Not 'Going Dark': 15 Out Of 15 Most Recent EU Terrorists Were Known To The Authorities In Multiple Ways

from the sure,-mass-surveillance-doesn't-work,-but-think-of-the-money-we-are-saving dept

Important information about recent terrorist attacks in Europe continues to emerge. Here’s the latest news from Brussels, as reported by the Guardian:

Plans and photographs of the home and office of Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, have been found on a computer abandoned near a terrorist hideout in Brussels, according to Belgian sources.

The laptop was found in a bin near a flat in the Schaerbeek district that had been a makeshift bomb factory for the terrorists who killed 32 people and injured at least 340 in last week’s suicide bombings at Brussels airport and the city metro.

Not unnaturally, perhaps, most commentary has been about the fact that Belgium’s prime minister was apparently being considered as a target. But there’s something else in this story that’s interesting, not least because it’s not explicit. The Belgian sources for this story have revealed that “plans and a photograph” were found on a computer. Assuming the laptop did indeed belong to the terrorists, that means one of two things: either the system did not use encryption at all, or that it was possible to bypass the protection. In either case, it looks like this is yet another demonstration that things are not “going dark” when it comes to terrorism, despite continued claims to the contrary.

Given how details about the attackers are coming through very sporadically, it can be hard to see the bigger picture. To address that issue, the German journalist Sascha Lobo has pulled together all the information he could find about lethal terrorist attacks carried out by Islamists over the last two years in Europe. Specifically, these were the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014; the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in 2015; the attack on a cultural center and synagogue in Copenhagen in 2015; the second attack in Paris in November last year; and the recent attacks in Brussels.

The results of his research appear in the German news magazine Der Spiegel, but fortunately he has produced a tabulated form (with references) that doesn’t require any knowledge of the German language to grasp. A glance is enough to see that every single one of the 15 attackers who have been identified was known to the authorities, often for multiple reasons. Indeed, as Lobo writes, it’s even worse than it seems at first sight:

All 15 identified attackers were on terror warning lists or “Islamist instigator” lists in at least one European country. In addition, most were on other lists, such as no-fly lists. All 15 had been classified as violence-prone. 14 had known contacts with other radical Islamists (one of them was apparently radicalized only via the Internet). Twelve had taken trips to the “Islamic State” in Syria, or to al-Qaida in Iraq or Yemen. Ten had criminal records, most of them for violent crimes.

This is not a terrifying world where things are “going dark” for the authorities. This is not a situation where strong crypto made it impossible to know who was doing what. This is a world of persistent failure by the intelligence agencies and police to use the information they already had at their disposal. This is a world that wants to shift the blame to evil encryption, rather than admit that mass surveillance doesn’t work, and is the wrong approach. Lobo offers a plausible explanation why this is still happening, despite the manifest inability of blanket snooping to spot obvious connections and use them to stop attacks:

Comprehensive surveillance appears as seemingly inexpensive because it is a solution that scales thanks to technology: troubleshooting at the press of a button. Directly linked with the aim of saving more and more, just as with the State in general. But classic investigative work, which is proven to work, is expensive and labor intensive. This leads to a failure by the authorities because of a faith in technology that is driven by economics.

In other words, it’s much cheaper to call for even more automated mass spying than to address the problem properly by bringing in more trained personnel to carry out targeted surveillance of people who are known threats.

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Comments on “Not 'Going Dark': 15 Out Of 15 Most Recent EU Terrorists Were Known To The Authorities In Multiple Ways”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It is already painfully apparent that mass surveillance isn’t working. Despite being granted all sorts of avenues to access individual data, terrorist incidents are still happening.

As is noted here, it’s not that they don’t have the data nor that they don’t know who is likely to be a threat. It’s simply that they aren’t going for the one’s they know with the intent to eliminate the threat.

So it comes down to a failure of the security branches to act on what they already know. Opening up encryption with backdoors isn’t going to work or save the people. It’s not a matter of data acquisition, it’s a matter of failure on the parts of those agencies responsible to use the data they already have.

No amount of increasing data will cure this. They are not using the data they already have so more isn’t going to help. What we are not seeing is the changing of methods to something that does work, instead of increasingly going for those that don’t. As usual, scapegoating is at play but will only work so long and people questioning the need to open up security of encryption shows that the scapegoating isn’t working as well any more.

Anonymous Coward says:

when is it going to sink in? ‘the authorities’ dont give a flyin’ f**k about the terrorists, they are only after getting as much info on us as possible and to stop things like the massive ‘Panama Leak’ from getting out, so we know what a bunch of lying, cheating two-faced ass holes are in charge of companies, industries and countries and what THEY are up to!!!!

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

Tons of needles

It is not that they are trying to find a needle in the haystack. With the billions of deep searches the governments are doing every second. They are finding billions of needles. No my friends, they are trying to find the needle that was hand crafted by a left handed blind tuba player living in Florida but has a Arizona driver license using a unicorn horn blessed with leprechaun blood. With such vague beliefs, everyone is suspect. Yet noone is. With so many false hits. Nobody will act to investigate unless it is a slam dunk case like a home made clock. Or a 4 year old child making threats with a half eaten pop tart.

Anonymous Coward says:

How big are these lists?

I don’t care if these terrorists are on any lists. What I think the real question is, is: who else is on these lists?

If there are only about 100 people on these lists, I suppose that following up on them is possible and preventing an attack should have been feasable. If there are 100 000 others on these lists … not so much.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

One also has to wonder, how much of this is driven by the expectation that these investigations are going to play out like a season of 24?
They talk about all of these things the suspects can do, and highlight how there might be more hidden… yet when the truth comes out, it is never what they initially claimed.

They craft these narratives, spin them to the media, get people to accept them, demand more access… then we discover that much like Dorothy they had everything they needed already the entire time. Perhaps if we stopped letting they daydream about some magical system that will solve it all for them and demand they start looking at what they already have & do the work…

Whatever (profile) says:

One of the things uncovered here is that data alone won’t fix the problem, because of other large failures at all levels. There is also that horrible problem of due process (you know, the thing Techdirties tend to clamber about all the time) that gets in the way of proactively dealing with issues.

Europe has a huge problem of border security. Nobody seemed to be thinking at the time when the EU came about that the borders would be pushed out to the edges of the LEAST competent countries. So the security of German or Brussels is based on the how tight the border is in Turkey. Hint: It’s more swiss cheese than anything else.

There is also the big problem of a lack of communication between police forces – even inside countries. Brussels is a perfect place for terrorists, with literally hundreds of police squads that apparently don’t speak the same language and don’t speak well to each other. Only after the fact are they even trying to work together.

That these guys were on police radar doesn’t mean they weren’t using encrypted communication (if they used Whatsapp, they used encryption!). The lack of a coordinated effort and legal restrictions means that it’s not the most important part of the failures that have lead to the last couple of attacks.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There is also that horrible problem of due process

Beware little man, the tyrant inside you is showing. Due process is in place to prevent Government abuse. And even then law enforcement is routinely ignoring it lately. Same with your “legal restrictions”.

And even then you fail to stick to the point the article is making as usual. Mass surveillance and encryption ‘backdoors’ won’t do shit to enhance law enforcement capability of preventing terrorism. Plain old investigative work will. If anything, the plethora of data being collected today generates much more useless, confusing noise than anything else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sarcastic? Let’s refer to Whatever’s previous known views on the subject.

– Due process makes it harder for policemen to do their job so yes, they should shoot anyone they consider to be possibly dangerous
– Due process is difficult for anti-piracy enforcement so people should generally ignore “bad faith” takedowns and so on

…I don’t think he was being sarcastic.

David says:

Easy to blame authorities here

Yes, all of the terrorists were known to the authorities. Yet their plans weren’t. And it’s not illegal to be annoyed at the government and capitalism and whatnot. It’s not even illegal to have a non-empty criminal record.

The only thing that will deliver timely information to stop suicide missions is inside knowledge.

Leaving the terrorists aside for a moment, last New Year’s Eve, in a number of major cities of Germany thousands of purportive young male asylum seekers from North African countries gathered into groups that committed sexual harrassment (there were also rape charges) and theft. It was a mass phenomenon apparently organized via social media and most likely with a lot of semi-passive participants who enabled the whole thing by their mere presence.

Now that’s actually a full-scale failure of our system. Part of the problem is, of course, that requests for asylym are processed at a speed not matching the current influx from Syria and other countries out of control. That makes it easy for criminals to just coattail on the refugees for a year or so with state subsistence until they get extradited eventually and bounce back with another identity.

But what should happen “ideally” would be that people became passionate about the values of the country they moved into. That they bought into the system and started caring enough for it that they defended it. If you reach just enough of those people that they become a link to their old culture and circles, they’ll become a two-way street for information and morals.

The problem is that not even the inhabitants of Western countries care for their systems enough to defend them and the freedoms of everyone. They want to defend their own place at the meat troughs. And since they are leading by example, stuff falls apart and pockets of egotism form everywhere undisturbed. Some of which turn out to be terrorists. Some criminals. Everybody out for his own.

And frankly, the pervasive corruption of representatives is not doing a lot to curb that trend.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Easy to blame authorities here

Guys, we’re not addressing the elephant in the room, here.

Hello Jumbo, have you noticed that anyone who expresses disagreement with government policy is branded a terrorist? The word has begun to lose its meaning. Even filtering by known religious affiliation and the use of certain keywords, etc., is unlikely to help.

This is doubtless one of the main reasons why information on people who plan and commit acts of violence in the name of promoting an agenda “goes dark.”

We’re finding out that the attackers were known to the authorities after the attacks, but how many others are also “known to the authorities,” but wouldn’t hurt a fly?

Sooner or later we’re going to have to stop demonising mere dissent. Until then, I expect there will be more of these attacks because the authorities are too busy wading through piles of useless junk to get to the information they actually need to fight terrorism.

dawnofjusticefilm (user link) says:

How big are these lists?

It is already shateringly obvious that huge monitoring isn’t working. Despite being provided all kinds of methods to access individual data, enemy occurrences are still occurring.

As is mentioned here, it’s not that they don’t have the information nor that they don’t know who is likely to be a risk. It’s basically that they are not going for the one’s they know with the purpose to get rid of the risk.

GEMont (profile) says:

Shadow Government is now shopping for new employees.

(one of them was apparently radicalized only via the Internet)

… er, does that mean, like, he was trained by the FBI??

At best then, authority is simply unable to sift thru or make sense from the mountain of snoop-data they gather by the second and instead sits on its hands staring directly at the sheaves of information it needs, but is unable to see that information among the chaff of extraneous information it doesn’t need – right now, maybe later….

At worst, authority is doing its damnedest to insure that hired and “fanaticalized” terrorists can get the job done, and gain the necessary time to escape or eradicate themselves, depending on the deal, which in turn maintains and increases the current world-crisis “economy” of the Top 1%.

Mercenaries, and others who are paid in cash up-front, are allowed to try as hard as they like, including using their worldly assets and connections, to stay free, like by living abroad, whilst the morons that “do it for God”, or more precisely, do it for the fame and the salvation of their family – (the family gets the pay-off from the religious controlling organization that talked the idiot into the “die-for-pay-later” contract.)

But… that would be a conspiracy – like getting together with your friends and establishing a legal loophole that will let you and your friends hide all of their ill-gotten gains, safely from prying eyes in offshore shell companies – and we all know that those things don’t really exist in the for-really-real world and if they did, then they would be exposed just like this one, because after all, there have never been any successful conspiracies that we don’t know anything about. 🙂

Never thought the real world would wind up so much like the Theatre of the Absurd…

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: mass tracking

“So why is it that mass surveillance is the answer?”

That depends entirely upon the question you’re asking.

Ask the wrong question and the answer may appease, but will in no way educate.

And of course, it always depends also, upon the answer to: “Surveillance is the answer to Who?”

Ask the correct question and only then can a true answer for the necessity of surveillance be found.

Clue #1 : what are the advantages of surveillance for those who do it and the disadvantages for those it is done to?

That should describe the gist of the most likely correct answer to “why” surveillance is necessary, and to who.

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