New Risks from Brussels’ ‘Security’

After a terror attack, Western governments react – or overreact – to show they’re doing something, but often make matters worse, as Belgium’s new layer of security outside Zaventem airport shows, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

In the days following the March 22 terrorist attack at Zaventem, Brussels’ international airport, the Belgian government was confronted with a walkout by airport security employees who resisted plans to restart services without any far-reaching changes to procedures. The employees demanded, in particular, provision for screening all passengers before they entered the airport building, which would require substantial increase in their own numbers.

It is a sad commentary that it was not the federal authorities but these public workers who stood up for the safety interests of the traveling public, while at the same time feathering their own nests.

Images of the suspected bombers of Brussels' airport on March 22, 2016.

Images of the suspected bombers of Brussels’ airport on March 22, 2016.

Eventually, the government caved in and measures were agreed to. Temporary tent-like pavilions were erected out on the street in front of the airport buildings for the verification of passenger documentation and x-raying of their baggage before admittance to the terminal buildings for check-in. However, as is now apparent, the new infrastructure was poorly conceived and could only result in stupendous back-up of passengers in the open when put to the test of large flows.

Week by week in April, the percentage of flights restored to Zaventem from their diversion to Liege and Charleroi and other regional airports mounted. There was some reason to be optimistic. This past weekend, the airport administration announced a step-up to 80 percent of pre-attack passenger flows – and then the whole operation turned into chaos.

This week when I arrived at Zaventem at 6.30 am, two-and-a-half hours before my flight’s departure, I joined a crowd of some 1,000 hopeful passengers packed tightly together. We advanced at a snail’s pace along a 250-meter walk in the open air to reach the pavilion serving one set of airlines or to reach elevators to ascend three floors and wait for entry into the second pavilion serving other airlines.

The inconvenience and physical discomfort for all those in the line speaks for itself. And this was a morning of clear skies, unlike the rain and even hail that have descended on the mass of passengers exposed to the elements every day for the past week or more.

There were too few staff to explain who goes where. Moreover, such airport staff as circulated was clearly untrained, unable to answer the simplest questions. There was no one to assist the elderly, the infirm or passengers with babies and small children. The huddled mass might as well have been from a scene of Syrian refugees at the Macedonian-Greek border.

But that disgraceful discourtesy to the paying public is the least of what was offensive. What was utterly shocking was the inattention to our security. After all, that is supposedly what these new procedures were intended to provide.

NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

By gathering us all together in the open, without chaperones, with armed military patrols only passing by occasionally as if on show, we were so many herring in a barrel. Any chap or gal wearing a suicide vest could easily have taken 500 lives with him or her, as opposed to the 16 lives that were lost in the attack of March 22, when passengers were spread out in the departure hall.

Not Up to It

Let us not mince words: the Belgian authorities are not up to their jobs, from the minister on down to the airport supervisors. They were incapable of doing the proper engineering. Even a fool would have known that putting in place four baggage X-ray machines in two pavilions to do the work that 20 highly automated inspection lines otherwise do inside the building after check-in was a formula for total breakdown at peak hours.

Lest anyone think these observations are unique to me, they were validated this evening by a front-page report on one of the country’s leading dailies, Le Soir.  The president of Brussels Airlines is quoted as saying that by these new pre-screening procedures the authorities had shot themselves in the foot and made themselves the laughingstock of Europe. But his complaint was with the labor unions of the security staff, not with the airport administration and Ministry of Interior who should have known better than to implement such shortsighted measures.

Belgium’s complacent ruling elites must now be overruled by the international community protecting its own. Until then, foreigners should be put on notice: it is madness to fly into and out of Brussels National Airport-Zaventem.

In my analysis of root causes, I pointed to failures of Belgian political institutions as bearing prime responsibility for the attacks.

The nation’s two major language communities – French and Dutch – are forever trying to pull the blanket over to their respective side. To moderate these rivalries and keep the country together, certain structures were put in place step by step over the past 60 years. To outsiders, these measures appeared to be enlightened and, for many years, Belgium was a poster child of making democracy work in an ethnically diverse society, a model for countries in Central Africa and other complex societies in the Third World. However, behind this façade of progressivism, there were the dirty little secrets of unfortunate consequences.

Foremost among the innovative but offending institutions are proportional representation and power sharing through allocation of seats between representatives of the two communities. The excessive protection of minorities leads to government by coalition. The spoils of power are distributed between an unchanging cast of characters who are installed in office for their party loyalty and not for competence and who almost never face removal for their failures. The flip side of incompetence is institutionalized corruption.

Meanwhile, there is little coherence to government policies, which are instead a patchwork, with bits thrown off here and there as sops to the smaller factions.

Media Criticism

Immediately after the March 22 attacks, Belgian media were full of reports about the tragic failures of policing and of the court system that led to the existence of a flourishing nest of terrorists in the very center of Brussels. These jihadists had been masterminding attacks going back to the Madrid train bombing a decade ago and were behind the November 2015 rampage of murder in Paris before they planned the assaults in Brussels in the name of the Islamic State.

Logically, the key ministers of Justice and Interior should have paid a price for the dereliction of their departments and personally for not heeding warnings coming from abroad well ahead of the terror attacks.  Indeed, they offered to resign, but they were retained at the behest of Prime Minister Charles Michel, who insisted that the team should stick together to face the challenge before the nation resulting from their and their departments’ incompetence.

For those not in the know, suffice it to say that logic was never Charles Michel’s strong point; he was designated PM as a reward for his bilingualism and for being the son and heir to decades-long Reform Party leadership.

Ultimately another minister was forced out of office, Jacqueline Galant, who had the portfolio of Mobility (transport). No one could save her from her own impudent lies that the public and the press exposed. Galant had denied ever reading a European report from 2015 heavily critical of security arrangements at Belgian airports.

But her ouster came against the will of the “team” in power, which was reluctant to part with her for reasons of gender politics, Galant being the only female in the cabinet. Then there was also the little matter of finding a replacement that would not alter the balance between right and left, between French and Dutch.

And so it goes in the Kingdom of Belgium. But inevitably there are issues affecting the greater world where the game playing and incompetence must stop. A major international airport is one such case.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord.  His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016


14 comments for “New Risks from Brussels’ ‘Security’

  1. Realist
    May 4, 2016 at 4:33 am

    Truth be told, things could get a lot worse on the terror front in both Europe and the U.S. People seem to have forgotten the car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations that the IRA carried out on an almost daily basis in their decades-long conflict with the British military. Attacks on European civilians by Muslim Jihadis haven’t yet come close to that level of violence. Making life miserable for European travelers won’t solve the problem any more than it has in the United States. All that is just for show, to make the citizenry think that something is being done about those awful people. Only shutting down the endless wars driven by the U.S. throughout the Middle East will have a real effect, and that means stopping the flow of money, arms and head choppers to the proxy armies supported by America, NATO and the Turkish-Saudi-Israeli Axis. Rein in the hegemonic aspirations of those rogue states and military alliances, allow the natives to settle their own hash without foreign interference and normality will eventually return.

    • Aziz
      May 6, 2016 at 5:49 am

      Well said

  2. Tom Welsh
    May 4, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Worse still were the shootings and bombings carried out by the Jewsih terrorist gangs that induced the British government to pull out of Palestine, abandoning the UN mandate that entrusted the safety of the people of Palestine to Britain.

    • David Smith
      May 4, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      The League Of Nations established a Mandate for Syria, which had fought with the Allies against Ottoman Turkey(Lawrence of Arabia). The Mandate was to end with Syria’s independence. Unfortunately, England and France shared the mandate, and they split Syria between them. Next, France illegally spit it’s mandate into two sub-mandates: Lebanon and “Syria”; and England illegally split it’s mandate into the sub-mandates of TransJordan and Palestine, all against the will of the Syrian people.

    • David Smith
      May 4, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      To clarify, The Mandate of Syria was to be jointly administered by England and France. The first illegal act by England and France was to sever Syria into an exclusive French zone of control and an exclusive English zone. The second illegal act was to sever Syria into four sub-mandates: TransJordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and “Syria”.

      • Sfomarco
        May 5, 2016 at 7:17 pm

        Latakia was another sub-mandate/French colony (1920-1936).

  3. Bill Bodden
    May 4, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    These problems in Belgium appear to be examples of the Peter Principle at work: People rising to their respective levels of incompetence. But come November, America the Exceptional will prove it can go one better with the election as president of Hillary, the Queen of Chaos, or The Donald who has promised to make America great again without ever defining the benchmark period of when American was great.

    We would do well to consider that the problems of security in the United States and Europe are examples of blowback.

    • Aziz
      May 6, 2016 at 5:51 am

      Well said

  4. David Smith
    May 4, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Not being able to afford trips to Europe, I will have to take at face value, Mr. Doctorow, your account of a very annoying experience at Brussels National Airport Zaventem. However, advocating a R2P regime change operation against Belgium as the solution seems extreme, even deranged. What most impressed me in your article was your failure to mention that security at Zaventem during the attack was(still is?) provided by ICTS which is Israeli owned, founded by former Shin Bet operatives. ICTS has a quite a track record failing to stop terrorists. ICTS was at Logan(Boston) on September 11, 2001, ICTS later failed to stop the ShoeBomber and the UnderwearBomber. How does ICTS keep it’s contracts?

    • TLP
      May 5, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      Do you have more info on that by any chance? More specific, any good stuff from among the results of the obvious Google query? :)

  5. Abe
    May 5, 2016 at 2:38 pm


    Speaking of alleged “risks” to security…

    Following on the 3 May BBC propaganda broadcast on MH-17, mainstream media like Newsweek continue their breathless promotion of deception operative Elliot Higgins and the Bellingcat site.

    Last year, Newsweek loudly proclaimed that Higgins was “Putin’s MH17 Nemesis”.

    On 4 May 2016, Newsweek’s perpetual “Russian invasion” spotter Damien Sharkov loudly proclaimed “Heavy Armored Military Column Spotted Moving Toward Frontline in Ukraine”.

    Sharkov’s authority is — you guessed it — a video that “appears to show” something nefarious according to Bellingcat’s perpetual “Russian invasion” spotter Higgins.

    Fake “citizen journalist” Higgins “fact checks” the disinformation produced by the Pentagon and Western intelligence regime, and rubber stamps it with the Bellingcat “digital forensics” seal of approval.

    Higgins and Sharkov have an interesting connection.

    Sharkov, who manages Newsweek Europe’s social media channels, holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Politics from King’s College London.

    King’s College London is known for its partnership with the Washington based Atlantic Council, a “regime change” think tank.

    Higgins is listed in a May 2015 Atlantic Council report as a Visiting Research Associate at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. In fact, Higgins is a key author of the May 2015 Atlantic Council report titled, “Hiding In Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine”.

    The Atlantic Council constantly challenges the efforts of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization, tasked with monitoring the conflict in Ukraine.

    The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine continues to monitor the withdrawal of heavy weapons foreseen in the Minsk Package of Measures.

    The latest SMM reports simply note “a similarly low number of ceasefire violations as the previous day”.

    Higgins and Sharkov are back at it, accusing the OSCE of failing to “spot” their perpetual “Russian invasion”.

    And the Mighty Wurlitzer plays on…

  6. Otto
    May 6, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Several years ago I thought of how to close every world airport and ground every commercial plane – that as was inefficiently, thank goodness, perpetrated at Brussels.I was amazed that it had not already been done – considerate plotters? I informed a UK airport security boss of this at the time to which he replied that ‘yes, we are looking at that’. I also emailed similar concerns to media organisations to which not a single response, which was expected.

    In the following years there has been not a single media mention of this method – perhaps not to give anyone ideas but it is so obvious surely many have thought of it. Rather stupidly I have occasionally mentioned to security staff at airports when they are checking me out that I am not frightened being in the plane but here and the space just behind me – they look quizzical but that’s in their training I suppose – they can’t be that unthinking, can they?

    How to check passengers safely before flights? I have no idea, oh perhaps a Big Brother surveillance gizmo which in real time reveals and sends everyone’s activity 24 hours/day to a security team to vet you, as long as it doesn’t change our ways of life of course.

  7. J'hon Doe II
    May 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Perpetuation of weapon sales is concomitant with US based Chaos Theory of domination and control.

    The uncontrolled massive flow of weapons into disparate groups of “rebels”, governments, and government sponsored “rebels” constitutes the purposed creation of Disorder.

    Disorder is the desired effect for They who initiate the conditions for Chaos, then, place blame upon the “rebels.”

    US history will report that 9/11 initiated the GWOT.

    I insist it was the PNAC insanity of US world dominion, based on a weapons rich bellicosity of arrogant power, that opened the doors of Rational government policy (we the people) into apoplectic delusions of World Supremacy.

    Chaos is maintained in the US creation and recruitment of an enemy called Al Qaeda which morphed into ISIS and also now “Moderates” who assist the US in “regime chance” operations where Mass Murders from car bombings or Hellfire missiles from drones become mundane (ho hum) occurrences in our economically profitable GWOT.

    The US national consensus Belief in Lies (or abject apathy) allows Chaos Theoreticians a competency within THE MEDIA to broadcast Their version of events as means of our pacification while millions of human beings world wide suffer needlessly from the Insecurity and Chaos we instigate and propagate.

    When will those of us who believe in truth and justice arise ?? !

  8. Aziz
    May 8, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    I have a question :

    Is there still the usual scanning of all items taken on board – the usual process that has been put in place in all airports after 9/11 – between/after the check-in process and before having access to the boarding gates ?


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