US Panorama: Wikileaking Counterterrorism from Morocco to the EU

The drop-by-drop cable leakage down the WikiLeaks pipeline appears as the most telling form for exposing government measures increasingly executed in one-drop increments and by stealth under the cover of the War on Terror. In a leaked 2007 cable from the embassy in Spain, US expressed concern over the threat of Islamist terrorist attacks in […]

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Nahrain Al-Mousawi is a teacher and writer 0 comments

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010


The drop-by-drop cable leakage down the WikiLeaks pipeline appears as the most telling form for exposing government measures increasingly executed in one-drop increments and by stealth under the cover of the War on Terror. In a leaked 2007 cable from the embassy in Spain, US expressed concern over the threat of Islamist terrorist attacks in Spain in 2007 and proposed setting up a “counterterrorism, anti-crime and intelligence center” at its consulate in Barcelona. Previously seen as threats to existing laws and democratic values, initiatives for globalized mass surveillance and registration through US intervention now are, for the sake of expediency, re-packaged and implemented piecemeal, in stages, and in secret to evade public debate or accountability.

Leaked US embassy cables from Spain reveal globalized counterterrorism assumes a new, further embedded stance than suggested by “multilateral cooperation” info sharing, in its surveillance of Moroccan “mobility”, and by extension, the Maghreb. One cable from 2005 sets the scene, saying that “Spain is both a significant target of Islamic terrorist groups and a major logistical hub for Islamic extremist groups operating across the globe.” A 2007 US embassy cable expresses angst over Spain’s permeability as “a past and current al-Qaida target”, referring to the March 2004 Madrid attack claimed by an AQ-associated group, and due to its “close proximity to the Maghreb and the presence of over 1 million Muslims.” Although Spain has had a decades-long struggle with the Basque “terrorist” movement ETA, as well as a substantial body of law and institutional capacity to fight terrorism, perhaps more than some European countries and the US have had in the past, US involvement in Spain bloomed post-9/11—but beyond recognizable info-sharing counterterrorism strategies.

Already permanently embedded in Africa, and prominently in a willing “democratic ally” like Morocco, is the US Army African Command, Africom. Host countries, or “democratic allies” like Morocco, are not immune from the criticism of subcontracting away African military independence to the US, initiating a permanent state of US military entrenchment in Africa. However, the proposal of the counterterrorism and intelligence center in Barcelona sets new precedents: for control of Mediterranean transit nodes and control of Maghreb mobility, most prominently Morocco in the cables. The overlap is in the ability of Africom to wage counterinsurgency campaigns, but those are restricted to the national level. The counterterrorism intelligence center at the US consulate in Barcelona would have 13 agents strategically situated to monitor who and what was passing through the area from Morocco, as well as Algeria, Tunisia, and the south of France. As with Africom’s military settlement, the proposed counterterrorism surveillance center signals a more localized embeddedness in global counterterrorism operations, but, to be clear, not in the suspect nation—Morocco or parts of the Maghreb. That is, it is neither restricted to policing from a post within a suspect nation nor is it restricted to policing that movement that goes on within a suspect nation. Rather, US’s transnationalized surveillance seeks to straddle EU’s African entry gate, Spain, mostly transited by Moroccans, with one eye toward Muslim North Africa and the other toward Europe.

While the center seems small, its aims are panoramic. Explicitly, it ambitiously proposes to unify “resources and expertise of Spanish and regional authorities in a more focused campaign” as a “force multiplier for [their] joint fight”. Implicitly, it attempts to stage itself on a center platform of border policing between the EU and a migrant Morocco that yields the illusion of a full panoramic view. The panorama displays all “sides” of war on terror by stitching and assembling multiple images of a view: Moroccan “immigration”, “drug trafficking”, centers of “jihadist” susceptibility into a single wide image with terror-vulnerable EU on one side and terror-suspect Africa on the other with the US purveying all at its center.

At one time, the US administration’s clandestinely leaked, drop-by-drop, step-by-step advances in the War on Terror had been defined broadly by a globalizing approach: Richard Haass has stated that “terrorism is like many other challenges of this globalized era … Global problems require global solutions.” But this new leaked US proposal to Spain reveals more panoramic transnational “solutions”: counterterrorism through surveillance of Muslim mobility is a border policing approach, by treating the nation, another nation, as an entire border. The border then is no longer just at the border, but diffused throughout, as well as its policing surveillance strategies. The US proposal to set up a small center with “resources and expertise of Spanish and regional authorities in a more focused campaign” diffuses the border and its principles of surveillance throughout Spain.

Within the EU members’ efforts to control illegal immigration have become enmeshed in a debate that sometimes links terrorism to illegal immigration from the MENA region. In addition, Spain has established joint border controls with France and Italy to capture and expel illegal immigrants. The 2007 cable shows the US has no qualms about capitalizing on the EU’s securitized obsessions by joining in to a chorus linking migration from the Maghreb to terrorism.

European borders already project their influence beyond the boundaries of the EU’s territory, since the EU has enlisted Morocco, as well as Tunisia and Libya, in the management of its borders. The EU exercises power beyond its borders in order to manage the boundaries of its territory and to maintain European unity and identity.

The US proposal to insinuate itself in and further compound the shifting, expanding, virtual boundaries of Fortress Europe points to the changing conception of the border’s location. The US has not only divided the globe between willing “democratic allies” and reluctant hostile enemies, it has also commandeered new roles in political, economic, transportation and communications sectors globally via allied counterterrorism efforts. It is not clear whether the center was ever created, and the US embassy in Madrid declined to comment about the leaked cables. But US transnational “solutions” to counterterrorism that create new borders in distant nations begs the question: in what way are Morocco and the Maghreb simply one beginning spectacle of many border panoramas worldwide, in the US’s newly embedded, transnational counterterrorism? Morocco and the Maghreb, simultaneously “jihadist” and allies to the US, can’t be alone.

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Posted on Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

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