People gather to observe a minute of silence leave tributes to mourn the victims of the bombings at the Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels, Belgium, on March 24, two days after a bomb attack, claimed by the Islamic State group. Photo by Albert Masias/UPI | License Photo
Washington, D.C., April 6 -- The United States must play a major role in revamping European intelligence-sharing practices in order to confront the terrorist threat and protect Americans, security experts told lawmakers.
Experts said Tuesday at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing that communication failures and information gaps in Europe are endangering U.S. citizens at home and abroad.
The most immediate concerns for the United States relate to the country's political interests in Europe and its citizens traveling abroad, said Juan Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush. "ISIS would like to target Americans wherever possible."
The failure of European Union member states to share intelligence within the continent is a major impediment to Western security and compounds potential dangers facing Americans, Zarate said.
A breakdown in communications contributed to the recent attacks in Brussels that injured more than 300 people and killed at least 32, including four Americans, panelists and senators said.
While terrorists are operating freely in a continent without regard to borders, counterterrorism agencies must operate within borders, limiting effective surveillance, said Clinton Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
"Every success that the Islamic State has in Europe breeds more success here at home," Watts said, suggesting that spectacular attacks abroad may arouse home-grown terrorists.
Pointing to the December attack in San Bernadino, Calif., he said fatal coordinated attacks can inspire individuals in the United States who have no tangible connection to Islamic terrorist groups.
To prevent future attacks in Europe and the United States, panelists implored lawmakers to promote intelligence coordination and sharing, which would involve a complete audit and overhaul of security procedures in some EU member states.
Effective EU-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation would require the United States and its European allies to move past differences over how to protect privacy, said Julianne Smith, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
Committee member Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said carrying out efficient security measures requires U.S. political leadership.
"We have to take the leadership role here," Ayotte said. "I don't see another country that will be able to bring everyone together and get them to act."
The committee will meet with security officials over coming weeks to make specific recommendations concerning surveillance, intelligence sharing and the visa waiver program.
In Turkey last week, amid growing security concerns, the U.S. military ordered military family members to evacuate the southern region of the country.