We all empathise with the people of Belgium following the murderous incident last week in Brussels for we know that it could be us next. I have zero sympathy for the Belgium government though and it's time the the UK and rest of Europe leaned on the Belgium government to straighten out their discombobulated counter terrorisim structure which puts us all at greater risk.
Belgium is broadly acknowledged to be the weak security link in Europe. Foreign intelligence agencies had warned Belgium that ISIS leaders in Syria had sent instructions to initiate the bombing of the airport and a metro station. Worse, Turkey said it deported Ibrahaim el-Bakroui, (a bombing suspect), in July 2015 and told the Belgium authorities that he was a terrorist suspect.
It is a systemic failure of Belgium law enforcement agencies that they simply don't communicate with each other. In the Turkish instance the warning was passed to the Belgium federal police but the warning was not passed to the justice ministry's state prosecution office which could have instigated criminal proceedings. The federal police meanwhile, who are responsible for counter terrorisim, is set up to fight organised crime while the security service focuses on counter intelligence work against foreign states. Sometimes, information only reaches one branch when it is passed to an external agency like our own security services who then pass it back to the relevant Belgium force. Just to throw kerosene on the fire, the country of course is divided by two languages and an arcane political system that often leaves them without functioning government and local politics which produces 19 district mayors, (each district having responsibility for law enforcement), in a capital city of 1.2 million people.
Different branches of law enforcement not talking to each other is not new and it is not unique to Belgium. We have had our issues in this regard too. When it became clear that lives were at risk because different agencies had a habit of witholding information from each other in Northern Ireland, Mrs Thatcher dispatched Sir Maurice Oldfield to the Province in 1979 to bang heads together. Security operators are by their nature naturally suspicious of motives and jealously guard their most important human sources. Some will be motivated by internal politics, fighting for budgets, influence and broader briefs. Others might seek personal or department recognition or just adopt an infantile, 'it's mine and I'm not sharing,' stance for no better reason than they got it first.
While most countries have made great strides in advancing inter agency cohesion and communication Belgium is way behind the curve. That can not be tolerated by the rest of Europe and pressure must be brought to bear on the government of the day. With it, full assistance in training, support and technology should be on the table. I suspect such pressure would be welcomed by those on the ground tasked with rooting out the bad guys. If Belgium chooses not to update it's arcane security structure then we should slam the door firmly shut. I don't see why my family should be placed at greater risk because a bunch of feckless politicians don't have the stones to do their job.