War on terror to continue "for 30 years"

The remains of the World Trade Center following the September 11 attacks Keystone

On the fourth anniversary of September 11 the coordinator of Switzerland's security services tells swissinfo the war on terror could take three decades.

This content was published on September 11, 2005 - 10:07

Jacques Pitteloud also says more needs to be done to monitor and if necessary expel individuals suspected of links to terrorism.

Pitteloud was appointed overall coordinator of the country's intelligence agencies in June 2000, just over a year before the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed more than 3,000 people.

His post will disappear later this year following a restructuring of the security services which will bring together the country's domestic and foreign intelligence officers.

swissinfo: How would you assess Switzerland's contribution to the global war on terror in the four years since September 11, 2001?

Jacques Pitteloud: The role Switzerland has played more or less reflects its size and relative weight in international affairs. But the problem is that we have legal constraints which hamper the work of the security services.

And there is still a lot of work to do [both here and elsewhere in Europe], especially when it comes to the problem of how we deal with the flow of immigrants who are barely if at all integrated into the fabric of our societies.

swissinfo: How can this problem be dealt with?

J.P.: You need a carrot and stick approach. We should be much more open and efficient in trying to integrate those who are really willing to do so. And we also have to stop putting up too many barriers, such as not allowing people to work. We have not been very good at doing this over the past 20 years.

At the same time we should be much tougher on those people who are here simply to destroy our way of life. We shouldn't tolerate them. They belong outside Europe.

swissinfo: Justice Minister Christoph Blocher is in favour of changing the law to give the government more powers of surveillance, including phone-tapping. Do you support this?

J.P.: Very much so. I was one of the early advocates of changing the law. After a scandal over secret files [at the end of the 1980s], we decided to solve the problem of domestic intelligence going too far by putting a complete stop to it. This was a very stupid move.

But if we are to reintroduce things like wire-tapping, it has to be done in a very controlled way. Surveillance should be the exception and not the rule. It should be clearly regulated.

swissinfo: Civil libertarians would say even that is going too far...

J.P.: This is not paranoia, this is not infringing too much on civil liberties. It doesn't transform the country into a police state.

And it's not only the security of Switzerland that is at stake. It would be a terrible blow to the credibility of this country if it emerged that a successful attack on Milan, Paris or London had been planned in Switzerland by people who didn't have to worry about interference from [domestic] security services.

swissinfo: To what extent - if at all - is the country being used as a financial or logistical base for planning terror attacks?

J.P.: We have been looking very closely into all the allegations about al-Qaeda financial networks [in Switzerland]. The result is that we have found almost nothing.

But we are not an island and if you have active [terrorist] cells in Milan, Munich, Strasbourg or Vienna there is a fair chance that you will find something in Switzerland too – and that has turned out to be the case.

swissinfo: After the attacks on London in July Swiss President Samuel Schmid made it clear that Switzerland could be a terrorist target. Do you agree?

J.P.: Quite clearly Switzerland is less of a target than Britain or Italy, for example, because both these countries are in Iraq. But Switzerland could become a target of opportunity, meaning that people could be tempted to hit American, Jewish or British interests in Switzerland.

swissinfo: Are we therefore less safe now than we were four years ago?

J.P.: Personally I feel less safe now than in 2001, because in the meantime the global jihad – which was mainly something emanating from the Gulf region – has mutated to an ideology which has infected tiny parts of the Muslim communities all over Europe. There is quite a difference between 2001 and now. This ideology is spreading.

swissinfo: Will the war on terror ever be won?

J.P.: We are facing a ruthlessly efficient group of ideologically and religiously motivated people – and they are the most dangerous. So there will be more casualties.

There is no doubt that this is going to be a long fight, and it will not be enough just to win from an intelligence and law-enforcement point of view. We also have to win the ideological war. We have to convince the Muslim communities first and foremost in our own countries but also abroad that this is the wrong war and the wrong fight to pick.

swissinfo: So we're talking about living in the shadow of terrorism for decades rather than years?

J.P.: We're talking about a matter of 20 to 30 years. During that time nine out of ten terrorist operations will be foiled by the security services. But we have to accept the fact that the tenth is going to slip through the net and be successful. This is what happened in London. And it's going to happen again and again.

swissinfo-interview: Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

Jacques Pitteloud has been coordinator of Switzerland's intelligence agencies since June 2000.
His post is set to disappear following a restructuring of the country's security services.
Pitteloud, who hails from Vex/Les Agettes in canton Valais, has worked in a variety of senior posts within the foreign and defence ministries.

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