Reuel Marc Gerecht & Gary Schmitt suggest American can learn something from France, the country possessing the most successful counter-terrorism record in the world.
Can America draw any lessons from Franceâ€™s encounter with Islamic terrorism? The two countries have separate histories of interaction with the Muslim world and philosophical differences when it comes to legal systems and the role of the state domestically. But it is worth knowing how other democracies do things, particularly when what they do seems to work.
Counterterrorist personnel in the FBI, CIA, and National Security Council usually rotate out of the terrorism portfolio after a few yearsâ€”a distinct disadvantage compared with the French system.And something the French doâ€”and perhaps the hardest thing for Americans to appreciate, let alone adoptâ€”is to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges dâ€™instruction. The latter institution is the lynchpin of Franceâ€™s counterterrorist prowess, allowing the French to marry the powers of prevention, deterrence, and punishment under one man. These magistrates, who came into being after 1986, have no American parallel and in the powers they possess appear to be sui generis within Europe. They oversee and often direct the investigative potential of Franceâ€™s myriad police services, especially the intelligence unit of the French national police, the Renseignements GÃ©nÃ©raux, and the DST.
This direction is exercised through a combination of administrative statutes and, just as important, informal relations. While the DST works primarily under the authority of the minister of interior, over the years a new cooperative relationship has evolved with the juges dâ€™instruction. Because of the success of such magistrates as Jean-Louis BruguiÃ¨re and Jean-FranÃ§ois Ricard, who proved they could handle sensitive information collected by a domestic intelligence agency, the DST now works hand in glove with the magistrates and may even be directed by them in ongoing investigations.
These magistrates and their offices have become the repositories of counterterrorist information inside the French government. The advantage over the American system here is overwhelming: counterterrorist personnel in the FBI, CIA, Justice Department, and National Security Council usually rotate out of the terrorism portfolio after a few years. And few could be said to have monitored specific cases and particular Islamist organizations for years on end.
Also striking is the ability of the French to concentrate the resources of the state. From the use of wiretaps, to day-and-night physical surveillance, to â€œpreventive detentionâ€ that can be directed against targets on whom authorities do not have sufficient evidence to seek criminal prosecution, magistrates and their allied police and intelligence services can rapidly monitor, harass, and paralyze those they suspect of terrorist activity. As the French governmentâ€™s 2006 â€œWhite Paperâ€ on domestic security and terrorism states, â€œTo be effective, a judicial system for counterterrorism must combine a preventive element, whose objective is to prevent terrorists from acting, and a repressive element, to punish those who commit attacks as well as their organizers and accomplices. The French system follows this logic. But its originality and strength lie in the fact that the barrier between prevention and punishment is not airtight.â€ The juges have largely deconstructed this wall.
The French operate ruthlessly and informally, unhindered by our Constitutional system of limitations on searches or by habeas corpus. Their results may be enviable, but Americans are unlikely to wish to confer anything like those kinds of powers upon the State. Look at the successful fuss the Left has made over civil liberties with regard to automated datamining of emails transmitted overseas.