Police forces in the EU member states could be able to use fingerprints and DNA traces collected by the US military in Syria and Iraq in the near future. Intelligence services would also be granted access.
According to an EU Council document, the EU police agency Europol intends to process fingerprints and DNA traces in The Hague that are processed by the US military in war zones. This data is being exchanged in the context of Operation Gallant Phoenix, which is an intelligence project spearheaded by the US military that according to media reports, is based in Jordan. US intelligence services are also involved in this undertaking. Operation Gallant Phoenix is being coordinated by the United States Joint Special Operations Command, which commands the special units of all branches of the US military.
Alongside Operation Gallant Phoenix, the US Government has offered to set up a database on “foreign fighters” for a number of EU member states and to compare this information with the biometric data of incoming refugees. According to another paper by the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union, this is “battlefield data from Syria and Iraq and other conflict zones”. The German Federal Ministry of the Interior has also been contacted regarding this matter by the Department of Homeland Security. The Federal Government allegedly has no knowledge regarding the potential military origins of this data, and yet the proposal is under examination nevertheless.
German Federal Intelligence Service allegedly ruled out direct cooperation
According to a report published by the news magazine “Der Spiegel” last year, the Federal Government considered taking part in Operation Gallant Phoenix with the Federal Intelligence Service (BND). The report claimed that the US Government had submitted an offer to this effect to the Federal Chancellery “via the Bundeswehr”, which would have allowed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to gain access to information and the movements of “Islamists from Germany” when such individuals are operating in Iraq and Syria.
While the Bundeswehr and the BND had considered this information exchange to be expedient, the Federal Chancellery allegedly ruled out any form of direct cooperation. According to “Der Spiegel”, the “BND inspectors” feared another intelligence scandal were their cooperation to be made public. It is conceivable that the US military is using information from Operation Gallant Phoenix for the purpose of military operations combating Jihadists.
The information exchange is now set to be coordinated under the auspices of Europol. European ministries of justice and of the interior had already exchanged data on “foreign terrorists” in Syria and Iraq with the United States Department of Defense in the course of two prior projects VENLIG and HAMAH. The Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) also took part, but, according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, terminated its cooperation in 2012 owing to legal concerns. Following the conclusion of these projects, the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator repeatedly called for them to be resumed.
“DNA samples from IS terrorist fatalities”
The Hamburg daily newspaper “Morgenpost” cites “fingerprints on Kalashnikovs, traces from attack sites and DNA samples from IS terrorist fatalities” as examples of the new data exchange. It points out that while this data is classified as secret, it could be declassified for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), thereby making it available to civilian authorities. Europol has signed an agreement to cooperate with the FBI.
Interpol and the FBI are now direct users of the Travellers database, where Europol stores information on “foreign fighters”. The United States is among the database’s five biggest suppliers. As of 31 December, 68,784 persons were on file. The ratio of confirmed “foreign fighters” to their contact persons or relatives is around 1:11.
Europol now intends to second a liaison officer to Operation Gallant Phoenix to support its cooperation with the USA. All criminal investigation offices of the EU member states could then be able to use the data acquired. In accordance with the new Europol regulation, which is to enter into force on 1 May, the German Federal Police, customs investigations service and the police forces of the Länder will also be entitled to gain read and write access to the Europol information system. Last but not least, intelligence services in the EU member states will be able to get their hands on data acquired in the course of Operation Gallant Phoenix.
Frontex to hold US liaison officer in Warsaw
The existing cooperative partnerships between police and justice authorities were hailed at the EU-US meeting. US delegates reiterated their view that cooperation between intelligence services should also be intensified. As the European Union has no mandatecites for coordinating intelligence services, the meeting only honed in on forms of police cooperation.
With the new regulation, the EU border agency Frontex is also entitled to process personal data, which US authorities could compare with their own databases. The United States Coast Guard is looking to second a liaison officer to Warsaw to support its cooperation with Frontex.
This text first appeared here.
Image: In countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria the US military uses biometrics to register the population and search for possible terrorists. (US military)