As Belgian investigators slowly piece together the elements of a carefully conceived terror plan to cause maximum damage to a city that is in many ways the political nerve-centre of Europe, the degree to which Belgian intelligence and security services missed the signals of a plot that was snowballing just below the surface is also becoming apparent.
Evidence now emerges that the same terrorist cell that caused the > Brussels blasts was behind the > Paris attacks of November last year. As fresh revelations emerge on how a potentially catastrophic attack was aborted by the arrest of the Paris attacker Salah Andeslam by Belgian security services a few days before the blasts, there is increasing concern at the magnitude of the intelligence void.
According to an exclusive story broken by La Dernier Heure , a French newspaper published from Brussels, the suicide bombers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui were originally planning attacks on Belgian nuclear power stations. Salah Andeslam's arrest put pressure on them to change targets fast.
Security experts call for more intel sharing
Annie Machon, an intelligence and security expert, and whistleblower formerly with MI5, believes that dragnet surveillance trawls up so much information that often the focus gets lost. “This point has been made by others as well. There is a huge reliance on electronics, which is being used for police work after the event. The more and more intelligence agencies spread electronic surveillance, the less and less effective they are, because they ignore some of the more traditional aspects of policing, where you identify persons of interest and then investigate them and their networks. After all, the movement and activities of the terrorists involved in the Brussels attack was already known.”
In an interview with RT, Dr. Joseph Downing, Fellow at the London School of Economics said much the same thing. “There has clearly been some intelligence failing that hasn’t enabled security services to track those who are under significant suspicion.”
“Whether this is a question of resources in terms of requiring increased numbers of operatives and staff to monitor particular individuals, or whether it’s an issue with getting certain kinds of intelligence – still very much remains to be seen,” Mr. Downing told RT. The free movement in the Schengen area that allows terrorists to shift base and recoup after each operation is an argument advanced by Eurosceptics against the open door policy of the European Union.
Security experts have also argued that greater intelligence sharing among European allies would have offset this perceived advantage to terrorists of the free movement rule. Intelligence sharing is likely to be an issue addressed at a special meeting called of EU ministers to discuss the fallout of the Brussels blasts. However, intelligence is rarely shared fully, Ms. Machon noted. “The intelligence mechanism of most countries is still very secretive and distrustful of others,” she said, pointing to the NSA’s surveillance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls, which was only exposed thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden.