Europol to cooperate with new European intelligence service center

European intelligence services are establishing a „Counter Terrorism Centre“ in the Dutch city The Hague. The centre belongs to the „Counter Terrorism Group“ (CTG) that was founded by the so called Club of Berne in 2001. It consists of domestic intelligence services from all European member states plus Norway and Switzerland. France and Italy are participating with two different authorities. The CTG members are now invoked to send liason officers towards the Dutch centre. Which security services will participate in the „Counter Terrorism Centre“ is yet unclear. Reportedly to German media „not even half of the countries want to join“.

The proposal for the intelligence centre, which according to a Europol report will start its services on the 1st of July, came up after the Paris attacks from 13th November last year. A few days later the heads of the services met for an extraordinary session and concluded to set up a common „platform“ in The Hague. The Justice and Home Affairs Council, which came together at the end of November 2015 as well, finally called the member states to check their possibilities of a closer cooperation with the CTG.

Operational exchange in real-time

The purpose of the centre ist to exchange and process information about persons that pose a „jihadist threat“. Corresponding data will be stored in a „CTG database“ that will be set up. The centre might also coordinate planned operations, and the involved parties want to install an „interactive communication system“ that works in real-time. Under discussion is the use of Europol’s SIENA network, which is currently limited to the classification „EU Restricted“. By this year the SIENA should be upgraded to „EU Confidential“.

The chair of the CTG follows the current EU presidency, which currently is in the hands of the Netherlands. The CTG chairman is Rob Bertholee, the leader of the Dutch „General Intelligence and Security Service“ (AIVD). Probably this is the reason why the new intelligence centre will be placed at the AIVD as well. In his annual report for 2015 the AIVD claims to have initiated the centre in the last year.

According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU has no responsability for secret services. Nevertheless the EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove participates at important meetings of the CTG. In the last three years Kerchove was for example present at all conferences with the heads of services. The plan for the CTG is now to work even closer together with EU bodies. In January this year Europol opened a „European Counter Terrorism Centre“ (ECTC) in The Hague. One of the tasks of the ECTC is „stepping up coordination and cooperation between relevant authorities“. In April Europol met the CTG to explain its existing counterterrorism structures. After the presentation the group of secret services announced to explore a „structural cooperation mechanism towards the ECTC at Europol“ at short notice. The German government on the contrary explained before that the cooperation will only be „strategic“.

Dutch head of secret service now works at Europol

The CTG cooperation with Europol might benefit from the personal matter of the former head of the AIVD, Wil van Germert. The ex-intelligence officer turned in 2014 to Europol, where after the already existing „Cybercrime Centre“ (EC3) he established the new „Counter Terrorism Centre“ and a „Migrant Smuggling Centre“.

Europol is also supposed to tighten its contacts with the „EU Intelligence Analysis Centre“ (IntCen) that is run by the European External Action Service in Brussels. The analysis and reports produced by the IntCen include material by foreign and domestic intelligence services from the EU member states, but no raw intelligence data. In February the French intelligence coordinator was invited for a high-ranking meeting to step up the synchronisation with the CTG. Again the Counter-terrorism Coordinator took part at that conference. One of the results was the closer cooperation of the IntCen and the CTG with Europol.

Image: AIVD building in Zoetermeer, The Hague (AIVD).