“There is no Substitute for First-Rate Intelligence”

Jean-Louis Bruguière, formerly the Head of the National Counterterrorism Division of France, says in a special interview to Israel Defense that the secrets to effective counterterrorism are the development of technologies, international cooperation and most importantly – intelligence enabling early spotting of the threats

Photo: AP

“The Number One terrorist threat worldwide, including the Middle East, is still ISIS and the radical jihadist Islamic organizations. ISIS has been defeated militarily, but it still exists and remains very active. So far, ISIS has not operated extensively against Israel, but that could change, and Israel could become an enemy. It will be worthwhile to keep an eye on the activity of ISIS and other radical organizations in the Sinai, along Israel's border.”

These statements were made by one of the foremost counterterrorism experts of France, Investigating Magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, formerly the Head of the National Counterterrorism Division of the French Government and Vice President of the Paris Court of Serious Claims (Tribunal de Grande Instance).

Bruguière delivered a lecture at the Go for Israel Conference, which was held in Tel-Aviv and organized by Catalyst Private Equity and Cukierman & Co. Investment House, and spoke to Israel Defense about his field of expertise – global terrorism. He is a person of immense experience in all fields of counterterrorism who served as investigating magistrate in trials against members of al-Qaeda and Palestinian terrorist groups. He is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and during his extensive career – “thirty years of dealing with terrorism,” as he describes it – he interviewed dozens of members of terrorist organizations.

What terrorism-related dangers do you envision for Israel in the near future?

“Over the years I interviewed many members of al-Qaeda. They stated repeatedly that they had indeed supported the Palestinian resistance organizations and that Israel was definitely their enemy. There is the danger of attempts to infiltrate Israel by terrorist organizations, and (terrorist) activities have already been spotted on the Golan Heights and in the Sinai. Israel is a small country, well equipped and armed, but the main thing is first-rate intelligence. You are highly advanced in the fields of counterterrorism, but you must take into consideration the possibility of attempted terrorist attacks against Israel.”

What about the dangers in Europe?

“In my opinion, the members of ISIS currently escaping from Syria and Iraq and returning to their home countries in Europe do not pose a real danger. The dangerous ones are radical Muslim residents of European countries who have already established themselves as citizens of their respective countries and are currently undergoing processes of radicalization. The danger they present is internal, inside France, Britain, Sweden and other countries, and less an external danger. They are dangerous because they face subsistence and financial problems or personal problems, and then they might turn to terrorism.

“Another source of danger in Europe – the refugees coming from outside. The trouble is that every country in Europe has a different refugee policy. There is no uniformity and no overall, comprehensive approach for handling this problem. The European Union attempts to act, but it is difficult to enforce the statutes and regulations. Europe is not a single country but rather a union of numerous countries and methods.”

Does Iran serve as the long arm of global terrorism?

“So far there has been no evidence of direct Iranian involvement in terrorist activities in Europe. It is clear, however, that Iran inspires terrorism and supports Hezbollah and Hamas in the Middle East. In the past, there was evidence of direct Iranian involvement in terrorist activities, but not in recent years and not in terrorist attacks in Europe. It is different from the Middle East, where the Iranian touch is definitely visible, in Hezbollah, Hamas, in the Sinai and on the Golan Heights,” said Bruguière.

France experienced numerous terrorist attacks. What is the current situation of counterterrorism in France?

“I know that counterterrorism intelligence in France has improved significantly. Behind the scenes, there is productive cooperation with Israel in the field of intelligence and exchange of information used in the spotting of threats. We in France invested a fortune in counterterrorism, in technologies, in encryption methods, and in protecting the security of the citizens. The intelligence capabilities and the cooperative alliances with the law enforcement agencies and the police have improved dramatically. At the same time, it should be said that France faces numerous problems in the monitoring and tracking of suspects, but specialized technologies have been developed. I have to commend the cooperation with Israel in these fields.”

As someone possessing extensive experience in counterterrorism, what, in your opinion, are the most important aspects of this activity?

“First and foremost, nothing is more important than intelligence collection and international cooperation and sharing of information between the countries that fight terrorism. Spotting the threats at an early stage – that is the keyword and that is the secret. There is no substitute for first-rate intelligence.”