Walker's World: The intelligence coup

By MARTIN WALKER, UPI Editor Emeritus  |  Aug. 18, 2008 at 10:39 AM
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PARIS, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Led by France and Germany, the European Union is planning to create its own super-spy agency, called a "central intelligence unit," that would require its 27 member states to pool information from their intelligence agencies and in the process undermine the longstanding special relationship between Britain and the United States.

The plan also calls for an EU-wide network of anti-terrorism centers, with offices in each member state, whose work and intelligence are to be run by SitCen, the EU's coordination center in Brussels. This would include sharing of DNA databases and fingerprint records, material from surveillance cameras, electronic listening posts, satellites and aerial drones, common training and standardized surveillance systems.

British police and intelligence officials are lobbying hard against the plan, which they fear would threaten the long and close relationship with their American counterparts that dates back to World War II. They suggest the U.S. intelligence agencies would be reluctant to continue their sharing of information with British colleagues if that information were then to be passed on to other European countries, many of which are notoriously leaky, corrupt or on occasion hostile to U.S. policies.

British and U.S. electronic surveillance systems are currently closely coordinated, with key U.S. listening posts located in Britain, and the analysis centers of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Maryland and the Government Communications HQ at Cheltenham in England work closely together. They share data and analysis, exchange staff and technology, and, in effect, act as a model of the interstate intelligence cooperation that the EU is now hoping to emulate.

Britain's foreign intelligence service, SIS (still sometimes known by the old name of MI6), has long worked closely with its colleagues in the Central Intelligence Agency, and the FBI has a close relationship with Britain's domestic intelligence and counterespionage arm, the Security Service (MI5) and also with the Special Branch of the British police. The two countries' counter-terrorism officials also cooperate closely, as do the British and U.S. military and their nuclear weapons establishments, part of a broad network of cooperation that is the heart of the Anglo-American "special relationship" that long has irritated (and excited the envy) of Britain's EU partners.

The plan has provoked two different forms of opposition in Britain, the first coming from the intelligence services, the police and the military, who have little faith in the capabilities, the security and the political reliability of many other EU countries, and strongly prefer to maintain their tried and tested U.S. relationships. Britain has by far the most respected intelligence service with the greatest global reach, so British officials fear they would be doing most of the sharing, with the risk of compromising their sources, while getting little of value in return.

"The difficulty with the EU is that it is a complex organization, and there are risks in sharing information with countries like Bulgaria or Hungary that it will end up in other hands. Many EU countries have immature and underdeveloped intelligence networks," commented Paul Cornish, an expert in international security at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

"It is inconceivable that we would share information with organizations that may be flaky," Cornish added. "We are not going to get anything out of giving this information to other countries, and we are not going to share the crown jewels if we do not get anything back."

The second level of opposition comes from those who are skeptical of the EU and its ambitions. They note that at every new rebuff to plans for more integration, like the latest Irish referendum vote against the proposed new EU Treaty of Lisbon, the integration process resumes elsewhere, as it now has in the sensitive sphere of intelligence. Public opposition to the integration process is widespread. The French and Dutch both voted against the EU's draft constitution. Despite this, the constitution's key proposals, for a permanent president and its own foreign minister and diplomatic service, and ever more majority voting to get around the use of national veto, was largely revived in the Treaty of Lisbon. Now the Irish have voted against the Treaty, although their government campaigned strongly for a "Yes" vote, but Brussels simply expects them to vote again until they say "Yes."

The intelligence-sharing plan is laid out in a 53-page report that emerged from the self-styled "Future Group" of the ministries of the Interior and Justice from Germany, France, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia and the Czech Republic and is justified as a way to improve EU integration in policing, counter-terrorism and intelligence. It also calls for a common EU paramilitary force, to be known as a Gendarmerie, to be deployed in crisis situations like terrorist attacks and major disruptions of public order, and also to crises abroad.

"The whole field of justice and home affairs is passing daily under Brussels' jurisdiction," claims Daniel Hanna, a British conservative in the European Parliament and a keen critic of the apparently relentless moves toward ever-more EU integration.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who has responsibility for domestic intelligence, insists she will "not agree to any plans that would jeopardize British security," a careful choice of words that made no commitment to oppose the EU plan.

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