How many intelligence services does the Netherlands actually need – and should the fairly new counter-terrorism coordinator NCTV, now effectively an internal department of Justice, be given more powers? Among other things, to be able to (also) follow individuals, which is now only allowed by the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the AIVD/MIVD, within narrowly defined legal frameworks?
These questions arise after a portrait of the person behind ‘dossier 606’, the radical activist Frank van der Linde from Amsterdam, last weekend in NRC. On that basis (only) those questions can be answered with ‘no’ for the time being. The added value of the NCTV is not clear here – in fact, the attention of the service seems to have a stigmatizing effect and to provoke measures for which there are no clear reasons. But they are taken because “you have to do something” when the NCTV warns, as one official put it.
With the NCTV at the table, there seems to be a run-up effect within the government, also known from the aid sector. There is then so much attention that the regulators will take each other hostage – and doing nothing is hardly an option anymore.
From Van der Linde’s file, which the various authorities were happy to make available to him, a fascinating picture emerges of the activist himself. It provokes, provokes, takes action, evokes resistance and is therefore also firmly in a pinch. The government offers him help, monitors and rates him alternately as a prospective violent offender, patient, victim and in any case as a nuisance radical. The monitoring specialists of the NCTV play the role of declarant – he is, among other things, followed under cover by the NCTV on social media.
That practice has been discontinued after previous reporting NRC ended. But it can be resumed after adoption of a bill hastily submitted by Minister Grapperhaus (CDA, Minister of Security and Justice). To reassure the minister, the minister told the House that the NCTV has no task “to conduct targeted investigations into persons”. But only “phenomenal” works. The idea is to provide other governments with ‘insight into the social debate’. To this end, the NCTV wants the power to ‘monitor and interpret statements of an ideological or political nature on internet forums and (social) media’.
This is very similar to journalistic work, but undercover. It also sounds quite academic. But the Frank case shows that it comes down to typical intelligence and surveillance work, aimed at a radical, potentially dangerous person. Not at all on a phenomenon or a debate, about which officials who do not read a newspaper or follow other media should be informed separately.
Admittedly, this is complicated territory. Can people who make ideological (radical) statements be separated from the social debate, of which the government should be aware? The supervision of the main character in ‘file 606’ also shows that this is not so easy.
At the same time, a minister who writes to the House that the NCTV has no task in following people must now scratch his head. With this dossier on the table, that looks like obscuring the truth, while strictness is required from a responsible minister. Clarification is therefore required. The NCTV actually missed its benchmark here.
Also read this article: The NCTV: autonomous terror fighter or minister’s errand boy?
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of July 27, 2021