US spy boss did not say open borders pose UK terror threat

by Jack Schickler | 27.04.2016

The Eurosceptic British media have seized on remarks by US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about the European operations of terrorist groups linked to Islamic State. “Isis has taken advantage of Europe’s open borders to plant sleeper cells in the UK, Germany and Italy, head of American intelligence warns”, says the Mail. The Telegraph and Express take a similar line.

Clapper said no such thing. Asked at a press gathering whether terrorist group Islamic state had “clandestine cells like they had in Brussels in places like Germany, England, and Italy”, Clapper confirmed that they did (listen here, around 30’), and in response to the subsequent question said Islamic State had “taken advantage, to some extent, of the migrant crisis in Europe”. But he did not say that a UK-based cell had got there using European free movement rules.

Answering 14 minutes later a separate question on the attack threat and impediments to information sharing in Europe, he referred to “the fundamental conflict between … European Union incentives and drives to promote openness and free movement of people and goods, privacy – which is in some ways in conflict with the responsibilities that each country has as a nation state to protect the security of its borders and its people”. He said that each European country had their “own laws, particularly with respect to privacy and sharing information”, but referred broadly positively to rules on sharing airline passenger data to combat terrorism and serious crime, recently agreed by the European Parliament. If anything, Clapper was calling for greater EU cooperation on counter-terrorism.

It is true that some dangerous criminals have taken advantage of the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone – notably, terror suspect Salah Abdeslam crossed the border into Belgium after the Paris attacks, though he has now been extradited back to France after being placed under a European Arrest Warrant. But the UK is not part of the Schengen zone, and maintains passport controls at its borders. And the UK-based terrorists Clapper refers to could have travelled from the Middle East to the UK directly rather than via Europe. They might even have been British citizens, as was the case with the four 7/7 bombers and Lee Rigby’s killers.

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    In their attempt to scaremonger about security threats and cook up a case for Brexit, these three newspapers have misled their readers and misrepresented the views of US intelligence.

    The Mail, Express and Telegraph did not respond to our request for comment or correction.

    Edited by Michael Prest