European Union’s Law Enforcement Director Visits GW

Catherine De Bolle discussed Europe’s threat landscape and her goals for EU’s law enforcement agency.

November 9, 2018

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Europol Director Catherine De Bolle discussed Europe’s threat landscape at GW with Frank Cilluffo, director of Auburn University's Charles D. McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security. (William Atkins/GW Today)

By Tatyana Hopkins

The networks behind some of the greatest security threats to the European Union (EU) are quick to seize new opportunities in emerging technologies and are resilient in the face of traditional enforcement measures, according to the new executive director of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement (Europol).

Catherine De Bolle, speaking at the George Washington University on Thursday, said the classical division of security competencies and responsibilities among various agencies such as the military, intelligence community and law enforcement are increasingly difficult to apply to emerging threats.

 “The category of threats and boundaries between those threats are increasingly difficult to define,” she said. “This has to do with the much greater degree of interconnectedness between countries and between the physical and the virtual realties we are living in.”

Ms. De Bolle spoke at an event about the European threat landscape and Europol’s dual focus on terror and cyber threats. The event was co-hosted by the GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security and Auburn University’s Charles D. McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security. Frank Cilluffo, director of the Charles D. McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, moderated the discussion.

Headquartered in the Netherlands, Europol is the EU’s official law enforcement agency. While the agency does not arrest suspects without prior approval from competent authorities in its member states, it supports the authorities of the union’s 28 member states in combatting terrorism, cybercrime and other large-scale organized criminal networks.

 “Giving an answer on all the threats we are faced with would not be possible,” Ms. De Bolle said.

But by focusing on terrorism and cyber security, she said, the agency can help member states effectively fight some of the most dangerous threats to the EU.

Ms. De Bolle said the emergence of cyber space as a part of everyday, private life and as a key element of public infrastructure makes it vulnerable to terrorist-level attacks. She said that so far this year, Europol has helped member states in 460 cyber counterterrorism operations.

She said cyber space’s ability to move beyond physical borders allows terrorist organizations to do the same— acts of terrorism that used to be localized to “conflict zones in the Middle East” are now a global threat as terrorist organizations are able to orchestrate attacks globally.

She said Belgium faced home-grown terrorism in 2016 when a number of Belgium nationals perpetrated the country’s deadliest terror attacks as part of a terrorist cell of ISIS. At the time, she served as the general commissioner of the Belgian Federal Police.

Other organized crime like money laundering and fraud is also easier to perpetrate with the emergence of the dark web.

Mr. Cilluffo said as these threats evolve public agencies and private institutions will have to learn to keep up.

“When I was first working in counterterrorism—what feels like 100 years ago—it was sort of the Blair Witch Project. It was Osama bin Laden with his AK-47, espousing,” he said. “Then, if you look at the medium manipulation of ISIS, it’s more like Xbox.”

He said the issues arising out of the technical advancements of terrorist and criminal organizations will require a skilled workforce to combat growing threats. 

“That is something not just the law enforcement community, but the whole world, is struggling with,” Mr. Cilluffo said.

Ms. De Bolle, who became Europol director in May, said she has three goals for the agency—to give more agile operational support to investigators in member states, act as an information hub for European law enforcement and to develop artificial intelligence to provide innovative policing solutions.

To do this, she said the global security community needs to strip itself of traditional divisions and share information cross-sectionally.

“We really want an integrated data management system to cross-check and integrate information from different crime areas,” Ms. De Bolle said.