Gaps in France’s Surveillance Are Clear; Solutions Aren’t

PARIS — Last June, Patrick Calvar, the head of France’s domestic intelligence service, faced a decision: continue surveillance on a French Islamist who had been viewed as a potential threat for a decade, or shift limited resources to help monitor a swelling new generation of fighters returning from Syria.

The surveillance on the Islamist, Saïd Kouachi, had turned up nothing for over two years, and monitoring of his younger brother, Chérif Kouachi, had been abandoned the previous year, French officials say. Earlier in 2014, the intelligence service had transferred Saïd Kouachi’s case for several months to the Paris police, a sign that it was no longer considered a priority.

The Paris newsroom of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, after two brothers walked in with military precision and killed 12 people in the name of Allah.Chérif and Saïd Kouachi’s Path to Paris Attack at Charlie HebdoJAN. 17, 2015

The three-member commission scrutinizing requests for cellphone monitoring by the intelligence agency had signaled that its recommendation would be against further surveillance. And the prime minister, Manuel Valls, was under intense pressure to focus on what seemed to be the more immediate threat emanating from Syria; the previous month, Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman who had fought in Syria, had gunned down four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels.