Spanish Policy Against Terrorism: The Guardia Civil and ETA

por Ignacio Cosidó, 23 de octubre de 2002

(Paper presented in the Conference “The Security Gap between the Military and Law Enforcement in Counter-Terrorism”, Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, Washington, October 23rd, 2002)
 
ETA is a terrorist organization whose criminal activity began in 1968 and so far has caused 854 casualties; the last one was a corporal of the Guardia Civil on September, 24th, in Navarre. The objective of this terrorist group is dual, on the one hand, to achieve independence of the Basque territory between Spain and France and, on the other hand, to establish in that hypothetic state a new totalitarian revolutionary regime. That dichotomy between exclusive nationalism and revolutionary Marxism has been a permanent feature along the history of the organization.
 
The strategy of the organization to achieve those aims has varied along its three decades of existence. Thus, in a first stage, when Spain was under the authoritarian regime of General Franco, ETA aimed to be the spearhead of the Basque people rebellion against Franco’s oppression and the Spanish occupation, in the style of the movements of  national liberation in the Third World, in fashion at that time. However, the historic relationship of the Basque Country with Spain and, specially, the peaceful democratic transition underwent by Spanish society, spoilt any possibility of success of this strategy.
 
After the arrival of the democracy in Spain, ETA adopted a strategy of pressure on the State through committing hundreds of murders, specially the military and members of the Security Forces, but also civilian groups in order to force them to give in to their aims in a supposed negotiating table. The strength of Spanish democracy before these terrorist attacks, the growing efficiency of  police action, which culminated in 1992 with the arrest of the leading members of the gang in a joint operation of the Guardia Civil and the French police with the technical support of the CIA, led also to the failure of this strategy of pressure on the State.
 
Casualties by ETA

 
The increasing operational weakness of the terrorist organization led to a third phase in which ETA looked for a common front with institutional nationalism in order to move forward a policy of accomplished facts towards independency. The so-called Estella Pact led the terrorist activity to an indefinite end if the governing Basque nationalism assumed the objectives and the schedule imposed by the terrorist group. The inability of the democratic nationalism to impose this project to the Basque people at the pace required by the terrorists and the fear of the gang to be excluded from the process resulted in the resumption of the terrorist activity in December of  2001.
 
Regarding the terrorist tactic, ETA makes use of three different types of action. First of all, the one they call “Fight X” includes violent demonstrations and coercion and intimidation acts against those who oppose to the terrorist group thesis. Secondly, “Fight Y” consists of acts of sabotage and organized street violence, which could be considered as low intensity urban terrorism. Finally, “Fight Z” is constituted by more serious terrorist acts such as murders or to plant explosive devices.
 
The current status of the gang is a growing weakness not only in the operational field but also from the political and social point of view. Thus, the terrorist activity has significantly decreased. As you can see in the previous table, from the 85 murders committed until 1979 and from the 100 committed in 1980 it dropped to an average of 30 casualties in the first part of that decade, to an average of 25 casualties between 1988 and 1992 and just to 10 casualties between 1993 and 2001. So far in 2002 there have been 4 casualties. Furthermore, street terrorism acts (Kale Borroka) have also decreased from 552 in 2001 to 289 committed this year.

YEAR 2000
YEAR 2001
YEAR 2002
TERRORIST ACTS
45
51
24
KALE BORROKA
581
552
289
TOTAL
626
603
313

 
ETA terrorist acts + Kale Borroka

 
In the electoral field, the support to Batasuna, political wing of the terrorist organization, decreased in the last elections for the autonomous regions held in 2001 to less than 10% as compared with the 20% they had in 1990. This political weakness will increase due to the suspension of Batasuna’s activities ordered by the Audiencia Nacional[1] and the action opened at the Supreme Court of Justice to definitely outlaw the coalition.
 

 
Finally, social support to the terrorist group has also significantly decreased. The support to ETA, which in the 80s was around 10%, is nowadays around 2%. On the contrary, the total rejection has increased from 40% around the middle of the 80s to the current 60%. The remaining 30% takes a position of rejection but with some qualifications, for instance, to support the gang aims but not the violent means used to achieve them and to justify the existence of ETA during the dictatorship but not in democracy.
 
 
This operational, political and social weakness of ETA terrorism is mainly due to two factors, a new and comprehensive approach of the Spanish government in the fight against this organization and an increasing international cooperation. The new comprehensive approach to combat terrorism starts from the premise that ETA is not only its cells but also a big network with political parties, social organizations, companies and propagandistic means. That entire network is directly controlled and directed by ETA and provides political support, welfare services and logistic and economic assistance rendered to the terrorist activity. The Government approach is, therefore, to fight against that network so as to hinder, on the one hand, the regeneration capacity the armed gang has enjoyed along its history and, on the other, the impunity most of the organization has had making use of democracy means in order to destroy it.
 
International cooperation has two basic dimensions: bilateral and multilateral. In the first one, the priority was the cooperation with France. ETA has historically kept its leadership, its logistic bases and its training camps in French territory. Along the 90s, police cooperation with France has significantly improved as it is shown in the 78 terrorists arrested in French territory in that decade and the 32 extradited terrorists.
 
Regarding the multilateral dimension, 11-September has had a catalysing effect, especially in the core of the European Union. Thus, after the attacks against the United States, the EU has triggered new mechanisms such as to compile a common list of terrorist organizations, to give a boost to the fight against its funding, to implement the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures, to set up joint investigation teams or to reinforce Europol.
 
Lastly, it is worth mentioning the growing transatlantic police cooperation both in the bilateral field and the creation of a permanent mechanism of liaison between FBI and Europol. For the Guardia Civil, the technological support that the United States can offer us in the fight against terrorism is especially important.
 
Arrested and extradited ETA terrorists
 
CONCEPT
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
TOTAL
ETA activists arrested in Spain (CNP,GC,PA)
65
50
23
31
24
29
40
262
ETA activists arrested in Spain by Guardia Civil
14
23
46
5
4
60
47
199
ETA activists arrested in France
13
12
0
15
23
12
3
78
ETA activists extradited
4
1
2
2
9
10
4
32
 
From 05/07/1996
 
All these factors, the strategic debilitation of the gang, its growing operational and social weakness, reduction of the legal aspects of impunity in which most of the organization moved and the growing international cooperation make us be moderately optimist about a near victory of Spanish democracy on ETA.
 
The Guardia Civil
 
The Guardia Civil is today the State´s main instrument in the fight against ETA. This Force was established in 1844 as a security force of military nature and organization to face the serious situation the Spanish security was going through at that time, especially in rural areas. It was set up as a professional and highly disciplined Force, deployed throughout the whole territory, and strongly centralized. The historical success of its creation has made it possible for the Guardia Civil to be today the main Spanish Security Force, with a Strength of more than 73 thousand ; to be deployed all over the national geography, with more than two thousand Stations; to have developed an increasing specialization in such varied fields as intelligence, investigation, environment or traffic in order to face the emerging risks, and to have projected itself abroad, within the framework of police cooperation, as well as in many different peace operations.
 
The protection of borders, harbours and airports (border police), the protection of the State´s fiscal interests (customs police), territorial waters security (coast-guard service), security of communication routes (traffic police), environmental protection (environmental police), security of sensitive premises (public buildings, nuclear power stations, etc), the control of weapons and explosives, and those military missions assigned by the Government both inside and outside our frontiers, are included amongst its missions, as well as guaranteeing the security of citizens in the Spanish territory, provincial capital excluded.
 
Missions and specialized services of the Guardia Civil
 
SPECIALTY
FORCES
SPECIALTY
FORCES
ENVIRONMENTAL
1.629
CINOLOGIC
442
JUDICIAL POLICE
2.663
ARMAMENTS
45
INTELLIGENCE
2.113
AUTOMOVILISM
1.491
EXPLOSIVE DISPOSAL
268
RESERVE UNITS
1.616
MOUNTAIN
273
SPECIAL UNITS (UEI and GAR)
631
AIR SERVICE
304
KING PALECE
665
COAST GUARD
1.125
PRESIDENT SECURITY
285
ROAD
8.602
 
 
COMUNICATION AND COMPUTERS
 
719
SECURITY OF CITIZENS
27.821
 
 
BORDER AND CUSTOMS
5.043
TOTAL SPECIALTIES
55.735
OTHER MISSIONS
16.780
RESERVE PERSONNEL
1.661
ARMED FORCES PERSONAL
240
TOTAL
74.416
 
 
Due to its size, nature, deployment and versatility, the Guardia Civil is a key element in the fight against those risks that threaten not only the internal security of our democracy, but also the international stability and peace, such as organized crime, illicit immigration, and especially terrorism.
 
In the fight against terrorism, the Guardia Civil has also gathered an important historical experience. At the beginning of the last century, the Guardia Civil combated and defeated the anarchist terrorism that developed in Spain in urban areas, and the insurgent agrarian movement in the Andalusian country-side. After the Civil War, it confronted the guerrilla groups that tried to restore the republican democracy. During the transition to democracy, the Guardia Civil contributed to defeat the revolutionary terrorism of GRAPO in a decisive way, arresting 49 of its members and finally dismantling its leadership in Paris in 2000, and again in 2002.
 
But it is the fight against ETA that has attracted the Guardia Civil´s main anti-terrorist efforts in the last thirty years. Thus, since 1989, the Guardia Civil has arrested a total of 570 members of ETA, which means more that 43% of the terrorists arrested during that period. These figures show that the Guardia Civil has been the main instrument of the State in the fight against terrorism throughout its history, and in a very particular way, in the fight against ETA.
 
On the other hand, it is also necessary to stress the “high quality” of the arrests made by the Guardia Civil, with almost 60% of the convicted people by the Courts of Justice. Therefore, the Guardia Civil arrested 318 from the 681 members of ETA who have been sentenced to prison since 1989, a 47%.
 
Nevertheless, the Guardia Civil´s antiterrorist action does not merely come down to the arrest of terrorists, but it also comprises three different fields: intelligence and investigation, prevention, and anti-terrorist operations.
 
Intelligence and investigation
 
Intelligence, understood as the collection of all kinds of information in order to gain a deeper knowledge of  the terrorist organization, is, according to the Spanish experience, the most efficient weapon to defeat it, since it permits to conquer the tactic and strategic initiative. Intelligence is also the most expensive resource, and time-consuming.
 
In the fight against ETA, the Guardia Civil has a powerful internal intelligence service, with a strength of more than two thousand deployed all over the national territory. Although since its creation, the aim of this service is the collection and analysis of information on any serious threat against the State, including those groups with the ability to penetrate the political field, the social fabric, or the economic system, its major priority has been the fight against ETA, as the main destabilizing factor of Spanish democracy.
 
The service is divided into highly specialised units, and into territorial units deployed in each province. A first central unit is specifically in charge of the fight against ETA, a second unit deals with the rest of the terrorist groups (including Islamic groups) and the third one controls socially dangerous groups, such as sects or urban tribes. All of them are supported in their information gathering operations by an Operational Support Group highly specialized in undercover operations.
 
The territorial units deal with more general issues. They are part of a General Plan of Information designed from the Central Service, and comprises information-gathering and analysis units. Its size will depend on the conflicts of each area, being the Basque Country and Navarre the most important ones for obvious reasons.
 
Exclusively, in the case of the fight against terrorism, the Information Service performs intelligence activities, but also investigation activities, the latter being the more specific activities directed to the clarification of terrorist activities and to the identification of their perpetrators. The special difficulty to infiltrate terrorist organizations and the great sensitivity of the information handled, makes single information and investigation units advisable to be common, at least according to the Spanish experience.
 
The keys to explain the success of the Guardia Civil´s  Intelligence Service in its fight against ETA can be amongst others, the rigorous staff selection, a specialized quality training, a very high motivation, the inaccessibility of the information handled, a wide-reaching deployment, the priority of information-gathering over the analysis, the emphasis on the human intelligence and the high technology available.
 
Prevention
 
All those actions designed to avoid terrorist activities are included under this concept. Although it is a permanent and general activity in which all the Guardia Civil  units take part, three aspects should be emphasized: the airport security, the surveillance and protection of buildings and facilities, and the escort of dignitaries.
 
The work of the Civil Guard as regards airport security, derives from a competence set by the Law. Therefore, the Guardia Civil protects all the national and international airports. Their missions include the control of the check-points giving access to the flight terminal, the control of the perimeter and the runways, intervention in the case of incidents inside the airplanes and the general security of the facilities. In order to cope with these responsibilities, the Guardia Civil is assisted by private security guards who work under the operational control of the Guardia Civil. After the 11-S terrorist attacks, the security measures in airports have increased notably: a greater percentage of hand luggage is checked manually, all the travellers that gain access to the flight terminal are identified, and next year it is expected that all the luggage in the hold will be checked by means of X-rays.
 
The security of buildings, including the Civil Guard’s own facilities, consumes a large volume of human resources. Moreover, in the last years, an important sum of money has been spent in order to improve the technical security equipment. At present, there is a 18 million euro programme to implement technical improvements in the security of  quarters with close-circuit TV, frequency inhibitors, passive security measures, etc. As can be observed, in addition to its own facilities, the Guardia Civil provides security to many official buildings, courts, prisons, embassies, military facilities, and other strategic points.
 
 Strength assigned to security in facilities.
 
SECURITY SERVICES OF GUARDIA CIVIL
TYPE OF FACILITIES
NUMBER
STRENGTH
PRISIONS
56
3.030
COURTS
66
361
OFFICIAL BUILDINGS
52
841
FOREING EMBASSIES
10
52
MILITARY FACILITIES
6
147
HIGH INSTITUTIONS OF THE STATE
2
928
GUARDIA CIVIL FACILITIES
2.274
3.155
TOTAL
2.466
8.514
 
A second specific task in the field of prevention is the protection of dignitaries. The increasingly wider scope of groups threatened by ETA -from the Armed Forces and the Security Forces to politicians, intellectuals, journalists, judges and any other group or person who opposes their aims- calls for an additional effort to protect threatened persons. Thus, at present the number persons escorted by the Guardia Civil amounts to 289 and a total of more that 2.000 members of the Guardia Civil are appointed to that task.
 
However, beyond the aforementioned specific tasks, it is important to stress that it is the whole of the Guardia Civil units that generally and constantly engage in prevention-related activities. Thus, public security patrols take part in the roadblocks set up after a terrorist attack or during an anti-terrorist operation. Even routine missions, like the one carried out by a road traffic patrol in Zaragoza, made it possible to detect two vans carrying more than 2,000 kilos of explosives ready for an imminent attack in Madrid three years ago.
 
Anti-terrorist operations
 
As we have already pointed out, ETA has never had the operational capability required neither to directly confront the Security Forces, nor to occupy a part of the territory, even momentarily. Nevertheless, the operations leading to the arrest of ETA cells, and any operation whatsoever against ETA in the Basque Country and Navarre, are very dangerous and are conducted by highly specialized anti-terrorist units.
 
Two units of the Guardia Civil have been specially designed and trained in the fight against terrorism: the Special Intervention Unit (UEI) and the Rapid Action Unit (UAR).
 
The UEI is specialized in high-risk missions like cases of hostage taking and kidnapping, the arrest of dangerous criminals, the immediate protection of dignitaries in risk situations, and other highly-specialized tasks. With about 100 men, it can be considered a small unit, but it receives top-level training and has a highly sophisticated equipment. This unit was established in 1982, and throughout its history it has taken part in 67 anti-terrorist operations. It must be pointed out that the accuracy with which these operations were conducted has resulted hurt only 5 UEI members, in spite of the fact that in most of the cases they met with armed opposition.
 
As for the UAR, it has been specifically designed and trained to undertake anti-terrorist missions, as well as high-risk operations requiring a rapid intervention. This unit has also been used in international missions involving a especial risk, such as the first contingent sent to Kosovo.
 
This unit has a strength of 557, and it consists of a Rapid Action Group (GAR), with more than 500 men, and a Special Training Centre, which provides training both to this and to other units requiring training in special operations. The GAR comprises four Companies whose scope of action includes the three Basque provinces and Navarre. As an example of the operational capability of this unit in the fight against terrorism we could mention that in the year 2001 it set up more than 6,148 checkpoints affecting more than 184,000 persons and 112,000 vehicles; it also conducted 108 border surveillance operations, 1,252 route policing operations; 1,803 operations to protect other Civil Guard units; 1,235 zone reconnaissance operations; 116 house searches by court order; and arrested 37 terrorists.
 
 
Table: Summary of GAR activities, year 2001
 
GRUPO DE ACCIÓN RURAL (G.A.R)
SERVICES
ARRESTS
CONTROLS
6148
TERRORISM
37
BORDER SURVEILLANCE
108
OTHER CRIMINALS
19
SEARCHERS
116
TOTAL
56
ROUTE POLICING
1252
CHECKPOINTS
GC PROTECTION OPERATIONS
1803
PLACES
7
PEOPLE PROTECTION
331
PEOPLE IDETIFIED
30071
PROTECCIÓN OBJETIVOS
678
PEOPLE CONTROLLED
184363
ZONES SURVEILLANCE
1235
VEHICLES IDENTIFIED
13328
OTHERS
1793
VEHICLES CONTROLLED
112199
TOTAL
13464
TOTAL
339968
 
 
I would also like to mention the Explosives Disposal Service (SEDEX), which is an indispensable complement in the fight against terrorism. This Service is made up of  250 explosives disposal specialists who are divided into 40 teams deployed throughout the country. It has defused 148.107 explosive devices of very different kind, and nowadays it is developing new capacities in view of possible terrorist attacks with NBQ.
 
GEDEX activities
 
INCIDENCES FROM 1973
 
PERFORMANCES
DESTRUCTION / DISPOSAL
 
TYPE
TYPE
 
FALSE ALARMS
21.403
MILITARY AMMUNITION
LAND
 
21.362
 
 
SIMULATED
 
427
 
AIR
 
 
336
 
IMPROVISED
2.438
NAVAL
 
36
 
 
 
CONVENTIONAL
 
24.183
 
21.734
TOTAL
48.451
MILITARY ARTIFICES
79.933
 
ANTIHAIL ROCKETS
14.533
 
DETONATORS
31.907
 
TOTAL
148.107
 
Conclusion
 
The existence of the Guardia Civil in Spain has provided a suitable, efficient and gradual answer to the problem of terrorism in this country; ETA’s criminal potential has decreased significantly in the last decade. The wide variety of missions carried out in the fields of prevention, intelligence and anti-terrorist operations, its wide deployment throughout the national territory, its high degree of specialization and expertise and its military nature make the Guardia Civil a powerful instrument in the fight against terror in any of its present and future forms.
 
Three important strategic advantages arise from this twofold nature -police functions and military status. In the first place, it makes a gradual answer possible, from public security patrols to combat operations characteristic of specialized military units. Secondly, it makes it an intermediate instrument that has kept the Spanish Armed Forces out of the fight against ETA, thus avoiding the disadvantages that an intervention of the Army in missions within national territory entails. In the last place, the Civil Guard acts as a link and makes it possible to direct possible technical or operational support from the Armed Forces to the global fight against terrorism.
 
The need to prevent terrorist attacks in our own territory forces us to develop a new concept of internal security that is far from the old idea of territorial defence that prevailed in the Cold War years. This new concept should include, for instance, diverse matters such as an efficient external border surveillance to prevent the illicit entrance of members of terrorist organizations, the security of communication and information networks of strategic importance for the good functioning of the country, security measures in airports and other means of transport, the protection of nuclear power stations and other critical facilities from the point of view of security or a stricter control of the financial system to prevent the financing of terrorist movements.
 
In order to face the new challenges to internal security, states must be in a position to deploy Forces throughout the national territory, sizeable enough to undertake all the prevention tasks mentioned, equipped with advanced technological means for border surveillance and control, and capable to confront highly organized and dangerous groups. These characteristics exceed the traditional capacities of a police force whose main task is public security.
 
To sum up, in our opinion it is Security Forces like the Spanish Guardia Civil that can be better adapted to emerging transnational threats that, like terrorism, pose nowadays a serious threat to our societies, our democracies, and to international stability itself. Regardless of the nature of these forces, whether civil or military, there is no doubt that it is necessary to develop a new concept of internal security whose main element can no longer be the armed forces, devoted to missions abroad, but “robust” forces with competences in the whole of the national territory, large enough to thoroughly deal with the diversity of tasks under their responsibility, and with a response capacity that sometimes goes beyond police tasks, strictly speaking.


[1]  Special division of the Supreme Court set up to relieve pressure of business on the High Court; has criminal and civil divisions, both involving matters that are serious - terrorism, fraud, major drug trials, etc.