Security expert: Soft targets need better protection, but the manpower available is not overwhelming

Illustrative photo: Martin Svozílek

The Czech government has approved a national anti-terror plan, setting out how best to protect and react to possible terrorist attacks on so-called soft targets. It envisages an early warning system, training of selected workers and more funds for security at institutions considered to be at increased risk. The measures are aimed at stepping up coordination, securing a faster information exchange and limiting the number of casualties, for example, from follow-up attacks.

Illustrative photo: CTK
I asked security expert Andor Šandor, former head of military intelligence, how he viewed the proposed measures.

“This should have been done sooner, much sooner, because the attacks we are witnessing have been going on for at least two or three years, I mean attacks on soft targets. I am not sure that soft targets can be protected the way the government is telling us. What’s important is that the people at the centre of such an attack will receive information fast. That is a commendable measure. But whether it will help people feel safer or think that the government is doing more for their safety than it did before, that I can’t say.”

What is of primary importance then? Or where is the country most vulnerable – is it a lack of information exchange or the presence of police and security at these soft targets?

“We need better protection, but the problem is that the manpower available is not overwhelming, and if we do not want to use the army, which is undermanned too, we cannot sustain a long-term high level of protection such as we see in France, or other countries where there is a state of emergency.”

Andor Šandor, photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“We should, and I believe the government has done this, select soft targets that require greater protection. We have a Jewish community in Prague, we have British or American institutions that are potential soft targets, schools should be better protected than they are now. There are department stores ….but, frankly, can a department store be protected? I am not sure. Soft targets either will serve the purpose why they were built or they will be safe. If they are perfectly safe they will not serve the purpose for which they were built.”

Should the Czech Republic follow Israel’s steps in terms of security and protection or is that excessive?

“I do not think we should follow Israel’s example. It is a different country, one of the most dangerous when it comes to terrorist attacks. All Israeli citizens, with a few exceptions, undergo compulsive military service, both men and women have three years of this training, they know how to handle weapons, they have lived in a state of war since the establishment of the Israeli state. We can learn some things from them, adopt some Israeli technical measures, but to say that Israel is an example to follow entirely would be a wrong approach. I don’t think we should do that.”

What are the lessons to be learnt from the terrorist attacks around us in Europe?

Illustrative photo: Martin Svozílek
“That is an important question, which I find it hard to answer. We are witnessing attacks committed with the help of lorries and big cars and people are hit walking on sidewalks and in pedestrian areas. We should ban cars from pedestrian areas from early morning until late at night. There should be a regulation and there should be barriers to protect people in pedestrian areas from being hit by a car. But, frankly, this is the kind of attack from which we can hardly be protected from. I believe very strongly that we should do something to do away with the causes and roots of this problem, address the reasons why these people hate us, why they want to kill us the way they do.”