• United States



Intrusive Security: Blame the United States

Jul 13, 20074 mins
Critical InfrastructureIT LeadershipSecurity

When Europeans dont like a security measure, they think they know where to point their finger

There’s a joke making the rounds in Europe these days. It goes like this: There once was a man on a train who was ripping pages from a book and tossing them out the window.

The conductor walks by and cries out, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m trying to keep the elephants away.”

“Elephants?” the conductor exclaims. “I don’t see any elephants!”

“See!” the man replies. “It’s working!”

On one level this is a simple pleasantry designed to provoke a smile. On another it is a metaphor for the way Europeans are increasingly viewing security measures designed to thwart terrorism. In this regard, American and European opinions are increasingly at odds.

Americans tend to view increased security measures as a necessary evil—especially after 9/11. To be sure, there are concerns amongst some Americans about the invasion of privacy and civil liberties, but it has not risen to a level of mass discontent. In Europe, however, it is approaching that point.

My evidence is a combination of the anecdotal and the factual. Anecdotally, I have lunch and tea every day with my European colleagues. They all have a horror story to tell about too-strict airport security. The complaints range from missing a flight because they were standing in a security line, to having their personal privacy and/or dignity violated because of a run-in with a Customs or security official. They tend to blame Americans for the imposition caused by increased security.

On the factual side, a recent survey of frequent international travelers for the tourism promotion group Discover America found a 17 percent drop in tourism to the United States since 2001. A full 39 percent of the survey’s respondents cited the United States as the “worst” for immigration and entry procedures. Half of the respondents said immigration and Customs officials were rude and that they actually feared them more than the threat of terrorism.

There are other minor irritants as well. In the city where I live, the U.S. Embassy has turned into an armed fortress that is an eyesore to an otherwise picturesque historic district. The concrete barricades, fencing and barbed wire cover an entire city block and prevent tourists from visiting a historic monument, which is now enclosed within the embassy’s new security perimeter.

These measures, combined with the general unpopularity of American foreign policy in Europe, have created an atmosphere in which any new security measure is reflexively blamed on Americans. Recently, my organization set up metal detectors at a conference of foreign delegates. The reaction from the staff was not that this increased safety, but rather that the American delegation must have required it. (This wasn’t true, by the way.)

The grumblings alluded to in the joke about the man on the train is that the extra security measures put in place in Europe after the 9/11 attack don’t do much to deter terrorism and are there only because the Americans insist on them. After all, the skeptics say, Europe suffered from terrorism long before 9/11 occurred. What about the terrorist attacks from the Irish Republican Army, Basque Fatherland and Liberty, the Red Brigades, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Baider Meinhof Gang? These terrorist groups had been active in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, and Europe had not put extra security measures in place. What makes the present brand of terrorism any different? Europeans are increasingly drawing the conclusion that difference is that the 9/11 attack affected the United States—and that therefore the United States, and not their own national governments, must be to blame.

I’m not sure where this increased European skepticism of security will lead. Whereas Americans tend to view security like a socket wrench that, once ratchetted up, will never slip back, Europeans see it as a hammer that, once used, must now be returned to the tool chest. This attitude means that it is becoming much more difficult for European security executives to maintain organizational staff support for security measures. They are being told, in no uncertain terms, that it’s time to put the hammer down.

Paul Raines is CISO of a nonprofit international group in The Hague, Netherlands. Send feedback to Senior Editor Sarah D. Scalet at


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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