Every European country sees the activities of their intelligence services as dirty laundry, not to be discussed and definitely not to be shared, especially with neighbors. The legacy of the past (of the Stasi in Germany and Franco in Spain, for example), combined with current mass-surveillance scandals and our reluctance to see a problem for what it is to hinder the evolution of cross-border intelligence and effectively targeted investigations.
This behavior has caused the loss of life in multiple terrorist attacks in Europe. Regrettably, besides this national fragmentation of intelligence, there is the hairy problem of cross-language content. The communication inside each country needs to be secured firstly, but it must then be ready to work across borders too. Technically this will need to be supported by national legislation which makes it mandatory to report into a shared repository. It is in the national interest of all European nations to safeguard their population and thus such laws should be relatively easy to pass.
Cross-border Intelligence – the Missing Link
The lack of intelligence sharing across borders is hampered by language borders; reports written in differing native language of police officers across the continent. Even the spelling of suspects’ names can vary in different languages. Content will span any type of wording without an intelligent link to find matches between synonyms or related words and phrases, such as “terrorist attack”, “explosion”, “bomb”, or “explosive materials”. This is hard enough in one language, but dealing with it in many languages multiplies the problem. The technical problems can be solved, but the political problem needs to be tackled internally in each country while the EU supports the process by providing a legislation to share across borders. Our intelligence services need to stop wasting their time on surveilling ordinary citizens and rather target those that have a criminal background or have been active militants abroad.
Terrorist Threat Repository Visualized as a Concept Map
You may remember the film Minority Report, and the software that foresaw crimes through a link to the brain of psychics. Yet in reality we don’t need psychics – we need smart intelligence officers sharing their data across borders, with access to multilingual data processing, so that they are able to predict the next terrorist attack before it hits us. We need a Terrorist Threat Repository visualized as a concept map. The concept map displays potential terrorists and their relations to each other ‒ names and pictures combined with police reports ‒ in any language available.
Holding this together would be a multilingual knowledge system (MKS) that can cater to related terms, also by proximity in geographical locations. In order to cross language borders, the MKS must be available in both our official languages and those used by the offenders. This would allow police reports to be written in any language, since the MKS would be there to find relevant content in any language. When found, the texts can be passed to machine translation to give the gist of the information. If the alarm bells ring but the threat is not immediate, human translation will provide some more insights. In most cases, however, the dots will already be connected enough that security agencies can see a pattern to act on.