Is There a Transatlantic Divide over Homeland Security?

Are civil liberties more threatened in America than in Europe?
Five European and U.S. experts explore existing policies


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The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 spurred a revolution in U.S. homeland security. The Bush administration responded aggressively, asking for new laws and employing its executive powers in ways that drew criticism from civil libertarians on both the left and right. Although President Obama has changed some Bush-era counterterrorism policies, when it comes to domestic security, he has made no effort to overhaul the laws, guidelines, or institutional reforms put in place after 9/11 by his predecessor.

Putting these changes--and the decision by the Obama administration to maintain them--in broader perspective, Gary J. Schmitt, Director of Advanced Strategic Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, leads a team of security and intelligence experts in an analysis of the domestic counterterrorism regimes of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, and the United States. As the editor and coauthor of the resulting study, Safety, Liberty, and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Domestic Counterterrorism (AEI Press, 2010), Schmitt finds that the common experience in dealing with this new and profound threat has engendered a common preemptive approach to terrorist threats--one that is law-based, that has succeeded in thwarting major attacks since 2005 and, in the case of the European states examined, that is more aggressive in many instances than the changes made by American authorities following the attacks on 9/11.

  • In "United Kingdom: Once More into the Breach," Tom Parker, former MI5 officer and Policy Director for Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights at Amnesty International, analyzes the continuities and changes made in British counterterrorism measures from the days of dealing with the IRA threat through the July 7, 2005 London subway bombings, which killed and wounded scores of innocent Londoners.

  • In "France: In a League of Its Own," Gary J. Schmitt explores France's long-standing, aggressive approach to domestic counterterrorism. An approach, established in the wake of a series of attacks in Paris in the 1980s and 1990s, that has been uniquely successful in preventing a major terrorist attack on French soil.

  • In "Spain: From 9/11 to 3/11 and Beyond," Rafael L. Bardají and Ignacio Cosidó, former Spanish government security officials, examine Spain's complicated response to the Madrid train bombings of 2004. Interpreting the bombings as retaliation for Spain's support of the Iraq War, the newly-elected Socialist government of Spain has tried to play down the Islamist threat while, at the same time, deal with a burgeoning terrorist problem on its home front.

  • In "Germany: The Long and Winding Road," Eric Gujer, Swiss newspaper editor and long-time correspondent in Germany, traces Germany's mixed response to the increased Islamist threat. On the one hand, the government has since 2001 has undertaken a series of reforms to increase its police and intelligence capabilities and tighten its purview over extremist speech and Muslim radicalism. However, for reasons of history, bureaucracy and culture, Germans have been reluctant to give the federal government the authorities it believes it requires to meet the threat it now faces.

  • In "United States: Facing the Threat at Home," Gary J. Schmitt charts the history of the changes made since the 9/11 attacks: the reasons for the changes, what seems to be working, and what might still need to be improved on. In "U.S. Counterterrorism in Perspective," Schmitt concludes the volume by stepping back, analyzing the Bush team's response to 9/11 in comparison with previous presidents responses to domestic security threats and in comparison with the European approaches outlined in the book's other chapters.

Although no country has a perfect record, this insightful volume shows that strengthening and expanding domestic security policies has not undermined the United States and Europe's shared commitment to democracy and liberty. "Certainly, tradeoffs have been made between individual liberties and domestic security," Schmitt writes. "But if we take the broad view, we are struck by how minimal those intrusions on our liberties have been, given the threat we face."

Contributors: Rafael L. Bardají, Ignacio Cosidó, Eric Gujer, Tom Parker, Gary J. Schmitt

INTERVIEW REQUESTS: To arrange an interview, please contact Gary J. Schmitt at [email protected] (202-862-5831) or Philipp Tomio at [email protected]. For additional help or other media inquiries, please contact Hampton Foushee at [email protected] (202-862-5806).

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