Thursday

20th Sep 2018

Spy agencies launch 'real-time' terror tracker

  • Europol has processed some 80 terabytes of data on terrorism (Photo: Europol)

European intelligence agencies launched a shared "interactive real-time" database over the summer to track suspected jihadists, EUobserver has learned.

The move is part of a broader EU-wide trend triggered by last year's migration crisis, a spate of terror attacks and the threat of Islamist fighters returning to Europe from Syria.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Dozens of intelligence agencies at the Dutch-led Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG) in The Hague set up an "interactive operative real-time information system" of people suspected of being "jihadist troublemakers", said Germany's federal ministry of interior in a document seen by this website.

The CTG was founded in 2002 and includes some 30 intelligence agencies from around Europe.

Dubbed Operation Platform, the system was launched in July, but no public statement was released at the time. A February statement from both the German and Dutch intelligence agencies had announced a July launch of a system.

One senior EU official has described it as an IT system with people working on it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How they access people's details in real time and what details are stored is unclear.

There are also larger questions on oversight and fundamental rights, and the system has echoes of the US-led mass surveillance disclosed in 2014 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The blow-back from the Snowden revelations is still playing out.

Despite this, 23 out of 30 European intelligence agencies and services "promised" to participate in Operation Platform. Germany says it has sent one officer from its domestic intelligence agency, the BfV.

Merging police and intelligence agencies

The general lack of cooperation among various domestic intelligence and law enforcement agencies was also repeatedly highlighted in the wake of the terror attacks in both Paris and Brussels.

The German government, for instance, said two-thirds of people that have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq were known to the police. Of those, another third have criminal records. Similar data is found in France and the Netherlands.

The fear of further attacks has enabled lawmakers to propose new powers or extend existing ones.

Earlier this year, Bernard Barbier, the former head of signals intelligence at France's foreign intelligence agency (DGSE), mulled a merger idea with the German foreign intelligence agency (BND).

But the launch of a single shared real-time database may be a step forward to laying the groundwork of deeper cooperation, also between the police and intelligence agencies.

The EU's apparent direct involvement with national intelligence agencies is also likely to raise both legal implications and ethical questions amid wider sensitivities on privacy and data protection.

The German document notes, for instance, the EU police agency Europol, which is also based in The Hague, has set up a "strategic" relationship with the Operation Platform.

Europol did not respond to this website on how it interacts with the Counter Terrorism Group, where the platform is based.

But EUobserver understands internal moves are being made to bridge the Group with Europol's European counter-terrorism centre, launched at the start of the year, with a so-called fusion centre.

Europol, on its own, has more than 80 terabytes of data in which more than 12 million bits of communication are processed.

It has dedicated a so-called Secure Information Exchange Network Application (Siena) system that connects 43 units working on counter terrorism that allows them to share sensitive information. Europol also works with 44 countries and hosts some 210 liaison officers under the same building.

The EU's counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove also is publicly pushing to intensify cooperation between police and the intelligence agencies.

Kerchove has no operational role at the Counter Terrorism Group. But he does meet the heads of member state security services at the Group every six months.

Andrej Hunko, a German MP from the Die Linke party, told this website that the democratic control over the EU agenda on internal and external security has been lost.

Hunko is leading a parliamentary probe into German security and intelligence activities.

"In light of Germany’s experience with the Gestapo, this is a delicate issue in our country, where there is a clear legal distinction between these two areas," he said.

He said the platform was developing quickly, noting that the CTG is also invited to terrorism working groups at the EU Council, representing member states.

"The EU thus appears to be merging the work of police and intelligence services – in secret," he said.

EU intelligence agency not a priority

Julian King, the EU commissioner for security, says talk of an EU intelligence agency would be a distraction from more pressing coounter-terrorism work.

Interview

Former spy chiefs call for EU-US intelligence hub

Europe and the US need an "intelligence hub” to fight terrorism, with grand ideas on EU military integration unlikely to bear fruit, Germany’s former spy chief has said.

News in Brief

  1. UK's Brexit plan 'won't work', says EU's Tusk
  2. Austria ex-chancellor hints at running for Juncker's job
  3. Greece to move asylum-seekers from overcrowded Lesbos camp
  4. Transatlantic soya trade soars due to trade wars
  5. EU tables strategy for connecting Europe and Asia
  6. Bulgaria backs Hungary in dispute with EU
  7. Trump urged Spain to build Sahara wall to stop migrants
  8. EU-Arab League summit proposed for February in Egypt

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us