Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute have published a fascinating new paper based on their recent talks with counterterrorism officials in Europe. Their findings contrast with the crude stereotype that so many American conservatives have of the French as “surrender monkeys.” Gerecht and Schmitt write: “France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe.”
France, they note, has been facing the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism since the 1980’s and has done an impressive job of marshaling its resources to defend itself. What’s the secret of French success? Gerecht and Schmitt point to the fact that the French “grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist investigative magistrates (juges d’instruction).”
The last office, whose most famous holder is Jean-Louis Bruguière, was created in 1986 and is utterly without parallel in the American system, because it gives a single magistrate the power to use both intelligence and police services to stop terrorists before they strike. Magistrates even have the power to lock up French citizens when there is not enough evidence to convict them of a crime.
For all their carping about America’s supposed civil-liberties abuses, the French have concentrated more power in the hands of their counterterrorism officials than we have. And it’s paid off. Gerecht and Schmitt conclude:
“We underscore the power of the French state since so much post–Patriot Act commentary in the United States suggests that enhanced police powers—for example, the sequestration of terrorist suspects without immediate access to attorneys, or the use of wiretapping and physical surveillance that falls far short of ‘probable cause’ of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) standards—are counterproductive to counterterrorism efforts since they corrode our collective trust in the law and are ineffective in any case.”
In fact, as they stress, the kind of steps the French take work. And yet in the more than twenty years since this system was created, “France has not gone down the slippery slope into tyranny. France’s society, its politics, and many of its laws have actually become much more liberal and open.”