Thursday

6th Oct 2022

Exclusive

Balkan spies 'feed' EU's police database via Czechs

  • People tagged with a "discreet alert" from SIS are followed (Photo: Google Maps)

Secret services in at least one non-EU Western Balkan state are indirectly feeding the EU's police database with alerts on suspected foreign terrorist fighters, according to a confidential document seen by this website.

Drafted by the counter-terrorism section of the Czech Republic National Organised Crime Agency, the nine-page document says over 250 alerts have been flagged by the Western Balkans since last summer.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The alerts are entered by the Czech Republic into the so-called Schengen Information System (SIS) as part of a pilot project - which follows revelations of widespread abuse of the same database by the UK.

The document does not reveal which Western Balkan state issues the alerts. It also does not reveal the criteria on which those alerts are based or if the Czech Republic has turned any down.

But Cornelia Ernst, a German MEP from the European United Left–Nordic Green Left, says such alerts could pose problems because they may end up targeting the innocent.

"We do not know how the assessment on which such an alert is based has come about. On what criteria was it based? Was it facts, or rumours, or guesswork?," she said, in any emailed statement.

"The biggest question is about the reliability of this information, can we trust it enough to use it in SIS?," she, noting such alerts are illegal if unjustified.

According to the document, the alerts are triggered under article 36/3, also known as a "discreet check".

A discreet check means information about the suspect is gathered covertly, including anyone associated with them.

Should someone get caught up with a discreet alert hit at a border, they'll be strip searched.

For its part, the Czech agency praises the Western Balkan secret service input and says it wants to continue sharing "post-hits" of foreign terrorist fighter suspects "in a systematic way."

Accession zone

The entire region is of strategic importance for the EU's counter-terrorism efforts - and comes amid a renewed push to open enlargement talks with Albania and North Macedonia.

Earlier this month, the European Commission said the prospect of full EU membership for the Western Balkans "is in the Union's very own political, security and economic interests."

In total, the whole of the EU last year registered three terrorist attacks, five attempts, and 17 plots, according to the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, an European think tank.

Of those, "two retournees", or so-called foreign terrorist fighters, had been involved. Almost all took place in France, with the remainder in the Western Balkans.

'Battlefield information'

But the EU's security interest in the Western Balkans is not limited to the Schengen Information System.

Another confidential document dated from earlier this month and also seen by EUobserver provides a detailed overview of those interests and efforts.

Drafted by the previous EU presidency under Finland, the 90-page report describes how internal and external security is becoming increasingly intertwined.

It said efforts have been stepped up since last July to get "trusted third countries" to not only feed SIS with alerts on foreign fighters but also "battlefield information."

Those efforts were discussed among military officers, legal experts, and border police from the United States and EU states along with Interpol and EU agencies.

Their plan was to find out how "to better collect, share and use battlefield information" and make it available to EU databases so that it can be made accessible at the borders.

Separately, the document also noted an agreement had been sorted in the margins of a ministerial conference on security and migration held in Vienna in September 2018.

That agreement, described as a memorandum of understanding with Western Balkans, allows for the "automated exchange of DNA, dactyloscopic [finger print] and vehicle registration data".

The following month, a joint action plan on counterterrorism for the Western Balkans was also signed with the EU.

The EU's police agency Europol then agreed to dispatch agents to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. Albania received its first Europol agent in June last year with Serbia expected to receive an agent sometime soon.

Investigation

UK unlawfully copying data from EU police system

The British government is abusing EU travel security systems, making and using illegal copies of outdated information, and putting innocent people at risk of being red-flagged.

UK taking 'steps' after illegal copying of EU Schengen data

According to a classified report, the UK made illegal copies of EU security data, and its disregard for EU rules on handling such data was a "serious and immediate risk". The Commission now says "practical steps" have since been taken.

MEPs slam UK for violating EU police database

EUobserver's revelations of how the UK violates and abuses an EU police database sparked heated debate in the European Parliament's civil liberties committee - as the European Commission refused to respond to questions given the confidentiality of the leaked document.

Opinion

Why Miroslav Lajčák is the wrong choice for EU envoy

The EU could blow up the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations' reset. Should Miroslav Lajčák indeed be appointed, the two senior EU diplomats dealing with Kosovo would both come from the small minority of member states that do not recognise Kosovo.

MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary

MEPs criticised the EU Commission for what they see as the executive not being tough enough on the government of Viktor Orbán, as Hungary's parliament passed new legislation as part of a deal with the EU executive.

Opinion

What von der Leyen's 'State of Union' didn't mention

Ursula von der Leyen barely noticed that European democracy is under attack not only from external threats, but from within. Two of the world's leading autocratic countries are EU member states.

News in Brief

  1. Thousands of Hungarian students and teachers protest
  2. Swedish MEP cuts hair mid-speech to support Iran women
  3. Danish general election called for 1 November
  4. Slovenia legalises gay marriage, adoption
  5. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine
  6. France warns over incoming eighth Covid wave
  7. EU adds Anguilla, Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to tax-haven blacklist
  8. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  2. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  4. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  5. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”

Latest News

  1. EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians
  2. Putin's twin aim: to break Ukraine and West's consensus
  3. Putin's diamond firm off the hook in EU sanctions
  4. The Iranian regime's expiration date
  5. Let's end Bulgaria and Romania's 11-year Schengen purgatory
  6. EU debates new pandemic-type loans to deal with crisis
  7. MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary
  8. Czech EU presidency wants asylum pledges to be secret

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us