Boosting Intelligence Sharing Between France, the United States, and the European Union

Security fears in Europe have substantially heightened, especially after 130 people were killed in the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. The attacks, beyond sending shockwaves across Europe and around the world, have called into question how best to track and monitor people arriving in Europe as part of the largest and most overwhelming migrant crisis experienced since the Second World War. For this reason, France, the United States, and the European Union (EU) have proposed to boost intelligence sharing across their allied nations.

Image courtesy of Sandro Schroeder © 2015, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Sandro Schroeder © 2015, some rights reserved.

French and Belgium want to improve intelligence sharing between the nine EU nations considered most at threat to possible future terrorist attacks. This ‘initiative’ would include Italy, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain and Ireland joining France and Belgium. The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement that he hopes the countries can develop a system of information sharing on radicalized and potentially dangerous individuals that exist or that are moving between the countries of the 26-nation Schengen zone.

The U.S. has also agreed to join the effort. In attempts to counter Islamic State extremists who have directly threatened the U.S., the White House will grant France the same access to American intelligence that is provided to America’s English-speaking allies.

Known as the United Kingdom-United States of America Agreement (UKUSA), and also referred to as ‘Five Eyes’, the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand are a part of an alliance of intelligence operations. Not disclosed to the public until 2005, the formerly secret agreement dates back to 1941 when the British and U.S. governments facilitated cooperative efforts between the U.S. War Department and the British Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). On 25 June 2010 Britain and the U.S released the full text of the agreement.

Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), John O. Brennan, warned that the overwhelming need to swiftly identify and effectively monitor potential terrorism suspects is inundating European intelligence agencies. Presently, the biggest threat appears to be from the thousands of European nationals who have traveled to Iraq and Syria in the last few years to join and receive training from the Islamic State (IS). Because of their passports, they could easily return home and pose a threat to launch surprise attacks similar to what Paris experienced.

Similarly, the unexpected December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California left 14 dead and 22 critically wounded. Being called a terrorist attack by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Obama Administration, U.S. intelligence officials are still struggling to decode encrypted text messaging apps found on the assailants cellphones, creating potential new blind spots for the U.S. and EU security agencies.

In efforts to address these emerging and rapidly evolving blind spots, the U.K. has announced it will aim to significantly boost its spying capability by recruiting nearly 2,000 intelligence officers for MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, and for MI6, its foreign security outfit.

The question remains whether a shared intelligence community, like what may develop in the EU or between France and the U.S., while strengthening global security, could undermine individual states’ national securities? On the surface, this seems to be a wonderful solution, to bolster the international community’s defense against terrorist organizations and mass casualty attacks, but not all states hold matching opinions on how best to stop terrorist groups like IS.

For example, Russia and the U.S., although in agreement that they want to share more intelligence regarding IS, are at odds over Syria. America blames Russia for “indiscriminate” use of force, while Russia claims it was U.S. aircrafts that attacked Aleppo hospitals on 10 February.

In the end for American intelligence agencies and Russian intelligence agencies, their first and foremost concern is their own national securities, which can mean that sometimes they are in disagreement.

So, can sharing intelligence with Russia really be a good thing? The Department of War Studies at King’s College London believes not. At the top of their list of threats facing the U.S. and the Western world in 2016 is: Russia and Chinese expansionism versus Western disarmament; Russia’s revisionism; China’s rise and power shifting in the Indo-Pacific; and unbridled nuclear proliferation.

What is the biggest security threat facing the world today? Terrorism? Climate change? Nuclear weapons? Cyber-attacks? Transnational crime? Unfortunately there is no one ‘right’ answer. And so, in a world where we cannot identify the worst threat to our global security, it is hard to identify what our shared intelligence communities should be looking for without their own state’s biases creeping in.