Fighting Terror & The Enemy Within. Bureaucracy.

The Islamic belief is that the sacrifice during Ramadan can be considered more valuable than made at other times. Recent announcements by ISIS and Hamas have warned of increased attacks during the month of Ramadan. The Islamic holy month is coupled with the European summer season and tourists are flocking to the beaches and other tourists attractions and with Euro 2016 kicking off today, authorities have their hands full, worldwide, on where the next attack might occur. However, they also face their own hurdle. Red Tape.

The recent beach terror attacks in Ivory Coast and Tunisia showed how easy it is for terrorists to create a massacre. The pristine and popular beaches in Italy, France and Spain are the possible soft targets terrorists are looking for. How do you protect the beaches from these beach style attacks? You simply can't. It is a whole new dimension of terror. 

Within the last week, terror alerts were issued for South Africa by the U.S, British and Australian Governments, two Palestinians opened fire at an indoor market in Tel Aviv, killing 4 people and Ukrainian police arrested a French citizen in possession of five machine guns, two rocket propelled grenades, 125kg of TNT and 100 detonators.  Although authorities are doing what they can with the resources they have at hand, trying to prevent the next massacre can somewhat seem impossible. 

Authorities sometimes face an enemy within. Bureaucracy.  

Within Europe we are faced with a situation whereby some countries have a lackadaisical approach to intelligence gathering on terror cells. You will get a country like The Netherlands which has an organised counterterrorist strategy with information sharing between their various agencies. But their neighbour, to the south west, Belgium, has been heavily criticised by their EU counterparts for their failure to identify and arrest the terrorist responsible for the 2015 attacks in France.

In the U.S. we had bureaucracy at its best when a team of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents were trying to enter a building after the San Bernardino attack on December 2nd. The article from In Homeland Security states that:

Five HSI agents, decked out in tactical gear, rushed to the office to prevent any further attacks and to detain Marquez and his wife for questioning.

Yet despite the urgency, coming less than 24 hours after the killings of almost two dozen people, “the FPS guards advised the HSI agents that they had to stay in the lobby until the Field Office Director approved their entry.”

At first, the guards couldn’t find the director because she didn’t answer her phone. Once located, she didn’t want to allow the agents into the building. In true bureaucratic fashion, the field office director said she had to check with her boss, the district director in Los Angeles, who then checked with a higher boss, the regional director in Laguna Nigel, Calif.

Sometimes, despite the hard work of agents, informants and counter intelligence operatives trying to prevent these attacks, they are frustrated and delayed by the very system that needs to protect us. 

When it comes with sharing critical intelligence between countries, sometimes economic interests will prevail rather than to share information, as countries have their own interests at heart. 

Former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, when asked about how to fight bureacracy within the new global terror threat, said "This is a not a normal set of circumstances, we've got to give our men and women in uniform and in the intelligence services the powers necessary to deal with this."

"We need to see a different approach towards attacking the problem, looking for terrorists as they're conducting their pre-operational surveillance instead of hardening targets and preventing them from attacking," explained Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at Stratfor.

Unfortunately the reality is that there is no Jack Bauer. The system and red tape will not allow that.

Ultimately, the most effective weapons governments have at their disposal are sharing information, obtaining accurate intelligence, and working to change conditions supporting radicals. This can only be effective if they cut the red tape when it comes to the rules of engagement in fighting terror.


Barry Oberholzer

Born in Houston, Texas, a former professional rugby player and current CrossFit and Ironman athlete, Barry  is the founder of TerrorMate app and is a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert. Formerly Barry served as a confidential informant for Department of Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Belgium Customs Intelligence and HM Revenue & Customs Intelligence in the United Kingdom. 

One of his most impactful successes was in his identification of Iranian sanction busting syndicates who smuggled US manufactured aircraft and parts to Iran which led to the arrests of several prominent international businessmen. He also had numerous successes in major illicit cigarette seizures in Europe.