Counterterrorism, Real and Imagined

I’ve felt for a while that the “safe havens don’t matter” argument — the idea that somehow terrorist networks can’t substitute online connectivity for actual physical space — is the weakest argument against the strategic relevance of the Afghanistan war. For all sorts of reasons having to do with training, esprit de corps and loyalty bonds, actually having a physical place to solidify operational networks is probably essential and definitely advantageous.

That said, one area where online connectivity really does outweigh the importance of physical space is in the financing networks that make farflung terrorist operations possible. So an EU banking measure facilitating cooperation in counterterrorism operations would have been very useful in going after terrorists’ operational capacities. Only thing is, Germany and a few other European countries are balking at it, in part due to discomfort with the American approach to counterterrorism:

The U.S. “maintain that this is only about the fight against terrorism,”Weichert said. “But we know that the U.S. understanding of the war onterror doesn’t fit with the understanding of basic human rights inEurope.”

The measure has been postponed until after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, when it will face stricter scrutiny from the EU Parliament. The fact that the U.S. secretly accessed European banking information from a U.S.-based server until the operation was discovered in 2006 doesn’t help either.

This is another example of how unilaterally running roughshod over civil liberty protections in the immediate response to 9/11 has been counterproductive in the long-term, lower-profile efforts to contain terrorism.

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