Five years on from terrorist attacks, intelligence services still have problems cooperating
Share article:
Share article:

Five years on from terrorist attacks, intelligence services still have problems cooperating

© Fotis Fotopoulos/Unsplash

Next Monday, 22 March, sees the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks at Brussels Airport and on the Brussels metro at Maelbeek.

But even five years after that shock, the country’s intelligence and security services are unable to work together properly, an investigation by De Morgen has revealed.

Immediately following the attacks, the federal police, the civilian intelligence service and the military intelligence service SGRS decided to equip themselves with the same type of software, which would allow them to cooperate in tracking down terrorist messages on social media.

The tender was handled by the defence ministry, and two companies responded: the multinational IBM and the Dutch Bavak. The paper, which has seen the documentation, reports that IBM scored better on technical points, but Bavak’s offer was about 30% cheaper – and that difference won them the contract.

The first problem arose when the software arrived roughly 18 months late, in October 2020. The second problem was more serious: the software simply didn’t work.

To carry out a targeted search, it produced insufficient results,” said Steven De Munter, head of the specialised team at the federal police until last year.

We never used it.”

Over at State Security, meanwhile, they had found a work-around.

State Security developed tools that allowed it to play a leading role in the European intelligence community,” a spokesperson told the paper.

But that is not how Kenneth Lasoen, an expert on the intelligence services at the university of Antwerp sees it. “While the US Marines now use the IBM system, our services are still approaching the problem with the same digital arsenal as five years ago.”

There are also problems concerning the general computerisation of the services. That job is in the hands of Smals, the government’s IT agency, which has been paid €22.5 million since 2016 for the work. “The question is not, what’s going wrong, it’s what works,” one source told the paper.

Smals has more recently come in for criticism over its handling of the contact-tracing system in Belgium, as well as the vaccination appointment system.

In the end, despite the explicit instruction given by the special parliamentary committee on the attacks, there is still no common computer system by which the three services can communicate with each other.

The De Croo government has promised to hurry the work along. At the same time, however, all attention appears to be on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Over 50,000 march against fascism in Rome
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against fascism in Rome on Saturday, one week after violent protests against the Covid certificate. Over ...
Will Brussels bounce back?
The lockdowns have tested the city and forced it to confront key questions about its future. Derek Blyth looks back at an extraordinary moment in our ...
Vaccinations: Belgium’s Health Minister currently not in favour of a general booster shot
The latest figures on new coronavirus cases are worrying, but rather than imposing new safety measures, what is needed is full compliance with ...
Thousands protest against the Covid health pass in France
Demonstrations against the health pass and other measures aimed at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus mobilised tens of thousands of protesters ...
Record-breaking 770-metre highline installed in Freÿr, Belgium
A 770-metre long highline was installed at an altitude of 70 metres at the Freÿr Rocks on Saturday, setting a new Belgian record, according to ...
Huge cannabis farm discovered inside closed down Chinese restaurant near Charleroi
A cannabis plantation with several hundred mature plants was dismantled on Friday evening in a former Chinese restaurant on Chaussée de Bruxelles ...
Citizen founded wind turbine project launched in Liège region
A citizen founded wind turbine project was inaugurated in the Liège Region on Saturday by Walloon Energy Minister Philippe Henry (Ecolo) together ...
Five questions to philosopher Philippe Van Parijs on Leopold II and embarrassment in Brussels’ public space
The worldwide explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, combined with the 60th anniversary of the ...
Belgium to invest in sustainable heating in 2022
The federal government will set aside about one million euros in its 2022 budget for a social tariff for sustainable heating, Federal Energy Minister ...
Unfinished draft of new Astérix story discovered
The discovery of the unfinished draft of a cartoon album on the most famous of all Gauls, sketched by cartoonist René Goscinny, was announced by his ...
Anti-vaxxers demonstrate against Covid Safe Ticket in Brussels
Hundreds of supporters of the anti-vaxx movement gathered on Saturday outside the headquarters of the Pfizer pharmaceutical company to protest ...
Belgium’s investment funds total 260 billion euros in assets
Belgium’s funds industry grew by 5.3% (13 billion euros) in the second quarter of this year, bringing investment funds available to the public to ...