Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

EU intelligence agency not a priority

  • Police in Paris after 2015 terrorist killings (Photo: Reuters)

A European intelligence agency would take too long to set up and distract from the urgent work currently needed to tackle terrorism, said the European Commission.

Julian King, the EU commissioner for security, told reporters on Thursday (7 September) that terrorists won't wait for the removal of all the political and legislative barriers before such an agency could be established.

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"I have to tackle the problems that we face right now. The terrorists are not waiting for us to review the treaties, they are not waiting for a constitutional discussion in Germany," he said.

Calls for an agency reappeared earlier this week when the EU commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said it would have helped prevent the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Belgium, France, Finland, Spain and the UK.

Similar calls for the creation of an EU intelligence agency have also been made by the leader of the European Parliament's liberal group (Alde), Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt.

But such plans are often seen as far-fetched given the secretive nature of national intelligence agencies and their reluctance to share information over broader fears it may get leaked, or disclose the sources.

Last year, a former agent at the EU's police agency, Europol, accidentally leaked some 700 pages of data on 54 different police investigations.

The EU has an intelligence analysis centre, known as Intcen, but is unable to gather its own intelligence. Most of its work is based on classified briefs, which it receives from a number of member states' national intelligence agencies.

Instead, King noted that the EU would continue to work on the broad range of policies already underway and prepare for "new objectives" set to be announced next week in commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's state of the union address.

The EU and authorities in member states have been grappling with spotty information sharing and, at times, failure to act on leads on people already known to the police.

US security services had, for instance, forewarned the Spanish authorities in May of pending attacks in Barcelona.

The US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) had said the Islamic State would carry out attacks in crowded tourist sites "specifically [Las Ramblas] street", where months later a man in a van then mowed down dozens of people.

At the EU level, it entails a massive push for making the EU databases on security, border, and migration management, interoperable.

Those plans kicked in following the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist attacks of March 2016, when EU officials spotted numerous issues with the databases.

The proposals now include creating a European search portal, a shared biometric matching service, and a common identity repository.

The shared biometric matching service is the finger print data held in all information systems and aims to make biometric data-searching possible across all of those systems in one search.

The common identity repository refers to core identity data for all of those systems, meaning the name, date of birth, or gender of anyone in the databases.

The EU agency that hosts the databases, the Tallinn-based eu-Lisa, is currently working on a two-phased study on setting up a shared biometric matching system.

The EU databases involved in the overhaul include the Schengen Information System, the Visa Information System, Eurodac, the proposed EU entry-exit system, the proposed European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), and the proposed European Criminal Records and Information System.

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