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Oct. 7 Chat: Making sense of Europe's terror threat

Date and Time: 
Thursday, October 7, 2010 - 12:00 - 12:30

Psychological warfare? Reason to panic? Or just empty threats? In recent days, governments have warned that Europe could be the target of attacks similar to the Thanksgiving 2008 Mumbai terror strike. 

To put the news in perspective, GlobalPost invites its members to chat online with our Brussels correspondent, Teri Schultz, at noon Eastern time on Thursday Oct. 7. 

International News
12:02 GlobalPost As you know, the US, followed by Japan, recently issued a travel alert for the whole of the European continent, warning of a terrorist threat.
12:03 GlobalPost Teri, what is the reaction in Brussels? Has there already been a drop in tourism?
12:03 teri-schultz Hello from Brussels!
12:04 teri-schultz The initial reaction honestly seemed a bit confused...
12:04 teri-schultz we learned later that there WERE some phone calls between U.S. officials and European Union officials but since the travel alert
12:05 teri-schultz came to the general public here via media and not their own governments (and on a Sunday), people seemed to be a bit perplexed.
12:05 GlobalPost Now is there a reason why the warning came from the US and not from the EU as well?
12:05 teri-schultz There wasn't much information to be had and since these travel alerts are an American product, Europeans weren't sure what to make of it.
12:06 teri-schultz The very publication of such a thing with no back-up information can be frightening!
12:06 teri-schultz So Monday morning comes and people start asking questions...for which European leaders had few answers. :/
12:07 teri-schultz I spoke with a woman at the European Travel Commission, representing 38 countries, and she was rather annoyed that the back-up
12:07 teri-schultz information seemed to point to just Britain, France and Germany, yet the alert was for all of Europe.
12:08 GP-ChatHost A brief note to the audience...
12:08 teri-schultz So the tourism industry indeed fears a drop in traffic, but thus far this week there hasn't seemed to be any such precipitous drop.
12:08 teri-schultz As for why it came from the U.S. and not the EU -- there is no such system in the EU. No "travel alerts", "travel warnings' -- nothing!
12:09 teri-schultz The U.S. State Department is legally required to make public any threat information it has -- this is as a result of the Lockerbie
12:09 teri-schultz bombing when diplomats received warnings and civilians did not -- but there's nothing like that here in Europe.
12:10 teri-schultz As a matter of fact, today justice ministers meeting in Luxembourg are starting to talk about having a Europe-wide alert or at the
12:10 teri-schultz very least a way of letting all 27 members know what the others are doing as far as national alerts.
12:10 GP-ChatHost Okay, now, a brief note to the audience...
12:10 GP-ChatHost If you have a question for Teri, please message the GP-ChatHost by pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHost FOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE."
12:10 GP-ChatHost without the quotes, of course
12:11 GP-ChatHost Okay, that's it for my message...
12:11 GP-ChatHost Go ahead, GP
12:12 GlobalPost Okay. This gets into the usual question about the EU: is there a benefit to centralization or do member states have the impetus on security. Have any changes their security procedures since the alert?
12:13 teri-schultz Member states have chosen specifically -- including as recently as when they negotiated the new Lisbon Treaty over last couple years -- to keep the responsibility for
12:14 teri-schultz counter-terrorism and security at the national level. Even EU members don't want to have to share their most sensitive law-enforcement data which yes, can be
12:15 teri-schultz a hindrance but is nonetheless their right. Now there is finally more talk about coordination -- not handing over responsibility for fighting terrorism -- at the EU level.
12:15 teri-schultz There exists a "coordinator" so it's a matter of deciding what they want him to do. There have been some security upgrades on the ground in Paris and London,
12:16 teri-schultz I believe, but here in Brussels, for example, nothing was changed for a major head-of-state Asian summit this week and Germany has flatly said --
12:16 teri-schultz despite being one of the three rumored to be the target countries -- that it sees no reason to raise alarm.
12:16 GP-ChatHost Okay, we have a question from the audience, one MilesAhead (perhaps a jazz guy?)
12:16 GP-ChatHost milesahead: How does the "terror card" play in European politics? is it a sensitive, hot-button issue like it is in the U.S.?
12:17 teri-schultz Interesting question -- which to some extent depends here, as it does in the U.S., on election cycles!
12:18 teri-schultz The issue of terrorism from outside is nowhere near as neuralgic an issue here as it is in the States. With 27 countries, you have a huge range
12:18 teri-schultz of perceptions in what a "threat" is. In Spain, most people may well consider Basque separatists as the biggest "terrorists"...
12:19 teri-schultz so there has never been a unified concept of terrorism, as we have had in the U.S.
12:20 teri-schultz But the last several years have caused a marked shift in threat perception here, with the Al Qaeda-linked attacks in Madrid and London and the
12:20 teri-schultz cells broken up in Germany and I am certain that we will hear more about terrorism as a political issue all the time.
12:21 GlobalPost That's surprising that the head-of-state summit didn't have extra security. Of course, you never know. I once sat next to a US Homeland Security agent at a bar in Brussels who said that even though there seems to be less security than in Washington, there's more than meets the eye.
12:21 teri-schultz Yeah -- think about all those cameras in the UK!
12:21 GlobalPost However there’s often a perception that Europeans are “softer” on terror than the U.S. is. Do you see any evidence of that?
12:22 teri-schultz I definitely think there's a different approach in Europe than in the U.S. and that's something they are proud of. I was just reading the
12:22 teri-schultz counter-terrorism strategy and attention to human rights is reiterated constantly.
12:23 teri-schultz Europe is anti-death penalty, anti-Guantanamo, anti-waterboarding, etc (sorry to have to over-generalize, but these are also discussed as policy at the EU level)
12:24 teri-schultz and today when a high-ranking official from the Dept of Homeland Security had a lunch briefing with the EU justice ministers, three of four EU officials who briefed
12:25 teri-schultz afterwards talked about the "cultural differences" in how the two sides view terrorism and counter-terrorism. One even used "clash"...
12:25 GlobalPost And one ongoing disagreement between the EU and US related to security is privacy. Why has the EU has fought back against sharing bank-transfer information and airline-passenger data with the U.S. for the purposes of preventing terrorism?
12:26 teri-schultz You answered the question: privacy! There's an enooooooormous difference in how EU citizens view what is acceptable to be done with their private data
12:27 teri-schultz versus what Americans will tolerate. Even though U.S. authorities swore up and down that bank-transfer details are only subpoenaed and looked at if there is a
12:28 teri-schultz well-documented reason to believe the transactions are terrorism-related, the European Parliament said that wasn't good enough.
12:28   +++ ChanServ has given op to gstout
12:28 teri-schultz There is a fear that every ATM withdrawal can be scrutinized by the Americans (who, frankly, are not trusted here because of "Patriot Act"-like provisions) and
12:29 teri-schultz Europeans don't like that idea one bit. Same with the transfer of personal details every time a European gets on a flight to the U.S. They're fed up with that --
12:29 teri-schultz EVEN with increased terrorism threats.
12:29 GP-ChatHost Okay, we have another question from the audience:
12:29 GP-ChatHost How do ordinary people in Brussels feel about the security threat? What is the mood in the street?
12:30 teri-schultz Here in Brussels, no noticeable difference. As the capital of the European Union, there are always a bunch of security guys milling about
12:31 teri-schultz in front of the European Union headquarters and of course NATO headquarters are heavily guarded. But the Belgian government openly admitted it did
12:32 GlobalPost And the US embassy is like a fortress (as they are in every country now). A fortress of Jersey barriers.
12:32 teri-schultz not read the terrorism data in the same way as some other governments and was not going to increase security around the EU. I was frankly shocked by that!
12:32 teri-schultz That's true -- U.S. embassies everywhere are always on high alert.
12:32 teri-schultz Tourism officials have been grumbling a bit...
12:33 teri-schultz but the average citizen I daresay has not paid much attention to the U.S. alert.
12:33 GlobalPost Interesting. Will there ever be a meeting of the minds between the US and EU on terror -- since 9/11 didn't happen there?
12:33 teri-schultz Ya know, I honestly don't think there will be.
12:34 teri-schultz I'm glad I was able to watch a press conference this afternoon right after EU commissioners and ministers met with a DHS official to discuss the U.S. alert and
12:35 teri-schultz even the counter-terrorism officials from Belgium (as the current EU president) and the EU were very easy to read in their difference of opinion about how
12:36 teri-schultz terrorism information should be handled. They acknowledged that the threat is real but they definitely did not agree across the board that such an alert
12:36 teri-schultz should be released to the public when there was not more specific information that could be shared, and in their minds, put to practical use.
12:36 GP-ChatHost Okay, I think that's all we have time for today.
12:36 GP-ChatHost Before we go, I have a special message for Barbara, our esteemed Europe editor (EEE), who served as "GlobalPost" for today's chat:
12:36 GP-ChatHost Here goes:
12:36 GP-ChatHost Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Barbara, Happy Birthday to you!!!!!
12:37 GP-ChatHost Thanks to everyone for joining us today!
12:37 teri-schultz And everyone wish her a good night's sleep from her newborn boy!!
12:37 GP-ChatHost Check back next week.
12:37 teri-schultz Thanks everyone!
12:37 GlobalPost Aw. The cake is on me! THanks all. And thanks Teri.
12:37 GP-ChatHost We're hoping that Rumsfeld will reveal his/her true identity
12:37 GP-ChatHost Meanwhile, Great job Teri.
12:37 teri-schultz Please read my dispatch this week and leave more questions there...I'll check it!
12:37 GP-ChatHost Keep up the good work in Brussels.
12:37 teri-schultz Thanks -- a real pleasure.
12:37 GP-ChatHost And great questions this week.
12:37 GP-ChatHost If anyone in the audience has a suggestion for a chat topic
12:38 GP-ChatHost you can email us at passport@globalpost.com
12:38 GP-ChatHost That's it for now!
12:38 GP-ChatHost Buh-bye
12:39 GlobalPost P.S. Here's Teri's story if you have more questions: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/france/101006/europe-terrorism-travel-advisory