Mark Collins – Europe: No Intelligence Union

Tough game to play multilaterally:

Why intelligence sharing still has a long way to go

The Paris attacks in November appeared to show that jihadists could seemingly move freely across borders while the information required to stop them did not. But improving intelligence sharing is proving a struggle.

At the 18 December EU summit, leaders promised to improve the fight against terrorism and to deal with a logjam of proposals to improve co-ordination, but it may well prove an uphill struggle.

Security and intelligence services are intrinsically secret organisations closely allied to national power and priorities. They will share their secrets – but only with those they trust. 

That has worked in places like the “five eyes” alliance of English-speaking countries, but sharing data with all the other countries in the EU is a far more ambitious goal. Many security services will fear that their secrets will not always be kept when so many are involved.

Who are the ‘five eyes’?..

The border-free Schengen zone has been put under pressure by the migration crisis, and now the security issues have added to the strain. 

Poor checks on external borders mean that often residents of EU countries – including many of the Paris attackers – do not have their names run against a watchlist when they reach that border. 


There is pressure from France for systematic border checks on all individuals when they reach external borders but it is not yet clear what will be implemented.

Additionally, the watchlists are often poorly maintained and do not always have all the up-to-date information from different countries because they are slow to share. 

This is a major challenge when faced with EU citizens who have gone to Syria and may now be returning – in some cases to carry out violence. 

New moves to improve sharing of passenger name record data for flights looks to be emerging after years of being stuck but the EU itself at the supra-national level has relatively limited capabilities. 

There is an intelligence analysis centre but there is no EU-wide intelligence service and, despite some calls for one, it seems unlikely to appear any time soon…

Dealing with the flow of weapons – often from Eastern Europe or from the Balkans is also going to be hard…

Bonne chance.  More here on the Five Eyes.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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