UPDATE 2015-12-08: now, following the 11/13 Paris attacks, Belgian PM Charles Michel calls for a European CIA.
UPDATE 2015-03-30: unrelated but similar: on January 22nd 2015, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt stated (in Dutch) in newspaper NRC Handelsblad that he believes that a European equivalent should be created of the CIA. Today, in response to questions, the Dutch Minister of Security & Justice states (in Dutch) the Dutch cabinet opposes this idea.
UPDATE 2015-02-09: the Draft Council Conclusions on Counter-Terrorism (.pdf, Feb 6) states: “Reinforcing, within the existing parameters, the role of EU INTCEN as the hub for strategic intelligence assessment at EU level, including on counter-terrorism”. I.e., no new mandate for EU intelligence centre.
UPDATE 2015-01-13: EU Observer reports that following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the EU Commission stated it has no plan for an EU spy agency.
UPDATE 2014-01-13: Simon Davies on this matter: EU Justice Commissioner Reding wants an EU spy agency. Has she lost her mind or her morals?
“What we need is to strengthen Europe in this field, so we can level the playing field with our US partners. (…) I would therefore wish to use this occasion to negotiate an agreement on stronger secret service co-operation among the EU member states – so that we can speak with a strong common voice to the US. The NSA needs a counterweight. My long-term proposal would therefore be to set up a European Intelligence Service by 2020.”
According to an official cited in the article, setting up a European Intelligence Service would require a EU treaty change and would have to be dealt with after EU elections in 2014 (and thus exceeding Reding’s current appointment that expires in 2014).
Reding is also the EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, which also covers data protection. In that role, Reding visited the United States in October and called for strong data protection rules to restore trust. Although it might be possible that intelligence services and adequate privacy protection are not mutually exclusive, the Snowden revelations might be interpreted as indications a different reality today. Depending on one’s perspective, there is irony in Reding both calling for better data protection and suggesting that a new intelligence agency be set up.
As stated in the article at EUobserver, the EU currently has the EU IntCen (formerly SitCen), a branch of the EU foreign service where classified information on conflicts and terrorist threats are shared. In Secret Truth. The EU Joint Situation Centre (.pdf, in English, 2009), Jelle van Buuren concluded that:
“[SitCen] suffers from a profound lack of transparency – and therefore is not as accountable as could be expected in democratic societies.”
I’ve been told that the situation has not really improved since then, and that Van Buuren’s conclusions still apply. Some supporting evidence: the 16 July 2013 meeting report (.pdf) and the September 12th 2013 meeting report (.pdf) of the Terrorism Working Party refer to classified information, making it difficult for outsiders to judge the policy decisions — which some may interpret as a lack of transparency.
I don’t know whether Reding would propose to expand IntCen or to establish a new entity. Either way, considering that IntCen produces intelligence-based classified assessments, IntCen may be a reasonable indicator of what to expect. I therefore cite Van Buuren’s entire concluding remarks about SitCen (now IntCen):
“What do we know of the EU Joint Situation Centre? How does it operate? In other words: how transparent is the EU Joint Situation Centre? These were the central questions of this paper. The answer has to be that SitCen suffers from a profound lack of transparency – and therefore is not as accountable as could be expected in democratic societies. Documents available in the public domain make it possible to reconstruct the trajectories of SitCen, its tasks and its position within the EU counterterrorism field. It is however impossible to assess the substance of the work of SitCen and the influence SitCen has on the development of the EU as a security actor, the securitization of the EU and the constitution of threats and solutions. It is only through informal ways that it was possible to shed for the first time some light on the substance of the work of SitCen regarding its internal security dimension and remove partly the blanket of mystery SitCen is shrouded in. It seems obvious that further research on SitCen is needed, as it is an organization that has developed almost outside the political and public spotlights from an ‘empty shell’ into a crossroad of internal, external and military intelligence cooperation in the EU. SitCen is also an organisation that stands in the centre of the merger between horizontal and vertical networks of intelligence and security agencies; an ‘in-security field’ that is in transformation and the outcome of this transformation will subsequently determine partly the future of the EU as a security actor and the constitution of threats. ‘Secret truth’ of security and intelligence agencies is determining partly the European response to the terrorist threat and can have a great impact on citizens and the formation of the future political and social order of the EU. For instance, the European Council Strategy for combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism (Council of the European Union 2005d) has according to De Goede (2008: 170-171) created ‘an extra- legal sphere of intervention’, where a wide array of functionaries, including teachers, prison workers and community workers, are authorized to intervene in people’s lives in the name of preventing radicalization. According to De Goede, the Council Strategy thus authorizes functionaries to decide on rights of travel and internet use, rights of worship and education, for an undefined group of citizens who may be thought prone to radicalization. ‘In this manner, the Strategy enables far-reaching practices of bio-political governing, which distinguishes some population groups for exceptional monitoring and treatment.’
Further research is needed to analyze the way intelligence influences European and national policy making. It will be a real challenge, in view of the level of transparency of SitCen, to research if and how the list of SitCen reports we have revealed, have been translated in political recommendations; if and how the transformation of the ‘in-security field’ is changing the relations, culture, power and influence of intelligence and security services, law enforcement agencies, customs and border agencies; if and how these European transformation is affecting the security relations ‘at home’; how the ‘uncertain and controversial’ discussions supported by SitCen assessments proceeded within Council structures, Commission structures and national structures and which positions were taken by the different member states; how SitCen assessments are structuring and directing the emerging European foreign and military policy; how the difference between the member states that are ‘insiders’ of SitCen and member states that are ‘outsiders’ influence the securitization of the European Union; how the emergence of SitCen is influencing the position of other security actors in the EU like Europol; and if and how the essentially contested and precarious relationship between the political/executive level and the intelligence community is being shaped by the emergence of SitCen. Hopefully this paper can contribute a little to the realisation of this research agenda.”
- 2014-01-13: EU Justice Commissioner Reding wants an EU spy agency. Has she lost her mind or her morals? (blog by Simon Davies)
- 2014-01-10: Dutch govt response to Parliamentary questions about EU IntCen (this blog)
2013-11-xx: A European Transgovernmental Intelligence Network and the Role of EU IntCen (.pdf, academic paper by Mai’a K. Davis Cross, 2013)
- 2013-11-xx: PRISM and privacy: will this change everything? ($, editorial in journal of Int’l Data Privacy Law (2013) Vol.3 Issue 4)
- 2013-10-25: SIGINT and wiretapping: the Dutch Intelligence and Security Act 2002 (blog)
- 2013-08-xx: Security, privacy and surveillance in European policy documents (.pdf, academic paper by David Barnard-Wills in journal of Int’l Data Privacy Law (2013) Vol.3 Issue 3)
- 2007-06-08: Accountability of Intelligence & Security Agencies and Human Rights (.pdf, conference proceedings by Radboud University & Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services).