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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.

By Peter Knoope.

Today my local newspaper is dominated by the search for the previously unknown Mr. Snowden. The man who recently acquired world fame with his revelations on the intelligence gathering methods of the US and UK governments.  He gives a whole new meaning to the word refugee. Travelling the world in search of protection and asylum.
What is Mr. Snowdon trying to tell us? What exactly has he exposed? And how should we judge him and his contribution to security? Of course history will judge him. But let us take a closer look at his message and its relevance.

An opinion poll in the Netherlands revealed that the actions referred to as “Prism” by the NSA are supported by 75 percent of the public. That is if these activities help to prevent terrorist attacks! This reminds me of a quote by London police commissioner Remmington who said that “terrorism is defeated by communities not by law enforcement”. This is most probably true to a very large extent. Community resilience is a decisive factor in early warning and early action. Recognising signals of radicalism and its consequences when it happens, by fathers, teachers, social workers, religious leaders and local police officers accounts for a large number of thwarted attacks. This is not what I reckon or think. It is what research shows us. 80 percent of thwarted terrorist attacks in the US were prevented because these were initially signalled by the people within, or in close contact with, communities. Suspicious behaviour, training, recruiting and other early signals were brought to the attention of the police and started the process that led to the prevention of attacks. This is the preventative action that is of such relevance to all of us and why the general Dutch public does not mind Prism-type of activities.

But Prism is not about community engagement and resilience. On the contrary, it seems to contradict and ignore just that. Isn’t resilience about trust building and relationships between communities and government officials? And isn’t trust exactly what this is all about? The real issue here is not what the US and the UK government do. The real issue is the apparent mistrust somewhere in the space between government, citizens and communities.
Mistrust that leads to unease on the side of governments and civil society alike. Terrorist organisations capitalise on that fear and mistrust. That is exactly the breeding ground that serves their purpose. Maybe this is what Mr. Snowden exposed; the real victory of terrorism: damaging the trust relationship between governments and communities.

Did he help to fix the problem? Again, history will judge him. Who am I to do that? But my concern is that “Snowden” is not the start of a new paradigm in counter-terrorism. This will not necessarily or automatically lead to more trust and increased resilience. We need more than Mr. Snowden. Or maybe we need something completely different: investment in community engagement and trust building measures to seriously prevent terrorism. My advice would therefore be to ignore the search for the elusive Mr. Snowden and start working on the real challenges. We deserve it. History will do the rest.

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