How European secret services organise themselves in „groups“ and „clubs“

For cross-border cooperation, Europe’s secret services or their responsible ministries join together in non-transparent formats. These networks are difficult to monitor and control.

„Club de Berne“ and CTG

One of the most important cooperations is the „Club de Berne“, in which domestic intelligence services of all other EU member states as well as Norway and Switzerland participate. The „Club de Berne“ was founded in 1969 as an annual meeting of the directors of Western European domestic intelligence services. In 2001, the association founded a „Counter Terrorism Group“ (CTG), in which members regularly exchange information on incidents and discuss follow-up measures. Since 1 July 2016, the Bern Club and its CTG are running an „operational platform“ in The Hague. The domestic intelligence services there maintain a common database and a real-time information system. Details are secret, so parliamentary control of the activities in The Hague is hardly possible. The CTG is supposed to network more closely with police structures of the EU or individual member states, and „soundings“ have been underway with Europol since spring 2016.

„Paris Group“

Since 2016, the secret service coordinators of several European countries have been organised in the „Paris Group“. The first meeting took place in Berlin at the invitation of the German Federal Government. According to their answer on a minor interpellation, the group was set up „in response to the terrorist attacks on European territory“ and serves „an open and trusting exchange on various security issues of intelligence relevance,“ says the German Federal Government. 15 European governments are now organised in the „Paris Group“, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Great Britain, Norway and Sweden. The group has no chairman and no secretary, no formal decisions are taken. Other representatives of European institutions and other multilateral fora may also be invited to meetings.

„SIGINT Seniors Europe“

As so-called „SIGINT Seniors“, members of the international secret services responsible for digital surveillance (Signals Intelligence, SIGINT) meet. The group is led by the US secret service NSA and consists of the „SIGINT Seniors Europe“ (SSEUR) and „SIGINT Seniors Pacific“ departments. „SIGINT Seniors Europe“ was reportedly established in 1982 to exchange information about the Soviet military. After 9/11, the focus on counter-terrorism was changed and the group increased from nine to 14 members (USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand as well as Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden). „SIGINT Seniors Europe“ meet annually, allegedly focusing on cooperation on new surveillance techniques. The „SIGINT Seniors Europe“ communicate via their self-installed system SIGDASYS.

INTCEN

Without intelligence competence, the European Union operates a civilian Intelligence Analysis Centre (INTCEN) in Brussels, affiliated to the European External Action Service (EEAS). In addition to the permanent staff, the Member States send their own personnel from domestic and foreign secret services. Like its predecessor SITCEN, the INTCEN does not process „raw intelligence“, but evaluates reports that the domestic and foreign intelligence services of the member states can submit. The INTCEN staff is divided into four working units: „Analysis“, „Open Sources“, „Situation Centre“ and „Consular Crisis Management“. INTCEN regularly participates in meetings of the EU Council Working Group on Terrorism and provides Member State ministries with briefings and presentations classified as „confidential“. Topics include „foreign fighters“ activities, „radicalisation“, the „link between organised crime and terrorism“ or „narratives and counter-narratives“ in the field of terrorist propaganda. In the meantime, INTCEN is working more closely with the Europol police agency on a new three-part „threat analysis“ with joint conclusions and recommendations, as well as on the transmission of a comprehensive, forward-looking „threat analysis picture“ every six months.

EUMS INT

The „EUMS INT Directorate“ operates a military structure similar to the INTCEN, which is considered to be the „Military Staff Intelligence“. All EU Member States can deploy personnel there. The unit is part of the EU Military Staff Intelligence Directorate and processes classified information provided by Member States or transmitted from EU operational areas. The EUMS INT shall exchange information with the EU INTCEN. Both centres form the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC), under the authority of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. They are considered to be the main users of intelligence data from the EU Satellite Centre SatCen. The situation reports, analyses and briefings are distributed to, among others, the Ministries of Defence, the Foreign Offices, the Ministries of the Interior, the Domestic and Foreign Secret Services, the Military Secret Service and the Army.

„Group 13+“ (formerly „EU 9 Group“)

Since 2013, interior ministers of the EU member states Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain have been meeting as the „EU 9 Group“ to discuss the topic of „foreign fighters“. In the meantime, Austria, Poland and Italy, as well as the EU Member State holding the Presidency, are also taking part in the group. For this reason, it now operates under the name „Group 13+“ (G 13+). Meetings take place at the invitation of Belgium in the run-up to or on the sidelines of the meetings of the Council for Justice and Home Affairs of the EU. The European Commission and the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator also participate in the „Group 13+“. The meetings, which do not take formal decisions, serve „an open, informal exchange on the current threat situation“ and „on measures to improve the collective capacity to combat international terrorism at European level“.

PWGT

In 1979 the „Police Working Group on Terrorism“ (PWGT) was founded in 1979 by the German Federal Criminal Police with the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police of London, the Bijzondere Zaken Centrale of the Dutch Centrale Recherche Informatiedienst and the Belgian Gendarmerie for the „exchange of information in terrorist attacks“. Today, the group includes the police headquarters of all EU states as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Domestic intelligence services from countries such as Austria and Sweden also participate in the PWGT. Although the name suggests a focus on „terrorism“, its participants also exchange information on „extremism“ or general crime. Since 2000, the PWGT has also helped to prevent „political violent activities“. In addition to the quasi secret service clarification, the cooperation is also aimed at facilitating operational measures. Europol is also one of the cooperation partners, although the establishment of Europol makes a form of cooperation such as the PWGT superfluous.

ECTC

Since January 2016, Europol has been operating a „European Counter-Terrorism Centre“ (ECTC) in The Hague, which is also responsible for „extremism“ and „radicalisation“. The tasks of the ECTC also include „more intensive coordination and cooperation between the competent authorities“. Although criminal police authorities are organised in the ECTC, domestic intelligence services, like the PWGT in some countries, also assume this function. The person responsible for setting up the ECTC moved from the Dutch secret service AIVD to Europol only two years ago. The ECTC is now to cooperate more closely with the CTG. According to the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, the CTG is „in contact with relevant actors“ like Europol in order to „explore possibilities for closer cooperation“.

Image: AIVD annual report from 2015.