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Date: 2001-07-16

Scheiss auf ECHELON

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Kann Grossbritannien eine führende Rolle in Europa spielen und
gleichzeitig ECHELON-Partner der Amerikaner sein?

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Intimate relations Can Britain play a leading role in European
defence -- and keep its special links to US intelligence?

Charles Grant

Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform and a
former defence editor of The Economist.
Centre for European Reform 29 Tufton Street London SW1P 3QL


A problem which must be addressed One of the most constant
features of the geopolitical landscape is the special relationship
between London and Washington on intelligence matters.1 One of
the most rapidly changing and unpredictable elements of that
landscape is the emergence of a European Common Foreign and
Security Policy (CFSP). This paper examines whether, and to what
degree, these two phenomena may be compatible.


1 The author wishes to thank the many people who have offered
comments and criticisms of earlier drafts. Most of them would wish
to remain anonymous. He is grateful to Francois Heisbourg and to
Nicole Gnesotto for suggesting that he write this paper. An earlier
version was commissioned by the [balance missing].

Many British officials involved in defence and foreign policy are
relaxed about the question raised in the title of this paper. They
assume that Britain can continue to have its cake and eat it -
enjoying privileged access to US intelligence, while counting as
much as any country in the embryonic CFSP. They argue that
"firewalls" within the British government allow the British to keep a
foot in both camps: the US will hand over certain reports on the
understanding that Britain's European allies will not get to see
them, while at the same time Britain can exchange other material
with its European partners.

But some continental officials are convinced that if Europe
becomes a significant player in foreign and defence policy, Britain
will eventually have to confront a painful strategic dilemma. One
French official argues that Britain will not be able to play a leading
role in the EU unless it jettisons the special intelligence links to
the US: "Britain must choose Europe or betray it."

That assessment is over-dramatic and, in the opinion of this author,
false. But the British are too insouciant. For if the CFSP proves a
successful enterprise, the special relationship will start to create
difficulties. Since the formation of foreign policy depends, at least
in part, on intelligence assessments, the fact that EU countries
receive different and divergent assessments must make it harder
for them to forge common policies.

Intelligence may not often be the determinant factor in the making
of foreign policy. But sometimes it does matter, particularly in the
shaping of policy towards countries with closed societies, such as
the so-called rogue states; in an open society, one can usually find
out what is going on in through monitoring the media. And
intelligence is hugely important for the successful conduct of
military operations. Thus Europe's embryonic foreign policy and the
projected European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) will be
handicapped unless there is a high degree of intelligence sharing
among EU governments,

Britain's intimate connections to the US may make it harder for the
Europeans to share intelligence among themselves - because
Britain may be less interested in intra-European sharing, and
because its EU partners may trust Britain less. Equally, if the
Americans believe that Britain has developed special links with its
European partners, and that it is part of a European enterprise that
is challenging American power, they may become wary of sharing
with the British.

Britain has a clear national interest in encouraging the development
of a European intelligence capability, as a means towards a more
effective CFSP; but also in preserving its special access to US
intelligence. The point of this paper is to suggest how those
objectives can be reconciled.

The paper examines the nature of the special relationship; the
extent of intelligence co-operation among Europeans; the
controversy over the Anglo-Saxon countries' signals intelligence
network, known as Echelon; the argument over whether Europe
should have its own spy satellites; and the significance of
intelligence in the formation of European countries' foreign policy.
Finally, the paper makes some suggestions on how the Europeans
could deepen their cooperation on intelligence, in ways that need
not damage the special UK-US relationship.

The special relationship

Relations between Britain and America are very special in at least
three areas:

The armed forces of Britain and the United States work together
well. Cooperation between the two navies is especially intimate.
The air forces are quite close. The British army, at times, has a
more European bent, because so many of its soldiers have served
in Germany, and because of the positive experience of
peacekeeping alongside European allies in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Collaboration on weapons programmes is particularly strong in the
nuclear area. Britain's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency
(DERA) also works closely with the Defence Advance Research
Projects Agency, its US equivalent, on conventional weapons. This
may create problems in European defence industry consolidation:
the US shares some stealth technology with Britain on condition
that none of it is passed on to the French. This year the US
persuaded the British government to modify its plans to privatise
DERA; it feared that a privately-owned body would be less good at
keeping American secrets. The special relationship is at its most
special in intelligence. There is much cooperation on human
intelligence ("humint") between the CIA and Britain's Secret
Intelligence Service (the SIS, also known as MI6); on defence
intelligence between America's Defence Intelligence Agency and
the British Defence Intelligence Staff; on "overhead" intelligence -
that deriving from satellite photos, reconnaissance aircraft or
unmanned aerial vehicles - between America's National
Reconnaissance Office and Britain's equivalent, the Joint Aerial
Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC), which is part of the
Defence Intelligence Staff; and on signals intelligence ("sigint")
between America's National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's
General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Each of the
British intelligence services has a liaison office, staffed by senior
officers, in the US. These offices obtain material from the US
services and supply British intelligence to them. There are also
British officers seconded to US agencies at an operational level,
and vice versa. No other European or Asian country has such
intimate relations with the US agencies.

British-American co-operation on human intelligence usually
involves exchanges of intelligence assessments, rather than joint
operations. The difference in styles of the SIS and the CIA - the
former stressing the use of agents, the latter devoting more
resources to sophisticated technology, the processing of
information and analysis - means that it is not easy for them to
work together on operations.

Signals intelligence is the most special part of the special
relationship - and has been ever since 1941, when American and
British code-breakers started to work together at Bletchley Park.
Britain's GCHQ and America's NSA exchange many dozens of
staff with each other. Each organisation takes responsibility for
certain parts of the world. The British have listening posts in places
like Cyprus, where the US has none, so the Americans regard the
British contribution as very useful. But in "sigint", as in other forms
of intelligence, the British services have no doubt that they get
more out of these sharing arrangements than they contribute. So
they are strongly wedded to the special relationship.

Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the US, bound
together by various intelligence-sharing agreements that date back
to 1948, reveal more to each other than to other allies. This
intelligence sharing among the five Anglo-Saxon countries is
institutionalised at the very heart of the British system of
government. The Joint Intelligence Committee is the body in the
Cabinet Office which sets goals for the UK agencies; sifts and
evaluates their output; and presents summaries to the prime
minister. Most other countries do not have an equivalent of the JIC,
with the result that their intelligence agencies tend to be less well
co-ordinated. There are two categories of JIC meeting: those at
which the Anglo-Saxon allies are represented; and those at which
only Britons are in the room. Britain's European allies do not attend
any sort of JIC meeting.

The British and American intelligence establishments are bound
together not only by practical co-operation, but also by a common
approach to the use of intelligence. According to senior figures in
the UK and US governments, intelligence has more influence on
their foreign policies than it has on the policies of continental
European governments. The reason, they say, is that the Anglo-
Saxons use intelligence in an empirical way: it is about gathering
facts, and if the facts are significant, the policies may get changed.
The view in London and Washington is that the French and other
continentals, being essentially deductive in their thinking, develop
sophisticated analyses and policies and then draw on intelligence
to support them; but that they seldom allow intelligence to shift

Is that self-congratulatory British-American analysis true?
According to one senior French official, the conclusion, that
intelligence is less influential in France, is correct, but not because
the French are so Cartesian that they ignore facts. The reasons, he
says, are social, historical, and bureaucratic. "In France there has
been less investment in intelligence capabilities, and a lower grade
of people choose to work in intelligence, which is seen as
something dirty. There is no bureaucratic system for diffusing
assessments to the key branches of government. " The result, he
says, is that decision-makers do not have a lot of confidence in
what the intelligence services provide.

Thus the common ground between the British and American
intelligence services is extensive. It is inconceivable that a British
government would ever wish to abandon the special relationship.
So the key questions are whether, and how that special
relationship can be made to fit with Europe's emerging CFSP.

Intelligence sharing in Europe

There is a large amount of intelligence sharing among European
governments. Some of this sharing is multilateral, within NATO and
the Western European Union (a rather sleepy organisation which
has acted as the EU's defence club2). However, governments are
generally reluctant to circulate the highest-grade material within
multinational organisations, because too many people are liable to
see it. They tend to be more willing to share sensitive material


2 The WEU has ten full members: the EU's 15 countries, minus
Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Sweden. But it often meets
with those five, plus the six European countries in NATO but not
the [balance missing].

It is important to distinguish between the raw data of intelligence -
reports from agents, transcripts of wire-taps or satellite photos -
and the assessments based on the data. Governments are
naturally more relaxed about sharing analysis than source material.
For example, if Britain passed on a report from an agent in Iraq, it
could endanger his or her life; passing on the assessment of that
report need not.

Even assessments, however, are often regarded as highly
sensitive. If one government studies several of another
government's assessments carefully, it may be able to guess the
sources, and it will certainly gain some insight into the other
government's intelligence capabilities. Thus a country with
sophisticated intelligence networks is unlikely to want to share
high-grade assessments with another country unless it thinks it will
get a good "trade" in return. On the other hand, one government's
intelligence is more likely to influence another government if it is
passed on in a relatively raw state: a photo of a missile silo is more
potent than a report saying "there are missile silos".

It is also worth distinguishing between political intelligence, which
is relevant to decision-making at the highest levels of government;
and military intelligence. The latter can be "strategic", concerned,
for example, with a country's weapons programmes, or its defence
industrial base; or "tactical", information that is relevant to a
military operation. Governments tend to be more willing to share
tactical intelligence than the political or strategic sort, particularly
with allies who are engaged in a common military enterprise.

For example, in June 1999, just after Milosevic agreed to withdraw
from Kosovo, the Russian army despatched 200 of its
peacekeeping troops from Bosnia towards Pristina airport. This
was the first move in a plan which, if it had succeeded, would have
led to thousands of Russian troops flying into Pristina and
partitioning Kosovo. The Americans discovered the troop movement
as soon as it started, through signals intelligence, and informed
their NATO allies immediately. The allies therefore knew about the
troop movement before the Russian foreign ministry.

All governments are inherently reluctant to share even military
intelligence, especially within multilateral bodies such as NATO.
The American, French, British and German intelligence services
are among those that provide reports to NATO, but they are
doctored so that references to sources or sensitive pieces of
information are removed. America's allies have long complained
that it is particularly mean with its intelligence; for example it
refused, until quite recently, to let NATO allies see satellite photos.
However. the US has become more generous in recent years,
perhaps because of the growing availability of imagery from
commercial satellites.

Any multinational organisation is by definition leaky. Throughout
the Bosnian war, NATO secrets were ending up in Bosnian Serb
hands. In November 1998 a French officer working within NATO,
Pierre-Henri Bunel, was found to have passed NATO's target plans
for Kosovo to a Yugoslav diplomat in Brussels. And in March 2000
it emerged that, at the start of the bombing campaign against
Serbia which had begun a year earlier, 600 people within NATO
had had access to the flight plans of the NATO bombers. That may
explain why the Serbs evacuated so many prime targets in Kosovo
a few hours before the bombs struck.

The Western European Union, which will soon be folded into the
EU's Council of Ministers secretariat, has a small unit that gathers
and analyses intelligence from its member-governments.3 The
WEU also has its own "satellite centre" at Torrejón in Spain. This
processes information from commercial satellites and the two
Helios 1 spy satellites (which belong to France, Italy and Spain).


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edited by Harkank
published on: 2001-07-16
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