Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Interview

Former spy chiefs call for EU-US intelligence hub

  • Hanning ran the BND from 1998 to 2005, then became the top civil servant in the German interior ministry (Photo: tatrasummit.org)

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

The counter-terrorism project would start out like the Schengen zone, the EU’s passport-free travel area.

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

  • Omand (l) and Chertoff at the Tatra meeting in Bratislava last weekend (Photo: tatrasummit.org)

It would involve a core group of trusted states such as Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

Their intelligence services would form “operational task forces” and, as with Schengen’s IT security system, would have access to each other’s data.

They would also create a “centre of excellence” to reform other EU states’ services, which could join down the line.

“I was one of the fathers of the Schengen agreement in the 1990s. That was established outside EU structures and only later integrated in the EU system and I think we can do the same”, August Hanning, the former head of Germany’s BND intelligence services, told EUobserver in an interview.

Hanning, as well Michael Chertoff, the former US secretary of homeland security, and David Omand, who used to run the British spy hub, the GCHQ, put forward the proposal at the Tatra summit, a conference organised by the Globsec think tank in Bratislava last Saturday (29 October).

The so-called Globsec Intelligence Reform Initiative comes amid wider reflection on EU security in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and of the Brexit vote.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said at the Bratislava event that “we need to have shared military forces with their own command structures” and to “improve cooperation between intelligence services”.

French finance minister Michel Sapin said “this is something that is very close to the Germans’ heart - they would like to create a European army”.

He said that “what is feeding euroscepticism today is the feeling that Europe cannot rise up to [security] threats”.

“The best way to safeguard the deepening of EMU is to answer the security issue”, he said, referring to the European Monetary Union - a plan for deeper EU integration centred on its single currency, the euro.

Ivan Korcok, Slovakia’s EU affairs minister, said: “How can you explain to citizens that member states can’t share information to save people’s lives?”.

Intelligence hub

The proposed intelligence hub would have a lower political profile than the EU military project.

It would not have its own building or secretariat, on the model of the Counter Terrorism Group (CTG), an informal body in which some EU states’ intelligence services already share information with each other.

Hanning told EUobserver that the new hub might convene in The Hague, because the CTG and Europol, the EU’s joint police body, were already based there.

He said that US participation was vital because its National Security Agency (NSA) had “unique capabilities”.

“We had several attacks that could have been prevented with support from the US … we are dependent on them,” he said.

Hanning said jihadist leaders in Iraq, Pakistan, or Syria micro-manage attacks in Europe.

The BND was able to intercept individual lines of communication, for instance from Mosul, in Iraq, to Berlin, while the NSA could mass-snoop on all communication between Iraq and Germany, he said.

Going back to Schengen, he said security lapses in some of its members posed a threat to everyone.

“We have a weakness in Belgium [in terms of intelligence gathering]. We have a weakness in Greece and in other [Schengen] states. We also have open borders and our terrorist clients can cross these borders”, he said.

He said Germany’s decision, last year, to let in 1 million migrants with no security screening created “stress … in all of Europe”.

“Eighty percent of them were males aged 18 to 35, and those are the most dangerous people on the planet”, he said.

Russia issue

French and German proposals envisage joint EU forces that would help to stabilise countries in Africa and in the Middle East.

Austria and Italy have said the EU should create its own intelligence agency. Related proposals also involve an EU border force to seal external boundaries.

EU states in Russia’s former sphere of influence are concerned about Russian revanchism as well as jihadist terrorism, but Schaeuble and Sapin said little on Russia.

The German minister said in Bratislava that an EU force could “stabilise our neighbouring regions, including Ukraine”.

The French minister said EU military integration had a geostrategic element.

“It would prove that it [the EU] can also be an efficient player when it comes to external threats”, he said.

"The US position is evolving slowly but surely on Europe. They are asking the Europeans to take their security into their own hands. France is a very strong military power, but France cannot do it alone,” he said.

Hanning, the former spy chief, said the Russia issue could derail the Franco-German military project.

He said “countries in eastern Europe know very well that their security is heavily dependent on Nato and they don’t want to weaken Nato” by creating EU parallel structures.

“I don’t think that we’ll have a European army … maybe in the long run, but I don’t see it”, he told EUobserver.

He said the EU was not ready for its own intelligence agency either.

“You can’t run an intelligence service with 27 member states all having influence … It wouldn’t work”, he said.

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.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us