Transatlantic Security Challenges and Possibilities for Cooperation

25 May 2005

The European Policy Centre and the Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund of the United States welcomed US Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, who spoke at a Policy Dialogue entitled “Transatlantic Security Challenges and Possibilities for Cooperation.” The meeting was introduced by EPC Founding Chairman, Stanley Crossick. Ronald D. Asmus, Executive Director of the Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund of the United States moderated the discussion. This is not an official record of the briefing and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.




US Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, outlined three priorities in transatlantic cooperation against terrorism as part of an EPC/GMF policy dialogue. In order to achieve a ‘security envelope’ – a secure environment through which people and cargo could move rapidly, efficiently and safely without sacrificing security or privacy – collaborative efforts with respect to the screening of travellers and cargo, improved use of technology and greater inter-operability of law enforcement on both sides of the Atlantic had to be stepped up.

Event Report

Introducing the Secretary, EPC Founding Chairman Stanley Crossick said that Mr. Chertoff had the “tough job” of having to balance the important issues of ensuring security on the one hand and guaranteeing civil liberties on the other hand. Many issues on security and the sharing of data between the transatlantic partners still needed to be clarified, but Mr. Chertoff’s visit to the EU early in his tenure signalled the willingness of the United States to openly engage with these questions. 

Secretary Chertoff’s full speech to the joint EPC/GMF meeting can be read on the website of the US Department of Homeland Security.

Opening his remarks, Secretary Chertoff praised both the European Policy Centre and the German Marshall Fund as critical fora for the vital dialogue on transatlantic issues. The transatlantic partnership had to “faithfully serve the cause of liberty.” In its fight against terrorism, the US had learned much from Europe, which had more experience in dealing with terrorism, “a scourge that is globally felt and must therefore be addressed globally.” While the transatlantic alliance was built on a strong foundation, efforts needed to be increased to “advance to the next level.” Global terrorism could not be defeated with traditional methods. Terrorist organisations had embraced globalisation and were fully engaged in building networks and outsourcing tasks “in the service of evil.” Terrorism had “outfitted itself in the techniques and technology of a 21st century organisation.” Thus, any response had to be aimed at exploiting these structures’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities, most often found in communication, financial resources and transportation capabilities.

Challenging the interdependence of terrorist networks meant confronting these everywhere they operated: “this means we have to be able to function internationally and work together seamlessly,” the Secretary said. “We have to build and refine our own network, if we are going to compete with and combat the terrorist network.”  Issues such as container security, biometrics and secure travel documents, as well as aviation security all had a role to play in this wider fight against terrorism. Building up a network of law enforcement was equally important.

The US Department of Homeland Security was currently in a reflection phase to determine whether occasional partnering exercises towards a fully-fledged partnership based on a mission-oriented focus made sense. His own personal view was that the world needed to move toward the creation of ‘security envelopes’ – secure environments through which people and cargo could move rapidly, efficiently and safely without sacrificing security or privacy. With proper security vetting, technology and travel documents, as well as sophisticated means to track cargo, global travel would be facilitated. It would also enhance confidence and trust, as known travellers and shippers, for instance, would not have to be rechecked at every crossing point. This, in turn, would allow for greater resources to be devoted to the in-depth analysis necessary to “make sure that those who seek to harm us do not slip through the cracks.”

“The vision of a technologically-based system of security envelopes would happily not require a sacrifice of privacy in order to promote security,” he said. In fact, this vision would maximise these values, shared by Americans and Europeans alike. The intention of his trip was to enhance the open dialogue between the two sides to map the joint way ahead. He pointed out key areas in the transatlantic cooperation against terrorism which could be improved: screening of travellers and cargo, technology and law enforcement.

Screening: A systematic approach to screening had to be found, with transatlantic compatibility and inter-operability. The current system was far too primitive and overly focused on the screening of names, matching these against a list of known terrorists. He advocated the full use of modern technology while protecting sensitive traveller information to enhance confidence. With respect to cargo, he noted that progress was already being made in the application of technological screening methods to identify harmful materials at ports and airports, but improvements could always be made. Information-sharing and tracking could be improved to the benefit of moving “benign cargo” through global ports. Americans and Europeans sometimes differed on how to implement the balance of security against privacy and civil liberty in this respect. Questions of implementation needed to be resolved jointly, he said.

Technology: The work done on both sides of the Atlantic, with respect to enhancing global security, needed to be aligned in an effort to maximise resources and ensure compatibility. Building common platforms and common technological approaches was the clear way forward towards the goal of creating a security envelope.

Law enforcement: Both the US and European countries had taken important steps to improve their law enforcement efforts following the most recent wave of terrorist activity. Now, both sides had to work toward connecting and networking these respective law enforcement authorities, so that these efforts could match the resources and abilities of “our enemy.” The exchange of important biometric data, such as fingerprints of terrorist and violent criminals, would be an important way of ensuring that terrorists did not exploit informational seams between countries.

Concluding, he noted that “our methods for defeating terror must align with our values as democratic peoples.” Both the United States and Europe had to be engaged in “faithfully serving the cause of freedom.”

Stanley Crossick thanked Secretary Chertoff for his eloquent and succinct presentation. He agreed that terrorism followed all modern techniques of networking and outsourcing. He shared the Secretary’s view that a secure environment, built on trust and compatibility was the way forward. An acceptable level of freedom of movement and the free circulation of goods had to be achieved through public-private partnerships. Time prevented a number of questions being addressed, including the scope of the ‘security envelopes’ (should they extend beyond the EU-US partnership?), the full definition of terrorism, the role of Islamic terrorism and the best means through which to protect human rights in the fight against terrorist activity. He also noted that more had to be invested into exploring the sources of terrorism, including facing the tough questions: Could the $200 billion dollars spent on the war in Iraq not have been better spent on relieving a number of pressures that drive people toward terrorism as a last resort?

Secretary Chertoff emphasised that he saw the ‘security envelope’ as a global concept, much as he saw the fight for homeland security as one for everyone’s security. The war against terrorism meant eradicating the roots of such activity, which could only be fully achieved through the spread of freedom in the long-term. “Terrorism is borne out of the kind of frustration for which liberty is the only cure.”