Saturday

20th Jan 2018

No new mandate for EU intelligence centre

  • IntCen reports to the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

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

Italian PM Matteo Renzi said the French attack means the EU "must ... have a common security and intelligence system".

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Guy Verhofstadt, an MEP and former Belgian PM, also said the EU should "create a fully-fledged EU intelligence agency, a Eurintel ... in all major terrorist attacks over the past 10 years, the perpetrators were known, but we haven't worked together as effectively as we could".

Similar calls have been heard before.

Spain wanted to do it after the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

Former EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, also wanted to do it in reaction to the 2013 revelations on US snooping.

But a senior EU official told reporters on Thursday (5 February): "I don’t see the need for us to move toward our own collection capabilities, at least not in the short or in the medium term, that is how I see the situation for the time being”.

Located in a secure building in the EU quarter in Brussels, IntCen, is a part of the EU foreign service.

It was set up in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and employs around 80 people.

Most are EU officials or temporary agents with intelligence backgrounds. National experts from the intelligence and security services also work at the centre on secondment.

It occasionally sends staff on what it calls “fact-finding” trips to friendly neighbouring countries, such as Georgia or Lebanon.

But the bulk of its work is based on classified briefs which it receives from around 10 member states’ national intelligence agencies.

It also collates information from the EU’s overseas embassies, which are to have new security attaches, from the EU’s civilian and military crisis missions, and from the EU’s joint police and border control agencies - Europol and Frontex.

It hoovers up open source information from the internet.

But it doesn’t do its own electronic snooping or carry out clandestine operations.

“We don’t collect personal data. We do not need that. We don’t deal with individuals”, the EU official said.

IntCen’s reports forecast security risk levels ranging from several days to up to six months.

Its analysis helps to shape EU decision-making on issues ranging from Russia, Ukraine, and Libya to north African migration and terrorism.

Last year, it analysed around 500 global hotspots.

The reports are distributed to the EU’s foreign policy chief, senior European Commission officials, the EU-counter terrorism co-ordinator, the EU presidency, and member states.

“They [member states] contribute to our work and then they get to see the final result,” said the official.

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks on lack of proper counter-terrorism co-operation.

One leaked EU document indicated that Europol receives 80 percent of its data from only four member states.

But the EU official said the situation is better at IntCen, where the level of input from member sates’ has increased 15 to 20 percent in the past four years.

“Unfortunately I’m not in a position to reveal the overall number of contributions but I can say it is in the thousands [of briefings] on an annual basis”, he said.

The past two years have also seen intelligence agencies contributing more without IntCen having to ask: “Before that, almost 100 percent of all contributions we received were based on our requests”.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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