France’s action against the threat of terrorism
George Washington University - Washington, D.C.
March 11, 2016
Cyber & Homeland Security Director Frank Cilluffo,
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
I would like to thank you for welcoming me today. I am honored to be speaking in front of you, at the prestigious George Washington University, where so many great American political figures honed their skills. I am thinking of former Secretaries of State John Foster Dulles and Colin Powell, as well as former First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
I also would like, of course, to warmly thank the members of the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, and especially its director, Franck Cilluffo, who was kind enough to invite me to give you this lecture on France and the terrorist threat.
France and the United States have a very long shared history, and despite the occasional quarrel, we have always been bound by a very strong, even passionate, friendship. I would even describe it as a unique friendship, because in hard times, we always pull together.
After the attacks in France last year, I was moved when I read the great American philosopher Michael Walzer explain that for you, the French are not seen as completely foreign, which is why you were so deeply affected by the tragedy we had just experienced.
It’s also for this reason that we were driven by the same emotion after the appalling [“eupaulling”] slaughter committed in San Bernardino on December the Second,
Twenty-Fifteen. I would like to express my deep condolence to the families in their grief.
I therefore would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, both personally and on behalf of France and the French people, for the solidarity you demonstrated during the terribly difficult time we have just been through. The strong support shown by President Obama and the American people meant so much to us. We will never forget. France will never forget.
And we will never forget the heroic action of three American citizens – Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos – on August the Twenty-First, Twenty-Fifteen.
They decisively contributed to avoid another terrorist tragedy in the THALYS train which was carrying more than five hundred passengers from Amsterdam to Paris. For that brave deed, President Hollande awarded them the Legion of Honor, our highest decoration.
In Twenty-fifteen, my country was the target of terrorist attacks of unprecedented kind and scale. One hundred forty nine innocent victims lost their lives, and hundreds of others were seriously injured.
In January, the targets chosen by the terrorists had an obvious symbolic significance: the editorial staff of “Charlie Hebdo”, the famous satirical newspaper, police officers and French Jews. They targeted freedom of conscience and expression, democracy and pluralism, secularism and the values of the French Republic.
On November the Thirteenth, Twenty-fifteen, the killers deliberately struck indiscriminately, in the very heart of Paris, in our streets, in the Bataclan concert hall and outside the Stade de France. They attacked our young people. They attacked our way of life.
Among the Bataclan victims was a young American student, Nohemi Gonzalez. My thoughts go out to her family, her loved ones, her friends.
Before talking about the main lines of action we are conducting against terrorist networks in France and in Europe, I would like to give you my analysis of the threat we are all facing. I believe we must understand it, in order to protect ourselves more effectively.
Over the past ten years, the jihadist threat has considerably evolved. The November attacks were planned from Syria and coordinated abroad; yet others were perpetrated by people radicalized on French soil, sometimes in a very short period of time. Today, in fact, the threat is more and more diffuse.
From an operational point of view, the threat now takes two main forms. On the one hand, it involves individuals or small groups who had accelerated training in handling weapons in Syria or Iraq. Back in Europe, these groups constitute sleeper cells, capable, as on November the Thirteenth, of moving into action in cooperation with the Syrian base of ISIS.
On the other hand, we are up against individuals who are being progressively radicalized through their environment, sometimes with the help of very informal networks which are thus even more difficult to identify. They feel they are responding to a general “call” to jihad issued by ISIS or by any other jihadist-inspired terrorist organization.
Consequently, the sociological and psychological profile of the jihadists or candidates for jihad has become more varied. Some are criminals or former criminals, who have been radicalized in prison or through encounters with Islamists. This was, for example, the case of Amedy Coulibaly, one of the terrorists involved in the attacks of January twenty fifteen. Others are psychologically vulnerable and, for various reasons, have developed feelings of hatred for the society in which they grew up.
Others, finally, tell themselves that they are “looking for meaning” and develop a fantasist conception of the “Islamist revolution” fed by the propaganda published on the Internet and on social networks.
The jihadist organisations rely on elaborate propaganda. I am thinking especially of the videos broadcast on social networks, and of online media published by ISIS such as Dabiq, written in English, or Dar-al-Islam, its equivalent in French.
The battle against terrorism is thus also fought in cyberspace. Indeed, most of the new jihadists who have travelled or are seeking to travel to Syria or Iraq have been radicalized on-line. Basically, this new jihadism can be summed up as the combination of the suicide belt and social networks.
I am deeply convinced that, to defeat this threat, the public authorities must cooperate with the actors of the digital community.
Just under a year ago, I was in California to meet the representatives of the major digital operators for enhanced, pragmatic cooperation on terrorist threats. Since then, we have managed to agree, upon a set of best practices, which we collectively adopted on April the Twenty-Third, Twenty-Fifteen. Together, we are establishing a form of positive cooperation which must be encouraged. My staff and the digital professionals meet regularly, in an atmosphere of mutual trust. France has been a pioneer in this area.
One may ask, what is exactly the terrorists‘ intent?
Not only to kill, but to foster terror, so that no one can feel safe anywhere, so that there is an atmosphere of mistrust, so that citizens pit against one another, so that the institutions waver or, on the contrary, neglect the fundamental principles underpinning their legitimacy.
By striking innocent victims, terrorists attempt to place society on a permanent war footing. They seek to erase the boundaries [“baoundeurize”] between domestic and foreign, combatant and non-combatant and between civilian and military. This is what we must avoid at all costs. The response to terrorism is certainly not the police State style. The response to terrorism is a State under the rule of law.
Very early, France realized the totally new and multi-faceted nature of the threat. Since twenty twelve, we have constantly strengthened our counter-terrorism capabilities and adapted our judicial arsenal to this evolving situation. I would like to tackle a few of the main aspects of this response, in France, in Europe and, quite obviously, in cooperation with the United States.
First and foremost, at a national level, to hinder terrorist action and propaganda, we have obtained new legal means, that are better suited to the new type of nature of the threat.
Since Twenty-twelve, a counterterrorism law has allowed us to prosecute French citizens for their participation in terrorist crimes abroad, which could not be done previously. This is vital for handing down sentences against returnees who were in Syria or Iraq.
Then, a second counter-terrorism Act, adopted late Twenty-fourteen, instituted four major innovations:
- barring French nationals suspected of wanting to join active terrorist groups in the Middle East from leaving French soil;
- prohibiting non-resident foreigners representing a threat to national security from entering or living in the country;
- defining the “individual terrorist undertaking” as an offense;
- and finally, legally blocking and removing websites advocating or glorifying terrorism.
These measures are being applied in an extremely firm way and are proving efficient.
In July twenty fifteen, we also adopted a major Law on intelligence. Our intelligence services now have a modern and consistent legal framework, in line with the new threats, the most recent technological changes and the developments in national and international law.
At the same time, we have strengthened our homeland security and intelligence services by giving them additional human and material resources.
Last June I also created a specific terrorism prevention department that oversees the monitoring of identified individuals and is enabling us to establish and update a detailed risk-mapping system that covers such sensitive areas as transportation, education and industrial facilities.
So, while the threat level has never been higher, France’s response has never been so strong. This is demonstrated by the fact that eleven attacks have been foiled [“foïld”] since twenty-thirteen, six of them during last spring and summer.
We obviously strengthened our repressive means against terrorism, but we also developed innovative methods to prevent radicalization. The telephone reporting hotline set up in April Twenty-Fourteen has allowed us to receive over four thousand seven hundred relevant reports. This has enabled us to guide many families, who benefit from valuable support and can report the risk of departure for Syria or Iraq when one of their relatives is on the brink of leaving France. Thanks to this, we have already prevented many people from leaving, and we have acted before French youngsters succumb [“seucom”] to violent radicalization.
Secondly, strengthening our protection against terrorists is also a key issue at the European level.
This is why, finally, after the November attacks, I have obtained from our European partners many major improvements.
The strengthening of external border controls through a modification of the Schengen Borders Code in order to finally implement systematic checks at the EU’s external borders of all persons entering and leaving the EU. This will also apply to European citizens, through the systematic consultation of European databases (the Schengen Information System) and international databases (such as Interpol’s database of lost and stolen passports).
In order to ensure that these controls are effective, member states must systematically include data in the European databases. I also made very concrete proposals with regard to combating the trafficking of fake Syrian passports, since we know that several terrorists involved in the November the Thirteenth attacks used false identities to enter the European Union. I therefore requested that experts in the fight against documentary fraud be deployed at the EU’s external borders and especially at the migrant reception and registration centers - the so-called “hotspots” in Greece and Italy.
Similarly, I strongly emphasized that the European databases must be used to identify, register and check all migrants passing through these hotspots.
In order to allow our services to better detect and monitor the air travel of dangerous persons, we finally reached an agreement on the European PNR (Passenger Name Record) system; the European Parliament, which unfortunately has still not included this text on its agenda, must now swiftly adopt the agreement so that it can enter into force.
And we are currently negotiating a revision of the EU Directive on Firearms, making it possible to strengthen the control of legally owned firearms, as well as an action plan to combat the illegal trafficking of firearms, notably from the Balkans.
France has been calling for these essential reforms for over a year and a half. We must now implement them as swiftly as possible.
Finally, I would like to stress the importance of the increasing cooperation with the United States in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. When we jointly decided, after the November attacks, to intensify our strikes in Syria and Iraq, we also resolved to work on improving and strengthening the exchanges between our intelligence services, regarding our common enemies.
Moreover, because France got involved very early in the fight against terrorism, and because our country developed effective tools in this way, we are proud to be today a privileged partner for the United States, particularly in this common fight.
The French Parliament has recently ratified the so-called “Prüm” transatlantic agreement, which will allow us to strengthen cooperation between our two countries on criminal investigations, particularly through data and information exchanges that can help us identify wanted persons.
You can count on my determination and my commitment to intensify, to the greatest extent possible, the cooperation between our two countries in the fight against terrorism. My meetings with Jeh Johnson and Lisa Monaco today and with Loretta Lynch next week in Paris are fully consistent with this goal.
Above all, in the face of the new terrorist threat, we must not make the wrong assessment. We must not, at any cost, fall into the trap that has been set for us by the jihadists, who are trying to pit citizens against each other.
As Michael Walzer stated very clearly, the fight against jihadism is an ideological struggle, not a clash of civilizations.
Although it poses a major security threat that justifies the tough measures we are taking, violent radicalization fortunately remains a very minor phenomenon in Western societies. There is no jihadi terrorist “reserve army” in France. The fight against terrorism is a global challenge and a test for the cohesion of our democratic societies.
I am confident in the resilience of the French people. On January the Eleventh, Twenty-fifteen my compatriots took to France’s streets in their millions in a spirit of fraternity to demonstrate that they were not afraid of terrorists and that they were ready to fight to defend our freedoms.
Once again together, as we have done so many times in the past, we will fight and we will win. Thank you very much for your time and attention.