There is no way to fully counter terrorism, and there are no “lone wolves,” AAPA members learned during a lively discussion on Feb. 23 with French criminologist and security and terrorism expert Alain Bauer. All the terrorists who have been identified so far have been “connected” in some way, and most of their funding is coming from their own, often criminal, activities, he said. “The expression ‘lone wolves’ is a good way for intelligence services to explain how they failed,” he said.


M. Bauer pointed to some shortcomings in the French police methodology that might have helped to avoid some recent terrorist activities. For example, the police are low on analytical resources, although they are good at gathering and compiling information and reacting once they have analysed it. But sometimes they don’t “connect all the dots,” he said, adding that they may pledge that that won’t happen again, but it does.

Terrorist sleepers can be left for years after contacts with foreign countries in the Middle East, Yemen and Afghanistan although they are tagged, he said. Surveillance may be done but isn’t always effective because senior operatives among the centralised security authorities in Paris – whether from arrogance or ignorance – may not listen to, or act upon, alerts from regional teams about individuals who they have been watching. The police need to hire more technically-savvy, non-police professionals who are good at analyzing data, he said, but although this is starting to happen it’s still not part of the culture of the security services.

M. Bauer said there are 5,000 people in France who need to be watched, but only a couple of dozen really dangerous militants who have the expertise and the motivation to commit major terror attacks.

He pointed out that it doesn’t require a lot of money to buy weapons and explosives to finance an attack, as weapons have been readily available since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He told us that one of the perpetrators in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris actually took out a personal bank loan to finance his plan.

On the brighter side, M. Bauer said that “traditional” criminal activity is actually on the decline, although there is no single reason for that. The frequency of homicides in many countries has fallen steeply, for example, and in France it has ebbed to a record low level.


-John Keating and David Pearson