George Stewart

 

68-Member Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS Is The Largest International Coalition In History

Since Its Formation In 2014, The Global Coalition Has Worked Diligently To Reduce The Threat ISIS Poses To International Security And Our Homelands.

Coalition members are united in common cause to defeat ISIS through a robust approach, including working by, with, and through local partners for military operations; supporting the stabilization of territory liberated from ISIS; and, enhancing international cooperation against ISIS’ global objectives through information sharing, law enforcement cooperation, severing ISIS’ financing, countering violent extremist recruitment, and neutralizing ISIS’ narrative.

The Coalition is also engaged in broad-based civilian efforts to provide humanitarian aid to communities suffering from displacement and conflict, and supporting stabilization efforts in territory liberated from ISIS. The Coalition’s combined efforts have diminished ISIS’ military capability, territorial gains, leadership, financial resources, and on-line influence.

The 68-member Global Coalition is the largest international coalition in history. It is a diverse group, in which each member makes unique contributions to a robust civilian and military effort.

THE MILITARY CAMPAIGN

Twenty-three Coalition partners have over 9,000 troops in Iraq and Syria in support of the effort to defeat ISIS. Working by, with, and through our local partners, the Coalition has made significant progress in denying ISIS safe haven and building the military capacity of those engaged in direct action against ISIS.

Coalition operations have liberated 62 percent of the terrain ISIS once controlled in Iraq and 30 percent in Syria, including key cities in both countries. The number of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria is at its lowest level since the group declared its “caliphate,” down by more than half since its peak in 2014.

Coalition air assets have conducted more than 19,000 strikes on ISIS targets, removing tens of thousands ISIS fighters from the battlefield and killing over 180 senior to mid-level ISIS leaders, including nearly all of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s deputies, his so-called ministers of war, information, finance, oil and gas, and his chief of external operations. Beyond fighters, these precision airstrikes are targeting ISIS external attack plotters, military commanders, administrative officials, facilitators, and communicators, as well as its energy assets, command and control facilities, and bulk cash storage facilities.

The Coalition has supported our Iraqi partners to achieve significant progress in the fight to retake Mosul. Iraqi Security Forces officially liberated eastern Mosul on January 24, 2017 and now are making significant territorial gains in the western portion of the city. To date, Coalition efforts have trained nearly 90,000 Iraqi Security Forces members, including Iraqi Army soldiers, Counterterrorism Services soldiers, Kurdish Peshmerga, federal police and border security soldiers, and tribal volunteers. Coalition members have also donated some 8,200 tons of military equipment to our Iraqi and local Syrian partners in the fight against ISIS.

With the support of the Coalition, our Syrian partners have liberated over 14,000 square kilometers of terrain in Syria, including more than 7,400 square kilometers of territory since isolation operations around Raqqa began on November 5. We are now pressuring ISIS in Raqqa, its external operations headquarters, from where ISIS is plotting against Coalition member interests around the globe. Turkish-led and Coalition-supported operations have also cleared more than 2,000 square kilometers of territory, including removing ISIS off the remainder of the Turkey-Syria border, cutting off a critical transit route for foreign fighters to Europe. As part of these efforts in Syria, the Coalition has helped train thousands of Syrians who have joined the fight to defeat ISIS.

THE CIVILIAN EFFORT

STABILIZATION, HUMANITARIAN, AND ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE

Since 2014, Coalition members have provided more than $22.2 billion in stabilization, demining capabilities, economic support, and humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Syria – all of which guard against a resurgence of ISIS. Last July, at the Iraq Pledging Conference held in Washington, partners pledged more than $2.3 billion for humanitarian assistance, stabilization, and demining in Iraq. The Coalition expects to raise approximately $2 billion for these efforts in Iraq and Syria for 2017.

Coalition support for stabilization programs is crucial as we seek to hold terrain taken from ISIS and provide for people in liberated areas. Support for stabilization efforts is a strategic investment in the fight against ISIS. As a result of this support, local partners in Iraq are holding ground against ISIS, restoring services, clearing schools and clinics of explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, helping families return home once they are ready, providing security, and contributing to re-establishing the rule of law in liberated areas. ISIS criminals have perpetrated some of the worst international crimes the world has seen in decades and members of the Coalition are documenting these atrocities and working toward holding members of ISIS accountable. Iraq has requested additional assistance to support domestic capacity in pursuing accountability. Internationally, coalition partners are exploring ways to also hold ISIS members accountable for international crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity with international investigative mechanisms.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), working on the ground in Iraq with local partners, has implemented more than 350 projects to date, all of which have achieved their intended objectives on time and at cost. The first projects for Mosul have already started in the outskirts, and $43 million in prepositioned equipment is being deployed. The provision of civilian security by trained police is also critical to the stabilization effort. Five countries have joined the Italian-led effort to train more than 7,000 Iraqi police to date, now graduating approximately 900 new police officers each month.

Iraq’s central government has proven its improved capacity to handle a range of important issues, to include supporting local governance, maintaining security, providing electricity and other essential services, managing the economy, defending its territorial integrity, and upholding the rights of all Iraqis irrespective of their ethnicity, gender, religion, or beliefs. Iraq’s success in rehabilitating liberated communities is due in part to the partnership it forged with Coalition members that has enabled the UNDP to provide more than $240 million in stabilization programs over the last two years.

In Iraq, the Coalition supports and enables Government of Iraq-led military operations to ensure that cities are liberated and secured in a sustainable manner. By working with the United Nations and in partnership with the Government of Iraq, aid organizations have worked to ensure that humanitarian assistance is staged prior to military operations and in preparation for outflows of internally displaced persons (IDPs). By pre-positioning emergency assistance, identifying local hold forces to provide post-ISIS security, establishing a demining capacity, and implementing quick-impact stabilization projects, we have seen a significant reduction in Iraq’s IDP population and helped create conditions that facilitate voluntary, safe, and dignified IDP returns. In total, more than 1.5 million Iraqis have returned to their homes. UN stabilization projects, funded by Coalition partners, have helped set the conditions for the return of more than 500,000 IDPs to Anbar Province alone, including to the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. In eastern Mosul and surrounding areas, more than 70,000 IDPs have returned voluntarily to their homes, the Ninewa Provincial Council has also returned, and the UN has initiated stabilization operations. We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need throughout the country while stabilization programs are ongoing.

Ten Coalition Members are on tap to meet one-third of Iraq’s demining costs through 2018. Canada, Denmark, and Germany provided generous funding that has allowed Janus Global Operations to clear an estimated 1.7 million square meters of at least 21,248 kilograms of explosive hazards in Iraq’s Anbar Province. UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is similarly working to demine liberated areas, while also focusing on building local demining capacity. Janus and UNMAS have coordinated closely with UNDP and the Government of Iraq to support stabilization planning for Mosul.

As the Coalition-backed forces make rapid progress in military operations to isolate Raqqa, we are applying lessons learned from Mosul to facilitate the stabilization of liberated territories in Syria. Since the start of the Coalition-supported Raqqa campaign last November, military operations have generated approximately 35,000 IDPs. Approximately 27,000 have already returned home following expeditious clearance operations by Coalition-supported C-ISIS forces. The majority of IDPs continues to flee towards, and seek refuge in, areas cleared by Coalition-supported forces, where they have been assisted by host communities and supported by NGOs. The UN and NGO partners have provided assistance to tens of thousands of IDPs in this area since November.

Humanitarian and stabilization efforts are also reaching civilian populations in the liberated cities of Jarabulus and Manbij. In Manbij alone, the Coalition facilitated the delivery of more than 200 metric tons of food to 2,400 families. With Coalition support, over 200 schools have been cleared of explosive remnants of war, 400 schools have reopened, over 70,000 children are back in school, markets are open and bustling, and local medical and social services have resumed. There is now a longer-term effort by a commercial partner to survey, mark, and clear key infrastructure areas in Manbij, while simultaneously training a local Syrian capacity. We intend to expand this project to cover the road to Raqqa and, eventually, Raqqa City.

MULTILATERAL INITIATIVES TO COUNTER A GLOBAL THREAT

ISIS has deliberately fostered interconnectedness among its scattered branches, networks, and supporters, seeking to build a global organization. It continues to provide guidance and funds its branches and networks, has carried out attacks well beyond the territory it directly controls, and retains a robust online presence. Coalition partners have recognized the importance of being networked together to effectively counter this global threat and coordinate efforts to disrupt and degrade ISIS activities. Coalition members and other partners have taken steps to strengthen their capacity to share information, while building and reinforcing partnerships with multi-national organizations like INTERPOL and EUROPOL, and among national agencies like Financial Intelligence Units.

In addition to humanitarian and stabilization assistance, the United Nations has developed a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, and nations around the world are working to implements its recommendations. The Coalition is also pressing for full implementation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions requiring states to take certain actions against ISIS, such as preventing arms transfers or the provision of funds. The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) has developed a series of initiatives, training programs, and global good practices to address the lifecycle of a violent extremist. Such steps are essential to curbing ISIS’ ability to operate freely across international borders.

COUNTER-MESSAGING

Building resistance to extremist propaganda and countering terrorist use of the internet is vital to our effort. Counter ISIS content is now more prevalent online and pro-ISIS content is declining in open forum social media channels. This is a terrorist group that is increasingly struggling in the face of an increasingly organized and sophisticated set of initiatives by the Coalition.

Global Coalition member countries are producing national responses and coordinating counter ISIS communications efforts regionally and globally. The Global Counter ISIS Coalition Communications Working Group (led by the UAE, UK, and U.S.) regularly convenes over 30 member countries with media and tech companies to share information and strategies to counter violent extremist messages online and present positive alternative narratives: its last meeting in London on February 28 was attended by a record 38 countries.

The Communications Working Group also supports a network of messaging centers that expose, refute, and combat online terrorist propaganda. These centers harness the creativity and expertise of local actors to generate positive content that challenges the nihilistic vision of ISIS and its supporters. The Counter-ISIS Communications Cell in London and the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi lead the Coalition’s efforts to tackle ISIS propaganda.

The Global Coalition is actively engaged with the private sector in these efforts. For example, the Global Engagement Center, an interagency entity within the State Department, uses online technology to target potential recruits of terrorist organizations and redirect them to counter ISIS content. In addition, videos developed by partners across the Coalition for a recent campaign targeting vulnerable audiences in Tunisia, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia were watched more than 14 million times. The effort has since expanded to other nations, including Libya, Jordan, and France. And Twitter has suspended more than 635,000 ISIS- related or affiliated accounts that have been shown to abuse their platforms since the middle of 2015. We are making it increasingly difficult for ISIS to spread its poisonous ideology among vulnerable audiences.

We remain focused on growing our online presence. Global Coalition Twitter accounts in Arabic, French, and English continue to increase their number of followers. The Coalition Communications Cell in London, with staff from 10 countries, guides our public global messaging through daily media packs that are distributed to 850 government officials in 60 countries worldwide.

COUNTER-FINANCE

Coalition collaboration on financial intelligence and broad-spectrum information sharing has supported our military effort to damage or destroy more than 2,600 ISIS energy targets. Coalition airstrikes against energy assets have impeded ISIS’s ability to produce, use, and profit from oil. Coalition airstrikes have also targeted more than 25 ISIS bulk cash storage sites, destroying tens of millions—and possibly hundreds of millions—of dollars.

Additionally, the Coalition has worked closely with the Government of Iraq in its efforts to prevent ISIS from abusing its financial system. The Government of Iraq has cut off over 90 bank branches in ISIS territory from the financial system and Iraq’s central bank has created a list of over 100 exchange houses and money transfer companies operating in ISIS-held areas or with links to ISIS. The entities on this list are now banned from accessing U.S. banknotes through the central bank’s currency auctions, and the list has been shared with regional regulators and through FIU channels. The Government of Iraq, with the support of Coalition partners, also banned the distribution of government salary payments in ISIS-held areas, denying ISIS the ability to tax these funds.

The Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group (CIFG)—made up of nearly 40 members and observers—has also adopted an assessment of cross-border financial flows into Iraq and Syria that will enable Coalition members to better prevent ISIS from exploiting money transfer mechanisms. CIFG is finalizing a report on ISIS branch financing that will provide Coalition members with a baseline understanding of financial linkages between ISIS core and its global branches, and of branch financing mechanisms. CIFG is also leading global efforts to ensure full implementation of the multiple UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit all forms of financial support to ISIS, including funds raised from kidnapping for ransom, illicit trade in stolen cultural heritage objects, and sale of natural resources.

COUNTERING FOREIGN TERRORIST FIGHTERS (FTF)

The flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) to Iraq and Syria, many of which joined ISIS, is down significantly over the last year after peaking in 2014. This decline has been dramatic, prolonged, and geographically widespread. Significant milestones include: 1) Securing of the Syria-Turkey border as of November 2016; 2) the EU’s adoption of a Passenger Name Recognition (PNR) protocol; 3) 31 non-EU members implementing enhanced traveler screening measures; and 4) countries enacting measures in UN Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014) to strengthen their response and abilities to counter foreign fighters and prosecute related crimes.

  • More than 60 countries have laws in place to prosecute and penalize FTF activities and create obstacles to traveling into Iraq and Syria.
  • At least 65 countries have prosecuted or arrested foreign terrorist fighters or FTF facilitators.
  • At least 60 countries and the UN now pass fighter profiles to Interpol.
  • There were more searches of Interpol databases in November 2016 than in all of 2015.
  • At least 26 partners share financial information that could provide actionable leads to prosecute or target FTFs.
  • At least 31 countries use enhanced traveler screening measures.

Since the flow of foreign terrorist fighters has diminished, the challenge has evolved. Now, countries are grappling with foreign terrorist fighters returning home as well as coping with those individuals who aspire to travel, but cannot get to Iraq and Syria and thus aim to initiate attacks in their home countries. A key component to addressing returning foreign terrorist fighters is rehabilitation and reintegration. Countries are focused on strengthening their capacity to assess, classify, house and manage returning foreign terrorist fighters within their prison systems.

[Source: U.S. Department of State-Media Relations]
[Intext Photos: inserted by openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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The United States And Australia Air Force Participate In ‘Diamond Shield’ Exercise

U.S. And  Australian Airmen Participate In ‘Diamond Shield’ Exercise

NEW SOUTH WALES, Australia, March 22, 2017 — U.S. airmen from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, touched down at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown in New South Wales, Australia, this week for Exercise Diamond Shield 2017.

With a dedicated support team topping nearly 150 personnel, more than 20 U.S. pilots assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron will work with Royal Australian Air Force Air Warfare Center instructors to train and prepare RAAF fighter combat instructors, airspace battle managers, fighter intelligence instructors and fighter combat controllers.

Diamond Shield is the second of four “Diamond Series” exercises conducted by the RAAF Air Warfare Center. The exercise is an Australian Defense Force training activity where high-readiness forces deploy quickly to remote locations in Australia in response to a simulated security threat.

Exercise Scenario

During the exercise, members of the Australian navy, army and air force will rapidly deploy to counter a fictitious force posing a threat to Australia’s national security in the Kimberley region in Northwestern Australia.

As a benchmark for aerial combat training through its annual series of Red Flag-Alaska exercises, integration of Eielson’s 18th Aggressor Squadron pilots enhances interoperability and ensures the RAAF can operate in a combined environment to respond to any contingency in the region and provide an agile, decisive and effective deterrent to any future challenges.

Diamond Shield is set to run March 13-31 and will incorporate Australian C-17A Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules transport aircraft, AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft, as well as American F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets.

[Source: By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Steven R. Doty, 354th Fighter Wing ~ U.S. DoD-Media Relations]

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European Union Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Terrorism Threat Is Internal

EU Anti-Terror Czar: ‘The Threat Is Coming From Inside Europe’

A year after the Brussels attacks, Gilles de Kerchove told EURACTIV.com about the fast pace of development of EU security policy, calling for the “systematic use of biometrics” and “batch comparison” of databases in order to boost security in the Schengen area.

Gilles de Kerchove is the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator. He spoke to EURACTIV’s publisher and editor, Frédéric Simon.

“We had to amend the Schengen border code to check EU citizens systematically. Now we’ve reached the conclusion that our citizens are the main threat,” says Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator. [Frédéric Simon]

On 22 March, Belgium commemorates the anniversary of the Brussels terrorist attacks. As a Belgian national, were you surprised when the attacks took place?

Surprised, no, because, for years, we were aware of the determination of Daesh to strike in Europe. We already had the attacks in Paris and we knew some of the authors were still at large, and that a strike in Brussels was among the possibilities. I was very sad that we were not able to prevent this from happening, but not surprised.

Did this happen because national intelligence agencies weren’t collaborating enough?

I really don’t want to answer that question specifically because there is a Parliamentary inquiry committee that has not finalised its conclusions. It’s probably more interesting to see what those conclusions will be.

Over the last two years, we have been working in many directions and information sharing among security services is only one aspect. It’s a set of measures on the preventive side, on the repressive side, and closer work with some neighbourhoods.

So I think it would be inaccurate to say that the attacks took place just because the security services are not sharing—they do. That’s not the issue. The problem is not necessarily a lack of data, but the ability to analyse the data properly. There is a lot of work on the issue of data collection, data sharing and data analysis. We’ve been working hard on this, but it’s not the only issue.

Did the Belgian authorities bury their heads in the sand regarding information they had about neighbourhoods like Molenbeek?

It’s up to the special inquiry committee to draw conclusions. Molenbeek is not the epicentre of terrorism in Europe. If you look at our neighbours, the French have had more than 1,000 of their citizens or legal residents who left for Syria and Iraq.

In ten to fifteen EU member states, there is indeed an issue of young Europeans who get radicalised, who were attracted by the rhetoric of Daesh, and the crisis in Syria. The fact that there was a civil war, a caliphate, added something new. We had foreign terrorist fighters in the ’90s in Afghanistan but never on that scale. Why? Because there was this much more aggressive use of the Internet, and the control of a territory, which seems to be more attractive than the Sahel.

Of course, Molenbeek in itself raises difficult questions as to the integration process of immigrants, the fight against discrimination, the fight against Islamophobia, but that begs the question about the drivers of radicalisation. To simply equal Molenbeek and terrorism is a bit too short, I think.

So the fact that these neighbourhoods were socially excluded, you think, was a big part of the explanation?

When I look at the drivers of radicalisation I usually look at three sets of factors.

One is, in a way, all the elements why people may be vulnerable. Indeed, often there is a question of identity—you are a second-generation migrant, you don’t know exactly if you still belong to Morocco or Belgium; a problem of social discrimination—access to housing, bad education or no jobs; the family environment—often parents have been divorced; and so on. The feeling of injustice as well—very often people experience badly the war against the Muslim or the war against the Sudanese. So there may be a full set of factors that in themselves are not enough to explain the process of radicalisation but play a role.

The second set of factors is linked to ideology, on which scholars are divided. For some it’s not a driver, it only plays a role at the end of the process of radicalisation. At the end of the process, a sort of black and white, simplistic and conservative interpretation of Islam provides arguments why you can use violence to push your ideas.

But other people like Gilles Kepel believe that ideology in itself can be a driver and attract people. We see a lot of people finding in this brand of Islam a sort of redemption process. Many of them have a criminal past, and going through this very simplistic but hard interpretation of Islam, is a sort of redemption process. So ideology may play a role, but it’s country-specific or people-specific.

And the third set of factors are what I call facilitation factors: prison—many of those who have perpetrated attacks in Europe have been radicalised in prison; and the Internet.

So I believe that you have to work on these three sets of factors. And concentrating on neighbourhoods like Molenbeek is only one. You need to address those who are propagating the ideology, address the Internet, and address radicalisation in prison.

You mentioned the Internet. Are you happy with the level of collaboration of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter when it comes to removing jihadist content?

We’ve taken major steps. I was invited to join Commissioner Avramopoulos last week in California to visit Facebook, Google and Twitter. We’ve made progress, and the IT forum, as a public-private partnership, is now delivering results on many aspects.

The first aspect is the removal of unlawful content. The good news is the relationship that Europol has built with the companies to form the Internet Referral Unit, which allows Europol to flag more content with more success. 90% of the time, content which has been flagged is removed by the companies, while when you and I flag the content, it’s only 30% of the time. That’s the first step.

The second step is a pilot by the companies that was announced in December, to create a common database to prevent unlawful content that has already been removed to be re-uploaded. And it’s important that all the companies, all those platforms in Silicon Valley, use this database, which is still in the development phase.

The third step, which will take more time, is automatic detection of unlawful content so that we rely on an algorithm to identify content which, after a review by a team of experts, has to be removed. And we are working on that.

This team of experts is acting like a safeguard against internet censorship?

Yes. It’s not automatic removal but automatic detection because we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of posts. In the UK, for instance, a lot of companies have stopped advertising on Google because they believe Google is not removing enough extremist content. That’s one step.

The second, more positive step, is to discuss with social media companies how they can help empower a more moderate voice for Muslims on the Internet. The European Commission is launching this week a €10 million European civil empowerment program to support credible voices in civil society (and not in government—we’re not credible voices) to counter the narrative of Daesh and al-Qaeda.

We would like internet companies to bring something too—not only money but expertise. Twitter, for instance, has a three-day training program to tweet in an efficient manner. It supported the second presidential campaign of Barack Obama, so technical expertise is something Twitter can bring.

We are also currently discussing with these companies the issue of electronic or digital evidence—how to get direct and swift access to digital evidence. In most cases of foreign terrorist fighters, we only have digital evidence that they have been fighting alongside Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra. And if we want to secure convictions, that’s the only way to do it.

What kind of digital evidence are you talking about?

For example a WhatsApp message, an email, a video, a picture or geolocation data of the suspected jihadist in Syria or Raqqa. For instance, the Dutch judges considered it sufficient that your mobile was in Raqqa to secure conviction—it is simply impossible to survive in there unless you are with Daesh. So we are discussing a new mechanism in order to get access to this data, because it is often stored in the cloud in California, and we have to use mutual recognition procedures, which are long and cumbersome.

Another issue is encryption. After the Snowden leaks, these companies were very afraid to lose the European market because they know we do care about privacy a lot. So they started developing encryption even up to what they call end-to-end encryption such as Telegram, for instance, or WhatsApp. And it’s even difficult for the company to get access to the product that they are providing themselves. So how do we go around encryption is another issue which the French and the German ministries have asked the Commission to dig into and come up with a proposal.

Are encryption backdoors an idea that you would support?

The Commission is currently working on the technical and the legal aspects of the file. It’s much too early to say that backdoor would be a solution.

We all agree that we have to balance two concerns. One is allowing the security services, police, and law enforcement agencies to get access to the content, which is important for security reasons.

And at the same time, we need a very strong internet—we don’t want to create vulnerabilities. And the question is, can you open a backdoor for Europol only, or would that at the same time create a vulnerability and open a backdoor for the Russian mafia or third party state spies?

This is part of the discussion but we are not there yet. There is internal work—it’s a tricky issue. If you remember the fight between the CEO of Apple and the FBI, you see that during the Obama Administration they were unable to find a solution even in the US to go around that problem. So it’s not something that we can solve overnight.

Going back to the commemoration of the Brussels attacks, a number of initiatives were launched at European level after the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. What changed after the Brussels attacks? Did it help push forward some new initiatives?

First, on the overall framework, all this terrorism activity has led Commission President Juncker to launch the concept of a Security Union, which is quite ambitious. It’s really a conceptual change. We’re not just supporting member states. We are building a common Security Union like you have a Monetary Union.

82% of European citizens do mention security and counter-terrorism as an area in which they would like to see more Europe. And European Council President Donald Tusk, when reflecting on what could be done to re-energise the EU after Brexit also picked security as the main topic.

On a more practical level, we have finalised a lot of legislation: the directive on terrorism, the common definition of terrorism in all its aspects among the 28. We also finalised legislation on arms and especially semiautomatic arms.

…which was a bit watered down in Parliament.

Indeed, it was a bit watered down. In Europe too, we have a National Rifle Association-type lobby.

We have the systematic check on EU citizens when they cross the external border—the amendment to the Schengen border code. And we are working on a fifth amendment to the money laundering and counter-financing terrorism directive, which is proceeding well and is not very contentious.  The PNR of course was adopted too.

On the more concrete cooperation level, the European Counter-Terrorism Centre (ECTC) within Europol is now really up to speed after one year.

Can you expand on this?

The ECTC is a centre of excellence which was created a year ago and which put together bits and pieces that already existed but when put together create added value—the different databases that Europol has on crime, like trafficking human beings, trafficking of stolen documents, trafficking in drugs, arms trafficking, etc.

On terrorism, there are two specific databases: one on Islamist-related terrorism and another on other forms of terrorism. There is also the Internet Referral Unit, the Financial Intelligence Unit network (FIU), the Terrorist Financing Tracking Program (TFPT) mechanism with the US and dedicated analysts working together on the fight against terrorism.

By the way, there is only one occasion where member states have asked Europol to support a live investigation: that was after the killing of four or five Israelis in Burgas in Bulgaria, three or four years ago. But besides that, until recently member states were not inviting Europol to support a live investigation.

For the first time after the Paris and Brussels attacks, Europol has been invited to be on the investigation team from day one. That shows that member states believe that Europol can bring added value. This is very important. That’s on the law enforcement side.

On the intelligence side, the security services club, which is called the CTG, the Counter-terrorism Group, has decided to structure its cooperation much more by creating a common human and IT platform.

Who are the members of that group?

They are the 28 EU national security services, plus Norway and Switzerland. And that’s a sort of subsidiary of the Berne Club of security services which was created 20 or 25 years ago. The Berne Club covers not only the fight against terrorism but also counterintelligence, counterespionage, and hybrid wars, like the one we experience today.

The CTG is a specific group dedicated to counter-terrorism. It has been working a lot since 9/11, but it had no real structured platform. It now has one. Now we’ve asked them to explore what they could do together. And they are working on that at the moment.

And even though the bulk of the threat is not coming from outside, we are much more aggressive at the external border through the systematic check of EU citizens, but also through the so-called hotspots where all the agencies—Europol, EuroJust, Frontex, EASO, and member states’ liaison offices—are working together to perform security checks on all the migrants entering into the Schengen zone.

You once said there was no risk that some terrorists might be hiding among the refugees. Would you maintain this today?

The main threat is coming from people who are not travelling, who are sometimes not even linked to Daesh or al-Qaeda. They just get radicalised in Europe, mount an attack and claim that it’s linked to Daesh or al-Qaeda, but quite often it’s not.

And we’ve seen Daesh change its propaganda. Between 2013 and 2016 the message was, ‘Leave your country, and come here to build the caliphate’. But since the caliphate is collapsing, now the message is different. Now, it’s ‘Don’t move, don’t travel, mount an attack where you live with the means you have, it’s not necessary to travel anymore’. And of course there might be one terrorist among the refugees from time to time, but it’s very marginal. And we have improved significantly the way we spot and stop people at the external border.

What changes do you think need to be made to Schengen to prevent the circulation of jihadists?

The circulation of people inside the Schengen zone is intrinsically linked to the project. If you want to rebuild borders, reinstall borders, I wish you luck. It will be awfully expensive. And will it be effective? I doubt it.

Then what is the answer?

You may reinstall border checks for a short period of time. But there is no discussion as to a permanent re-establishment of border checks, this is nonsense.

The project is to keep developing what we call the flanking measures, which is an endless process. The most known flanking measures are the Schengen Information System, common visa policy, common asylum policy, and common rules at the external borders.

All of which have not made tremendous progress…

It has made a lot of progress, but it will never stop because the nature of the threat has changed. For years we were looking at third country nationals. Then we discovered that a new threat was coming from Europe and that it was our own citizens going abroad and coming back.

What did we do? We had to amend the Schengen border code to check EU citizens systematically. At the very beginning, the Commission was a bit reluctant because that was not the mindset. Now we’ve reached the conclusion that our citizens are the main threat. So maybe tomorrow we will need another flanking measure. I think we need to keep developing these flanking measures according to the development of the threat.

And probably what has been the least developed is the world of intelligence because member states have decided to keep it outside of the EU framework. That’s their decision. But they are making progress on that as well, outside the EU framework.

Not all member states are willing to share sensitive information with all the others…

There is a misunderstanding on that, and even myself sometimes misunderstood. I don’t suggest that they are not sharing intelligence. This is untrue. Do you believe for one second that the heads of national security in France and Belgium are not serious people who want to prevent an attack?

On a bilateral basis, yes, but not on an EU-wide level.

No—as a goal, they want to do everything possible to prevent an attack on their territory, just because otherwise they will be sacked.

But that’s bilateral collaboration.

The way they work is different, but the determination is very strong. I have never met the head of a security service who is stupid, who does not want to protect his country. They do share, bilaterally or multilaterally, and more and more multilaterally.

I did refer to the platform before. The question is how structured it should be and that’s up to them to decide because it’s outside the EU framework. The second question is the sort of link that you want to build between this platform and Europol, which is an EU agency. And this is something they are currently discussing. But that’s the decision of the EU member states to keep this cooperation outside the EU framework.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has called for some kind of European FBI although he may have meant CIA. Do you support this idea?

He said FBI and he meant FBI because it’s not about spying outside of Europe on other states. It’s more what the Americans did after 9/11 when they decided to create an intelligence division inside the FBI, having in the same agency intelligence and law enforcement information.

And that’s part of the achievement of the last few months. We managed to convince the member states to feed more and more intelligence into the Schengen Information System and Europol. Do they feed 100%? No. But they have started doing that. So if you take what we call in Brussels jargon an Article 36(3) alert, we now have intelligence information put in by security services in the SIS, which is an EU tool.

Security services share all the names of foreign terrorist fighters in the SIS, which is used by all the member states. And we have one mechanism, which is the SIS Article 36(3) where all the names, and, I hope soon, all the biometrical data, of all the foreign terrorist fighters, are shared among the 28 plus the Schengen non-member states. So when someone is checked at the external border, they can determine if it’s someone that they should arrest or if it is someone they should put under discreet surveillance. This is already one step.

Sharing with Europol is coming gradually, but our member states prefer doing that at the national level. It’s up to the national law enforcement agency to feed Europol. It’s not entirely true to say that they’re not sharing. They do.

But they do selectively only.

First, I don’t know, because I don’t have access to the pipeline. I cannot say that they share 100%, 80% or less. And you don’t know either. I don’t know if it’s a question of data sharing, it may be a collection of factors that led to the attacks.

But there were indeed some weaknesses. For instance, when Salah Abdeslam was checked by the French gendarmerie on the morning after the Bataclan attacks took place, he was under Article 36(2) and not 36(3), and the response of the Belgian police was probably not quick enough. He could have been arrested.

Allowing the gendarmes to have access to that particular set of data would have helped arrest Abdeslam?

They had access, they knew that Abdeslam was in ISIS. But it was not explicit that he was a terrorist. He was there under Article 36(2), which is data provided by the police which means he could have been just a drug dealer. And neither 36(2) nor 36(3) are sufficient for asking the arrest of a person—it’s only there to inform the state which fed the information in the database that the person has been controlled. The gendarme did in a way what he had to do, but if he had been a bit quicker, maybe they would have arrested him.

Can you explain what is currently covered by Article 36 (2) and 36(3)?

There is a regulation creating the Schengen Information System (SIS) which covers all the information that you put in the database—on missing children, on people who cannot enter the Schengen zone, on people who are under a European arrest warrant. So there are maybe ten categories of alert.

36(2) covers information put most of the time by the police on crooks, criminals, drug dealers, traffickers of human beings, etc. Nobody wants to arrest those people at this stage, but police want to have as much information as possible about them. For example, if such a person is controlled in Greece, the Greek police will inform the Belgians that Mr X has been controlled, that he was in a car with other people. You collect information but you don’t show to the person that he is in the system. It’s discreet surveillance.

36(3), most of the time is information put by the security service. It’s intelligence. For instance, when Mehdi Nemmouche entered the Schengen zone in Frankfurt, he was detected by the Germans who informed the French. But in the system at the time it was not clear that Nemmouche was a foreign terrorist fighter. After this, we changed the system to make sure that when someone is put under 36(3), the system shows to the border guard that the person is a foreign terrorist fighter. The border guard can then in real time call the state which put the data in and ask whether he should let the person go, arrest him or ask further questions.

And this is now in place?

After Nemmouche, we refined the system, and after the Abdeslam case, the Belgians are now feeding 36(3) more systematically, when they were using 36(2) before. We always try to refine the system.

Do you support this idea of a European FBI, or is it too early?

First, we have to work in the current legal framework. There is no treaty negotiation soon, so we have to work within the current system.

Over the last two years, I have encouraged the security services to cooperate more, and they have started doing it. They’ve created a common platform—a human and IT platform—which is located in the Netherlands, close to Europol. That’s a very significant improvement.

The second one is to encourage national security services to explore with Europol what sort of cooperation could be developed between the Europol ECTC and the CTG platform that I just mentioned. So that’s, I think, a step in the right direction.

I’ve also worked a lot to monitor how member states are feeding the SIS with intelligence under Article 36(3) and they have improved a lot. And I’m encouraging member states to feed Europol as much as possible. If Europol is more and more involved in live counter-terrorism investigations, member states will feel much more confident, they will see the added value and they will naturally feed Europol more. You cannot force the security service to feed Europol—it doesn’t work like this. Creating this trust relationship will take some time.

Overall, if we achieve all this, I think it would already be a major improvement. If later on member states decide to create an intel branch inside Europol, we will see. But the large member states are not in favour.

Looking forward now, what remaining gaps should be addressed as a matter of priority?

I would mention the high-level expert group on interoperability, which is currently exploring how we can cross more EU databases with batch comparison. That would allow better access to the Eurodac fingerprint database by the police for example.

We have a Europol database, Interpol database, Schengen Information System, visa information system, Eurodac. We’ll have the ETIAS database soon on the entry-exit mechanism—so how do we use that in a more effective manner?

The second urgent challenge is to start feeding and being in a position to query these databases with biometrical data and especially facial imaging. Fingerprints are the biometric data of the 19thcentury, DNA is the biometric data of the 20th century, and facial recognition is the biometric data of the 21st century. We need it because many people entering Europe are travelling with no documents or false documents or stolen documents. Biometrical data is the only way to identify these people.

Interoperability between the databases, systematic use of biometrics, going further with internet companies on the removal of unlawful websites and automatic detection of them, encryption, digital evidence, and developing counter-terrorism partnerships with the neighbouring countries in the Euromed area—all of these measures are needed at the same time.

We started negotiating counter-terrorism partnerships with countries from Morocco to Turkey, including the Western Balkans, but we need to keep doing that quickly, because they, too, are vulnerable. A country like Tunisia has more than 3,000 of its citizens who left to fight in Syria, Iraq or Lybia. They will return, so how can we help this country digest these returns?

It’s a collective challenge for all the countries around the Mediterranean to cope with the threat, but many of them are less prepared than Europe is. And many of them are dual citizens—they are Belgo-Balkans or Tunisian-French or Algerian-French—and they may use their two passports to go below the radar. This is another challenge. I’m working hard with the European External Action Service at the request of Ms Mogherini to build this counter-terrorism partnership.

And, finally, we need to step up cooperation with Gulf countries on how we can reduce the spread of the most extremist brand of Islam. That’s a list of challenges

To conclude, are you concerned about Brexit in the context of counter-terrorism?

The whole environment is changing with the election of President Trump. The Americans are sharing a lot of data with our services and we want to keep that and work very strongly together.

And the same applies to the Brits. Britain has always been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. They have very effective security services. Conceptually, they are the ones who shaped our policy, which is inspired by the four P’s: prevent, pursue, protect, prepare. They’ve always played a leading role and it’s very sad to see them leaving.

We need them, but they need us as well. Even though I’m not authorised to discuss what will happen after Brexit, it seems clear that it will be of mutual interest to find ways of keeping both sides safe. It’s too early to determine how we will do it, but Britain is important in the counter-terrorism fight.

Given that Britain is already outside of EU justice and police cooperation, it shouldn’t make a big difference…

Yes and no. After the Brexit referendum, Theresa May, who was home secretary at the time, convinced Parliament that Britain should opt back into Europol. That’s quite significant. They now have a full-time Commissioner, Julian King, who is working hard to show that Britain does matter. And they are connected to the SIS.

And that can survive Brexit?

We’ll see. As I said, we’ll probably need each other later on, but I don’t want to express myself on how we will do it because that’s another story.

[Source: By Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com ~ EurActiv.com -/- Media Relations]
[Intext Photo: inserted by openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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More:

Molenbeek urges Belgium to share information on returning fighters

Molenbeek mayor: ‘Poverty is no excuse for radicalism’

EU anti-terrorism chief: Communications should be accessible to security services

Activists wary of ‘data super-authority’ Europol as reform looms

Council pushes for broad collection of flight passenger data after Paris attacks

EU proposes Minority Report-style facial recognition for refugees

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Texas Public High School Accommodating Islamic Students, Set Aside Classroom For Muslim Prayer

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The prayer room at Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, has been provided to meet the special needs of Muslim students since 2009. For at least 30 minutes every weekday for the past seven years, a classroom at Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, gets transformed into an on-campus mosque. At least a dozen students use… Read More


Macedonia – EU Pressuring Macedonian President, Gorge Ivanov, To Calm Political Crisis

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Belgrade (dpa) – An EU commissioner on Tuesday urged Macedonian President Gorge Ivanov to recognize the results of December elections and appoint a government, warning that the country risked losing its bid for European Union membership. “All leaders of the country, including the president, must respect outcome of recent elections+acknowledge parliamentary majorities,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes… Read More


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City Pass Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

Victor, Idaho,USA — City Pass, the company that bundles prepaid admission to a destination’s top attractions into discounted, easy-to-use ticket booklets, is celebrating two milestones this year: its 20th anniversary and its 98 percent customer recommendation rating.  

Top of Rock Cropped

Launched in 1997, CityPASS® was the brainchild of co-founders Mike Morey and Mike Gallagher, business partners who had spent much of their respective careers working at, with or around attractions. Their vision was specific: handpick the very best attractions in major North American destinations and then discount admission to those attractions by up to 50 percent.

It was something no one else had done, and it was a risk. But, Gallagher and Morey believed in their goal of making travel easier, more affordable, and vastly more enjoyable. And, based on 2016 customer polling, that vision has succeeded. An enviable 98 percent of CityPASS customers report that they would recommend CityPASS booklets to a friend or family member.

“One thing that differentiates CityPASS from other destination passes is that we purposely limit the number of attractions whose tickets are included in our ticket booklets,” said Co-founder and Co-chairman Mike Morey. “That’s because we never want a CityPASS user to feel that they have to rush from attraction to attraction to get their money’s worth. A select number of tickets to the top sights means that travelers can slow down, take their time, and really enjoy themselves at each location.”

“Our concept was designed around taking the stress out of planning a vacation,” said Mike Gallagher, CityPASS co-founder and co-chairman. “People worry that travel is too expensive, so we made it more affordable. They worry that once they go on vacation, they’ll miss something incredible. So, we made sure to include all the top attractions. They worry about spending their precious vacation time standing in line, which is why, whenever possible, CityPASS includes a line-skipping option. The whole idea was to take away the hassle, so that travelers and their families could just focus on having fun.”

CityPASS debuted in Seattle and San Francisco, with the very first CityPASS ticket booklet being sold in Seattle on June 11, 1997. The following year New York and Boston were added to the program.

Today, CityPASS offers curated, discounted admission to the top attractions in 12 North American destinations: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Southern California (includes admission to Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California). To date, more than 17 million CityPASS ticket booklets have been sold.

“We’ve seen a lot of change in the past 20 years,” said Megan Allen, who was named CityPASS president and CEO in 2012, after moving up the ranks following her initial hire in 2000. “We’ve seen sales go from primarily box office to largely online; we’ve gone from shipping every ticket booklet by post to sending a good portion of them via email; and, last year, we introduced our first entirely mobile pass, New York C3. But, no matter how high-tech we become or how the business evolves, we always want to focus on providing an exceptional travel experience and outstanding customer service. That 98 percent customer recommendation rating is something we want to hold onto for many years to come.”

About CityPASS:

Since 1997, CityPASS ticket booklets and admission cards have been premier products for travelers who want to visit a destination’s top attractions while enjoying significant savings. CityPASS ticket booklets are currently available in 12 North American destinations: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay and Toronto. Still a family-owned business, CityPASS is headquartered in the small mountain town of Victor, Idaho, on the west slope of the Teton Mountains.

[Source: CityPass -/- Media Relations]
[Intext Photo: inserted by openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

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European And North African Interior Ministers Seeking Solutions To Curtail Mass Illegal Migrant Flows From Libya

European, North Africa Ministers Seek To Curb Libya Illegal Migrant Flows

Overview of Calais Jungle

Interior ministers mainly from the central Mediterranean region met in Rome yesterday (20 March) to ramp up efforts to curb migration from Libya amid a sharp rise in the number of people trying to cross to Europe. One year after a controversial deal with Turkey to stop migrants setting out across the Aegean Sea for Greece, the European Union is seeking to reach a similar accord with conflict-hit Libya, despite fierce opposition from human rights campaigners.

Just this past weekend more than 3,300 people were rescued from unseaworthy vessels off the north African country, bringing the number of arrivals in Italy to nearly 20,000 so far in 2017 – a significant increase on previous years.

The wave of attempted arrivals continued Monday, with the Italian coastguard saying it had coordinated the rescues of about 1,800 people off the Libyan coast.

Interior ministers from Algeria, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Libya, Malta, Slovenia, Switzerland and Tunisia took part in the meeting, along with European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos.

The group released a declaration of intent which limited itself to promising increased coordination and information-sharing in a bid to tackle the root causes of migration, as well as combat smuggling and strengthen borders.

“The aim is to govern migratory movements” rather than be governed by them, said Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

Libya’s UN-backed unity government has requested €800 million worth of equipment to help patrol its coast and territorial waters, including radars, boats, helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, boats and helicopters, according to Italy’s Corriere della Sera daily.

There is also talk of a Libya-based operational centre to coordinate rescues in international waters off the coast, relieving the burden on Rome, which has been forced to monitor and intervene well beyond its established maritime surveillance zone.

Experts say some of the equipment requested by Libya would fall foul of a UN embargo on arms imports into the country.

France’s Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux stressed the importance of making sure the Libyan coastguard lives up to its EU training.

Some 90 members of the coastguard are currently completing skills training under the EU, and Italy is preparing to return 10 coastguard boats to Libya that it seized in 2011.

They are expected to be operational by the end of April or in early May, Minniti said.

The idea is to intercept migrants before they reach international waters and take them to camps in Libya where their human rights would be protected — “a big step forward” from current conditions in the country’s migrant holding camps, Minniti said.

But critics warn against planned repatriations of asylum seekers to Libya, a country where allegations of torture, rape and murder are rife.

Those picked up off Libya and not entitled to international protection would be returned to their countries of origin, Minniti said, without saying what would happen to those who are eligible for asylum, subsidiary protection or humanitarian protection.

Background:  Senior Arab diplomat derides EU migrant discourse

Further Reading:

More:

EU looks to limit migration from Libya

6,500 migrants rescued off coast of Libya in one day

Italy sets up fund to help African countries stop migrants

EU considers increased support to help Libya tackle people smugglers

Malta PM wants Turkey-style migrant deals with other Med countries

[Source: EurActiv.com -/- Media Relations]
[Intext Photo: inserted by openeyesopinion.com (credits embedded)]

 

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China -Since Rising To Office In 2012, Xi Jinping Has Been Steadily And Aggressively Consolidating His Power

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Philippine National Police Prevent A Bomb Attack By Islamic Terrorist Group

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Manila (dpa) – Philippine police have foiled alleged bomb attacks being planned by an Islamic State-inspired group in Manila, the country’s police chief said Tuesday. A suspect, identified as Nasif Ibrahim, was also apprehended during a raid on a suspected hideout in the city of Quezon on Monday, police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa said. Police… Read More