20th Mar 2018

No plan for EU spy agency after Paris attacks

  • Ministers want to enhance intelligence sharing at the EU level (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European Commission on Monday (12 January) said it has no plans to launch an EU-wide intelligence agency despite previous efforts to get a proposal on the table.

Former EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding had floated the idea in 2013 when she announced long-term plans to get a spy agency up and running by 2020.

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Asked if the commission intends to put forward a proposal on turning a little known intelligence unit inside the EU's foreign affairs branch into an intelligence agency, commission spokesperson Natasha Bertuad said “No”.

The commission instead wants to enhance data-sharing at the EU level by making sure its EU intelligence analysis centre (IntCen) works better with other EU agencies like Europol, the EU's joint police body.

Integrated into the EU’s foreign policy branch, the External Action Service (EEAS), IntCen is meant to provide a situational picture of crisis moments like last week’s Charlie Hebdo shooting.

IntCen’s director, Ilkka Salmi, who was the former head of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo), told Belgian magazine MO in an interview in 2014 that the centre does not gather its own intelligence.

“We do not have a collection capability. We do not deal with personal data. We do not carry out clandestine operations,” he said.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie Int’Veld on Monday said IntCen should be transformed into an intelligence agency so long as it has “a proper treaty base, a legislative framework and arrangements for democratic oversight.”

Italy's prime minister last Friday said he backed the idea of an EU intelligence agency.

"We have the common currency and we must also have a common security and intelligence system. Europe must be united against terrorism," he said.

But turning IntCen into a fully-fledged EU intelligence agency is unlikely to gain traction from some governments who want to keep national security issues outside the EU's grasp.

Mathias Vermeulen, a research fellow at the European University Institute in Italy, who drafted a 2012 report on EU border surveillance, said large intelligence agencies like those found in France, UK, and Germany are reluctant to share information “if there's no immediate need to know, although this very much depends on the precise topic".

A group of EU interior ministers in Paris on Sunday recognised the problems faced by the lack of pooling and sharing of intelligence.

“We are determined to implement all measures that may be helpful with respect to the sharing of intelligence information on the different forms of the threat, notably foreign terrorist fighters,” they said in a joint-statement.

This includes better use of EU agencies Europol, Eurojust, and Interpol, an international joint-police body based in Lyon, France.

“None of those organisations is in charge of intelligence or national security. They are dealing with police and justice cooperation,” pointed out Int’Veld in an email.

The problem was highlighted in France following the Paris attack.

Both brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, suspected of carrying out the assault on the magazine's headquarters, were known by the police.

One of the brothers is said to have trained in Yemen with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He had also spent time in jail for being part of a jihadist recruitment ring in Paris. The other is said to have travelled to Syria last year.

Both cases have called into question the ability of French intelligence services to connect the dots in the lead up to the tragedy.

No new mandate for EU intelligence centre

EU efforts to better co-ordinate intelligence and police operations in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings will not result in a new mandate for IntCen, the EU's intel-sharing bureau, for the time being.

Spy agencies launch 'real-time' terror tracker

Intelligence agencies in Europe launched an "interactive operative real-time information system" in July to collect data on jihadist suspects, EUobserver has learned.


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