Secret documents: European domestic intelligence services networking worldwide

30 European domestic secret services cooperate with the foreign services Mossad and CIA. With other authorities of the „Five Eyes“, the „Club de Berne“ exchanges information on „non-Islamic terrorism“ and „right-wing and left-wing extremism“. Governments like Germany have so far kept these details secret.

The „Club de Berne“, in which directors of domestic secret services of the EU member states as well as Norway and Switzerland are organized, has grown into a worldwide network. Jan Jirát and Lorenz Naegeli report this in the online edition of the Swiss „Wochenzeitung“, citing a secret document dated 2011. The „Club de Berne“ is thus involved in an international exchange of information with authorities in several continents.

The informal „Club de Berne“ was founded in 1969 by initially nine heads of secret services. Even then, following research by Aviva Guttmann, the European services cooperated with Israeli partners Shin Bet and Mossad as well as the US FBI. The networking was done via a cable system called „Kilowatt“.

Europol in the grey zone

The German government presents the „Club de Berne“ as an association that discusses the strategic orientation of European intelligence. At the latest since the resignation of the right-wing former head of the German secret service, Hans Georg Maaßen, it has been known that political speeches are held there as well. Currently 30 services are participating in the cooperation, from Germany for example the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), from Switzerland the Federal Intelligence Service (NDB), from Austria the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counter-Terrorism (BVT). In contrast to the German and Swiss services, some authorities, including the BVT officers, have police powers.

For operational cooperation, the Club set up a „Counter Terrorism Group“ (CTG) in 2001, which has been operating a joint file and a real-time information system since summer 2016 at the Dutch secret service AIVD in The Hague. All details of this data exchange are secret.

All that is known is that the CTG’s exchange relates primarily to the subject area of „Islamist terrorism“, but an extension to other areas is under discussion. The group also works together with Europol. The EU Police Agency organizes joint exercises and cooperates with members of the CTG in investigations at bilateral level. This cooperation is a grey area, as the European Union has no mandate under the Treaties to coordinate the intelligence services.

Whistleblower reveals network

A leak recently revealed further details about the „Club de Berne“. According to a document published for a few minutes by the Austrian newspaper OE24, the national contact points of the secret service group communicate via a computer network called „Poseidon“. In addition to sending messages, it also allows telephone calls and video conferences. The „Club de Berne“ makes other Internet services available in a network called „Neptune“. A database „Phoenix“, which possibly belongs to CTG, also became known.

As the WOZ now reports, numerous non-European secret services are also connected to the „Club de Berne“. Thus, at the beginning of the decade, there existed a network called „Capriccio“ with authorities from the USA (FBI and CIA), Canada (CSIS), New Zealand (NZSIS) and Australia (ASIO). Together with Great Britain, which with MI5 itself participates in the „Club de Berne“, the four states form the secret service alliance „Five Eyes“, which operates extensive espionage facilities. The WOZ also names the Mossad and the Shin Bet (with the international abbreviation ISA) from Israel. The Mossad and the CIA are the only foreign secret services in the network with the „Club de Berne“.

According to the report, the exchange of information in „Capriccio“ takes place in the area of „Islamist terrorism“. „Non-Islamic terrorism“ is dealt with under the name „Toccata“, where the „Five Eyes“, Israel and the USA are also involved, but without the Mossad and the CIA. The WOZ also writes about a third network with the abbreviation „Rile“, in which the services in the „Club de Berne“ exchange information on „right-wing and left-wing extremism“.

Government stonewalls

The revelations of the WOZ make it clear how for example the German BfV has de facto transformed itself into a foreign secret service. Four years ago, the German Ministry of Interior had hastily drafted a law for foreign cooperation in the „Counter Terrorism Group“. This increase in importance was accompanied by a practically impossible parliamentary control. For example, the German government does not want to disclose with which services the BfV cooperates in the „Club de Berne“ and the CTG, which data is exchanged or what it is used for. All parlamentarian questions on this matter are leading to nowhere.

The German Ministry of Interior cites the agreed „Third Party Rule“ as a reason for secrecy. None of the information supplied may be passed on to a third party for the „public weal“. However, even the information needs of the parliament is a „public weal“. The Scientific Services of the German Bundestag therefore point out that a government can submit a clearance request to the government that shares the information requested by MPs in the CTG.

It was only after direct questioning that it emerged that the German Ministry had not made an effort in any case in recent years to send such a clearance request to the „Club de Berne“ to make a response to a parliamentary initiative possible.

Image: Due to possible extremist infiltration, the BVT in Austria is considered a security gap in the „Club de Berne“. Former German secret service coordinator Klaus-Dieter Fritsche is to fix it (all rights reserved BMI Austria/Alexander Tuma).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.