul its counterterrorism policy, and has hit some bumps in the road. The recent revelation that President George W. Bush mandated domestic spying has caused a political uproar, even among Republicans. Yet questions of spying, security, civil liberties, and privacy are not new to France, which found itself in the cross hairs of Middle Eastern terrorists well before the United States did. France was the first to uncover a plot to crash a jetliner into a landmark building (the Eiffel Tower)—a chilling preview of the 9/11 attacks. It was the first to face the reality that its own citizens could become assets of Islamist terrorist groups, long before British nationals bombed the London Underground last July. As a result, it has continuously adapted its judicial system and intelligence services to the terrorist threat that it faces.

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