Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Several months after the attacks that hit Paris and Brussels, do you think that Western Governments have drawn the conclusions it takes?
Dr. Éric Denécé: All the Western states believe that jihadist terrorism is the primary threat against national security and give increasing resources to the fight. But it is difficult to generalize further because the situations are different from one country to another. France, for example, is more targeted – because of its external operations – and concerned – because of the presence on its soil of an important population coming from the immigration. Except for Bulgaria, France is the country of the European Union, which has the largest number of Muslims on its soil. Now, if 95% of our compatriots are respectable and law-abiding, there is, however, a significant minority of radicalized in which recruit Daesh and Al-Qaeda. The problem takes therefore at our place a particular largeness, which is not similar, for example, in Germany or in Italy.
What about cooperation between intelligence services of which some of our intelligence sources claim that this cooperation is not improved?
Since 2001, the international cooperation between intelligence and security services has improved significantly. Those who deny it are not serious. In the Western camp, it is superior to the one that existed during the cold war, in the shadow war against the KGB. However, cooperation is never absolutely perfect and it is not always possible to cooperate with everyone, for political reasons. For example, because of its inconsistent policy in Syria, Paris was deprived of a possibility of cooperation with Syrian services. In addition, because of the welcome on our soil of the Iranian organization of the People’s Mujahedin, we deprive ourselves of fruitful information exchange with Tehran. More broadly, cooperation is only effective if the various departments involved have intelligence acquisition capabilities, otherwise it limits the terms of exchange. Thus, the great services are always rather arrogant toward smaller.
How do you explain that individuals recorded and watched for terrorism disappear in the wild and that some of them are fomenting attacks? Is the anti-terrorist device operational in Europe? For example Merouane Benahmed, former Algerian GIA, under house arrest in Evron and vanished.
Being registered does not mean have committed an act that allows the arrest. Recall that in France, we live in a rule of law, and that any arrest must meet specific legal criteria. This is not because the internal intelligence services were able to identify thousands of individuals attending radical mosques, websites jihadists or who rubbed shoulders Islamists in prison that the police can arrest them. It is therefore logical that the vast majority of those who take action is already in the files. But we are not a totalitarian state and it is impossible – fortunately – to imprison individuals before they have committed a wrongdoing. Still remember that French law has the possibility to arrest people preparing to commit an attack. But the law does well the difference between relationships and the intention (which will not maybe happen) and the planning of an attack.
I think that our anti terrorist device is globally operational. Of course, it could still be improved, but changes will remain marginal, although useful. Today, public opinion and the press focus on the attacks committed. It’s understandable. But most of these actions were difficult to identify before. We must constantly explain to populations that zero risk does not exist and that even by increasing our security staff by 10, we never will prevent all attacks. We need just to observe the situation in Israel to understand it.
Finally, I remind that terrorism is, by far, the lowest cause of violent death in France. It represents on average, each year, barely 1 percent of all homicides and 0.06 percent of the violent deaths… We are far from the numbers of the « dark years » in Algeria.
Have Western intelligence agencies learned the lessons of the anti-terrorist fight against the maquis of the GIA (Islamic armed group) in the black and red tragedy that has lived Algeria?
Yes and no. Everything is not transposable in the case of the « black Decade ». We have no « Afghans » who return crowned in France, radical Islam concerns only less than 1 % of our population, our political and security situation is different. If the terrorist risk is real and could again increase, we are not at the brink of a civil war.
We talk, notably in Europol, of a veritable invasion of Daesh in Europe. Do you have information about this?
It’s necessary to remain moderate. Of course, we fear the arrival of terrorists – including hidden within the flow of migrants – and we know that many of them are determined to take action. Yes, the threat is real. But we don’t must to play at be scaring and increase a anxiety climate already highly developed.
Neighborhoods such as Molenbeek in Brussels continue to be sanctuaries for terrorists, how do you explain that this is tolerated at the heart of the European capital?
Our democratic system – that is the least bad of systems and not the best – allows the extremists to make their voices heard, to be well established, to demand freedoms that they wouldn’t give themselves to anybody if they reached to power. It’s both paradoxical and damaging but so is made our system. We need new laws and the agreement of the opinion to restrict their possibilities of expression and action. Some States, more lax or hesitant than others, do nothing. Thus are created situations like Molenbeek or some French suburbs, which are becoming genuine lawless areas.
How do you see the evolution of the situation in Syria? Does Daesh will adapt and transform itself following this new geopolitical configuration? What would be the consequences?
It’s still hard to say. But everything suggests that following his disappointments in Syria and Iraq, Daesh will boost his terrorist action in the world, while trying to save some of the territories it controls, because the organization needs a rearward base, a territorial base, otherwise the Caliphate would become virtual… which would mean its death. An increase in terrorism is therefore possible, in Europe, in the Caucasus… and elsewhere in the world.
Libya remains an epicenter of global terrorism, how to solve this very complicated Libyan equation and what will be the major players in the resolution of this crisis?
I am tempted to say that the current chaos started in Libya, because of Western intervention totally irrational and counterproductive. The British Parliament has just made this summer a report criticizing the action of David Cameron. I expect that a similar event takes place in France on the policy of Nicolas Sarkozy. Certain it is this intervention has profoundly and permanently destabilized the region, and that Libya became the first base of the Daesh fighters fleeing the Syrian-Iraqi area. Add to this that this country manifests itself through its urban, tribal divisions and policies, while having weapons with profusion… That doesn’t settle the situation.
All our sources in the European intelligence services and others tell us that fighting terrorism without attacking the ideology that generated it is useless. Can countries and Western governments combat this phenomenon, particularly in prisons that have turned into terrorist recruitment center?
This is in my opinion THE key issue. By fighting only against the groups and the armed individuals, we do nothing but « bail out the boat ». But it’s the waterway that should seal to prevent the ship to sink. Today, it is essential to fight against the ideological currents that melt and maintain the violent Islamist drifts: Salafism, Wahhabism, and the negative ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. And, logically and consistently, we must also fight against states that support or spread these ideologies, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Erdogan’s Turkey, etc. But Western leaders, entangled in a backward-looking world view – and sometimes directly benefiting from the generosity of those States – refuse to implement such a policy. Therefore, the security action is limited in its effectiveness and can act only on the consequences of the problem without being able to resolve the causes.
Can Western governments fight terrorism while having good relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, known to be the matrix that generates terrorism?
Of course not! It is an illusion. But they do not want to get rid of them. This is even more contradictory, that if we apply a ‘democratic’ scoring grid, these two States are still more unequal than Syria (from before the war) or the Iran. So we are in full contradiction. As long as this alliance unnatural and counterproductive will not be questioned, it is useless to expect serious results.
How can we tolerate that terrorists communicate and master the modern communication tools, such as encrypted messaging Telegram, while NSA and other services control all wiretapping? Is not the fight by the communication and the information also important that to fight ideologically and militarily the terrorism?
This is not the problem of Telegram, but of all the social networks and telecommunication technologies. We are living in a globalized society where the means of communication are, usually, freely accessible to all, including to terrorists. Furthermore, leaving them the free access, it allows generally to the interception services to watch the largest part of their transmissions. But since the Snowden case, Takfiri seem to have returned to more traditional modes of communication (human messengers), that can not be intercepted… but slowing the exchanges or transmission of orders. There is no magic solution and we can not go back. It is logical that terrorists and criminals are taking advantage of technological advances to develop their actions. We have to adapt.
According to our intelligence sources, the terrorist organization in Europe continues to work as before, it just adapted to the new environment. Is there no laxity on the part of Western governments?
No, there is no laxity. But there is always a gap between those who have the initiative (the terrorists) and those who respond to an evolving threat, while having to consider public opinion. I think we consider too often that terrorists do what they want, what is wrong: numbers of their acts are thwarted and their freedom of action is limited by the action of the security services. However, this does not prevent them from committing attacks via their henchmen present on our soil, hence the need to continue efforts to improve the effectiveness of fight.
You are director of the French Centre for Research on Intelligence (CF2R). Can you tell us what are the tasks of this center and if governments take your recommendations into consideration?
Our main « task » is improving the image of intelligence in French society. In fact, the profession, which generates according to the case fascination or repulsion, remains poorly understood by our contemporaries. In particular, the French elites defy it and do not understand it much and politicians were never granted to services the means to meet the challenges they face. So we are « lobbyists » of intelligence to the opinion media and academic, political and economic circles.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Dr. Éric Denécé?
Doctor of Political Science, authorized to supervise research, Éric Denécé is director of the French Centre for Research on Intelligence (CF2R) and its consulting firm Risk Management (CF2R SERVICES).
He was successively Officer analyst at the direction of the Evaluation and Strategic Documentation of the General Secretariat for National Defense (SGDN), Export sales engineer at Matra Defense, responsible for communication NAVFCO, a subsidiary of DCI group (Defense Council International), Director of Studies of the Centre for Studies and Strategic Prospective (CEPS), founder and CEO of the firm of economic intelligence ARGOS, creator and director of economic intelligence department GEOS group.
Dr. Éric Denécé operated in particular in Cambodia, alongside the anti-communist resistance, and in Burma to protect Total interests against the local guerrilla. Meanwhile, he was a consultant for the Ministry of Defense regarding the future of the Special Forces. Éric Denécé is also Professor Associate at the Bordeaux Management School and teaches intelligence or economic intelligence in several other French and foreign universities.
He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles and reports devoted to intelligence, economic intelligence, terrorism and special operations. His works have earned him to be the 1996 winner of the Foundation for Defense Studies (FED) and the 2009 Akropolis Price (Institute of domestic security high studies).
Dr. Éric Denécé is regularly consulted by the French and international media and has to his credit more than a thousand radio broadcasts and hundreds of television appearances.
Finally, he is president of the SPYLAND Ethics Committee, amusement park dedicated to the world of secret agents, which will be launched in 2015 in France.
His works are: Handbook of European Intelligence Cultures (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016); Les services secrets israéliens : Aman, Mossad, Shin Beth (The Israeli secret services; Aman, Mossad, Shin Beth)) (Tallandier, Paris, 2014); L’Espionnage en 365 citations (Espionage in 365 quotes) (Le Chêne, Paris, 2013); La face cachée des « révolutions » arabes (dir.) (The hidden face of Arab « revolutions ») (Ellipses, Paris, 2012); Les services secrets français sont-ils nuls ? (Are the French secret services bad?) (Ellipses, Paris, 2012); Commandos et forces spéciales (Commandos and Special Forces) (Ouest France éditions, Rennes, 2011); Les services secrets au Moyen-Age, a book co-authored with Jean Deuve (The secret services in the Middle Ages) (Ouest France éditions, Rennes, 2011); Dico-Atlas des conflits et des menaces, book written in collaboration with Frédérique Poulot (Dictionary-atlas of conflicts and threats) (Belin, Paris, 2010); Histoire mondiale de l’espionnage, book written in collaboration with Gerald Arboit (World history of espionage) (Ouest France éditions, Rennes, 2010); Renseignement, medias et démocratie (Intelligence, media and democracy) (Ellipses, Paris, 2009); Mission : agent secret (Les techniques de l’espionnage expliquées aux enfants), book written in collaboration with Sophie Merveilleux du Vignaux (Mission: Secret Agent – techniques of intelligence explained to children) (collection « Graine de savant », Milan Jeunesse, Toulouse, 2009); Les services secrets (the secret services) (collection « Tout comprendre », EPA éditions, Paris, 2008); Renseignement et contre-espionnage (Intelligence and Counterintelligence) (collection « Toutes les clés », Hachette pratique, Paris ,2008); Histoire secrète des forces spéciales de 1939 à nos jours (Secret History of the Special Forces from 1939 to today) (Nouveau monde, Paris, 2007); Tourisme et terrorisme. Des vacances de rêve aux voyages à risque, book written in collaboration with Sabine Meyer (Tourism and terrorism. from vacation dream to risky trips) (Ellipses, Paris, 2006); L’autre guerre des Etats-Unis. Economie : les secrets d’une machine de conquête, book written in collaboration with Claude Revel (The other war the United States. Economy: the secrets of a conquest machine) (Robert Laffont, Paris, 2005); Al-Qaeda : les nouveaux réseaux de la terreur (Al-Qaeda: the new networks of terror) (Ellipses, collection « Géopolitique », Paris, 2004); Les secrets de la guerre économique, book written in collaboration with Ali Laïdi (Secrets of the economic war) (Seuil, Paris, 2004); Forces spéciales, l'avenir de la guerre,collection « L’art de la guerre » (Special forces, the future of war) (éditions du Rocher, Paris, 2002); Guerre secrète contre Al-Qaeda (secret war against al-Qaeda) (Ellipses, collection « Géopolitique », Paris, 2002); Le nouveau contexte des échanges et ses règles cachées. Information, stratégie et guerre économique (The new context of trade and hidden rules. Information, strategy and economic war) (L’Harmattan, Paris, 2001); Géostratégie de la mer de Chine méridionale et des bassins maritimes adjacents (Geostrategy of the South China Sea and adjacent sea basins) (L’Harmattan, collection « Recherches asiatiques », Paris, 1999).
Published in American Herald Tribune, September 30, 2016: http://ahtribune.com/politics/1230-rric-denece.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.011016.htm