– Interview with Frederik P. Hitz conducted by Ioannis Michaletos,WSN Executive South East Europe, Coordinator South Eastern Office –
Ioannis Michaletos: The current globalized era has revealed a multitude of perils regarding international security. Do you assess that international terrorism has become an even greater danger, and the efforts so far are not enough to overcome such a threat?
Frederik P. Hitz: International terrorism represents an entirely different challenge to international security from the perils of the Cold War. Terrorism as we have come to know it from Al Qaeda and the Taliban is non-state in origin, indiscriminate in its targets, civilian and military, and characterized by suicide bombing and improvised roadside bombs. In short, it is a horizontal threat, indiscriminately effective, but unlikely to bring down established governments like Greece or the U.S. To overcome this threat will require increased cooperation from the community of nations and some patience.
Ioannis Michaletos: Bearing in mind that the liberalization of trade, telecommunication and transport has made the exchange of population and goods easier as ever before in human history;, how can the security and international authorities effectively manage threats coming from extremist and terrorist groups that are able to exploit such developments in their favour?
Frederik P. Hitz: Freedom of movement in today’s global society presents increased terrorist challenges to established governments, yet again demanding more cooperation between the police, immigration and intelligence authorities to share information and warnings about terrorist groups and threats of attack. There is a universal thirst for “actionable ” intelligence about the identities, resources and plans of non-state terrorist actors.
Ioannis Michaletos: According to your estimation, is there a stronger probability of an attack equivalent to that of 11/9, somewhere in the world? Are Weapons of Mass Destruction, a possible new tool for terrorists?
Frederik P. Hitz: A 9/11 attack is still possible, although much has been done to safeguard international air travel. It was not enough to stop the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suicide bomber who attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet aircraft in Detroit on Christmas eve. Clearly, terrorist groups will continue to try to acquire WMD for their use in future attacks.
Ioannis Michaletos: What are the main challenges facing the USA and Europe nowadays in terms of anti-terrorist policy? Are USA and Europe able to cooperate effectively to counter terrorism or is it your view that they follow diverging paths due to differences in the mentality and the Modus Operandi of their services?
Frederik P. Hitz: My best estimate is that the U.S. and individual European governments will continue to cooperate very closely in the exchange of information about terrorists and terrorist threats. The challenge is to make the best use of the latest information technology from Facebook to twitter and the latest video capabilities such as the evidence gathered in the Dubai assassination investigation.
Ioannis Michaletos: There has been a lot of talk over the years, around the need for conclusive and speedy analysis by the world’s intelligence services when dealing with the imminent threat of terrorist attacks. Is it possible for any organization to be able to analyze amass of information that is being gathered on a daily basis and consequently to produce reliable reports that can be used as a trustworthy tool by the policy-makers?
Frederik P. Hitz: There is no question that contemporary governments and their law enforcement and intelligence departments are awash in counter-terrorist reports on a daily basis. Just wading through all the data from the Internet, media outlets, threat reports and video takes an enormous effort from seasoned experts, and is very costly in terms of financial resources as well. Humint remains very important and is difficult to acquire, especially without the requisite language and cultural base. We just have to work harder and more efficiently.
Ioannis Michaletos: What is your belief for the progress of intelligence operations in the next generation or so? Is it likely that in the coming years, the private intelligence sector will have outpaced governmental agencies to such an extent that the whole intelligence sector could be viewed as a private industry with the central government having the role of the contractor and coordinator of their activities?
Frederik P. Hitz: It may well be that in coming years, governments will have to reach out to the private sector for help in developing the most efficient gadgets to gather information about terrorists technically, but human source intelligence obtained from controlled sources or volunteers will remain very important. The gravest challenge, I fear, will be to use intelligence information rapidly by “connecting all the dots” that exist between collectors of every stripe to get the information to the intelligence or law enforcement authority that is threatened quickly and efficiently. We need to regard intelligence information about terrorists as something perishable that needs to be shared quickly with those who are affected.