• United States



Society Without Security

Jun 06, 20065 mins
CSO and CISOIT LeadershipPhysical Security

Where are the soldiers? The cops? Security? Is it possible? Who's crazy here?

I’ve been living in Europe now for going on seven months, and I’m beginning to notice something strange, very strange indeed.

It started about three months ago during a visit to the city of Basle, Switzerland, for a carnival celebration called Fasnacht. I was lost and wanted to ask directions. It was then that I noticed it. It happened by accident, really. I was looking for a particular landmark and thought I’d ask someone who wasn’t a tourist and could actually answer my question-like a policeman. But there were none to be found. Nada. Not anywhere. Hmmm, strange, I thought-no police during a major celebration with hundreds of thousands of tourists in the city. Were they on strike? I finally had to ask a salesperson at a news kiosk.

“So, ahem, I, ah, noticed there aren’t any police around,” I managed in my most affected nonchalant way.


“Well, I mean, aren’t you concerned with all these tourists?” She looked at me as blankly as the Swiss sheep on the mountainside. “You know,” I continued, “There could be more crime with all these transient people coming into the city-like pickpockets, muggings, maybe, heaven forbid, a terrorist incident.”

She shrugged. “We don’t have those kinds of problems here. Besides, if people are having fun and are well-behaved, then why bother?”

Hmmm, a pre-9/11 attitude if I ever heard one. But apparently she wasn’t the only one who thought that way because for the three days I was at the festival, I counted exactly four policemen. My security sense began to tingle.

Now mind you, prior to moving to Europe, I worked for many years in New York. After 9/11, I became used to seeing a phalanx of heavily armed policemen, soldiers and bomb-sniffing dogs greet me every day as I commuted into Penn Station. These people were all needed for security-or at least that’s what I was told. Didn’t Europe have the same terrorist threat? Hadn’t there been bombings in Madrid and London? And there in Basle, I had to admit the people were relatively well behaved even if it was a Carnival celebration, but then again they were Swiss-not exactly known for being the party animals of Europe. Maybe it was different in other parts of Europe.

But evidently not. Last month, while I was in the south of France for a week, I drove for hundreds of kilometers throughout the countryside and never once encountered police. Apparently, there was no French equivalent of the Smokey Bears that grace the highways and byways of America with their radar guns and friendly demeanor.

A French friend explained to me that their roads have an occasional speed camera to catch people driving too fast, and if something bad like an accident happened, they have emergency numbers to call for help. But, he merrily chirped, the French love life and see no need to have a lot of police around when people are just out enjoying the countryside and fresh air.

The final straw came when I toured the Binnenhof in The Hague, Netherlands. The Binnenhof is the location of the Dutch Parliament and the most historic, scenic place in The Hague. Tourists are allowed to ride their bicycles through the Binnenhof and walk alongside members of parliament as they go to and from their offices. The tour guide pointed out a small tower where the prime minister has his most important meetings with foreign heads of state and members of parliament. One might say it is the Dutch equivalent of the Oval Office. I was only about a stone’s throw away from the heart of the Netherlands’ government. Indeed, for all the tour guide knew, I might just have a stone or even something worse in my pocket. I looked around for some evidence of security in the area and counted exactly two guards in a cubicle that was located politely out of the way of pedestrian traffic. The guards were laughing and sharing a cup of coffee. I had to ask the obvious.

The guide paused for a moment with a bemused smirk. “Well, I suppose a terrorist attack could happen,” he replied. “We are, of course, living in difficult times. But the Dutch think it is more important that their elected representatives be seen as part of the people. The Dutch prime minister has been known to ride his bike to work the same as everyone else. It’s part of our sense of democracy.”

OK. Where I come from in the ol’ U. S. of A., three strikes and you’re out. Were Americans the only people in the world taking terrorism seriously? On the U.S. side of the pond, security experts are hard at work wiretapping telephones, posting a strong police presence in public locations and constantly reminding people to be afraid of terrorists. Here, the Europeans were apparently having a picnic. The Swiss behaving themselves during a celebration without police to keep an eye on things? The French enjoying a drive across the countryside without highway patrolmen? The Dutch political representatives being close to and living like the people they represent? These seem like pretty radical notions in post 9/11 world.

There can be only one explanation: Europe must be crazy.


Paul Raines is the Chief Information Security Officer for the United Nations Development Programme. In that capacity he is responsible for the information security and disaster recovery planning for the Organisation’s 177 locations around the world. Previously, he worked for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and, like all current and former members of the organization, shared in the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Prior to working for the United Nations he was the Chief Information Security Officer for Bloomberg LP and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. For relaxation he enjoys opera, Shakespeare, French wine and sometimes just sitting in a cafe with an espresso and croissant reading a good book on Roman history.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Paul Raines and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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